Sunday, March 29, 2009

cherry blossoms springing forth

The sakura season seems to be one of the most anticipated events in the Japanese calendar. An annual event which holds several significance, one of which is new beginnings, the hanami is where Japanese and foreigners alike throng parks all over the country to enjoy cherry blossoms.

This year the official hanami sighting (at least for Tokyo) was set at March 25th. However, depending on the weather and temperature, the lifespan of the cherry blossoms can last for 1-2 weeks from the time when they first start blooming.

Part 1 : Last week [21 March 2009]

Signs of spring; green buds sprouting from bare branches.

Part 2 : Yesterday [27 March 2009]

Some of the trees had already started blooming with cherry blossoms. Looking at the weather, still rather chilly, we should be able to enjoy hanami for at least another week.

Japanese reserve prime hanami spots by placing mats below the sakura trees with their names and hanami time slots. Sometimes they have people sitting (in the case above, sleeping even) to make sure the place is not taken away by other people. At the Edogawa Park near where I live, there are rows and rows of such placards with borders to signify territory for each hanami group.

Trust the Japanese to be so trusting. Once the placard is placed at that spot, it will still be there when the owner and his group of friends return at the designated time to enjoy their cherry blossoms. If this was Malaysia, I would not be surprised if that same placard would be replaced (and replaced again!) by someone else's. And there would be no proof to show who had placed his placard there in the first place.

There are even designated garbage areas to throw burnable, non-burnable trash, PET bottles, cans and vinyl trays. I don't have to elaborate how and where the trash will end up if this was in Malaysia. :)

Part 3 : Today [28 March 2009]

Spring is officially here! Almost everyone is out this weekend for the hanami. Yoyogi Park is one favourite spot because of its large expanse of land, no entrance fee, and best of all, lots of cherry blossoms in full bloom. Crisp weather, fresh flowers, simple pleasures.

Part of the Malaysian friends who organised the hanami this afternoon. It's picnic time with home-cooked food for us, whereas the typical Japanese hanami comprise of bento from the convenience store and cartons of beer.

Yoyogi Park has always been a favourite with musicians and dancers who seek somewhere to express their talent without having to pay exorbitant fees to rent a studio or karaoke room. It's always very lively taking a walk in this park no matter the season.

Since the lifespan of the sakura is only about 1-2 weeks, they are best enjoyed at the peak of their bloom. Hence, the sakura is also a reminder of how precious life is, and that it is to be lived to the fullest. Carpe diem!

Friday, March 27, 2009

the nigerian easter gift p2

Eventually I decided not to pursue the leads for the responses I got for the items I posted on Craigslist and Gaijinpot.

Even though it was a legitimate and logical way to make some money, I felt God saying I did not have to make money this way. It would have been instant cash for me should the transactions go through.

However, I felt that it was unnecessary. It was as if God was asking me to trust in Him to provide and sustain me while in this situation. I still do not know how or when my next paycheque will come in, or if I will get a job soon, but I'm believing in His providence.

Somehow I felt at peace after making that decision.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

idyllic iwate

Imagine waking up to this every morning. And this is what I woke up to yesterday.

Through the left window, an unobstructed view of Mount Iwate, standing tall at 2041m. Last recorded eruption dates back to the year 1919, though recently has become active again.

Looking down, stacks of sawn wood lined up at the wall. Soon to be used as firewood in the iron stove that heats up the house.

Through the front window looking down to the left, the wooden verandah covered with fresh snow which has accumulated from the night before. White painted table and chairs sit prettily at the corner, beckoning visitors to come and enjoy a cuppa.

Imagine owning a winter villa like this and being able to escape from the madness of city life.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the nigerian easter gift p1

It's amazing how nice and generous some people can be on the internet. If you don't believe, try posting an item on used items or auction sites like Craigslist or Gaijinpot.

So I had some items at my disposal; for which I took some pictures, wrote a few lines of description and posted up my intention to sell them. Not before long, I had a stream of responses coming into my alternative email account. (Tip 1 : Never give out your real email account to just about anyone in case of spam and jokers, especially in a very public domain where everyone else is anonymous anyways.)

The item posted was an electronic product and the selling price I quoted was half of the price it was originally bought for. I thought this was quite fair given the fact that the item was slightly less than a year old, and I knew people would negotiate anyways. (Tip 2 : Try to put a reasonable price, low enough to entice sellers, while high enough in case you need to lower it.)

