Saturday, November 30, 2013

You've heard of the Sara Lee frozen cheesecakes, that famous dessert from the US. Angmohs familiar with that brand always ask if my name is with a H.

When my Japanese colleagues read my name for the first time, they pronounce it as Sala, which could also sound like plate (お皿) in Japanese.

For those familiar with Japanese pronunciation, I end up with nicknames such as celery (セロリ), salaryman (サラリーマン) and salad (サラダ).

I was so amused at seeing this in the stores that I decided to get one. But maybe because there's a butterfly on the cover design. (I think only ladies will know what this is ;) )

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

next up, the pine for dining

Sometimes it's a good thing tackling something difficult first, because the next one would be so much easier. My Malaysian friend Zadli said he took up Chinese because it made learning Japanese a little bit easier! I'm embarrassed being Chinese >.<

Anyways, now that I've gotten the TV rack done with, I got so excited I started clearing out some other old stuff and boxes which had been lying around - yes, including the box which had served me well as a table all these while.

I chose a foldable low table because that would save me some space when the occasion required. Also, living in a studio like this meant I can't have a proper dining table with chairs. So Japanese style, sitting on the floor :)

This was a piece of cake compared to the TV rack. Just needed to figure out how to fold and unfold the table. Seriously, when I first attempted this before building the TV rack, I couldn't get it working. But after the rack, I somehow developed an understanding of furniture instructions sheet and suddenly managed to get the legs standing upright.

What a great feeling to be able to eat on a proper table I wondered what took me so long to get this! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

the oak rack below the tv

I'm so excited, my room feels a little more complete now!

Last weekend, 2 flat packed boxes arrived, waking me from my slumber. As usual weekend is the only time I get to catch up with sleep.. First box arrived around 9am. After signing off the box, I trudged back to bed, only to be woken up again a couple of hours later by the second box.

Since my room is so tiny, I had to leave the boxes at the entrance. Both were from Muji. All of my earlier furniture were from Ikea; but for a Japanese-size studio, it was really difficult to find what fitted the available space. I really love the natural wood theme so the wait was worth it. Long story short, I had to go back and forth between Ikea and Muji trying hard to match the current theme and budget.

Deciding that I was tired of eating on a box for over a year now (can't believe I've been doing that for so long!) I got myself out of bed to build this.

Sure, building a TV rack is not rocket science. But the instructions came in Japanese and this was oak wood. Great workout first thing in the morning. Trying not to scratch the wooden floor, I placed cardboard pieces all over and started to make sure the pieces matched what was on the instruction sheet. Quite a challenge considering I was too lazy to translate so early in the morning.

Starting with the top panel, I had to screw in these steel rods in 4 corners. Not difficult, but the instructions my colleague translated did not match parts of what was given in the instructions sheet. I got a little confused and started second-guessing my instincts.

Sliding the side panels through the steel rods was quite fun. So this is how they put wood panels together without nails! Somehow the holes in the panel were not entirely a straight cylinder, so this required some adjusting.

Then the thinner back panel. Trying to match the groove for all the sides took a little bit of time. I had to do this a few times. Took out the side panels and then re-screwed the steel rods a few times.

By the time I reached the bottom panel, I had "kepit" my fingers a few times because it was not as light as I had imagined. This took even more tries trying to make sure all the corners matched. Again I had to remove the back panel, the side panels and the steel rods multiple times.

I was getting a hang of doing this. The instruction video lasted only a few minutes. There I was redoing things so many times I took almost an hour.

When I was confident all the sides had matched, I started to put in the final bolts.

Then the steel caps for the legs. How considerate of them to provide felt pads to protect the flooring. There were some additional round stickers in the pattern of natural wood, to cover the bolts from showing.

This was the instruction sheet that my colleague translated. Yuri was the one who helped me move in when I first came to Kobe. She was so gungho when I got my bed that she said both of us could build it ourselves!

Ah, finally my TV rack. The pieces were a little heavy alright, but I really liked the solid feel of it.

After unplugging all the wires and cables for the TV, modem and router, and cleaning the little corner, and finally arranging everything back again I now finally have my TV rack! Such awesomeness - I love the natural colours (nevermind that it did not match my Ikea white colours) and the fact that I built this myself!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

enjoying shingen mochi

One of the things I love about the Japanese culture is the gift-giving. And also the fact that they can make simple things that most of us take for granted, or regard as common, into something pretty or exquisite.

Like this little souvenir that my colleague gave out to us. It's nicely wrapped as if with a furoshiki cloth wrapper, and there's a little wooden spatula-like stick slipped in between the knot like a knife ready to be taken out.

Once the plastic wrapper is unwrapped, you have a container with its lid; in the middle is a bottle of dark liquid. The brownish stuff is the kinako (soy bean flour) powder which covers the mochi (rice cake) at the bottom.

First uncover the bottle and pour out the kuromitsu syrup, translated as black honey onto the powder. Try to mix the syrup into the powder carefully, and not make a mess out of the little arrangement there.

Using the wooden stick provided, stick into the gooey powdery mass and get your mochi out. And there you have your delicious Japanese dessert. This is known as shingen mochi, from the Yamanashi prefecture. You can get other variations of this in supermarkets too, but nothing beats the enjoyment you get while slowly opening the gift and trying to look for the mochi hidden beneath the kinako!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

of japanese kids and the trains they ride

Just like any other day, I stepped into the train without thinking much. Then I realised it was more packed than usual, and some kids stepped out as I was stepping in. It was during rush hour so was a little surprised that they were there in a group.

When I was snugly in the carriage, those same 5-6 kids came back into the train, just in time as the doors were closing.

I then realised they had come out to make way for those from my station. I thought, how very nice and thoughtful of them!

That thought lingered in my head for a bit as the train moved to the next station. I was still a little stunned because I had never met such well-mannered children before. They were probably in middle high school, most likely preteens.

I was not sure if they were on a school trip because they were not wearing school uniforms. But one thing's for sure, there were a few who were like "ketua darjah" in the group, because they would remind the rest to be quiet, or not to move around too much.

At some points when the train was moving upwards, some would lose their balance, causing a domino effect. Because it was too packed, I couldn't even reach for the hang rail, so bumped into the grrl next to me. From then on, she became a little more conscious of me. I think I heard her telling the boy on the other side next to me, to be mindful of the people around them.

A few months ago, when I was taking the later train to work, there were some younger kids who seemed to be on an excursion being accompanied by their teachers. It made sense because it was a non-peak hour, and the children were still very young. And yet, they were standing just like any other train passenger.

If you notice in this picture, there are some yellow seats nearer to the door. These are designated "priority seats", meant for the elderly, pregnant ladies, and those who are physically challenged. Even then, the kids did not occupy those seats.

Japanese kids are trained from a young age to be respectful, be conscious of the people around them, and to not "disturb" other people as much as possible. Because of this, they grow up to be patient and considerate.

I've even seen 3 young children on a train by themselves. Must have been siblings; an older sister not older than 10, and older brother also around the same age, and their youngest, a boy probably around 5. Even before they had arrived at their destination, they stood up and waited at the door. Without holding to anything, they patiently stood there until they reached their station while trying to maintain their balance. No wonder Japanese men can even sleep while standing!