Sunday, December 27, 2015

pampered by

Whenever I return to Malaysia, I have to remind myself it's... well, Malaysia. According to Jib Gor, it's on track to becoming a developed nation in a few years' time, though there is much to suggest we are only half-baked and mainly it's just facade.

The things which are seemingly normal and expected of in Japan, are actually very-nice-to-have's and accorded in special cases in this country. Some would say, even the rest of the world.

Just a couple of days before I was due to fly back, I was trying to do some last minute Christmas shopping. Antonio happened to tag along after I had passed him some delayed gifts.

It had been a rainy day, and we both had an umbrella each. Reaching the entrance of Sogo, we were greeted with a "gadget" that wraps umbrellas with a plastic sheet so that you don't make a mess of the shops inside.

It's found almost everywhere. It helps both the customer who don't have to worry about shaking off the excess water, and keeps stores dry and safe for all.

Just push wet umbrella in. and out comes a neatly wrapped umbrella!

As part of extra service, shops also offer additional packaging for the goods that you have just purchased. Japan is well known for elaborate packaging as part of their hospitality and culture. It's normal for each piece of confectionery to be individually packed, then presented in a gorgeous box which is then covered with nice wrapping paper. These are usually put into a matching paper bag which might contain smaller bags if the goods could be presented to various people.

However, on rainy days, they also add a layer of plastic that fits the size of the paper bag just nicely so that your gifts don't get wet. Since most people take public transportation and have to carry everything back by hand, this I must say is really thoughtful of them!

The other thing which I find that really epitomises Japanese hospitality is what I call the "closing shop bow". Maybe this is just in Sogo or other high-end stores, but as I was still lingering around after closing hours trying to find the right gift, they didn't hurry me or shoo me out the door. Instead they allowed me to get what I needed, and as I walked out to the exit, each store attendant would stand by their booth/area and bow down and thank me.

Imagine going down the aisle with a few confectionery stalls on each side with the sales person bowing down as you sheepishly walk toward the exit. Hmm, maybe that's the reason - You would feel so bad for such indulgent hospitality that you would walk faster so they don't have to stay back to do extra bowing!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

treats to treat

Since I have been house-bound for the past few weeks, I've been busier than ever. Trying to recover is a job of its own. Preparing own meals, washing up, boiling water, making herbal tea/lemon juice/ginger water, and taking naps in between working from home. Trying to cough out phlegm and blowing my nose takes a toll too, I think I have developed stronger abdominal muscles.

I've almost depleted my emergency stash. These are interesting tidbits I've gathered in my travels, which I keep as treats. They may be as cheap and common as a Marie biscuit, but there's only 1 in my larder and I would not be able to get them again.

Thank God for a Godly mum who prays and sends over Chinese herbs. She would get me packets of traditional Chinese herb or medicine or ingredients whenever I come home, which now I find extremely useful. I've never had to make all these when I was in Tokyo.

The first week was quite okay, just me battling common flu and sore throat while working till past midnight. Since I'm no robot, my body crumbled the 2nd week with the lack of rest. Thinking a trip to the doctor would fix it, I waited half a day and ended up getting medicine that didn't even help much. In the end, my Hong Kong friend's recommended medicine made a difference. It turned out these were traditional chinese medicine, but packaged in Japan.

I guess it's kinda good to be made to rest once in awhile. If not, I'd leave these treats untouched, and as Sute-chan says, they would just expire and go to waste. I'm such a person for delayed gratification and would deprive myself of little delights even though I deserve 'em.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

more tou miau farm next to my balcony

It's been some time since i grew tou miau. Actually I started growing this batch to see if it would do better than the previous ones that I kept giving away. I left it for a few days and was excited to see it growing quite well in the autumn sun.

So it was with a little ache that I had to leave it, as I was summoned for a last minute business trip to Tokyo. When I got back, the water had all dried up, and the stalks had fallen to the side. It was both hilarious and sad at the same time!

