Wednesday, August 29, 2012

little blessings

I've wandered around on my own at every opportunity possible, just to get to know the neighbourhood and explore its surroundings. During those times it was that God has shown me glimpses of Him providing for me.

Like the time I wanted something warm and non-Japanese for dinner, and found this little Korean dining restaurant in the basement of a building opposite the Sannomiya train station. The shop was called Onma, and looked like it was run by a mother-and-son team.

Seeing that I must have liked her bibimpa, which was specially requested since it was not on the menu, she gave extra serving of kimchi and some soup. Or maybe I don't know it's already on the menu, and that these little stuff are part of the meal!

My colleague must have noticed me looking hot (yes literally!) during the Japanese summer that she gave me a Japanese uchiwa after the welcome dinner.

With Japan on energy-saving mode after the tsunami-nuclear reactor fiasco, companies are toning down on the use of electricity by switching off the lights during lunch time, raising the temperature of the aircond in the office, and encouraging employees to dress a little more casually.

Just as I was walking along an almost obscure shopping street near the station, I noticed 2 of my favourite brands next to each other! This wasn't out in the open with the more popular shopping malls, so I would have missed this if not me wandering into this lane. Though it was already 9pm and most shops have closed, I managed to sneak in to get a bra top that I needed for the weather!

Ikea is just one stop away from the office on the Port Island. Again, trying to get some non-Japanese food, I decided to drop by Ikea for dinner. Thank goodness for standardisation of global companies - they have the same layout that forced a very hungry me to walk through the maze of store display before rewarding me with the trademark Swedish meatballs in gravy and lingonberry!

At least I found some ideas on how to decorate my place since I'll be stopping by here again to look for furniture.

During one of those work days in which I got hungry (again!), and wanted something non-Japanese (again!),  I found a nice little cafe selling Japanese style pasta and pizza. I may gawk and avoid Chinese food in Japan, but they manage to come up with really delicious Italian food here.

Since I was soooo hungry and tired that day, I totally forgot that I had almost no $ left in my purse. Since I had to obey my hunger, in I went and happily enjoyed what was called the Kamakura pizza.

Just when I went to the counter did I realise I should have loaded my purse with more Yens. The waitress had to accompany me to the nearest ATM machine to withdraw some money. I was about to head home to get some as I wasn't sure the Shinsei Bank account had enough. It's been 3 years, I forgot how much Yen I had left in the account!

Thank God it had a little more than enough, and the waitress was kind enough to chit chat with me all the way back. Plus point for their food and service, I'll be coming back for more!

Monday, August 27, 2012

summer break in tokyo

It's such a delightful surprise to find that we had a week of summer break not too long after joining. I was looking forward to using the time to catch up on the project, familiarise myself with Kobe, and perhaps do a quick visit to Tokyo.

So it was great timing that there was an IUJ gathering, which was actually a farewell dinner for a few people. It's a bit sad knowing that the people that I looked forward to meeting back in Tokyo weren't going to be there the next time I visit.

Perhaps that's why I came to be in Kobe instead. Maybe starting again in Tokyo would be rather bittersweet, though I still have many other friends whom I can visit.

To see Kus joining Kedar in Singapore, Zadli taking up Chinese lessons in Hangzhou, and Au stopping by Singapore before going on to Australia would have been too much of bad news all at once, just when I've barely settled in Kobe. But I guess with all the whirlwind of changes, and knowing they've had enough of Japan, made it seem almost certain that I'll have to meet up with them elsewhere.

It was quite surreal staying back at my old house in Tokyo for the night. Watanabe-san looked the same, though I found out that he had some problems with his blood pressure which made him faint once. I hope the current tenants take good care of him as just like how Imm, Aishah and I did >.<

Mi-chan was still around too, and was surprised to find that she recognised me enough to come look for me when I was downstairs at the kitchen.

It felt funny to be staying in Imm's room but at the same time brought back memories of the 3 of us cooking in the kitchen and exploring Tokyo together during my last few months. Quite amazing how after 3 years, we're all in different parts of the world - Imm doing her PhD in Taiwan and Aishah doing research work in Tokyo.

The next day I had the privilege of enjoying Stephen and Masami's new home in Chiba. Finally met Mie Elizabeth, who was born just after I left Japan. God's blessed them with their own home, with amazing finishing and design. I didn't know it's that affordable to own a house, but of course it has to be away from the city.

It felt so good being with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ again as we shared about each other's journey and just catching up. I hope to be able to have something similar in Kobe. It's too expensive to run to Tokyo everytime I need some spiritual bonding!

