Friday, October 31, 2008

2 gaijins, 1 camera on a perfect weather

So we had a photoshoot for one of our clients yesterday. The target location was the funkadelic Harajuku, Aoyama and Shibuya area. I decided that we should do it first thing in the morning since weather was forecasted to be sunny. It was fun being out of the office after such a long time, especially with me being made to go in regular hours as compared to before.

Anyways, I met up with Johan at Harajuku station. We headed straight to Takeshita Dori, the alley where all things youth and colourful can be found. On Sundays, you will see teens all dressed up in their favourite anime characters and sporting mind-boggling accessories and piercings. The McDonald's on the left is a fav - grrls lining up for a sundaes immediately clogs the whole street up.

H&M, a major fashion brand from Sweden has descended in Tokyo. The first store opened in Ginza a few weeks ago to rave reviews and a long line on its opening day. Not surprising, even the launch of the iPhone was greeted with the same hype. Queueing up must be one of the Japanese past times - notice how they do it obediently in Disneyland! :)

Another huge fashion label from America, GAP. Due to its location at a crossroad, it's also a popular meeting and hang out place. Japs can be seen in traditional yukata in summer time, sitting at the sidewalk or just powdering their noses.

Walking towards the posh Omotesando, luxury brands such as Dior greeted us. Each has their own building and signature architecture style. Shokwan was the one who first showed me this street when I came to Tokyo last year, and being a architecture postgrad, she was naturally more polished in the design of the various buildings.

Similar to Malaysia's Pavillion, Omotesando Hills houses top brands that cater to the affluent in Tokyo. I've never stepped foot in either, but at least I know in Japan they don't discriminate you based on what you wear. Never ever have I gone inside Prada, Gucci and LV in Malaysia, but walking into these boutiques here, the level of Japanese service just makes you wish it could be emulated everywhere else in the world.

It's nice walking outside Omotesando Hills, especially on a good weather day like this. It's midautumn and the leaves are slowly turning yellow. I'm proud to say that our own Jimmy Choo has his own outlet on the ground floor facing the traffic.

Anniversaire, another one of many beautifully decorated stores along the Omotesando Dori. Now that Halloween is over, the next big thing is Christmas. You can almost feel the holiday season in the air. The cold seasons seem to be a good time to celebrate foreign events, especially when it involved parties and presents.

Since Johan was into the new GTA4, he was naturally delighted to see billboards like this sprouting all over Tokyo. We saw 2 more along the way to Shibuya and 3 more in Shibuya itself. Heard it's a violent game, but what do I know - I'm not a gamer myself!

As we walked back to the station and towards Shibuya, we saw more funky shops like the above. There's always something new to look forward to, since novelty is the keyword here. The weirder the better. As long as you know how to mix and match, no matter if it's some cheapo looking stuff, you will be able to survive in Tokyo. It's the antics of the fashion-conscious that makes people watching a never-boring activity.

Audi Forum Tokyo - this 7-storey building sure stood out from its neighbours and from what I found out here, it's known as the "Iceberg" building and sparkles magnificently at night. Taken off the ddi magazine : The exterior was inspired by a combination of "crystal, an iceberg and a crushed PET (plastic) bottle," says Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, director of Creative Designers International. Three kinds of color-laminated glass enhance the edge effect of the building shape, making it look like a giant crystal rising up in the middle of the city.

After having lunch at an Asian restaurant, we decided to take more shots in Shibuya and head back to the office. The show below was taken from the famous Starbucks just outside the Hachiko exit at the Shibuya station. It's known as the most congested crossing in the world, especially at peak hours. When the lights turn red at the same time, people from all directions walk across rather smoothly, never quite bumping to the next person no matter how packed it is.

We were happily snapping pictures when the waitress told us that we were not allowed to. But being gaijins, we didn't really care and just walked away!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

i believe i can fly

A few months ago, there was an airshow and aircraft display at the Yokota Air Base. It was part of the Friendship Festival and Geoff had invited all of us to join in the fun.

I was really looking forward to it as it was a superstressful period for me at work. I just wanted to get out of Tokyo, out of the madness of the metropolitan. It was also then that my holiday plan to Australia became more of a necessity than a mere breakaway.

Just a few days before the Friendship Festival, he had found out that I was not allowed in unless I had extra paperwork with me. Because of my nationality, I had to be subjected to more stringent background inspection which would take a minimum of 2 weeks.

Apparently Malaysia is on the list of Restricted Access Nations. -_-"

I was fairly disappointed that I would not be getting out of Tokyo that weekend after all. Most of my friends would be there except for me. (Just a day before, Raya had called me up to meet, so it was a blessing in disguise in the end. Furthermore, I found out later a downpour almost dampened the event at the Base!)