I tried to put some water back into the container, since they didn't look that bad. One of my previous batches dried up completely when I was away for more than a week! Nothing to lose, I thought.

And it rewarded my optimism by soaking it up, and slowly bent upwards again towards the sun. Wow, there is hope after all! So I kept watering it, amazed at each mini progress daily. It was fun waking up to see how much better it looked.

After a few days, I decided it was time for harvesting. It didn't look like it could grow any taller, or maybe the weight was making it bend down. So I cut off and stir fried with chopped garlic and sprinkled with oyster sauce. Of course, it looked very little at the end of it!

I showed my parents these pictures, and my mum commented that they looked too skinny. Of course, they had only water to drink and no nutrition at all. I was about to let the remaining seeds grow into a 3rd batch, but realised it had probably given all that it had by then. Oh well, was a fun and edible experiment nevertheless!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

options on a platter

Some months ago, when my bigger boss was in Kobe he asked for some impromptu time with me. I started forming project updates in my head and imagined what questions he might have for me. There were some projects which weren't progressing as well as scheduled but I had my points ready just in case.

I was surprised when he started drawing on the board of the various systems and ongoing projects. I put my laptop aside and started to pay attention.

After some time of explaining, I realised he was sharing with me upcoming projects and the possibility of moving into one (or more) of them. Some would involve mobility to another city, and even country.

I thought it was all very fascinating, being able to choose and have some say in what I would like to do next. I think the others don't have that as much, possibly because I have dealt with most regions to a certain degree and my skills are quite transferable.


I wish it was that simple; like this platter of hors dóeuvre. Just choose a little bit of everything, take it in a bite at a time and then move on to something else. Once you've gobbled it down, you don't have to think about it anymore. Except for how good (or bad) it was. Because after that you get distracted by the salad, and the pasta, the pizza and the main dish, and the dessert.

* On a side note, this was my first time going to a Michelin rated restaurant. Someone told me that Japan, and even in fact Tokyo itself, has the most number of Michelin-rated restaurants compared to anywhere else in the world. Though it's rated Bib Gourmand, I think it was still very lovely and worth its entry.

L'aranceto is located in a quiet part of the Kitano area which boasts one of the best, if not the best Kobe beef steak restaurant around. To be honest, it looked rather unassuming at first from the outside, but the modest interior is just a front for some fine Italian cuisine in a cosy setting.




Tuesday, September 08, 2015

finally some fireworks

Actually I realised, I'm entering into my 4th year in Kobe! Even though I did not post up pictures here of the previous fireworks, this event is quite memorable because it always remind me of when I first moved here.

The first was with Yuri and Lucinda who also just moved to Kobe, so it was very exciting because (almost) everything was new. We were just here 1 week and already there was something to look forward to.

The 2nd year I won the department lottery to enjoy fireworks from the top floors of NTT's building. It was a treat because they prepared a very elegant bento box, set up the viewing area, and even sent us off with premium peaches.

I decided to give it a rest the 3rd year as it has been a tiring weekend. After all, how different could the fireworks be this time.

Come the 4th year, I was about to do the same, but because Sute-chan was new to Kobe, I thought I'd play the role of gracious host. We found quite a lovely view from the Kitano Club. We weren't allowed to enter, but the climb up the slope was worth it.

I wonder, what the 5th year would bring... if there was one?!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

just luggages, you would think

I took a deeper look as I was standing at the carousel waiting for my luggage. It's true what I heard, the handles of the bags are pointed onwards. Not just some, but really, all of them. I confirmed as I looked at the bags that came out and went along the conveyor belt.

Another classic example of Japanese thoughtfulness. You don't really notice because it's such a small thing. But when you take a moment to observe, you start to appreciate it. Just like many other things in life. Small, but makes a difference.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

the one that circulates

I have been putting off getting a fan because I wasn't sure how long I'd be in Japan. Mainly because I didn't want to spend on something that would take up unnecessary space, and perhaps I could train myself to withstand the heat.

