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!
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.
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.
Now that Imm has already returned to Malaysia, albeit reluctantly, that leaves only Aishah in the Edogawabashi house. But she's not really alone, as 2 other grrls moved in almost immediately after we left. I used to joke about how the place should be called the Malaysian House instead.
My first 2 housemates were guys, one from America, the other from China. They hardly cooked, so I was quite happy to have the kitchen to myself. When Adam left, a Spanish-Japanese grrl moved in. Being on a tight budget, she too cooked rather often. It has been really interesting watching other people cook and learning a thing or two from them, especially if they are from different continents.
I especially enjoyed the time in Niigata when there was only a single shared kitchen in each dormitory. The kitchen was where everyone gathered for a break in between classes, catch up on gossips (not surprising since the community consisted only of us graduate students), bragged about whose workload was more/grades were higher, and more interestingly, where we swapped recipes and tips on how to cook.
When Imm and Aishah moved in, little did I know that we would spend half, if not more, of our time in the kitchen. Us being Malaysians, that meant our pastime was eating. We cooked all sorts of Malaysian dishes all the time. Or rather, our own interpretation of Malaysian food since authentic ingredients were hard to come by.
The availability of certain foodstuff sold on online shops gave us the ability to be creative and make do with what we have. Like the JPY350 pandan leaves, JPY250 shallots, or the 1kg coconut powder found on Baticrom that we treasured so much just because they were so pricey!
Here are some of the food from the Edogawabashi kitchen that I managed to take pics of :
Braised mushroom with cucumber. Attempted to finish up remaining ingredients which were otherwise too little on their own, to create an extra side dish.
Ever since Imm bought the little tray we have been able to steam food (as opposed to just stir fry, grill and bake). My first attempt at steamed white tofu with sliced carrots and mushroom in sauce.
Mashed potato and special gravy with what seems to be Imm's pork which was possibly cooked using the claypot. Can't remember, so long ago.
My version of tapas. Sometimes I get tired of just eating rice and noodles. Besides, the french loaf that they sell at the 99yen shop was not bad. Either make simple garlic bread to dip with soup, or top with different garnishing, or in this case leftovers :p Yes I'm creative that way.
Mihun is also quite hard to come by. I remember my first packet of mihun bought at the Ueno markets, cost me JPY300 for a normal packet! So mihun meals are somewhat like treats. Served with minced beef/pork balls and sauteed bok choy.
Classic spaghetti bolognaise. Except that the sauce was made using what Imm had left behind from another dish. She had initially made a sauce for her yong tau fu, but it turned out to be more ketchupy than expected, but it suited my pasta just fine!
I've progressed from the initial mihun tomyam soup to stir-fried mihun tomyam. It has a perfect blend of tangy saltiness, with tinges of bitter from the fried garlic on top.
Fried breaded chicken nuggets. Made this for one of our church's potluck lunch.
This is Imm's cucur udang. At the rate we were making Malaysian food, we even thought about opening our own gerai outside our house. Sell pisang goreng, ubi goreng, kentang goreng and all the afternoon tea food which we couldn't get in Tokyo.
Kung pao chicken, from Imm's little book of recipes. Should have at least cut or sliced upon the chillies for the flavour to come out. Those were the last of the remaining dried chillies passed on by Danny, the housemate from China.
Another steamed dish, this time steamed with ginger bits and soy sauce. Having that little silver tray really opened up so many possiblities, I didn't have to be content with just fried or grilled fish!
So. Anyways. I don't cook like that anymore.
In fact, I was just lamenting to Imm about how I've lost all motivation to cook since I came back. She, whom I regard as a better chef, have hardly cooked too after returning to Taiping. We have agreed that it must be due to the following :
1) Not used to the kitchen and utensils back home
2) No control over the ingredients since our mums are the ones doing the groceries. Not that there's lack of things in the fridge/kitchen, but it's just not the same.
