Sunday, November 28, 2010

to coif or to cook

As I stood there rinsing the rice, I can't help but think how lucky Japanese housewives are. They don't have to contend with all the nitty gritty of "cooking" like most of us, or at least those of us from this side of the world.

Cooking was such a pleasure, an activity which I learnt to enjoy and improve while in Japan. I'm not very good at many dishes, but I do have some trademark ones which I like to share with friends once in awhile. All thanks to the conveniences of clean and safe ingredients.

Saves so much time, just toss everything into the rice cooker

For example, this attempt of a nasi lemak which thrilled Masami, a half-Malaysian living in Japan with her American-born Japanese hubby. I have not even attempted the real nasi lemak after I came back, all because it's so much less hassle to just buy them off the streets.

May not be perfect, but this was the best I could do with whatever little ingredients I had

I don't remember having to rinse the rice, or wash poultry and fish before cooking. But I make sure I clean vege and fruits, because of wax and pesticides.

The anchovies had to be cleaned beforehand - they're from Malaysia!

I just scoop the amount of rice I need and fill it up with the necessary amount of water when I cook my meals. The same goes for meat; they are all cut to pieces, cleaned and packed neatly in the supermarket. I just need to unwrap them, marinade them with the flavouring/marinade and straight into the pot/pan/oven they go.

Since I couldn't make rendang, curry chicken was the closest substitute

But of course, you can opt to have those which are a bit more "raw", where you can remove the insides yourself; these will be cheaper than those pre-packed to go. The only time I've seen someone do it in Japan was when Imm bought those fish sold in containers of water, as opposed to that in styrofoam and clingwrap.

Humble attempt of our favourite Malaysian dish

No wonder I cook less back here. I have to clean and wash every single item that goes into the pot, not just once but at least two to three times!

Dessert of snow fungus & red dates to finish off the meal

No wonder too that Japanese housewives can look so immacutely coiffed all the time - they don't waste so much time in the kitchen slaving away, neither do they have to deal with the mess of cleaning up!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

looking from 66

Even though most of my time is spent at the client more than at my own company's, I had very little opportunity to experience working in one of the world's tallest buildings.

I didn't have my new toy then, and I had joined the company just before they relocated to Gardens.

Some of these caught my eye, so I decided to try to capture them because that was the last time I'd get this view.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I just remembered it's Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I thought I really should take stock of the year that has been for me thus far. It's quite appropriate timing though, especially now that I've worked for exactly a year already!

As much as I don't appreciate what's going on in the country and its resident clowns, I'm really grateful that I have a job that I enjoy doing, with fun colleagues & teammates in a working environment which is relatively high on work-life balance. I have my stress days (like currently, but that's another story) but I'm not being pressured to stay back all the time. So far the rapport with client has been almost excellent and though with their politics and imperfections, it's the best I have so far.

Although I haven't gotten the opportunity to go for a well-deserved break (weekend trips doesn't exactly count!), I've played host to many overseas friends. There were Japanese Yuri & American Geoff end of last year, with whom I was practicing being tour guide since I don't know KL as much as I know Tokyo! I feel quite bad that they visited me when I was feeling all down about coming back to Malaysia and was getting a hang of adapting back.

On the IUJ alumni side, Thai Rach was here on a company trip, the Laotian-Vietnamese couple of Bic-Minh whom I brought for street food at SS2, newly-wed Bangladeshi Tanvir and his wife who surprised me by choosing Malaysia as their honeymoon destination, Filipino Joy who couldn't stop gushing about how good it was to meet up again, and most recently the MBA duo of Swiss Andreas and Filipino Angel over the previous weekend.

There were other friends I've made in Japan whom I thought I'd never see again. You know how you always tell each other that you'd keep in touch, and deep down you wonder if realities of life will make it hard to keep that promise.

