Thursday, December 31, 2009

as rich as can be

Reading Adele's birthday post came at a right time when I was doing my own reflections.

I remembered that I still had some pictures which I had not put up apart from these birthday celebrations.

IUJ friends who brought me to a supposedly trendy restaurant overlooking the roofs of swanky Aoyama; I think the reason why I didn't put this up was because of their strict ruling in not allowing us to celebrate my birthday with an "outside" cake. We had to adjourn to another cafe after lunch so that I could properly "blow my birthday cake".

GAP friends who took me to TGIF in downtown Ueno, which was some walk away from church. Nevermind that it was cold and I was in heels, because all that mattered was the company of friends. I was very honoured they all came because they don't do this for everyone's birthday, small as our church was. That was my first time tasting their delicious baby back ribs!

Turning 30 unemployed and living in the world's most expensive city was not something I expected, much less anyone else I'm sure.

My birthday came just a week before my last week at work.

It could have been the most depressing birthday ever, not knowing what would happen next nor how long I would be able to remain in Tokyo. But my friends never let me feel that way. As I opened the presents that lay before me that night, I thanked God for each of them. Looking back, I think I had the best birthday overseas ever.

I don't expect reaching a new decade would bring about much change, like how reaching 21 would automatically make you adult in the true sense. Sure, it's a milestone to be celebrated, but like any other birthdays I only looked forward to the presents and presence of my favourite people. If not for those pessimists who have nothing good to say about the change in the first digit of your age, I would not have given much thought about it.

Some say, it's all mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

As I look back at the past few years that I've lived in Japan, I thank God for those were very good times.

I've done skiing and snowboarding in the highest mountains of Niigata, and took up surfing lessons on a whim in Gold Coast. I've traveled to more countries and continents than I've ever gone to in my entire life. I've tasted the most exotic and expensive food in Japan, namely the Kobe beef and fugu fish, and survived to tell the tale. I've experienced the four seasons and now understand why people count and look forward to events by the quarters.

I've learnt to be independent, knowing that I have so much potential to be more, and had the opportunity to realise all my dreams. Backpacking in Europe was supposed to be a backup plan if I hadn't won the scholarship to pursue my studies, and it turned out very well I must say. I have met some of the most humble and generous people on my travels, and wish you could meet them too.

I've learnt who my real friends are, even if they don't keep in constant touch with me. Support and love come in various shapes and sizes. I've tasted pure goodness that can only come from God, especially at the deepest points in my life. That, at the end of it, I am nothing without Him, is now more than just a Bible verse. 

Funny how, looking back, I wouldn't mind if I had to go through all these ups and downs again. Put together all these seemingly little bits and pieces, pile them up, I come away overwhelmed at His blessings. This year alone, I've lived as if I was the richest, and yet I was the poorest that I've ever been. If it's not by His grace, I don't know what else this is.

Indeed, greatly blessed, highly favoured, deeply loved.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

豊かな人生模様 woven hemp

I had written this just before the Jakarta post, but somehow left it in the drafts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I know this is beginning to sound quite ridiculous because it seems that I'm travelling a lot this year. Being at the state I am right now, not only is it considered indulgent but, "sinful"!

Having travelled to 5 countries (yes, Vatican is a country) and at least double more cities when these are not business trips was something I never thought I would be doing in the beginning of this year. There is no reason to envy me because after all these trips I am as broke as a church mouse. I have personal reasons for taking up these trips (carpe diem is one big factor), and even though I have to start earning $ back I have no regrets pursuing my passion.

I don't know how else to explain it except that I am most humbled at being blessed by the people who have decided to host me. I had very little expectations, and was prepared to fork out my own money, but in the end it's the goodness of these people that I am convinced again that God will continue to provide for me and look after my needs.

It is also these very friends that I am deeply indebted to, as I think about how I can ever return their favour and express my gratitude to them. They may not know how I feel or have an inkling what I've been through, and their acts may not even seem like a big deal to them. Yet to me, it goes to show what little done from the heart can be so significant in many ways.

As the year comes to an end, and as I recall the amazing places I've visited and beautiful people I've met, I can say that even though this year has been a tough one, it has been very colourful too. It's like the weaving of a cloth where the fabric is made of hemp, coarse and not gentle to the skin. At first touch, it may not be inviting. However, sweep your fingers across and you will find that all over the cloth are threads of various colours and textures.