One of the first responses I had was from a "single mother" who needed the item quick but at a lower price because she needed the money and wanted to buy a few quantity of similar items. My guess is she wanted to buy a lot to sell them off at a higher price.

I wanted to deal directly, to be sure that the buyer was genuine. The alternative is to receive cheques or bank transfers, but I didn't have the time to register and wait for the money to go through. (Tip 3 : Sign up on sites like Yahoo Auction or Ebay to increase legitimacy, and if you don't mind dealing through banks, wait until the cheque or transfer clears before making delivery. In any case, I would still be cautious about giving out bank account details.)

Someone must have read my mind and wanted to assuage my fears...

Hello Seller,
How are you doing i sew your item post on craigslist and i am interested in buying the item for my love wife and i will want you to know that i will be making the payment via pay pal.

I wrote back saying...

i'm sorry i don't have a paypal account. i would prefer to deal directly as i think that's the best way to handle this.

To which he (could be a she) responded with...

Thanks for your mail back to me i will want you to know that it is free to sign up an account at pay pal okay and it is safe and fast to send money okay so i will want you to go and sign up and get back to me with your pay pal account email address to that i can send you the payment and i am willing to add up to JPY20000 to the shipping fee okay you have nothing to worry about at all okay.

So generous.
This person writes as if he's speaking, no fullstop and filled with many "okay's".

Along the way, I also received a number of responses from people living out of Japan, in particular that region between Asia and Europe. They must really like Japanese gadgets to invest their hard-earned money to buy a 2nd hand version of the item.

Out of curiosity (even though I shouldn't be entertaining jokers), I decided to ask this person from "Liberia" why he would even want to pay that amount for my item. To which he said that most of the electronic items in Liberia are made in China and they prefer to buy those made in Japan.

Fair enough.

I guess he's not the only one because I got this one too...

My name is K, from Nigeria. I saw your advert on craigslist and decided to find out if it is still available for sale. I hope it is working fine because I want use it as an Easter gift for my son. How much are you going to sale it to me?

By this time, I must have been bored out of my wits reading everyone's motivation for wanting to buy my item that all I wrote was...

hi there,
yes, the price is as quoted on craigslist :)
still available

He must really have wanted it as a gift for his son because the next reply I got was him wanting to top up the price with more money!

I have accepted your price(JPY60000) which is about $610 usd because it is what I have been looking to buy for my son as a gift for the easter. I will send you JPY74822($760 Usd) for both the cost of the item and shipping cost via your local Post office. So kindly send your names and your house address where your money will be delivered to you through Nigeria Postal Service. Once I send the money out, I will give you the tracking number so that you can track the money and you have to ship the item to me once you confirm the tracking number. I will send my shipping details to you as soon as I send the money out to you. You can still find out the actual shipping cost from your local post office if you wishes to do so. If the money I added for shipment will not be enough, you can call me on my phone number. Please note that the payment will be in US dollars,ok. Thanks.

He even listed his fullname and phone number at the end of the email. So tempted to give him a call and tell him what a generous and caring father he is.

*Update : Find out what I decided to do after getting all these responses on Craiglist*

Saturday, March 14, 2009

laqua and the joint birthday celebration

Few days just before my actual birthday, some of us went to LaQua to celebrate. It was to be a joint celebration with Andreas and Prad as coincidentally, their birthdays were on the same day. Unfortunately Prad couldn't make it, but Karens & Kan managed to.

It was my first time in an onsen in Tokyo. I had always missed the ones in Niigata as they offered scenic views, was only a drive away and much cheaper. Imagine soaking in an open air hotsprings from a hilltop overlooking the rice fields and village below. It gets more magical as evening draws near, and lights from the houses below glimmer in the dark, complementing the stars in the sky above.

One of the best experiences was my first, just a month after arriving in Niigata. Not only did they have pools of steaming hot water to soothe away the muscles, but there were also hot stones on the ground on which you can lay down on. Naturally in the less busy prefectures where land is not a scarcity, they can afford to have onsen's everywhere. In metropolitans such as Tokyo, it's up on the 6th floor of LaQua, which also offers a theme park and shopping complex.

So the hot stones in which we laid our backs on that chilly spring evening offered an unobstructed view of the sky. It was very awkward for me in the beginning but soon all worries (including that of your physical nakedness!) melt away under the hot stones. It would have been beautiful if it had been snowing.

