Wednesday, January 28, 2009

a mongolian affair

This is my 3rd year celebrating CNY away from home. Well, technically speaking, it hasn't really been so much of a celebration per se.

CNY 2007 was spent with the IUJ students from China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. Some of the ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia also had their own group gatherings, the highlight being the firecrackers that they played on the rooftops of the dormitories. It was still winter, much snow outside, but lots of warmth within my little community in Urasa.

CNY 2008. Hmmm, what did I do last year? I tried to look through my calendar and schedule, I could not find anything that looked like I did anything CNY-ish. Gosh. This is bad. I think... err, I think... I did not do anything last year!

Come to think of it, I only realised it was CNY when my parents called to wish me. I must have been working too hard to think about it. Hmmm. Not good.

So anyways, this year I decided to redeem the lost CNY. By joining fellow Malaysians for our own version of a the reunion dinner at a Mongolian restaurant. It was located at a dark alley parallel to the JR train tracks at the Ootsuka station, so shady I would never visit this place by myself.

But when we stepped in, were we amazed to find a tent-like interior decorated with traditional textures and paintings. Everyone sat on the carpeted floor with low tables laden with food and drinks.

There were Mongolian costumes for both male and female all over the walls. This was pretty authentic, I thought. Exotic even.

The food was quite Chinese-influenced, much to my delight. I was expecting it to be a meaty affair with minimal servings of greens. To be honest, I was actually not very keen at first, but since I have not tried Mongolian food before, I was game for it.

The restaurant taukeh seemed very hospitable. Knowing that we had gone to his restaurant to celebrate the lunar new year, he went around making sure we had enough food and that we were enjoying ourselves. He even invited the Mongolian guys at the next table to come out and sing a song for us. Rather impressive considering they sang a capella. In parts even.

Later he brought out a bottle of Mongolian liquor, poured some of it into a horn-like pitcher and made the guys in our group drink. The first to kena was our organizer, Chong Wei. He made a toast to which we all shouted "yaaaaaammmm-seeeeennnggg". Later I found out that the alcoholic content was about 90%!

In the midst of all these, the taukeh even organised a traditional Mongolian fight, much alike the Japanese sumo whereby 2 guys would wrestle in a small area. The Mongolian guy that was chosen certainly looked very well-built and muscular, while our Malaysian representative was slightly smaller in size. We feared for his life when the taukeh picked him from where we were sitting! Even though he did not win, we congratulated him for having the guts to take up the challenge.

As everyone began to loosen up after all the fun and eating, we tried on the Mongolian costumes that were in abundance and went krazy with pictures and poses.

Emperor Erick and his gundik haha!

I wish I had brought along my camera with me. This picture reminded me of a scene from a movie set during the Tang Dynasty period. The guys looked like actors for the Chinese emperor and his palace officials while the grrls dressed up as maidens and ladies-in-waiting. Much fun!

And I just got an invitation to an open house at a Malaysian restaurant in Ginza this coming weekend. Yummy, more food :D

Update : I just found out that the restaurant is called Genghis Khan.

Food : 7/10
Service : 8/10
Ambience : 8/10

* All pictures taken by Chun Keat from his Facebook album. (I was too busy eating)

Monday, January 26, 2009

whoosh it went

It's only the 4th week into the 1st month of the year and I'm already exhausted. This week, in particular has been taxing. To say it had been a whirlwind of a week is an understatement. Even the Brand's Chicken Essence that I usually count on did little to give me the boost that I needed.

Three words to describe the week : intense overwhelming whirlwind.

I'm not saying it was altogether bad. The highlight of the week culminated over the weekend with a nomikai* on Friday with fellow IUJ salaryman*, cheese fondue party-cum-dousoukai* on Saturday with more friends from IUJ and a Chinese New Year "reunion dinner" shinnnenkai* with fellow Malaysians at a Mongolian restaurant yesterday night.

I'd be surprised if I did not put on weight after all that eating. As usual, when I'm busy indulging and catching up with and making new friends, I forget about taking pictures.

I managed to meet a long-lost friend from MMU last night, that was a surprise. I also brought along Masami to the party, even though she's only half-Malaysian. But she really enjoyed herself and was gushing about how much fun she had meeting other Malaysians at Tokyo. She even "complained" that I had more friends in Tokyo :D

Overall very good week altogether, even though I must admit some of it could have been better spent. However, no regrets though.

Now, if you'll excuse me while I go shower and wind down with my grapefruit lime peppermint soap!

* nomikai 飲み会 【のみかい】 (n) drinking party; get-together
* salaryman サラリーマン (n) salary man; company employee
* dousoukai 同窓会 【どうそうかい】 (n) graduate's association; alumni meeting; class reunion;
* shinnenkai 新年会 【しんねんかい】 (n) New Year's party

Saturday, January 24, 2009

did i hear wrongly?