Baby pink in silk for those cherry blossoms in Japan, thick crimson red ones for Italy, navy blue velvet strands reminds me of the proud French, yarn in rich amber for that short stay in Indonesia, multi-coloured cotton threads for my homeland.

Monday, December 28, 2009

eyes and love

Ever since Imeem got bought over by MySpace, I have had to resort to Youtube. Nothing against the user-generated video giant, but because IP needs to be protected, user-generated is such that less than professionally done productions (sometimes) distract from the essence of the music.

Anyways. The lyrics and the genre, not the video.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

christmas lambs

Hope you all have had a blessed Christmas with your loved ones :)

For me, most of the celebrations were done ahead, especially over the last long weekend. It's always nice to have it earlier, so that you can start collecting and giving presents instead of frantically trying to cram everything and everyone on one single day.

And also, spread the dinners and parties so that you don't feel overly guilty for stuffing yourself silly at one go.

This year's food theme seem to be lamb, at least for my family. I absolutely have no complains about that, because I have to say lamb tastes so much better than turkey. And it can be cooked in so many variety of ways. (Eg : After my parent's christmas party, my mum's friend used the leftover meat and bones to make sup kambing and tangy lamb stew)

I was just telling Boon Leong that turkey is overrated. I don't understand why people for generations, now the world over, are buying and eating turkey for Christmas.

me: i think the trend this year is lamb. but i'm not complaining. i still love lamb better than turkey

Boon: actually, i don't get turkey. i's really not good at all. don't know why there's a tradition that eats something so tough...

me: haha ya man. duno why ppl keep buying and making turkey. just becoz its tradition

Boon: i think they made a mistake and didn't have the guts to admit it

me: you mean for so many years??

Boon: yeah...of course. but in the beginning, it was just a mistake. the first guy made a mistake. i think he must be in marketing or something. so he managed to convince ppl it's actually cool to eat turkey. especially during christmas. then after that, those who didn't eat turkey are perceived as un-cool. so in order to remain cool, they had to swallow the tough bird...that's the story

me: wah you so creative. you bring no shame to pisces

Boon: no serious...this is the hidden truth... it's completely unlike chinese. the chinese invent a very good food first. then look for an excuse (in the form of a festival) to gorge it

me: hahaha

Thursday, December 24, 2009

spanking new office

Allow me to introduce my workplace. I am based at the client's and I must say I know tonnes more about the client than my own company.

Our team sits at one corner so we get excellent views all around. To our left are many empty cubicles, yet to be occupied.

To the right are more empty cubicles, soon to be occupied by new recruits when they come in next year. Some Helpdesk people are already there now.

Directly behind is a view of the closest buildings around us, and Brickfields in the background.

Not forgetting the Le Meridien and KL Hilton hotels, and the KL Sentral station, and also a view of the city centre in the far end.

We have a pretty lively looking pantry where CNN is broadcasted all day, newspapers are available for reading and there's free flow of coffee, tea, milo and even biscuits and oat for the taking. Sometimes we have meetings here too.

I like the views from here because there's just so much greenery around, especially after staring at the laptop for too long.

Amongst many other things, I really like that our client, as a company, takes care of its employees really well. This extends to their contract workers, and also their vendors such as us. I had asked for some stationery, not knowing that in our line of work, we're supposed to be mobile workers, bringing all our stationery along with us.

To my surprise, they were so generous! I had only asked for basic stuff, but this was like a goodie bag already. I like my client so much I don't mind working here longer... >.<

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Towards the end of my "extended-leave" period, I got a call for an interview with H company. By that time, I was already about to decide on one of the offers I had, because I was quite tired at preparing and going for anymore interviews.

I had gradually learnt to be more picky because I didn't want to waste the interviewer's time and mine, especially if I knew it wasn't a company/job that I'd see myself working for.

So I called the lady back, wanting to apologise for the inconvenience. She asked for the reason for not being able to make it. Instead of saying how I really felt, suddenly these came from my mouth, "I already have a job offer!"

I said to myself after putting the phone down, "What have I just said?!" I wondered where that came from, because even though it was true that I had some offers to choose from, they were not really what I would have chosen if given a choice.

There I was, still without an official confirmation that I had a new job at hand, and yet so bold and confident as if I had.

Sometimes the inner me have a better inkling of what God has in store than my logical self could comprehend.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

happy winter solstice



Have you had your share of tang yuan this year?