Knowing how desparately I wanted to destress, Geoff felt bad and promised to make up for it. But he wouldn't tell me how he was going to do it. He had a plan in mind, and had conspired with Yuri to keep it a secret from me. For a full 2 months!

However, just a few days ago, Yuri almost let the cat out of the bag when she accidentally mentioned how anxious she was about the surprise treat. Since then, I have been wondering what they had in store for me. Geoff's only note to me was to bring my camera and a jacket in case it got cold. And to pray for good weather.

Where were they bringing me...
Amusement park? Rollercoaster??
Hot air balloon? Paragliding, parasailing, parachuting?!

Finally after 2 months, and after getting the necessary approval, I managed to get myself through the checkpoint of the Yokota Air Base. With much curiousity and anticipation, I was brought to the...


Well, not exactly. But quite there.

I didn't get to do any flight training or even close to flying itself. But we had a pilot flying us over Tokyo! Imagine that! I've never been chauffeured in a limousine before, but surely this is so so cool that it's gotta top my list of memorables.

No wonder Geoff was so confident the surprise would be fun. I had been envying his pictures taken of the Izu Peninsula and even Mt Fuji on a clear day.

After signing a "don't-sue-us-if-for-some-reason-you-fall-out-of-the-plane" form and some briefing about the tour, Mr Pilot proceeded to bring us to the hangar where he showed us the different parts of the plane. We He made some final checks of the plane before passing us our headphones in which we would communicate without being drowned by the roar of the plane's engine.

After getting ourselves strapped in and getting the clearance from the Air Traffic Controller, we got ready to fly. I was getting so excited I couldn't believe I would be flying! Nevermind that I was not the pilot here, but this is not something you get to do everyday.

It was a clear day from the base. Weather was forecasted to be cloudy in Tokyo though. 5 minutes to 1600 hours, Mr Pilot revved up the engine and got ready to take off from the runway.

As we finally took off, I turned to my right and looked at Yuri and gestured to her "Oh.My.Goodness. We're actually flying!"

It felt like being on a plane except that it's more real. You get to see the flaps, port, rudder, starboard, tailplane and the various indicators on the cockpit. We couldn't care less about all those as long as Mr Pilot knew what he was doing and all we needed to do was just to enjoy the view around us.

Our route took us from the base to Tokyo city towards the east and along the coast from Tokyo Bay to Yokohama. From there we would pass by the Yokosuka Naval Base, Kamakura and scenic Enoshima island and back to the base.

Race horse tracks just minutes after leaving the base. Average height was 2000 feet above ground. I learnt that altitude was height of aircraft above sea level - not the same as height above ground!

Getting nearer to the city. Think it was more hazy than cloudy. Shinjuku, Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. Notice how dense Tokyo is!

Jingu stadium. Looked like a soft pillow that you could parachute down to. Maybe I should give parachuting a try...

Imperial Palace near Tokyo station. Not many patches of green in central Tokyo as almost every available inch of flat land is taken up by buildings, houses, apartments and office blocks.

Notice how there are not many tall buildings or skyscrapers. According to Mr Pilot, the population of Tokyo is half of that of the whole of America, but squeezed into the size of Iowa state. (I hope I heard correctly, our conversations were sometimes interjected with information from various controls and pilots!)

Getting a view of Tokyo Bay. Visibility was quite bad, even Mr Pilot said it was sucky! Maybe it would be better to do this in the morning next time. IF I get a chance to do this again :D

Yokohama below on our right. The Yokohama Landmark Tower used to be the tallest building Japan, standing at 296m. It's the one on the left of the trio of buildings facing the ferris wheel in the middle.

On a clear day, you could even see the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

Enoshima connected to the mainland by a bridge and accessible by foot from the station. I was here 2 summers ago, courtesy of Prof Komiya and his wife. It's packed with tanned Japanese sunbathing and enjoying an afternoon of bbq and beer every summer.

The sun was setting pretty quick just slightly less than 1 hour since we left the base. Some parts of the city were lighting up, I wondered how it would look have looked like flying at night.

After a uneventful flight in which we saw a few helicopters and planes whizzing by us, we made a smooth landing and reached the base at about 1700hours. We saw this mean-looking machine resting at the hangar after getting off our plane. Now, I would have liked to be flown in this!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

myPoison = yourMeat ?

When I got the message from Yuri, I immediately replied to thank her. While catching up with her over the phone after, I told her how much I appreciated her prayers. She seemed to know what to pray for and the right words to say.

And it hit me, I need to pray more.