Coming into my 3rd year, I realised the electricity bill could be reduced, especially with increasing hikes that came with the Jap government's nuclear policies. I searched all over Amazon Japan and finally found something which was compact and affordable.

It's named an air circulator, because apparently you can tilt it in different angles to improve the indoor circulation. When you put it facing upwards near an air-cond, it will divert the cool air around the room.

Of course you can have it straight at you, and it will do the job of a regular fan.

It comes with a dust guard filter, which makes it difficult to get dirty.

Another reason to clean the portable heater, and to store it back into the closet when warmer days are here. I like how they both come in colours matching to most of my furniture. And I can sleep better with cool circulated air, rather than dry air-conditioned chills.

Now why didn't I get one when I first came?!

Friday, July 31, 2015

swirling in crimson

The day came last Saturday. The heat and humidity didn't really help, but I suppose it's not any different from being in Malaysia. Just that in Malaysia most people go around in cars, so we're not really exposed to the elements.

Anyways, I digress.

We did a medley of songs where we took turns to play instruments, sing and dance. Since I'm such a shy person not comfortable with being in the front, the crimson skirt and bright tropical flowers wasn't helpful in blending in.

The CPM meetings are usually quite mild, and most of the time, songs are sung acapella when no musicians are available. So a lot of people were pleasantly surprised seeing this motley group perform, complete in accessories.

I think it's been a long time since I felt butterflies in my stomach. I couldn't remember much of what happened, except that I was glad when it was all over!

Looking back, I thanked God for the opportunity. I've always wanted to help serve in some capacity, but to be honest was quite traumatised by the incident at church last year. It's amazing how God works.

I just got some messages that Pastor Fuku-chan has invited us to do the same performance at his church next weekend. I guess I'd better get used to the butterflies @.@

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

of scarlet nails

It was meant to be some fellowship time after the home church service. There was Fumin's keyboard in the living room, and I was itching to move my fingers across the keys. Some people were singing, some were just playing instruments. When Fumin was around she would bring out her flute.

Then someone suggested the hoola dance that was performed at the Homecoming Gathering. I had just been observing mostly when they were coming up with ideas, because I really thought we were just hanging out doing stuff.

A week before I returned to Malaysia, it dawned on me that these were all for one of the CPM services. We had to practice our pieces, harmonise our voices, and know our steps.

What made it so fun was that (thanks or no thanks to my Japanese skills), I didn't know we were going to "perform", and so I was just enjoying the time of coming together, and serving Him with our talents.

And everything else just came together on its own; like how we should sequence the songs, who should play which instrument, and what formation would be best for the dance. Then the hoola skirts came, then the matching nails were done, and before you knew it, we had an ensemble who were eager to worship while having fun at the same time.

I still have my scarlet nails, and trying not to be embarrassed when people look, because it's such a showy colour!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

crossing the red bridge

Love these sisters. Who would've thought I'd spend so much time with them this summer. It had meant to be a little getaway from the usual church I attend, hoping to also brush up my Japanese and have a deeper knowledge of the Word.

They said they were going to walk back to the mainland. We had just finished some dance, song and music practice; the weather was still very pleasant. I was in great mood having come back from a week in Malaysia and a wedding weekend in Jakarta.

Even though I work on the island, I've never actually walked along the bridge like this before. I know some colleagues travel to work like this for health purposes.

We were accompanied by soothing breezes and a beautiful sunset despite the balmy weather. I couldn't help but thank God for more sisters who journey with me even as I enter into my 3rd year in Kobe. Especially those who love Him and desire to be more like Him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

count thy petals

One of the things I love about Japan, or at least being in a four-season country is the variety of flowers. There's always something I've never seen before that surprises me. Some flowers only blossom during spring, like sakura. Summer is when hydrangea come out in their full bloom.

I'm glad to be living near 3 parks, though to be honest I wish I could spend more time in them. It was a carpe diem moment few months ago when I had a picnic with Dora to celebrate a belated birthday and to usher in the spring season.