These were made by my dad, surprisingly it was my first time seeing him make it because they're usually made by my mum. Turned out pretty good, they had ground peanut fillings in 'em and the pungent ginger balanced the sweet pandan syrup well.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

our local trains and such

I really wasn't expecting this to be published, whatmore be listed under the Most Viewed section in The Star today, especially since I wrote this days ago, and someone else had beat me to it. I actually didn't mind at all because his sounded more dramatic!

When Zad mentioned about it in my comment box, I thought he was referring to the article on Wednesday, so I brushed it away. Then Amin sent me a link and I was half-surprised to see that it really was mine. I thought, with the earlier article, mine would be rendered useless lol! 

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Friday started well despite my zombified state. My PM again commended my work during a one-to-one update session. He said before earlier in the week that it's a shame that I'm on contract, and would not hesitate to try to help me get in.

I must say I didn't expect such affirmation so early on in the project, and to be honest thought what I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. Was trying hard not to break into a wide grin because we're supposed to be professional about it :D

Friday, December 04, 2009

running on reserves

Crunch time. This week concentrated on learning about the client and the complex processes and changes they've done to reach this stage, and thus requiring our services. Information overload, and additional workload which came from a sister organisation.

Next week more so when we have at least 2 conference calls coming up. Since it involves the UK and US, that means late nights again. Need to come up with a communications plan + presentation slide + postcard. All because the leadership team will be coming in 14-17.

Hosting Yuri who will be touching down in about 12 hours' time. She will be here for the upcoming APYAC conference. Staying with me for the whole week.

Another friend visiting from Australia next week too.

Plus a Malaysian couple from Japan whom I was supposed to meet last weekend at Ying's wedding will be down in Klang Valley. They were the first countrymen I met when I moved to Tokyo, so they're like my big senpai's.

And, taking my first JLPT 1 exams this Sunday, which will be for fun more than anything!

Monday, November 30, 2009>.<

I usually don't tell people I'm being sarcastic because I like to think that you guys are smart enough to know.

Anyways. I really do like my job even though I may sound otherwise. What turned today from "I like my job despite the stresses and hours" to "I tell myself I like my job so that I can maintain my sanity" was the Komuter trains.

My direct supervisor had already given the green light to go back earlier so that I could take the conference call at home. the 2000 call was inevitable because the other parties were from Chicago (0600) and UK (1200). I thought to myself I could still reach home and quickly grab dinner if I took the 1821 train back.

The train came late (not surprising, but still, no harm hoping) and since it was late for almost half an hour, there were already too many people waiting. All these people started pushing and shoving when the train came. Some were left behind.

Since I didn't get on board that train, and having no hope (stopped hoping by then) that the next train would even come on time, I decided to walk back to the office to stay back and take the call.

I decided to finish up some work in the meantime. By then, everyone had already gone back, leaving me to have the whole office to myself. Wowee.

The call which was supposed to last half an hour extended to almost an hour, but that was not a problem. I was already alone when it started, so it made no difference. So I decided I might as well follow up from the call, finish a bit more work so that by the time I left, I would be eligible for the dinner and cab claim. :D

I don't get richer or feel better like that, but was too lazy to think about what to eat later at home and since the Komuter had already disappointed me, taking a cab would be a nice change. Besides that was my first time taking a cab alone.

Thank God I got back to the station (where I parked my car) safely. I prayed that I would get a good driver. He turned out to be quite talkative, even gave me some tips and asked me to share them with my friends!

1. To insist on receipt, not merely for claims but more on safety
2. To take note of the cab's registration plate, and to make sure it matches the ones in front, at the back, and inside of the cab
3. To notify friend/kin of the number plate

i love my job!

I just got home.

Wait, lemme shower and update a little more.

But before that, if you ever read that I still like my job, either I'm being sarcastic or psyching myself so that I can continue doing this while maintaining my sanity until the end of the project. :)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2nd week, 6th day report card

I wish all work weeks are like this. Last week I started on a Thursday, this week Friday's a holiday. And yet, it feels like I've already worked for a whole month already.

Having a steep learning curve in a perpetually evolving complex organisation and dealing with various time zones all make what I do very maddening at first.

I thought perhaps it was the adjustment in schedule, or the commuting in a less-than-perfect public transportation system, the traffic crawls, but now I know it's the initial adrenaline rush. I'm so exhausted but in a happy way.

This week I got thrown 2 deadlines on the same day. Since the project has already begun, and we are still trying to lock down on plans, I didn't get to find out about what I had to do (well I knew, but not the specific deadline) until the day before.