Praying ain't that difficult. It's basically talking to God. Communicating with our Papa in heaven. Telling him how much we love Him, thanking Him for all the good and the bad. Sharing with Him our joys and anxieties. Interceding for others. And yet, if we don't do it often enough, the art of praying gets muddled in the busyness of everyday life.

When I told her how her prayers have comforted me especially in times of uncertainty like now, she said she wanted to thank me instead.


And she told me how praying for me has somehow helped her to be better in praying. And getting closer to God.


So I asked her, if she was actually thanking me for having so much problems and worries. So that she would have something to pray for.

No, no, she insisted.

One man's meat is another man's poison. But of course, it's not the same in this case.

It's just funny how we ended up becoming closer, having encouraged each other in this journey. She listened to my stories without judging me. She was there when I needed a shoulder to cry on. Whenever I had something weighing in my heart, I knew I could count on her to be there for me. Whenever there was a struggle I had to endure, she was there to pull me up and push me along. I have more to thank God when it comes to Yuri, even though she maintained that she has more to be grateful about.

I'm just very glad that God has blessed me with this sister in Christ, and how in becoming my お姉ちゃん(oneechan), she has encouraged me in more ways than I can count.

I'm truly blessed.

*oneechan : familiar form of older sister

Sunday, October 19, 2008

mama goes digital

It just hit me this morning that my Mama is actually using the Net! We've been trying to get her to use the computer for ages, but to no avail. We offered to teach her, bribe guide her and even make an email account for her, and yet she still goes on life in the analog world.

Sometime in May this year, I can't remember who but someone did actually help her set up a Yahoo mail account. Must be the church office where she's working, coz everyone in the family uses Gmail. In my mails back home, Papa and Kit are usually on the receiver list. Adding Mama's email address was like welcoming a new member to the family.

She was quiet for most of the time. I guess she must have been trying to get a hang of the computer, making sense of the big World Wide Web (though I actually have not asked if she uses anything apart from her email!) and figuring out applications which we all can't live without.

And one day, this came into my mailbox - Mama's first email!

Not too long after that, I had add requests from her on Yahoo Messenger and Skype too.

She was only online at work, and since I have separate IM accounts at work, I was not able to chat with her. So the first time I was able to properly do so was when I took leave just before my flight to Australia.

As if her hands are not already full in the analog world, such is part of her work at the church, now she's making herself more contactable in the digital as well! I highly doubt she'll get addicted to the Internet, but this is proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Monday, October 13, 2008

passion concert, tokyo

Since today was a national holiday, I thought of catching up with homework and some room cleaning. However, halfway into that, I had to dash off for this...

Passion World Tour : Tokyo
13th October 2008, 5pm onwards
Shibuya C.C. Lemon Hall

Though it was targetted at Japanese university students, I think there were more gaijins that came that day. In fact, I've never seen so many foreigners in one place before. Either that, or ALL of them had come for this concert.

One thing I learnt. David Crowder*Band's songs are better enjoyed in a live concert setting. There's just so much energy makes you wanna headbang to the drum beats and punch packed into their songs. His creativity and punk just shines through not only in the composition of his music, but...his appearance as well. More specifically, his hair! If I didn't know any better, I would've mistaken him for a hardcore grunge artist. He certainly defies the norms of how a Christian songwriter and worship leader should usually looks like :))

More stories & pix here :

getting my hands dirty again

When I told them I would help out if needed, I was referring to tasks like making sure the right lyrics were up on the screen, getting content for the newsletter or any kind of moral support.

Little did I expect they would take me literally. Sure, I knew this church had many needs. I had noticed it the first day I visited, and was especially drawn to it because of that. I saw the need and where I could fit in and help.

After many months of serving in the music ministry, I was getting comfortable. I thought this was going to be the church. I was definitely looking for a church to belong, and friends to be accountable to. GAP had both, I thought God answered my prayers.

For various reasons, Yuri and Masami fell ill around the same time. They were both the worship leaders in church, and to cut the long story short, Yuri asked if I could take up worship leading. That instantaneously woke me up last Saturday when she called me from Masami's house.

In my half-awaken state, I agreed seeing they both needed to recuperate and get some time off. At the back of my head, I was thinking I could prooobably do this but needed someone else to do it with me.

Sure, I've done it in my CG back home but that was different. It was a CG, not a church. I was playing piano facing the wall, not an audience with a full band. All the songs were relatively easy since I was on a regular roster in the main service and Junior church. The songs they sing here are slightly different and come in 2 languages. What was I thinking when I said I'd do it? Surely not all these!

Since I couldn't back out, I decided I had to take up the challenge. Furthermore, my Japanese sensei had cancelled class last minute, it was as if God was removing any distraction that might be hindering this please-open-up-a-hole-and-swallow-me-up wonderful opportunity.