Indonesian Didi also came for his business trip, and even though it wasn't a proper meet up, we managed to catch up while walking around Gardens when everything started to close. Nath brought his family on transit from Australia; we were quickly catching up at KL Sentral because they had to rush for their flight back to Cambodia that afternoon.

So ya, even if I didn't get to see the world this year, the world came to me. At least I got to visit a new country, even if it's not exactly an eye-opening experience, and if all goes well, I hope to visit a new one, or maybe two, next year.

There are countless things that I could be grumbling about, but I kinda decided since I have no control over them, and neither am I verbose enough to vent those frustrations, I would rather focus my energies and time on things that matter more. At this point of time with what I have, I'm glad to be back home, with family, friends and many familiar things and for these I'm most thankful for.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

swimming... badminton.. and tennis?

They were right, I gotta admit. But I was adamant that nothing would replace my Tokyo "exercise regime" of walking to stations and cycling for groceries and Japanese classes.

They said I could still lead a healthy life but just differently. I wanted to show that life here was such a contrast I'd never be able to get back the same level of fitness that I had in Japan. I was upset that it's not safe to walk out on the roads, let alone cycle. I was slowly becoming unfit and unhealthy, and realised I had to do something.

I love team sports but it's not easy to find players just like that, courts too need to be booked. So I started on swimming, which I believe to be the best form of exercise because it builds up all muscle groups. Then I tried to jog a li'l around the neighbourhood on days when I was too lazy to go to the swimming pool.

But these were so rare that it wasn't really helping.

Then some months back, for some reason I got invited to 2 different groups for badminton. I was so gungho that I actually joined both on the same week, and that weekend night, I couldn't sleep. It was also on a wee Monday morning that I was tossing around wondering why if I was so tired after 2 games I was still not sleeping like a log.

I think the sudden adrenaline rush after a looong period of inactivity was the cause of it. BUT it felt good, even though I was quite dead tired.

Since then I've been joining my colleagues for weekly sessions, and very sometimes with the church group too. And just recently I've been taking up tennis lessons too. More of a refresher course since I did take up beginner classes when I was about 12 (thinking tennis was the coolest sports then).

Well, I must say I've never felt this healthy for a long time, and it's always motivation to have other people who are as into it too. Not to mention, very ironic since I always thought I could draw a line between work and personal..! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

charity with joshua sasaki

After our little contribution to the Cancerlink Foundation, I thought we wouldn't bump into our newfound Japanese friends after that.

So it was quite a pleasant surprise to hear from them again, this time we were invited to help out in an initiative organised by the Japan Chapel. The charitable event would be graced by a yakuza-turned-gospel singer, Joshua Sasaki.

Even with the little manpower they had, they managed to turn a mere idea to a successful dinner which was well enjoyed by many.

From what I heard, the initial stages of planning were so messy they kept changing their plans and the PICs for each task. Just a few days before the event, we got confirmation to help out at the reception since they would be expecting Japanese and non-Japanese alike to be there.

It was very encouraging to see underprivileged adults and children streaming in, some with their helpers, guardians and chaperones. They made up the majority of the audience that evening.

As a token of their appreciation, each group went up to perform and showed us that they have a part to play in society too. You could see they really put in effort to put on a good show, and didn't let their imperfections mar the performance.

The highlight of the night were songs sung by Sasaki-san, his pastor friend, and then accompanied by the visually-challenged group from Agape Services for the Blind. The lady sitting next to me was so enamored by Joshua Sasaki that I think her claps and cheers could've drown that of our table combined!

Even though I didn't do much, it was very humbling to be there to support the effort. They really showed us that despite their imperfections, these special guests are still able to lead an almost-normal life and contribute to society too.

Monday, November 08, 2010

klazz brothers & cuba percussion

It's the wee hours of Monday morning, I've just had a glass of warm milk and I'm still not in bed sleeping!

So I'm doing what I think should help me get back to bed - switch on the PC and hope my eyes would tire themselves after awhile.