I think I thrive on changes and challenges (but not on a constant basis, of course!)

The fun part was completing my part that late evening, then passing them on to the hiring managers in the US and UK to do their parts, and coming in the next morning to find that the deliverables were successfully completed, and getting a happy email from the boss.

From what I understand, the pace will only pick up even more in the coming weeks as we prepare for the visit from the leadership team and present our updates and achievements to them mid December.

As I reflect on what this new phase mean, and even though it will get tougher and there will be bad days too, I hope to remember to keep thanking Him for His favour.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

3rd day report card

Thank you all so much for your wishes and notes :) Am happy to share that I've started my new job just last Thursday (if you haven't already translated my blog post that day :D)

I have lots to talk about, but soooo tired! Today is only my 3rd day, and yes I'm very exhausted by this sudden change in schedule and routine. Not proud to say I'm back in the rat race, simply because I never liked working. Some people may say they want to go back to work when they're studying, but not me. If I could I'd wanna be studying forever, so much so that my brother said I should be a professional student!

Anyways. 1st day was krazy. Was scheduled to have some form of orientation/induction at the company, but no one was there to greet me at the office because the admin staff who was supposed to help me get settled in, totally forgot that she had a medical appointment. A bit hard to explain where the rest of the staff were, but let's just say it's partly due to the complex matrix that MNC's are quite famous for, and the rather sudden manner I was brought into the company.

Since the office was quite empty and there was nothing I could do being there, I was told to go directly to the client's office. I went there with an extra "burden", the company laptop. In a sling bag. (I specifically mention this because this will be a separate post)

So I went to the site, meeting had just started and some bosses were there already. One of the big guys flew in from India to give us an update on the status of the project. Suffice to say, all the jargons, processes, diagrams and flowcharts made almost no sense to me because they were in SAP and energy, 2 fields which I have no direct prior experience in LOL! And the meetings went on from morning till evening.

And yes, all these on my first day. The project head, who is my line manager had a 90-day plan, broken down into 30-day chunks which was very good in managing the workload. Each of us had different pieces of the puzzle to finish up, and if we are on schedule, would be able to complete the big big gigantic puzzle by the end of the 90-day period.

But, I must say that even though I was kinda nervous in the beginning, especially when I didn't even have proper access to my company's system and emails (it's like going to a lecture hall without lecture notes! Yes I'm that kind of student :)) I found it all very exciting because I love tackling new challenges (am also kinda sadistic :p). This would be my first time working in an MNC, serving an MNC client, and having to collaborate with stakeholders and colleagues from all over the world.

To be honest, I am still trying to figure out what exactly I'm supposed to be doing and have tonnes to read and catch up on if I am to deliver my portion. It looked really daunting the first day, but as I eased into the team and the company, gradually find myself understanding bit by bit what those jargons and processes mean.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

beautiful savior

Jesus, Beautiful Saviour,
God of all Majesty,
Risen king,
Lamb of God,
Holy and righteous,
Blessed redeemer,
Bright morning star

All the heavens shout your praise,
All creation bow to worship You

How wonderful, how beautiful,
Name above every name, exalted high
How wonderful, how beautiful,
Jesus your name, name above every name, Jesus

I will sing forever, Jesus I love you, Jesus I love you

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


     ☆                        ☆                        ☆                        ☆

今日は契約をサインして、明日は仕事を始めます。ちょっと早すぎるので、緊張しているのに楽しみにしています(^・^)☆神様の祝福を感謝します!皆、祝いましょう!o(^^o)(o^^)o わくわく

     ☆                        ☆                        ☆                        ☆


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

satria's wedding & jalan-jalan jakarta

Someone once quoted that IUJ is like a mini UN. We have students representing about 50 countries at any one time, and this coming from a graduate campus that has a compact size of not more than 250 in total.

The fact that we have friends from all continents of the globe was one that we lived and breathed while doing our Masters degree. Now most of them have returned to their home countries upon graduation, and are living lives which are impacting businesses, governments and NGO's.

It was nice to see that my Indonesian friends have settled down nicely back in Jakarta when I paid them a visit recently. When we went our separate ways after graduation, I had to accept the fact that I might not bump into them anymore.

Even when the wedding invitation came from Satria, and I was happy for him, I was a bit hesitant due to my current situation. I would have had no qualms about reserving a flight on the spot if it was otherwise. I jokingly told him that I would not be welcomed in Indonesia due to the recent Ganyang Malaysia plan which somehow arose from misunderstanding between these 2 neighbouring countries.

