Friday, September 25, 2009

mystery of the korean figurine

The remaining 6 boxes from Tokyo had finally arrived. The earlier 2 which were books were flown in via SAL, that took only about a week. Since my room has no space for 8 boxes' worth of memories from Japan, I had to do a major spring cleaning.

The headache is not only because I have to choose what to throw out, but also something akin to taking out everything from all the cupboards and shelves and tables, put them together with the Tokyo things, then decide what can go back into the room. It's like having at least 30 boxes of items laid out all over the room (which is smaller than my Tokyo room!), and being forced to decide which gets to stay and which has to be recycled or given to the garbage man.

While trying to clear the computer table, I noticed an old name card box which I kept some pieces of "loose ends", miscellaneous stuff that don't quite belong anywhere. From afar it looked like any other transparent plastic box with stuff in it, but when I tried to lift it up from the table, it seemed to have gotten stuck on it.

Apparently some of the plastic had melted onto the table. Upon closer inspection, the dough figurine I had gotten as a souvenir from Korea seemed to have pushed its way out of the casing too. The head was jutting out, penetrating through the cover of the box.

The little ornament on its left hand seemed to have made its way out at the side of the box too. That was how the box got stuck on to the table.

Very strange, I thought. How could a figurine like that manage to melt the plastic on the outside? It's as if it grew while living in the box and somehow got parts of its body pushed outwards. Because the sides were melted together with the figurine, I couldn't even open the box without having to smash the whole thing.

As I peered inside the box to see how this mystery came about, I noticed the legs also melted the plastic key-chain that was just beside the figurine. The left leg looked as if it could also push its way out of the box had I left it there even longer. Maybe give it another year?!

This figurine must be some heat conductor for it to be able to absorb so much heat and melt everything around it! Either that, or my room must have been like a sauna that the air inside the casing heated up, allowing the cover to sink through the doll's head, pushing it down and making it melt all the plastic around it. And the place where this box was found was not even under direct sunlight to begin with.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Studio Ghibli's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which was released just last year became very popular not just among kids only but also Hayao Miyazaki's fans of all ages. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, the plot revolves around a goldfish named Ponyo who befriends a human boy, and wants to become a human grrl.

I have to admit I have not had the chance to watch it myself, but it comes recommended, and have won multiple awards both in Japan and internationally. The theme song is so catchy you can't help but sing along with it.

I had originally wanted to post up some videos I found about an experiment they did with the theme song, but they have since been removed from Youtube "due to terms of use violation". =.="

BUT I found one of the voices behind the theme song, Fujioka Fujimaki and a very cute Nozomi Ōhashi, who is only eight years old.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

enjoying arts for free p2

It's amazing how during those months of waiting, I would get little blessings here and there and couldn't help but marvel at His providence. During spring, I got to indulge in some performances for free.

Since I never expected those, it was to my delight that I got more of such tickets when summer came rolling around.

Arts #4 : Choral Concert

Date : 6 Jun 2009
Time : 6pm
Venue : Rikkyo University Chapel

As part of a series of bicentenary concerts, the British Embassy Choir chose to perform works from 2 masters of the choral art. 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn and the birth of Felix Mendelssohn.

From the works of Mendelssohn :
Richte mich Gott (1844)
Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen (1844)
Heilig (1846)
Hear my prayer (1844)
Wie de Hirsch schreit (1837)

Whereas, the Mass in Bb (1799) composed by Franz Joseph Haydn was performed after the intermission.

It really was quite different listening to sacred music being performed in a chapel. It must be something in the architecture of the hall that allows sound to travel with such clarity and vigour, more so considering that a lot of them were volunteers and members of the Embassy.

Since I went with the grrls at church, Zadli became the rose among the thorns! Plus we had visiting guests, the American-Korean Jessica and the British-Korean Praise (yes that's her real name). So it was quite interesting to note how different these 2 "Koreans" were compared to Hyun, who is a true-bred Korean.

Arts #5 : Art Gallery

Date : 15 Jun 2009
Time : 11am
Venue : Takashimaya | 日本橋高島屋8階ホール

Yuri passed me some free tickets to the Encounters of Beauty exhibition just a few days before it was about to end. Just by glimpsing at the ticket, I was wondering if this was a showcase of tools used by Japanese women in the past to beautify themselves, or artifacts meant to convey the meaning of beauty.

I decided to leave the house in the morning since such exhibitions close early on the last day (I had missed the Ikebana one earlier). Not surprisingly a lot of the visitors comprised of お祖母さん and お祖父さんs! Who else would be so free to visit an art gallery on a Monday mid-day in a posh departmental store ya.

There were many antique paintings, art pieces and folding screens, many from the Edo period, which is considered the most prestigious, as far as history and art is concerned. It was also during this time that works were sponsored by 武士*, and often depicted the owner's power and virility. Impressive landscapes, not excluding flowers, birds and other animals were were painted for this reason.