So I was getting myself a new umbrella at this corner-lot store near my house this afternoon. I was looking through the several designs they had in stock when I thought I heard Wham's "Last Christmas" playing in the background. I wondered if it was because:

A) The Japanese love all things foreign so much that any English songs would create a classy atmosphere in the store.

B) The store owner was reminiscing over her own "Last Christmas" in 2008 and wanted to recall the good memories.

C) They don't really know what the lyrics actually meant, or if certain songs are to be played at certain times of the year.

D) They ran out of normal songs.

E) The player got stuck and they could not remove the last played CD, so they just continued playing the same songs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

mi-chan, recovered

Something happened to Mi-chan last summer. It was hot and humid, as Tokyo summers go. She's a house cat and if not found in the kitchen and Watanabe-san's room, would be standing near the glass door looking at the world outside.

A traditional Japanese home usually has 2 doors. The main entrance for the landlord and his family, and a smaller side door for the people serving them (I'm not sure if they had what we would call maids in those days). Or in our case, the tenants and guests.

I usually use the side door since all my shoes are there. But since the bicycle is parked near the main entrance, I would use the side door to get out and then come back in through the main door to get my bicycle. It's a bit difficult to describe the layout of the house, so you will have to imagine.

So Mi-chan is usually found at the main glass door checking out the people who walk by our house. Some of them would stop by to say hi to her. Being a cat, Mi-chan just stares back at them, as if the attention lavished is expected of them.

One night, as I was putting the bicycle back into the house, suddenly Mi-chan darted out of the door. I did not expect her to be there as it was quite late already. By the time I managed to wheel in the bicycle properly, she was already nowhere to be found. So I went out and started calling out her name.

Nothing. Nowhere to be seen. Surely she could not have gone far.

Suddenly I heard something which sounded like cats getting into a fight. Or something in pain. I could not quite make out what it was because it was very sudden and short.

I got worried and started walking further to see where Mi-chan might have gone off to. I even checked out the neighbour's house and the streets around our area.

Since it was late and there was nothing I could do, I decided to leave the sliding glass door slightly opened. I kept praying that Mi-chan would come back safely.

For a few days after that, I did not see Mi-chan. It got me really anxious because I was probably the last person to have seen her. Later I found out that Watanabe-san had found her under his van, in a pool of blood, injured.

I felt so bad after that.

When I managed to find the time to talk to the landlord, he looked quite worried, and said he wasn't sure if she would make it.

I felt really really bad hearing that.

But he told me that he was taking care of her in his room. It was strange that he did not take her to see the vet, or at least to get some treatment.

So I kept praying that Mi-chan would not die. After about a week, Watanabe-san told us that Mi-chan was recovering.

You have no idea how relieved I was hearing that.

After a couple of weeks, we finally saw Mi-chan down in the kitchen. It was really good to see her, at least for me. But I noticed something quite different about her. When I went to stroke her, as I had been doing before, she did not really respond.

Instead, she looked fearful, and distanced herself from us. It was then that I noticed she had a deep cut on her head. Outwardly she had recovered from whatever she went through that night, but inside she may have been traumatised to the point that she avoided any physical contact.

Danny, my then housemate, comforted me saying it was not my fault, when I told him how bad I felt for opening the glass door that night.

But still, for a kitty who helped me in my own recovery, I still felt awful for not being able to help her in hers.

Almost half a year has gone, and I've seen gradual improvement in Mi-chan. She is not as fearful as before, the cut has closed up completely and she does not shy away from touches as much.

We're now very careful about making sure the sliding doors are shut completely. And she has started to return to that spot near the glass door to enjoy the view outside.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

mi-chan, more than a kitty

Everyone, say hi to Mi-chan.

Mi-chan, what are you looking at?

There's nothing down there. Wanna say hi to my readers?

Can you just stay still while I take your picture? This won't hurt one bit.

Please? Just don't move for a sec while I take your nice little picture. You're gonna be famous.

OMG. Stop. shaking. already.

Everyone, meet Mi-chan. She's really quite adorable, when she's not being too active or in one of her moods. Seriously, I think she gets too hyper after the sun goes down. I hardly see her during the daytime. But come night, she has this tendency to run up and down the stairs, in and out of Watanabe-san's room as if she's seen a ghost.

I've been wanting to share a little story about Mi-chan for some time.

For as long as I can remember, I've never really liked animals. Or maybe they don't like me!

I remember as a child, there was a dog kept by our maid's family, and that I was almost bitten by it when I went too near the rambutan tree.