Because Eugene made a call to me personally and assured that we would be taken care of, only did I decide to go. So I booked the flights, made arrangements with other ex-classmates and took it as an opportunity to take an even longer extended break! (while trying hard not to feel guilty)

This would be my first wedding invitation overseas, and a delight actually because of the kinship with all of them. I remember Satria who attempted to cook porridge for me when I fell sick during my first winter in Japan. I think I recovered not because of his cooking, but because I was really amused at the effort he took (^.^)

So even if I had to use "future" money, this was still a once in a lifetime affair and besides, great excuse for a reunion with the rest of the gang too. May flew in from Tokyo just a few hours after me, and we caught up with Sirilak who managed to arrange a business meeting in Jakarta with her boss in Thailand. Our senior Rizzqi and his wife were also there.

Ricky, Eugene and Arie, co-hosts for the bridegroom took very good care of us, making sure we tasted the best Indonesian culinary could offer and even brought us out to Bandung to visit the famous Kawah Putih crater lake on a packed weekend. To me, it was truly royal treatment!

I never expected anything out of going to Jakarta, other than witnessing Satria's special day. I even told them I wouldn't mind if I had to sleep on the floor as long as I had a roof over my head. To our surprise they took us to a hotel at Pluit, known to be a Chinese Indonesian area. It was very decent, and came with free breakfast and commendable service.

I felt so touched that they went to lengths to ensure we had a comfortable stay, that I did not want to leave Jakarta. I cried a little was almost at tears saying goodbye at the airport.

Even though I can't fully repay them for their generosity and warmth (but I hope to be able to reciprocate when they come over next time) I brought back with me these lessons :
1) To be a better host to my foreigner friends. When I was hosting Yuri and Geoff, I had just returned to Malaysia myself and since was still adapting back, was very new at bringing people around despite all the wonderful things I've talked about Malaysia in Japan.

2) To be appreciative more tolerant of Malaysia's traffic condition. I don't know if Jakarta has one of the worst traffic in the region, but I really salute their drivers for being sane and cool despite the ridiculous honks and bizarre driving skills! You need guts to drive in Jakarta, that's for sure. The closest analogy I know of are the Penang drivers who have to look out for the motorbikes that weave in and out of traffic as and when they wish.

Amazing what seemingly spontaneous trips can do. Totally no regrets going off like that, even if it meant breaking my principle of not visiting a country twice!

Oh, speaking of international friends, I was also invited for a wedding of another MBA friend in Laos, which falls on the 18th. Yes, that's tomorrow! Really wish I could go, especially since I've never been there before, but flights are really too expensive, and I have something big coming up real soon ;)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

christmas illumination

Christmas in Western countries begins after Halloween. Alden had posted some pictures of the lights in London, and it reminded me that Yuri had also sent me some taken with her mobile in Tokyo.

Believe it or not, I have not captured a single shot of the Christmas illumination in Tokyo during my time there!

Christmas in Japan also begins after Halloween. In fact, a lot of Western holidays are celebrated with much anticipation by the Japanese. I'm (still) surprised at the scale and detail with which the Japanese celebrate this year-end event, whatwith all the lights and glitter, parties and presents, hype and hope. Malaysia hasn't even started decorating yet!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

overwhelmed at first

I was about to start off yesterday's blog post with something to address your concerns about how I've been doing on the job front back here. Then while comparing the situation between Malaysia and Japan, it veered to a subtopic on recycling.

Soon enough, it became a topic of its own, and I decided to delete the first sentence. And write it afresh here.

The job market back here is definitely better than in Tokyo. Not surprising. But what I did not expect was the response I got. Quite overwhelming in the beginning, I must say.

I did mention that I had 7 interviews the first couple of weeks I was back, some arranged back in Tokyo, the rest quickly came up when some friends knew I was around and introduced openings they knew. Till now, I've had an average of about 2 interviews per week, some from the same companies. That is really something compared to the 1 per month in Tokyo that was almost impossible to get. Most were very positive, I'd even go as far as say a third of those companies I talked to translated to offers.

I've never felt so "wanted" before LOL!

It was really quite amusing sometimes that various companies were willing to get me on board, despite the incompatibility in terms of work experience.

Like this MNC dealing with chemicals which was looking for an accounts payable analyst. It was introduced by a recruiter who specialised in Japanese-related positions. They didn't mind that I had totally no experience at all in that department, but because I spoke the language invited me over. I went for the interview nevertheless.