Arts #6 : Orchestra and Choir

Date : 27 Jun 2009
Time : 5:30pm
Venue : Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space

I was just at this exact same hall 1 month before to catch the exact same piece being performed. Well, only 1 of the 2 was the same, Johannes Brahm's Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op.45. The other was Johann Sebastian Bach's Präludium Und Fuge H-Moll, BMV 544.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the 2 performances, so didn't mind listening to the 1st piece again. According to Imm whose professor was one of the bass in the middle, both the choir and orchestra are not professional singers and musicians themselves, but have put up a performance for the love of music.

This time we got complimentary tickets right at the A seats, which are on the same level as the stage. I wouldn't be surprised if these seats cost at least JPY10,000 for a world-class orchestra.

During intermission, we even managed to see the pipe organs rotate all the way from the back to the front. No wonder I thought they looked different from when I first went there!

Together with many other outings and treats, I really enjoyed those remaining months in Tokyo. Even if I didn't manage to get a proper job, it was as if God wanted me to truly enjoy Japan before I left.

The rent especially took a toll on my finances, but now looking back, I had one of the best times in Japan. I'm really grateful for caring friends who were very concerned about me and hoped I would get something so that I could remain longer in Japan. Money cannot buy any of that, and so, this chapter of my life has taught me to be content in more ways than one.

* 武士(P); 武夫 【ぶし(武士)(P); ぶふ(武夫); もののふ(武士)】 (n) warrior; samurai;

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I first took the JLPT 2 exams early December last year, when autumn was coming to an end in Tokyo.

Back then, I knew relatively little about the test and was not as prepared as I should have been. Even though I knew I didn't pass it the first round, on top of nursing a terrible flu, the beautiful weather was like a soothing balm as we exited the exam hall to the beauty of nature waiting for us outside.

I still remember the crisp air and golden leaves of the gingko trees that carpeted the grounds of Taisho University.

The 2nd attempt was in the middle of summer, just before I went on my backpacking tour of Italy and France. This time it was hot and humid, and everything was green and moist.

I even met Abdullah, Anthony and TJ who happened to be taking the exam at the Tokyo University Komaba campus too.

This year they made changes to the schedule of the exam and we were allowed to take it either in July and/or December. In fact, this was only implemented in certain countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

With more time on my hands, I had to make sure I passed the exam this time. Ironically, I improved on the parts which I didn't do so well the previous time, while the section in which I knew I performed well last year was only below average this time!

Anyways, I had already returned to Malaysia by the time the results had come out. Thanks to Imm and Amin, the slip made its way to me and I'm super thrilled to find out that I've passed my JLPT 2 exams!

You cannot imagine how relieved I am; the exam was one of the main reasons I chose to remain in Japan. It was also part of the reason why I decided to fly to Europe, if I hadn't passed the test, I would have felt guilty for that little treat there. It's not JLPT 1, but it's something that I can now put on my resume.

Monday, September 07, 2009

hosting at leafcup

Many have wondered how I managed to survive Tokyo after what had happened. I myself wondered too, given the fact that Tokyo knocked London off from the top spot in the list of most expensive cities this year.

Sometimes I thought how surreal it felt to be unemployed, and still living in the world's most expensive city.

But many times God amazed me with His provision and blessings.

Through a dear Swiss friend, Andreas, I managed to find a part-time job which was just a station away from where I lived. Many times I cycled to work, especially since spring and summer provided great weathers to be out at.

Leafcup was started by Kanta-san, who used to work in the IT industry for top financial companies, making a good living but didn't quite like the stressful lifestyle. He decided to open up a cafe catering to Japanese who want to improve their English speaking skills.

There are many such cafes around Tokyo and other cities in Japan with a similar concept, but many did not do well when the economy went into recession. On the contrary, Leafcup continued to flourish and have expanded into providing English lessons and have branched out to Yokohama just last month.

I loved working there because of its relaxed and friendly atmosphere. In fact, the job itself was pretty stress-free! Being a chat host, I just needed to facilitate conversations between a maximum of 6 customers, all seated in a circle at one of the tables in the cafe.

There are always 2 types of tea available, unlimited refills for both host and customers. We chat about anything under the sun.

The Japanese are always keen to talk to foreigners who are living in Japan, while improving on their conversation skills. For the chat hosts, it's a way to get to know locals who sometimes seem shy to open up in a language they're not quite familiar with.

It can be quite a challenge making sure everyone has equal "talk-time", some of the chatty ones seem to want to share about everything about their lives, while the timid ones would rather be asked questions.

After watching Gokusen, I felt even more inspired to "teach" them, even though I actually didn't have to do that. I've never actually taught before (outside of Sunday School), whatmore to adults so it was really a good experience.