But also, when I was younger I was asthmatic. I had to stay away from anything furry like carpets, fluffy blankets, and animals, and even dust. I used that as an excuse not to do housework! So that meant no pets. Or rather, pets with fur like cats and dogs. So I grew up not having that kind of pet, though I did remember keeping gold fishes and little tortoises.

Even after I was cured of my asthma, I was still careful about being close to fur and all. So I was quite hesitant when I found out that the landlord reared a cat. I figured, since I managed to live with a carpet in the dorm for a year, I should not have a problem with a cat which was not going to live in my room.

I've always heard that people who have pets live a longer life, and are less stressful. I had no doubt that was true. But because of my lifelong experience, I was not used to touching animals. I would squeal if a dog would so much as come near and try to lick me.

However, one day, I decided to just try and touch Mi-chan. I was a bit hesitant of how she might react, so I stroked very lightly at her fur near the neck. She didn't really respond at first, neither did she run off in fright.

But as I stroked her more, I realised it was really a nice feeling. She even seemed to like it, lowering her head and gesturing as if she wanted to be stroked more.

Suddenly, to my own surprise, I started to cry.

I had not realised that it was an expression of my own feelings, kept deep inside till then. At that time, I had just moved to Tokyo not too long. I had said goodbye to my parents who came to visit me for my graduation, said goodbye to the friends who formed my community back in Niigata, said goodbye to the idyllic lifestyle in the village of Urasa.

Everything that I was used to changed dramatically when I came to Tokyo. It was a big contrast to where I had come from. I had been trying to be strong while adapting to a very different lifestyle in this metropolitan.

No doubt God had been with me all those while.

If not, He wouldn't have blessed me with this wonderful place with a really generous landlord. If not, He wouldn't have blessed me with many new friends who've been really kind to me. If not, I wouldn't have grown to love Tokyo despite its krazy culture.

And I think, maybe He sent Mi-chan to help heal my heart too.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


On days like these when I have too much on my mind, I tire myself with energy-consuming activities hoping that I'd be too tired to think. Hoping that if I'm too tired, the thoughts will somehow leave me alone. Or find someone else to bother.

I fill up my free time with appointments and plans, waste my time on seemingly meaningful hustle and worse, leave no time for myself.

Then after I'm tired out at the end of the day, all these thoughts still remain. Pounding on my head. Even when I'm too tired to think, they're still there. They waited for me to come back from my whirlwind of stuff.

Yet the brain's not working. Refuses to even when the thoughts are in dire need of thinking.

But in the midst of all these throbbing, I know I need to retreat to The Secret Place. There really is no other place to be.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

it almost snowed

According to the weather forecast, it was supposed to snow as early as tonight. From my experience with Tokyo weather, that would mean after midnight. I thought, perhaps I would get to see it the next day instead.

So I was taking out the trash to place it at the collection spot just opposite my house. The temperature outside was hovering below 5 degrees Celcius.

Just a few steps from the garbage area in front of the vending machine, I saw white specks. That particular area was well-lit by the street lamp so the specks kinda stood out.

Could they be fresh drops of fine snow?

I looked further but didn't see much of the same specks. Very little, but further away near the junction. Maybe it had just started snowing very randomly.

I was beginning to squeal for joy, but decided to check again before making a fool of myself in the middle of the street.

True enough, there were white specks alright. But the reason why they were concentrated near where the lamp was shining was because they were left by the birds who had perched on the electric lines above!

Cis! Kena conned.

Bird droppings also can look like drops of snow...I think I need to sleep.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

mixed bag

It's been a week since I came back to Tokyo. Time just flies by so fast. I left Tuesday close to midnight but didn't get proper sleep on the plane. Despite the fact that I secured myself seats across the middle aisle.

I was so excited when I saw that the row next to mine were not occupied, and had quickly went over because I had seen people looking so comfy sleeping on them when I was flying back from Brisbane. Unfortunately because the seats were curvy, it did not feel as comfy as I had thought!

Since I was half-awake, I decided to entertain myself by watching Mamma Mia the movie and some episodes of Ugly Betty.

Soon enough I started falling sleepy and decided to just cover myself with the blanket. My petite frame only took up about 3 of the seats since the shape of the seats made it really hard to stretch across as if I was on a proper bed.

I was quite wasted the next day trying to catch up on sleep. By the time I was fully recharged, it was already New Year's Eve and I found myself with Yuri, Hyun, Geoff and Junyoung at the Student Centre. We counted down to the New Year while eating New Year food, catching up and playing games until the wee hours of the morning.

Needless to say, the whole of last week saw me waking up at noon. I was also out and about meeting/hosting friends even till today. Which in turn, made it incredibly impossible for me to get back to my working routine this week. Ya, I have this habit of trying to stretch my holiday mood!