After the written and verbal Japanese tests, the interviewers talked to me about the job, and finally said in a very careful tone, "To be honest, I don't see you working here. From what I can see, your personality may not suit the work, as this will be quite routine and boring for you..."

To their surprise, I answered, "Yea, you're right! I don't see myself working here either. To be honest, I came here also to see if there are other opportunities which may be more suitable to what I am looking for."

Relieved that I was not disappointed, they replied, "Fair enough, we will keep that in mind."

I then politely requested that they forward my resume to HR and keep me updated if that happened. And so I thought that was the end of it.

Later that afternoon, the recruiter called me saying, "Guess what? Good news, X Company is keen on hiring you!"

(0.o) I thought we had an understanding earlier?!

So yes, opportunities are aplenty here. Recession has/did not really hit Malaysia, and job market is definitely much better.

If I was a fresh grad, I might have considered taking up that offer. They were willing to provide training for the job. I guess Japanese speakers are not that easy to find here.

After going through that a bit, it makes me wonder, perhaps I should have just studied Japanese instead of taking up my Masters! Apparently, a Masters degree is not highly valued here, and having an extra language will only come in handy when it's called for. Having both doesn't seem to make a difference in the compensation. Especially in smaller and local companies.

But that is how things are here. I shall have to be content with the fact that the life experiences gained from my time abroad are worth far more than what monetary ones will be, for they are priceless.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

recycle, reuse and reduce

When I left the metropolis, I realised there were many others who had to say goodbye too. Looking at the number of listings put up by those wanting to sell and/or give away their belongings, a lot of gaijins were definitely impacted by the financial downturn.

When the economy was good and everyone was enjoying life with nary a worry, you might see one posting a day from Craigslist, usually from someone who was going to upgrade his Ikea bed to something sturdier. Or one of the English teachers moving to a new prefecture and not planning to move everything with him.

Throughout this year I noticed that the number of postings spiked up, so much so that no one bothered to hold garage sales anymore. They just opened their house and almost had to plead for people to help themselves to their furniture. Darn, I wish I was the one staying instead!

I like the fact that the foreign, and especially Japanese, community are very conscious of the environment. Recycling is big, every household is expected to separate their garbage and encouraged to be eco-friendly. 2nd hand shops take in unwanted but usable stuff, clean/fix them up, then sell to those who are interested.

When I was a student, I remember joining my other gaijin friends scouring the school bazaar and Book Off's for good bargains. Knowing the Japanese, they take the effort to clean and ensure that what you purchase is still in good condition. A lot of the furniture and electrical items that I had were mostly hand-me-down's and second-hand goods. Like the table above was bought at a steal at only JPY50, and the heater below at no more than JPY500.

It's definitely much fun when living in a student community because the items go around easily. The winter warmers I inherited from a Filipino student were donated to the church for their charity bazaar, the kitchen cabinet and table my Malaysian senpai sent me were given to incoming Indonesian students, the trusty bicycle that brought me around Niigata was passed on to Gene, who had not cycled in his life before.

It was not as easy in Tokyo because everyone lived in different areas, but still possible. For bigger items, you would have to call the Ward Council to collect and dispose of them, for a fee of course. If I were to dispose of my car in Urasa, I would have had to pay JPY30,000 at least. This encourages people to be careful with what they buy and throw. That way, living in Japan is not necessarily expensive.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

時雨の記 diary of early winter shower

Since Rabiah wanted to watch a movie and I wanted to practice my Japanese, and we both wanted to catch up, when I first saw this movie poster at ICLS, knew that this was perfect for killing 3 birds with one stone. Mel, who is the other kouhai from IUJ decided to join us too.

So it wasn't as if I actually learnt any Japanese during the show because it had English subtitles, and I knew that I'd miss Japan even more after watching it, but we all agreed that it was a very Japanese movie. Simple storyline yet deep meanings, poetically zen.

Some of the things that stood out for me, more than the plot, were the breathtaking landscapes of Kyoto, in particular the rich hues of the maple leaves in their autumn glory. Kyoto is famed for its beauty in the fall, and yet I've only been there during the summer. Thrice, at that! 

The other that added poignancy to the movie was its theme song. Even if you were to hear it on its own, it's not difficult to imagine the mood for which the piece is written for. Entitled La Pioggia, which means "rain" in Italian, it captures the brief but delicate time that the main characters were together.