2) Nobody to share the joy of cooking together. Very boring to have to prepare ingredients, cook, eat then wash everything alone. I tend to have more appetite when I eat with people who are as passionate about eating :D
While glancing through the latest trend in blogs-turned-online shops in Malaysia, I found one that carried Japanese style clothes and decided to check it out. I was quite surprised that they managed to sell at affordable prices.
Since I liked what Torrey's Culture had to offer, I decided to drop them a note. Plus, I found their blog rather cute too.
Customer rapport and quality of service are 2 very essential elements that distinguish a memorable company from an ordinary one. Some blogshops do it for the sake of money, some as a side hobby, while some do it out of interest. It's not that difficult to spot based on the design, layout, tone of message conveyed, and overall brand image (if there is one in the first place).
Torrey was prompt and polite with responses, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. And I thought I was the only one still up at that hour.
One day, I happened to see her online (since Google mail automatically adds contacts who are also using the same email service), and decide to just buzz her for a quick clarification.
The initial part was like any other conversation between a seller and a potential customer. As I was requesting to be notified of good deals, somehow she shared that she was doing this out of passion and in fact, their profits for these few months would go to fund the christmas play at my alma mater.
We quickly realised that we're both from MMU and call ourselves a CF'er. Such a small world! That explained why she was also still up, the luxury of being a student.
Too bad I couldn't chat much with her as I was famished from hunger. As we were saying goodbye, she asked me to check out their blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see what she had to write about that little conversation we had. <3 Aww, thanks Torrey, you made my day too!
It's raining outside and I'm doing my Japanese homework. Late nights are conducive like that.
Zee Avi's playing and I'm liking her type of music. (I just realised the player is ruining my layout. Bah.Fixed that)
Just then I was thinking, why haven't I heard of this Borneo grrl before? I must have, but never gave it much thought, perhaps.
And then another thought appears.
Two more of my cousins have left overseas just as when I was coming back. It's ironic that me, the only non-Chinese-educated one (and also my brother) from my dad's side of the family ended up in Japan, whereas they went to English speaking countries like Australia, Europe and America.
Desperately hungry and worn out after a good race, we decided to check out the nearest place for lunch. It was already almost 2am by the time the corporate prayer and worship ended at PJEFC. Since Alvin and Jacquelyn had to leave, the 4 of us went ahead to Jaya One which was just across the road.
I'm glad I managed to convince them to try out this classy restaurant called Kinnaree because most of the eating places were offering either fast food or run-of-the-mill type of dishes. They were skeptical at first, thinking such an exotic looking restaurant would usually translate to exorbitant prices and petite servings.
However, they had a few promotions which seemed rather reasonable. We took one of the Weekender Treats for 6. Yes, we were that hungry. Still I cautioned them not to order extra until we see what they had to offer.
True to my instincts, Kinnaree did not disappoint. In fact, they all agreed that it was much better than expected, and they would definitely come back again. Furthermore, we had to force ourselves to finish the last morsel of food because it was simply too much!
In no particular order, because all the food came together.
Tom Yam Chicken
(us grrls had the medium spicy while the guys had super-spicy, everyone was sniffling drinking this. if only my tongue was not so japanised!)
(had the right combination of sweet tangy taste, perfect as starters)
Green Curry Chicken
(have always loved green curry, this one could be drunk like soup!)
Deep Fried Fish in Tamarind Sauce
(my personal favourite, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. great as noon snacks too)
Stir-Fried Morning Glory
(can somone tell me if this is actually kangkung because i thought kangkung was watercress *yes, water morning glory IS kangkung!)
Stir-Fried Squid in Thai Chili Paste
(squid ain't exactly what I would order myself, but this one was soft and chewy enough)
Thai Style Tofu
(another personal favourite too, even though it was japanese tofu)
We were all very stuffed! What a perfect way to end the day (even though it was in the afternoon), with delicious filling food and a soothing ambience. Give us a pillow and we'd float to slumberland there and then.