As Yuri & Hyun came to church with me to prepare for worship, I was reminded of my own service in GTPJ few years back. Serving in 4 ministries and having various roles on different days of the week, my personal life revolved much around church. I was glad for a break when I got the prestigious Monbusho scholarship to further my studies in Japan.

After being out of active action for more than 2 years, not counting the times I helped out in the piano at the Niigata Grace Chapel, Urasa Christian Church and GAP, I was itching to get my hands dirty again.

It did not come without its share of spiritual attacks and it made me kinda nervous. I wanted it to be perfect, and so much to help but not screw up! I wished I had my own piano to practice, rather then going to the church and wasting everyone's time to keep me company.

I've always been behind the scenes, and this would throw me into the limelight again. So I was extremely glad for the support given by everyone, especially those I serve regularly with in the music team.

I'm very sure it was God's presence that made the difference, but somehow the guitars seemed to sound more livelier than usual, or the dim lights created a better ambience, or they knew this was my maiden attempt, and were so encouraging about the whole thing.

It was really intense preparing for this. Friday night after prayer meet, we spent a few hours choosing songs and me learning up the Japanese lyrics. Saturday evening, more hours practicing, I was getting the hang of the different beats due to the Japanese pronunciation. I came early on Sunday, I was still thinking if I had gone krazy volunteering to help!

But everything just sorta fell into place. It wasn't perfect, I admit, but it was personally a good first try! Getting this message at the end of the day just made me very relieved I took up the challenge :

btw do u rmmbr u told me first that u can help leadng worship when i was really sick and masami wasnot there? so i didnt thnk u wr that nrvous abt it! i hope u wrnt pressrd too much(><) but pls knw that it was good and u wr very natural dayoo! so thax again and ur welcme!

Hanging out for dinner is what we usually do after church - with some of the usual suspects!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

the more i seek You

This song kept me sane over the weekend - Read tomorrow's post and you'll know why!

The more I seek You
The more I find You
The more I find You
The more I love You

I want to sit at Your feet
Drink from the cup in Your hand
Lay back against You and breathe
Feel Your heartbeat

This love is so deep
It's more than I can stand
I melt in Your peace
It's overwhelming

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

to touch the fur of a koala

Not wanting to see ALL the animals from ALL over the world, I asked if there was a petting zoo which would allow me to interact with native Australian animals. Tze brought me to the Featherdale Wildlife Park.

The AUD20 ticket was quite reasonable, I thought. They gave us a VIP passport which would enable us to collect a stamp everytime we spot a specified Aussie animal along the Wildlife Trail.

The first animals to greet us were the swamp wallabies.

Even the kid peeked out of the mother's pouch to see what the commotion was all about.

Caged next to the wallabies was this funny looking bird called the Southern Cassowary. It's the third largest flightless bird, smaller in size after the ostrich and emu.

Later I found out that the cassowary is now considered the most dangerous bird in the world! No wonder they had it caged. It might just come pecking at me for making fun of it.

I was thrilled when I saw the koalas. But they were sleeping. ALL Most of them!

But this one started to move.

I thought it was going to wake up.

But no, after stretching a li'l, it just went back to sleep. Just like that. In that position. =.='

The koala next to it also started moving. Walked across the branch...

...only to show me its spotted bums!

They were all in various sleeping positions. I didn't pay AUD20 to see sleeping koalas!

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the petting area where they allowed visitors to feed the koalas. There was a big group of aunties' speaking loud Cantonese, must be from Hong Kong who scared away the first koala. The zookeeper had to bring in another one to entertain the aunties.

I had to wait quite a bit before they were satisfied taking individual pictures with the frightened koala. Finally I had my turn and managed to feed it some eucalyptus leaves. Its fur felt quite soft, not unlike a teddy bear's!

Cassowary's relative, the emu came poking its head, wanting some attention.

Since emu was quite scary looking, I hurriedly went to the kangaroos instead. Purchasing some food, I tried to feed it.

And still, the attention-hungry emu came to us and snatched the food I bought for the kangaroo. Poor kangaroo just went about picking up the food from the ground while emu gobbled up the wafer cone.

So I got another one and made sure kangaroo had its fair share.

Like the koalas, the kangaroos were mostly lying down. I was expecting it to do some tricks, or at the least, jump! No wonder the Aussies are also so laidback, must be something in the air or the water they drink.

Since the koalas and kangaroos were so inanimate, I got distracted by this colourful hairband.

And an albino peacock! If only it had spread opened its feathers, now that would be spectacular.

And an itchy albino kangaroo! Too much leaves in the ears, must be all that lying down.

And another animal lying down, the Australian dingo. With that, I had another item checked off my list of things to see/do in Australia - see fauna native to this continent :)