I've been wanting to share some nice jazz pieces that I discovered while at a recent MPO outing. Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion is the highly acclaimed quintet who's brought much pizazz to jazz by infusing classical pieces with Caribbean beats. Their improvisation of beloved symphonies rejuvenates and gives new life to Beethoven and Bach.

I love how the original piece can still be heard amidst all the syncopation, whistles and hypnotic rhythms of Cuba. Take for example Mozart's Symphony No.40 :

Our original intention was to go for the "Jazz meets Cuba" show, but accidentally went for the "Classic meets Cuba" which was a day earlier. It was our first time sitting in the front row, mainly because we wanted to see the expressions on the face of the performers!

After all, if we were too tired from straining our necks looking up, we could always close our eyes and enjoy the music from where we were.

Boy, were we wrong; it turned out to be such an enjoyable 2-parter that I couldn't take my eyes off the musicians as they took turns to highlight the various instruments that created this unique fusion.

Kilian Forster the bassist who looked a bit like a mad professor with his disheveled hair kept the flow going from one piece to another with his humorous introductions.

You have to be there to hear his German accent when telling how Mozart went to the Caribbean, fell in love with Latin jazz and decided to compose the Mambozart. Or how the Hungarian Dance No. 5 came to be known as the Cuban Dance because it was rightfully so!

Those in the audience would agree with me that Alexis Herrera Estevez must be given credit for standing in for the drummer who unfortunately fell ill. We wouldn't have known otherwise that he had to double up in addition to his original role as the percussionist; the transition was so seamless.

Towards the end during the encore, they invited people to come up to the stage to dance. An almost Latino (must be the music!) looking young man promptly went to the front and coolly did his salsa moves, much to the audience's delight.

Many were standing up clapping along, so much so that even 2 little Caucasian grrls also gamely went up, stood in between the musicians as they moved to the music.

Later Kilian even commented that they had never had such young obliging fans like these before!

While I was trying to see if I could get their CD through Amazon, I found many more works under their other albums, such as this version of the Blue Danube. It is now my favourite - the very familiar sounds of this famous Austrian waltz being gradually infused with elements of swing and complemented by the congas make it very catchy indeed!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

uniqlo lands in kuala lumpur!

When I heard that my favourite Japanese brand would be setting up stores in KL, I greeted the news with mixed feelings. I didn't know whether to rejoice or be despaired.

The official launch of Uniqlo was on 4th Nov, and the fan in me actually applied for half day leave thinking I would be able to do a sneak preview of their offerings then dash back to work. But of course, there were matters to attend to and I had to let go of the opportunity to gloat about being the first few in line :D

So yesterday noon I made my way to Bukit Bintang, hoping the line would have lessened somewhat. There was a queue snaking from the inside of Fahrenheit 88 out to the open with barricades and guards, but still manageable.

Still, Uniqlo was everywhere, even on this bus just outside the store!

Even those who didn't know what Uniqlo was lined up thinking it must be something big. The kiasu-ism spirit was alive and well and people certainly didn't want to be left out, nevermind that they have never heard of this brand before.

Uniqlo's like comfort food. Here was a brand that prided in affordable quality, not only having stamped its success back home in Japan but also slowly making its way across the globe.

I'm a big fan of Uniqlo having owned all sorts of pieces from all seasons during my stay in Japan. One of my first clothings when I was a student in Niigata was from Uniqlo, and I have continued to buy Uniqlo even while in Tokyo as a working salaryman.

True to their catchphrase "Made for All", their pieces cater to all ages, all purpose and now, all people out of Japan. So to see what I thought was something unique (btw, Uniqlo = unique clothing) being "shared" with everyone made me quite sad because now everyone in KL would own a piece of Uniqlo, making it less unique!

Some people say I have less reason to visit Japan since Uniqlo is here, but I say it gives me more reason to get non-KL pieces so that mine is still special :D