Food : 8.5/10*
Service : 8.5/10**
Ambience : 8/10
* The chicken in the tomyam was almost tasteless, not sure if this could have been avoided or at least substituted with seafood instead. However, given that it was on promotion, maybe that was inevitable.
** At that hour there were not many people, so perhaps the waiters were very attentive. Would have to go again when there's more people.
And true enough, I didn't sleep at all on Saturday. By the time I had replied to everyone's emails and made sure I jotted down all the important details for my team members, it was close to 1am.
Tossing and turning thinking about all the possible things that could happen during the run, I tried to psyche myself to sleep, telling myself that if I don't, I'd be a zombie the next day.
Just as I was almost about to feel sleepy, my mobile beeped. It was already 2:30am! O.M.G. I didn't even get to sleep at all!
I usually leave my alarm on snooze, thinking I could get myself some extra sleep since I don't wake up on the first ring anyways. This time I knew it would not do me any good since I never got to sleep in the first place. So got myself showered and washed up, reminding myself that this sacrifice would be for a greater good.
Alvin, our Team Driver did an excellent job breaking all the red lights delivering our runners to their destinations. The plan was to drop Eric off at a middle-of-nowhere-looking-place called Persiaran Bukit Rahman Putera in Sungai Buloh, then Judy at this road simply named "4/4c" near UTAR at Wangsa Maju, and Alex at UTM at Jalan Semarak, KL. All by 5am.
When I saw the map that was supposed to be used for Judy's team, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I must say it's cute, hand-drawn like that. I just wished I could find this location on Google Maps!
We managed to drop our drivers (except for Jacquelyn since her husband drove her to Bandar Utama) to their designated locations, except for Alex who was a bit late so he had to catch up with the 2nd team instead.
Alvin and I decided to get some breakfast and rest before the next deployment. Just as we were finishing home-cooked bacon and eggs, I got some calls from AMs needing extra help. Leaving the dishes in the sink, off we went again. I must say it was quite fun driving around in Klang Valley when there were barely no cars on the road. I wished it could be like this everyday. On weekdays.
Since Alvin was himself a runner, we decided that he would join Eric on the last lap of the race. So I took over his car and waved them goodbye as I made my way from Leisure Commerce Square at Sunway back to PJEFC. At 11am I was almost a zombie. But it was also at this point that I wished I had run along with them too! I guess the excitement finally got to me after watching all the various teams and their zeal in this run.
As I stood at the entrance of the church together with the rest to welcome the teams running in to the finishing line, I could see the looks of relief and joy on their faces, though tired and exhausted. It would have been more fun struggling like that, the satisfaction of having done something that pushes you to the limit and knowing it was for Him.
Even senior citizens like this uncle who said the last time he ran he was in school who was the only one left in his original team, but still managed to run up a slope under the hot sun. Kudos to all the runners and participants of Run for the Nation 2009!
Helping out at tomorrow's Run for the Nation event. RunNat2007 saw about 100 people participating, this time we will have more than 10 times of that!
This year's event will cover 14 states, each with teams of 3 running together, and upholding the nation in prayer. I was asked to help out in the Klang Valley section.
We have at least 25 areas in the Selangor/KL region, each with their respective Area Managers (AMs). Each area comprises of 8 teams, each with their respective Team Managers (TMs) who will be driving along with the runners. Each team will have an average of 3 runners who will be given prayer cards, which will be passed on to the next team, somewhat like a relay run.
The total distance covered by each area will be 40km, so each runner will run for 5km. Hence, it is open to anyone who is willing to run and pray. All routes will end up in PJEFC where earlier teams will welcome the last team from all 25 routes, where there will be a time for corporate prayer and worship, and also giving out of certificates and refreshment.
When Alex came up with the idea of a "Running Task Force", he wanted me to be their Team Manager. His teammates are all seasoned runners, having run in marathons all over and going for weekly runs as part of their routine. This special team would step in to help any team that have emergencies or are lacking in runners.