I always look forward to an onsen which has a rotenburo section, which is in the open, not covered by walls and ceilings. Strangely, after coming out from the hot steams of the onsen, the body doesn't immediately freeze when walking out into the open. In the LaQua onsen, the air had a lingering whiff of cedar and natural minerals.

The fun part is when you get out from the pool, sit at the wooden benches by the side for a few minutes, and then go back in again. Repeat many times and get the blood circulating. Imagine soaking in a hot tub of water, coming out to expose yourself to the winter air, then slowly going back into that hot tub again. That tingling feeling is a good sign that your blood is given a good onsen treatment.

Onsen is the ultimate Japanese experience that I would recommend everyone to go for. It's so much a part of the Japanese, no wonder they still look good despite the hectic lifestyle and krazy work culture.

But of course, back to my LaQua birthday celebration, we had a wonderful time together, naturally. Each of us had work worries on our minds, but the onsen is where they melt away. Too bad it was on a weekday, if not we would have had more IUJ friends joining us.

They say, onsen helps people to bond together. Not surprising, since there is nothing to hide. Or more like, there is nowhere to hide your physical beauty! The hot springs is where friends come together to catch up, colleagues unwind with their bosses, families come to have a relaxing time together. All is laid out in the open, young and old, big and small, coloured or not.

Anyways, back to my LaQua experience. For JPY2,500 it's a relatively decent price since you can literally stay there the whole day and indulge. There are other services in the 2 floors that LaQua occupies - aromatherapy, massage, aura soma, cafes, health checkup and restaurants.

To be realistic, nobody actually soaks in the onsen the whole day unless they want to achieve the skin consistency of a prune's. However, for an additional fee, you can sleep overnight at the lounge after a good soak, with a TV channel or magazine of your choice and wake up the next morning ready for work. There is also a special ladies-only room for those who seek privacy.

A trip to the onsen is often followed by a scrumptious healthy Japanese meal, afterwhich, the whole feel-good experience just makes it easier to have a good night's sleep. I was quite tempted to stay back at the lounge instead of taking the train home for fear that the feel-good experience would evaporate when I leave LaQua.

Such, my friends, is the healing properties of the Japanese onsen. :)

温泉 【おんせん】 (n) spa; hot spring; onsen;
露天風呂 【ろてんぶろ】 (n) open air bath; rotemburo

Saturday, March 07, 2009

a box of chocolates it is

March usually signifies the onset of spring. Though I've grown to love winter, I also look forward to the bloom of cherry blossom flowers that will change the colours of the city landscape.

This month is also particularly special for me, for various reasons. Maybe more so this year. The uncertainty that began last month lingers on, and I still do not know what or where I will be in the near future. But one thing I am certain of, is that He holds my hand and will never forsake me. If anything, this only makes it even more exciting.

The other is, of course, my birthday!

So there shall not be any depressing posts, if I can help it.

The best part about birthday celebrations is the company that come with it. Presents and lovely things are a bonus, so they are welcomed too. ^.^

This year, the celebration began early somewhat because I have friends whose birthdays are few days apart from mine. Last Sunday April & I went to Bubba Gump's at Korakuen's La Qua. It's ironic how I almost went to the outlet at The Curve when I was back for Christmas. Even more ironic that I myself have not watched the movie Forrest Gump!

However, I'm quite familiar with some of the more famous quotes from that movie. I guess one that best describes my current situation would be :
"My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

From the exterior, I thought it was just another one of those American restaurants like TGIF and Hard Rock Cafe. However, since April's birthday preceded mine, we gave her the final say in deciding the restaurant.

Facing a musical fountain and conveniently located just beneath the escalator leading to the ferris wheel, Bubba Gump offers a pretty decent selection of seafood, with more emphasis on shrimps. Shrimps happen to be one of my favourite, especially the "lai yau har" type fried with crispy bits of butter. I love seafood of most kind and actually miss the yummylicious Malaysian seafood found at Teluk Gong.

The dishes, though very much American in size, did not disappoint. They had a little birthday dessert and sang a song for April. Very much like TGIF and Hard Rock too. I'm tempted to return there this weekend for my celebration, but I'd prefer variety, thank you very much. I wonder where would be good... (*^_^*)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

it snowed in my gmail

It may well be my last winter in Tokyo, so I thought I'd better screenshot this towering snowman from my Gmail themes. Once I return to warmer tropical regions, it will only show sunny or rainy scenes from the bus stop.

And yes, it snowed again tonight. So unexpected especially in March, that it went up as the first item on the local news tonight. My oh my, if only I can make build a snowman that high!