I later found out that the composer Joe Hisaishi has an impressive track record of writing musically distinct pieces, a lot of them for well-loved animes and movies. The list includes Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Departures.

The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur has regular screenings of rare Japanese film shows at FINAS (National Film Development Corporation Malaysia), which is next to the National Zoo.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

ecchi, you say?

One of the few things that friends have cautioned me before going to Japan was Japanese men. Those who advised me to be careful all mentioned about how hamsap/horny/hentai they are. Hey, they all start with the letter H! "Ecchi", by the way, which is the pronunciation of the letter H in Japanese, is also known as indecent and lewd.

I have never personally encountered any of those during my stay both in Niigata and Tokyo, much to the surprise of Stephen who's personally disgusted with the porn they read on trains. However, I am more put off by the male dominance mentality that is overall still prevalent in modern Japan.

To be fair, most are from the older generation whereas the younger ones, having been exposed to Western and outside culture do not quite follow in the footsteps of their fathers and those before them. Those who show no signs of these are they who have returned from overseas or have been brought up out of Japan, and I found them more relateable, if there is such a word. But that will be a story for another time.

This picture was taken during one of my cycling trips in Iidabashi this spring. I was not trying to follow them nor eavesdrop to find out what was the relationship between this more senior looking man and the young lady walking alongside him.

So happened that it was such a beautiful weather to take a leisurely ride and I'm sure they would have made way for me had I sounded the bell of my bicycle.

I was rather intrigued because I actually pitied the grrl as she had to carry a bag each on both arms, plus an additional paperbag on the left, in a way that can only be done in a country as safe as Japan. If this was in Malaysia, someone would have helped himself to the dangling temptations, leaving the poor victim in tears. Or to be more positive, leaving the victim running after the thief for taking what is not his.

Anyways, so she was walking with both arms outstretched and had to turn diagonally to face the man, all these while walking and talking. I could see that this took some amount of effort on her side. This man, having no baggage of his own was for the most time, walking facing forwards, tilting his side slightly to her direction in, say, 1% of the time she gave her fullest attention to him.

While trying to balance myself on the bicycle and taking the picture at the same time, I could not help but wonder if it occured to the man that he could at least help or offer to lighten her burden. But of course, maybe he did and she declined. Perhaps she just wanted to tone her arms and perfect her balancing skills and they weren't going to be walking together to the same direction in the first place.

Update 5 Nov : To avoid misunderstanding, this is just an observation into one stereotype of the Japanese men, and not a blanket statement of the overall population :) 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

my bedside flowers p2

That little pot of flowers from Mother's Day grew until it could not grow anymore. In fact, it had a longer lifespan compared to the tou miau.

When I first took it home and transferred it to a proper pot, it almost wilted and I got worried it might just die altogether. I guess the other grrls didn't fancy them as much as I did, for theirs died a premature death, but they were kind enough to donate the soil to mine. I was only too happy to accept because my flowers were surviving on that little clump of soil with very little nutrients.

Soon within about 3 weeks, the number of flowers doubled to almost 25.

The colours were vibrant and a great sign of the spring weather outside. I would always look forward to waking up and opening my window to enjoy the flowers. It was during those days when I was still trying to figure out if i should stay on in Japan or go back to Malaysia that these flowers gave me motivation to try harder. I would wake up thanking Him for another day to be alive and healthy and enjoy His tremendous blessings.

I had seen these flowers many times on my way back home, usually in planters on gates outside homes and offices. They come in cheery colours of bright yellow, orange, purple and white. I think I was the only one who grew them like this outside my window.

Due to the space constraint, and possibly the direction of the sun, it had no choice but to branch out in various directions. I tried to rotate the pot to even out the distribution of sunlight and to prevent the flowers from growing in one direction. Close to 2 months later, instead of growing upwards, the plant had ended up looking like this.

Not bad eh? My first and only pot of flowers (in Tokyo, that is) have indeed grown! It became like a little game to count the flowers and to guess which bud would bloom first.

It became apparent that I had to start pruning the plant, or else, it would look really unruly. There was really no more space to which it could grow anymore.

In fact, when I tried to bring it in from the balcony it became so difficult that some flowers dropped off in the midst of the untangling. This was just before I left for Europe and I had to ask the landlord to take care of the plants for me.

Looking at that picture, it does look kinda wild that it grew like that! After 2 weeks+, I came back to a very different plant. I didn't even take a picture of it, it was so sad to look at. It was not the landlord's fault, but it had been kept indoors without direct sunlight and was close to wilting completely.