It's somewhat like a backup team that sends professional runners to run alongside and encourage them, and to fill in the gap where necessary.
The planning committee thought this was cool and gave them the go-ahead to be part of the backup team.
However, that meant I would have to know where everyone is and what route and schedule they would be on in case they suddenly call me at 6am to tell me one of their runners had just fallen ill and need to be hospitalised.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the race starts at 5am? (@.@) I have to be at PJEFC by 4am to finalise routes for my team, since I'm still getting emails with last-minute changes.
So anyways, we've just made calls to all AMs to send in a complete list of contacts for their Team Managers and also the routes that they will be running in. We've already had requests coming in for additional assistance. I've deployed all my runners to high priority teams (eg : there's a group with only 1 grrl running, another with just senior citizens, and some even without TMs).
One worst-case scenario will be if I have to go pick up my runner in Wangsa Maju after his 5am slot, drive him to Shah Alam for the 7am slot, then meet him again at the end of his route, and bring him to the final run at Petaling Jaya. Thank God I have a driver who doesn't mind doing all the driving.
I will be arming myself with my brother's Garmin GPS, Alex's new MAC with 7 hours of battery life so that I can refer to all 25x8 maps that everyone will be sending in by tonight and have 25x8 phone numbers in case additional deployment is needed, and tonnes of paper to jot things down.
If I am to leave the house by 3:30am, I don't see myself getting any sleep tonight! (0.o)
Last year I wrote about a series of posters encouraging commuters to be courteous to their fellow passengers on the train. I almost forgot that I still continued taking pictures after the last one, and that I have yet to post about it.
In October, it showed a comic sequence of a boy practicing his golf shots using an umbrella at the platform. It may not look realistic, but as usual, I found the expression on the "victim's" face amusing.
(Caption : Please be careful when handling a wet umbrella.)
During the change in season, when hay fever was at its height, the poster in March advised its commuters to properly dispose of their used tissues. I personally find the Japanese to be highly hygienic, not just in their homes but in public spaces as well. For example, after a picnic during hanami or hanabi, they will clean up the areas where they have been, collect the rubbish and bring them home. They will also carefully separate the rubbish accordingly so they can be recycled.
(Caption : Please take your trash with you. Do not leave it on the train.)
The next one in April depicted a young man intently reading his newspaper, oblivious to those sitting next to him. The Japanese are famously known for reading comic books while commuting. They do it while sitting, they do it while standing, even when the train is packed to the brim. I myself have gotten into the same habit, bringing with me a small booklet to while my time on the train. No wonder they have one of the highest rate of literacy in the world. So much so statistics is not even needed!
(Caption : Please be considerate of those around you on the train.)
Come June, it's imperative that you bring an umbrella because it's the peak of the rainy season. This poster reminded me of the station near my house. In fact, most Metro stations are underground, so when you go down the stairs from the rain you have to be careful when you close your umbrella.
(Caption : Please be careful when handling a wet umbrella.)
Other than books, shopping bags are also another necessary item. For the women at least. Part being a carrier for their personal items, it's also a means to show that they've "arrived". No wonder some branded paperbags are still being used even though they looked, well, used. I found out that some paperbags can fetch quite high prices when sold online. Darn, I should have kept my Cecil McBee one!
(Caption : Please be considerate of others when handling baggage on the train.)
August signals the end of summer, and people take this opportunity to enjoy the sun as much as they can. After returning from Europe, I understood better why those few months of sun mattered to people living in seasonal countries. It's the only time where you can wear the lightest clothing in your wardrobe and not worry about catching a cold.
(Caption : The platform edge is dangerous. Please wait behind the white line.)
While this part of the world is bracing itself against one natural calamity after another, it is quite alarming that in such a short span of time there have been 4 tropical cyclones and 2 earthquakes with accompanying tsunamis.
It reminded me of my own experiences in Japan 2 years ago, also around this time. It was summer of 2007 when I first arrived in Tokyo. I had just sent my parents off when I was looking for a place to stay, and was hit by the typhoon at that time. I was soaked, my umbrella mangled by the winds, and almost everything got wet, including my Masters certificate.