I decided to extend my stay by bunking in with Au on the 3rd day. She was due to move soon, so she passed me some stuff to bring back. Too bad I can't carry the electric heater, rice cooker, mattress and cabinets back on the bullet train with me!

It isn't me to go for high-rise buildings, but since Au and Kus were leaving Japan soon, we did some touristy things like going up the Tokyo Skytree, which is now the tallest free-standing broadcast tower in the world. Apparently just shortly after its grand opening in May, it had already hit its 1 billionth visitor!

Being in Tokyo made me realise how big a city it was compared to Kobe. There are things I miss about it, there's still many things familiar and dear to me. Even though some things may change, I'm glad I made the trip there, it was worth it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

jordanian hospitality

Being in a foreign country again reminded me of Hazel, the Filipino lady working in the Jordan Tower Hotel. She had been working there for some years, and from what I knew, haven't really gone out much on her own. In the hospitality industry, especially in a budget hotel rated top 3, I can understand why they are needed there almost 24/7.

So when I met up with my new Couchsurfing friend, I decided to bring her out with me. We managed to get approval from her supervisor to sneak her out a couple of hours!

It was also for my own safety since my friends weren't into CS as much as I am! My instincts have guided me most of the time, but being in a foreign country, in the region where it is not famous for gender equality, I wanted to play safe. Personally, I wouldn't have minded going out myself, though it's always merrier to have more company. I was really glad that Hazel later commented she enjoyed herself, being driven in a nice car and being taken out to see the very city she lives in.

Osama, my new Jordanian friend was very hospitable. He drove to downtown Amman where the hotel was located, and picked us up. He asked where we'd like to go and wanted to show us around the city. By then I had been so used to walking and surrounded by dust that it felt rather luxurious to be in an air-conditioned car.

I shared with him what wonderful hospitality we were experiencing. Even the breakfast that came with the room felt too good to be true. It was definitely money very well spent! Every morning we'd get this spread at the cafe next to the lobby, with unlimited refills on the tea and side dishes. They were pretty generous with the jam, cream and humus.

They were all personally cooked by Hazel and her colleagues, who were also very nice people who spoke good English. I'd highly recommend this place to anyone wishing to experience Amman and greater Jordanian hospitality.

It has a warm community feel to it, decorated with items which might belong more in a house, and surrounded by books donated by travelers who have since gone on to other destinations.

I'm glad we had our last stop of Jordan here. Downtown Amman may look far from glamorous, but it's truly the quiet generosity and hospitality of the people that stole my heart. I'm glad for the people I have the privilege to meet.

Just like in my Euro backpack trip, it's almost always the people that seemingly have less who have the biggest hearts, thumbs down. There is still yet hope for humanity!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

house hunting p2

Koresawa-san and I met up with the 2nd real estate agent right after the first. By then it was about 11am but the summer heat was getting a bit unbearable.

I was really surprised to find something that looked so nice on the first attempt. The interior certainly looked much better than its exterior. Apparently the owner had renovated the place, hence the more modern feel.

The kitchen looked well equipped, situated just next to the doorway and faced the balcony. Nice arrangement.

The wash area reminded me of my previous place in Tokyo. Inbuilt with cabinets that can store all your toiletries and necessary items so you don't have a messy bathroom. A big plus!

It's smaller than all 3 by the first agent, at 47.5m2. But it's just a right size for me.

Even the room reminded me of my previous Tokyo room. From here, there's another opening to the balcony so if you feel like grabbing some clothes it's easy and it's covered.

The view from the room is also quite good. It even has a view of the garden on the first floor, quite rare for places where space is luxury.

I thought this real estate had better choices than the earlier one. I was getting a little hopeful despite the heat and humidity.

The 2nd apartment was not in slopes of Kitano, but nearer to downtown Sannomiya. In fact, one of my requirements was that it had to be near a train station. This was stated as 3 minutes walk from the JR Sannomiya station.

A little older and not as nice as the earlier one. Just a right size though with everything within reach.

Then later she told us perhaps it wasn't a good location since there were supposedly some yakuza's around that area @.@!

The last apartment for the day was a little further away, stated as 4 minutes away from the station. Having lived in Japan for awhile, I take stated walking distance with a grain of salt, and double that to be realistic.

This was very similar to the previous one, also quite old, but with same type of amenities provided. Both were in downtown, surrounded by more buildings and apartments. Convenient but feels a bit drab to be honest.

Though the nice touch is one of the rooms is Japanese-style with sliding cupboards and tatami mats. Reminds me of Stephen and Masami's previous apartment. This room faces the corridor of the apartment outside, so maybe not such a good idea to open the window!