But I did manage to make some time to do my reflections and got some thinking done about how 2008 had been for me. Overall, it had been a mixed bag. The uncomfortable feeling of having to adapt to the stresses of Tokyo had spilled from the previous year into the 1st quarter. However, things started getting better from my birthday month onward. (Presents make things better!) As I ended my 1 year of surviving Tokyo, I had eventually grown to really like it here. Can't believe I actually said that.

However, with the pressure to deliver at work, compounded by the economic downturn, the stresses shot up again. I see 2009 being a mixed bag too. A different one in a few areas, I suspect. Can't really tell how, but I have a feeling that if I continue to stick by Him, I'll get out of this year better than if I were to go in thinking I could do it myself.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

christmas at the apartment

I don't know why but I just had to celebrate Christmas out of Japan. The first year I was here, I flew to Korea to spend the winter with Cindy. Tired of the blistering cold, I thought I should return to Malaysia the next winter.

This time, I felt a little bad coz I had more reasons to stay back and celebrate with my friends at GAP. But the warm tropical weather was beckoning and besides, I had some serious matters to attend to at home.

As soon as I touched down, my face blushed at the heat and humidity, and almost melted if not for the air-conditioning in Papa's car. Slowly the layers of winter clothes came off and I was able to adapt back to the Malaysian weather.

One of the highlights of any trip back home is dinner with the family. In fact, not just only for Christmas dinner, but I made it a point to spend as many dinners as possible this time with Papa, Mama & Kit. With the prime slot blocked out, I had to allocate breakfast, lunch and supper slots to friends! My apologies if some of you could not get me. It was definitely a whirlwind trip, commented Sookie.

We booked the apartment for our Christmas eve dinner. It was surprisingly not crowded by the time we arrived. Perhaps that was the reason why we had such attentive waiters at our call.

One to hold the tray of food, one to pass the food and another to put the food on the table. I bet they had training as relay runners. But seriously, they were still courteous even when the crowd started coming in.

Decorated like the interior of a real-life apartment, the restaurant felt rather comfy with sofas, shelves of books and Ikea-like furniture.

Since the course meals sounded quite a mouthful, we decided to just order 3 sets for the 4 of us.

Our appetisers comprised of:

- Spiced Nuts

- Chilled Eggnog

- Tapas Plate

As soon as we had finished off the last bits of our starter, the main courses came in one by one. It's always good to eat with people who love food. There's nothing worse than having a meal with those who are picky, can't find anything good to eat on the menu or find no joy in eating! Eating with foodies just increases one's appetite and enhances the gastronomic experience.

- Chilled Gazpacho (traditional home-made Italian vegetable consomme)

- Peking Duck Crepe Rolls (Asian classic with European twist)

- Shredded Chicken Salad (fresh mixed green leaves with moist chicken shreds)

Actually the above looked more like post-starter/pre-main course because what was to come sounded more like the real dishes themselves.

- Roasted Salmon on Bok Choy

- Roasted Leg of Lamb (served with mint sauce, roasted root vegetables & mash)

- Roasted Striploin (with rosemary & thyme gravy, braised red cabbage, roasted butternut pumpkin & sweet potato)

While waiting for the stomach to settle with all the food, we asked the waiters for glasses of water. Seems like they ran out of glasses, one of them was an odd one out. It had a rather unusual handle.

Do we hold it with the thumb on top and the index finger gripping it at the bottom of the handle?

Or do we move the index finger further towards the edge of the glass with the middle finger balancing it at the bottom?

Neither! The awkward handle was put there for mere decoration purposes. Just hold it as you would a handle-less glass.

While we were having deep discussions on the ergonomics of cutleries and glassware, dessert came.

Clockwise from the top : Burnt Caramel Sweet Tartlet, Hot Pear & Apple Crumble, Sweet Mince & Glazed Cherry Flan

It's not always we get to sit down at a nice restaurant with everyone in the family and have a good meal together. For me, it's more of the company and spending time with loved ones. My parents aren't very fussy about food, seeing them enjoy meals together is something I will miss.

Everyone was stuffed towards the end of it. The food itself looked rather delicious, but the taste itself was nothing to shout about. Most of them could be found in the Christmas menus of many Western & fusion restaurants. Personally the dessert was too sweet for my liking. However, the variety in dishes was rather creative, given that they tried to have food from various parts of the world, with more prominence towards British sweets.

Service was commendable, their waiters were very polite, I must say. Even if you're paying a bit more at places like this, it's not a given that their waiters will be so attentive. Interior decor was rather interesting. We visited their outlet in KLCC overlooking the fountain and park. I did manage to peek into the one at The Curve, that looked rather comfy too since the space seemed much smaller.

I don't usually do this, but there's always a first for everything. If it helps with choosing restaurants and knowing what's to go for, here goes...
Food : 6/10
Service : 8.5/10
Ambience : 7.5/10