Just a couple of months before that, Niigata was hit by an earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale. It felt like forever when everything around us started shaking. There was some damage to the nearby Kashiwazaki nuclear plant, but that did not directly affect us.
Since then, I have encountered many more smaller earthquakes, mostly tremors in Tokyo. I've gotten quite used to it, to the point that actually it's quite "enjoyable" to feel the sway. I've always prayed that the big one won't hit us, as it has been predicted that a major one should have hit Tokyo many years ago.
Which brings me to this story which I've been meaning to share, but never quite knew how.
When I came back from Malaysia after Christmas last year, I didn't feel quite right. Like something was going to happen. I couldn't put a finger to it, so decided to pray about it.
Not wanting to think too much about it, I went back to life as usual, working in Tokyo and commuting with the rest of the salaryman on the trains. One day as I observed the commuters, I wondered if they would ever realise there's more to life than just work. I could see the depression in their eyes.
But God spoke to me, to pray for them instead. As I began to pray, I saw a vision of an earthquake. It was the aftermath of a great earthquake. Almost everything was destroyed, buildings reduced to pieces of wood, chunks of concrete lay all around.
There was darkness everywhere as electricity supply had been cut off. People were devastated, some were just coming out of the ruins realising what had just happened.
In the middle of that chaos, my house was still standing, as if nothing had happened. In fact, it was the only place with lights. People were coming to my house for refuge and safety. It was like a lighthouse in the midst of the darkness.
I wondered if God was trying to tell me that the big earthquake was about to happen. I couldn't see if it was Tokyo, or when it would happen. I just prayed that if it did happen, they would come to know Jesus.
After that vision, I began to get more anxious, as if something was really going to happen. I tried to pray against it, hoping that it wouldn't. However, it persisted and I knew something big would happen, and it could go either way.
Not long after that, I had another vision. This time it was of a tsunami. It was the Christmas 2004 tsunami that was triggered by the earthquake in Indonesia, so disastrous that it affected 11 countries in this region, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. I remember reading with amazement that a lady had survived by climbing up a coconut tree.
God was telling me that if I cling on to the coconut tree like she had, I would be saved, even though the waves would come crashing and try to pull me away from my only hope of survival.
I wondered then if the tsunami was related to the earthquake vision that I had earlier. Japan is no stranger to both natural disasters, but to have both together would be incredibly unusual.
Little did I know that God was preparing me for my own earthquake when the news came from management at work. Being a foreigner working in Japan in my company presented its own problems as we were not tied to the national insurance system, much like America's social security system. That meant I was not eligible to claim for unemployment benefits and if I had gotten ill, I would have to fork out my own $ for expenses.
Even though I still had a valid working visa, it was not advisable to remain too long without a proper job that was tied to the status of the visa. Plus I had to be extra careful not to fall sick and get myself into unnecessary trouble.
It would have been much easier to just leave, considering the con's of staying on. But I trusted in God, and believed that He would see me through.
Zadli mentioned that he was very surprised to see me being cheerful despite what had happened. In the past few months, a lot of foreigners have left Japan due to the situation there. The economy is picking up, but on the job front it's still rather shaky, from what I hear.
Even if I had wanted to feel depressed about it, I couldn't because I actually felt a deep sense of peace within me. Many other things happened along the way which further confirmed both visions, and even though it looked like I was on the losing end, I gained many other things which I wouldn't have had otherwise.
I learnt who my true friends were, especially those who supported me in many ways even though they didn't have to. I have learnt that nothing else actually matters because when everything that we have is stripped off, we see who we really are and what is most important to us.
It really felt surreal living like that in the world's most expensive city, and yet I felt very grateful for each day. For having another day to thank Him for unexpected blessings, and another day to enjoy Tokyo. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded living on like that because that was actually one of the best times of my life.