Since both of these were much nearer to the station, the rent would be quite expensive. Advantage would be less walking and more access to shops and restaurants.

Initial summary : Out of all 6 visited on Friday, I like the 1st one by 2nd agent though its on hilly Kitano. Maybe I should just stick to where I'm staying now! I'll need to ask if I can get something similar which is newer, close to a train station, though smaller. A bonus would be if they can lump the water, electricity, heating, internet, phone, and TV bills together with the rent - I remember having like 4 separate bills to pay back in Niigata! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

house hunting p1

The place I'm staying now is a temporary apartment arranged by the company. At first I didn't quite like how small it was, but of course that was when I was hosting my dad and brother. Now that I've started to get the hang of how easy it is to maintain it, I don't really mind.

Since I have been moving to a few different rooms, on hindsight, it gave me somewhat a perspective of what I should be looking for in an apartment. So it was with a mental checklist that I went when Koresawa-san brought me to visit some houses. 

These are the places introduced by the 1st real estate agent - Sky Trading. All 3 were around the Kitano around, where most foreigners live. 

The first place was quite huge, about 50m2. Slightly more than double of my current place, which is about 21m2. It had plenty of windows so it felt airy.

Large bathroom combined with toilet, which is very convenient, and unlike most Japanese traditional arrangement. I like how it was in pale pastel colours, so it felt more youthful.

There are 2 rooms, equally large with their own closets. I quite liked this place if not for the fact that it would have been too big for me. Would be nice if there was a housemate. I'm not a big fan of house cleaning!

Since the balcony that comes with the apartment is rather narrow (in fact precarious if not for some flimsy netting across the low rails), we can hang clothes on the roof. Okay, so I see the prospect of having lots of housework to do in addition to climbing to the roof just to do laundry.

This place is on the hillsides of Kitano, so the mountain is just behind. Then I realised from here I can see a temple with some cemetery! Erm, I'm not really superstitious, but it was a little 微妙*.

It's quite a nice view, with the front facing the sea, and downtown Sannomiya area.

The 2nd apartment was in Sky Mansion 2, just across the road from the first. You would have thought the word mansion evoked some grand illusions of a mini palace. Actually mansion here is supposed to be the equivalent of a condominium but I was rather shocked seeing the place.

Shocked because this place was fully furnished, but obviously in the previous tenant's tastes. The sofa set matched the colours of the bathroom tiles, toilet, bathtub and sink - a shade of green that would have been fab in the 80's.

I'm surprised it came with everything! Most of the time the apartment is empty, but perhaps the previous tenant was happy to leave everything behind. It's as if they didn't want to bring anything with them, or think of how to dispose of these furniture. We were rather amused to find a set of salt and pepper on top of the microwave oven, complete set of cutleries in the cupboard, and most electrical items found in the kitchen.

There's even a bed with mattress and blanket left behind. But the bedroom is sandwiched between the living room and kitchen. If you had guests or were cooking, you'd be exposing your bedroom. Quite a funny arrangement I must say.

The carpet looked stained and some of the paint was peeling. This would have been a good choice for those who don't want to spend on their own furniture and don't mind the rather musky feel of the apartment.

Though you get to see some nice cars parked outside. Since this is quite a hilly area, most people have cars. Except for me.

The 3rd place is Sky Mansion 5. It's even further uphill into the residential area. I was beginning to wonder how I'd get to work, or even to get something as simple as groceries when I'm hungry in the middle of the night.

I liked the kitchen in this one. Plenty of cabinets, inbuilt oven and stove, and also dish washer! But then again, I'm not hosting parties, so maybe not so essential. There were 2 vacuum cleaners left behind too, how considerate. Both in pink, apparently the previous tenant was a lady who stayed by herself.

This was also a rather huge place, similar to the first but with only 1 room. There was a TV set and video player in a small rack.

The bathroom area is also nicely done, combined just like how I like it. Everything is within reach.

Also very spacious with no definite divider between the kitchen, living and dining area. Still quite big for me, and a little too far from the station.

Nice area though, perhaps if I have a car! The Kitano area was recommended as there are many other foreigners living here. It's also close to a tourist spot where Western-style houses can be found, since Kobe was one of the first few ports that opened to the world.

But I have to be practical, I have to imagine how it'd feel walking up and down the hill for work, in skirt and heels and bringing lots of things!

微妙 【びみょう】 (adj-na,n) (1) delicate; subtle; sensitive; (2) difficult; delicate (situation); complicated; (3) doubtful; questionable; dicey;