Aishah did try to revive it when she came back from Finland, just a few days before us. On my last day in Tokyo, just before getting into the landlord's van, I looked up to the balcony and saw a lone stalk with 7 purple flowers in a row left in that pot, slightly bending downwards like a Japanese bow. How ikebana-ish.

Saturday, October 31, 2009





Thursday, October 29, 2009

reverse culture shock

When I first came back, I was not prepared for the "reverse culture shock" syndrome that I had to go through. IUJ friends who have left Japan right after graduation have mentioned about it before, but I did not understand the full brunt of it until I myself came back to Malaysia.

For some, going back to their homeland was something welcomed, as they knew that their time overseas was up, and there was no more reason to remain there. For some, they have always regarded Japan as a brief moment in transition, somewhat like a long holiday.

For me, it was the unexpected birthday gift that changed my life forever. Who would have expected the letter that arrived 3 years ago early March would have left so much impact on me, allowing me to fulfill my dreams and see the world.

Even more so, that dream continued when I was offered to work in Tokyo. It was definitely nothing like what I could have imagined, whatmore planned to do. The dream opened up limitless possibilities for me.

Living abroad have enabled me to see things differently, and that was exactly what I had wanted for myself as there was just so much that I could do, but not able to back here. The potential to be who I wanted to be, go wherever I wanted to, at anytime of the day or even season, was a luxury I took advantage of while in Japan. If I had remained in Malaysia, I would have continued to be dumbed down and restricted by circumstances and obligations.

It is impossible for anyone to really understand that unless they themselves have been overseas for a reasonable period of time. Thus, when I came back, it was difficult to relate to some people as obviously we've all grown and gone in different directions during the time when I was gone.

When Ee Wei shared about how she felt, I told her she was still better off than me since she was still in the UK. At least being there, you're expected to be different, because, well, you are different. However, coming back, people assume you are still the same, and expect you to continue to be the same, not considering that 3 years so many things could happen.

Charis, who has also just returned from her graduate studies in the US, shares the same struggles that I am going through. However, she has it better because she herself is a psychologist, and have access to counsellors who helped prepare her for the transition coming back.

The general respond that others give to people like us is to "adapt" because there's "no choice". How easy it is to say that, something which I personally equate to giving up and giving in. No wonder so many of our foreign graduates choose to remain overseas, coming back only for holidays. If our PM is serious and sincere about stopping the brain drain, merely building tangible infrastructure will not be enough. He should hire me to be his advisor!

Friday, October 23, 2009

karipap pusing

One spring afternoon we found ourselves craving for curry puffs, so we decided to make some ourselves. Just like how Imm had longed for Ramly burger bread (but surprisingly they don't sell such buns) and mantou and went ahead to just make them herself.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and so in this case, "craving is the mother of culinary creations"©. Hmm, I like that phrase.

Since it was initially Aishah's idea, she got to be the head chef, with us minions helping her out. Our recipe was taken from Zairul who coincidentally was working in Japan. So that means if they could make karipap pusing, we could very well do the same too. Malaysia Boleh!

Thus began what would be the first curry puffs in the Edogawabashi kitchen. 

Mix 350g flour with 1 cup lukewarm water with some salt. This will be dough A.

Mix 150g flour with some 1 tsp Crisco and some margarine to create a soft dough. This will be dough B.

Flatten 1 dough from A, and wrap around B. Repeat until all 5 balls look like this.

Cover them like siew pau, hong tau pau, or kaya pau, or any pau that you want to imagine them to be.

Take 1 dough and roll flat. Then roll alas swiss roll.

Then flatten again, then swiss roll again, this time lengthwise.

Repeat for the 4 remaining doughs. Take 1 swiss roll and cut into 1/2" slices. Roll flat again.
With so much rolling and kneading, curry puff makers need not go to gym to tone their arms.

Put the filling in the middle. Since we were amateurs obviously taking our time to do this, we had to cover the frying pan with a wet cloth so the filling would not dry up.

Don't laugh, the top one was my maiden attempt, and obviously it's handmade :) Practice makes perfect, as I strived to emulate Aishah's perfect folds.

Fry until golden brown. We had many strange shapes, as you can see from above. We definitely had more than enough curry puffs, so we decided to share them with our fellow Malaysian friends at the next day's outing at Chichibu.

I just realised this was my first curry puff after 3 years. Maybe more, I don't remember when was the last time I had these teatime snacks.