A lot of them were students studying for their TOEIC exams, some were working adults seeking to be proficient in the international language, while there were even older ones whom I admire for wanting to improve on a 2nd language.

Even though I only worked once/twice a week, and the money only lasted me for meals, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The other part is cycling to and from work. I missed being able to just go anywhere on my bike, not being restricted to train schedules and traffic situation, not forgetting getting a good workout too.

There were lots of times of reflection on the bike, and having that job was a blessing, no matter how small it felt.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


sea of gems


Saturday, September 05, 2009


Almost immediately after sending Yuri and Geoff off at KLIA, after a series of unexpected events, I found myself whisked off away to a weekend camp at Rompin.

Growing up in church, I kinda knew what church camps would be like.

But for some reason, I felt I should go for this one. It's been years since I went for a proper one. In fact, the last one was in Niigata just before I left to do my Masters in Urasa. And that was because I wanted to spend more time with the Niigata church family.

Just days before the "24" camp, Ps Julie had a vision of Jesus visiting her. She hadn't had this for many many years, the last was when she was paralysed in the hospital bed and felt like giving up. Jesus told her this camp was about finding rest in Him.

Rest, restoration and refreshing.

She immediately asked the committee to scrap off all the programmes and activities, and to slot in ample time for spending with God.

Since I've already wanted to do that (and to catch up on sleep after a whole week of hosting), I didn't think I needed to drive 4 hours away just to do the same, and to have to pay for it too.

But I knew if I had stayed at home, I'd be more distracted and would not even get to do that properly. But lacking finances, I was a bit hesitant.

Saturday night, Cindy messaged me and told me not to worry, as it has already been paid for.

Still, there were many other excuses for not going. Clothes still in transit. Clothes in wardrobe not matching the theme (we were to wear colours of the Malaysian flag, in celebration of Merdeka). Short notice (I only found out about the camp at the Saturday service, and the camp was the next day!). Don't know anyone (yes, the church is that big).

However, deep down I knew this would do me good inspite of the above.

So by faith, I went.

It was good being on the sands of the East Coast beaches. Then I realised how much I had missed tropical beaches. Swaying coconut trees, sounds of the crashing waves, the laidbackness of the whole kampung lifestyle.

Lots of prayers and time spent with God. Plenty of 'em. No Internet, no TV, minimal calls/SMS'es. We still had some games on the beach, fish trawling for the adventurous, getting wet in the rain, fun bonding times and worship sessions. We had a schedule, but no one would be penalised if they wanted to have a long breakfast and join in later.

Oh yes, no regrets going away for the long weekend. Me and Jesus, on the beach :)

Thursday, September 03, 2009


It's been, what, 3 weeks since I came back to Malaysia. Transition period and lots of adapting back again.

In the beginning was lots of reverse culture shock. To think that I abhorred disliked Tokyo when I first arrived and wanted to get on the first plane back to Malaysia, I'm proud to say I now have a love-hate relationship with Japan.

There's a difference between coming back for holidays and coming back for good.

Still not used to the pollution, the attitude, the mess... My nose wrinkles up and I cringe at all of the things that make Malaysia what it is today.

Yet, this is home.

Yes, this is home.

I miss the cleanliness, safety and convenience of living in Japan. I miss walking to the konbini for a snack. I miss cycling for my baito. I miss going out anytime of the day and yet not feel as if my life could be in danger!

Had about 7 interviews the first 2 weeks I was back, and was purposely pretty much low profile throughout. Most went very well (had a couple of offers), am still applying to a few more. Let's see how things go.

The whole of last week was playing host to friends from Japan. When I suggested the idea back when I was still there, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to introduce Malaysia to my foreigner friends. After coming back to a country that has gone haywire and confused, I realised it was not such a good idea after all.

Plus, I have never brought people around here before. I definitely make a better host in Tokyo than in KL! The horrendous traffic and unreliable public transport system did not help at all. In Tokyo, the nearest station is just 2 minutes' walk and I don't have to contend with krazy drivers and potholes and exorbitant parking fees.

Since Yuri and Geoff were to be my first guests here, I tried to bring them around and show them what Malaysia had to offer. Thank God for friends like Jason, Leo and Alex who became co-hosts and were so generous with their time. One is doing freelance, another has his own business and the other is in between jobs, so that helped with the schedules.

We tried to stuff our guests with glorious Malaysian food, but too bad they don't eat as much as we do! But they seemed to love the variety and spicyness of it all. We even managed to make a day trip down to Malacca and feasted on the chicken rice balls and durian cendol ais kacang. I think it's been a decade since I went back there!

Was a very good experience for myself too, somewhat like rediscovering Malaysia. So now I also have a love-hate relationship with my own country :)