I guess I don't really have to create my own garden in the little balcony that I have, since there are plentiful greenery and pockets of flora near where I live!

Sunday, June 07, 2015


One of the best things about working here is we get some employee perks when it comes to company products. And once in awhile, there are some internal sales or sample sales through which I've been able to get sporty goods at really worthwhile prices. I guess it's okay if you're not chasing after the latest styles.

The other good thing is that we have an atrium right in the middle of the company building. Different sports are played here at different days of the week; it's even used by outsiders for basketball (teenagers), ping pong (senior citizens) and gymnastics (local schools).

When I first joined I was too bogged down with calls and meetings that I started to feel the irony of it. I even started to wonder to myself how can this company claim to be sports-minded when some of us have too much overtime work and can't even enjoy some decent physical exercise.

Thank God it's been a bit better recently. I even bought myself a badminton racquet for the weekly games that are held on Fridays. There's no point getting all these sporty apparel if I have no chance to use them! (So let me know if anyone feels like helping me use my employee benefits ;p)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

for all the desert weeks

Even though I have been going back to KBF, I'm still treading gingerly in the premises. I know it's beginning to sound ridiculous but I just don't want a repeat of what had happened one Sunday when I thought the coast was clear.

It was an unexpected bouquet of blessings : meeting up with a long-lost Pinoy brother, saying hello to dear Akari, getting compliments from Dora on my already-worn-out shoes, being invited for the home team meeting, enjoying Russian food made with love, and getting organic cake for dessert.

Oh, I was asked if I'd like to serve in the music ministry.

Monday, May 11, 2015

the many many blossoms

I had returned to KBF after a hiatus of almost 2 months. It was nice to see familiar faces again, and also pleasant to meet up with the missions team from NLRC Malaysia after almost 2 years. The last time was when I had just came to Kobe and looking for a church.

Some had asked what I have been up to. It's nice to know that people ask these sort of questions, but also at the same time they don't bug you about it.

It all started with the hanami season, and plenty of reasons to be out and about. Like when I took one Monday off to enjoy the beautiful weather and had some drawing-blessing time with Dora.

And because it was getting cold towards the evening, I suggested we could continue back at my place while sipping lovely tea and share some chocs I got for White Day. I know some people get offended if their recipient share their gifts, but I can't finish all these chocs by myself and what's the point if I can't share some blessings especially with those who appreciate such things too.

Come Easter weekend, the sakura was either at full bloom or about to fall off branches, but still was nice to catch some last glimpses.

And what better way to celebrate the Saturday before Easter by having some apple pie-flavoured Easter-themed Kit Kat bars. It's quite hard to see, but they actually imprinted bunny ears on the wafer coating. My friends thought these Kit Kats had some defect because they didn't have the divider in the middle all the way to the bottom!

How can I forget the time when I went all the way to Osaka to collect my Milo and gifts from mum meet Fong Jiao who was on assignment for the next few months. Had the pleasure to meet her fellow researcher Jah, my first encounter with a Thai Christian. I had to drag Fong Jiao to enjoy the early cherry blossom blooms and some local sights during her short stint here. After all, it's the best time to be in Japan.

So, these are not really the reasons I was missing from KBF to be honest. Just wanted to show off the wonderful time spent outdoors. No regrets taking off, and thankful I had all these opportunities to appreciate His beautiful creations.

Friday, April 03, 2015

my patriotism gone down the drain

The previous post about KLM was sitting in drafts for some time because I thought it was not worth sharing, since I didn't actually get to use the voucher. That was, until I had an encounter with another airline.

This time it's somewhere closer to home. As might be aware, there has been much negative press and perception about Malaysia Airlines after the double tragedy last year and the overall organisational situation.

Despite that, I chose to be patriotic and support our local airline when I booked my flight home for Christmas/New Year's. I could have gone for Korean Air for 2 main reasons : inflight service and airport ambience.

When checking my mileage upon returning to Japan, I realised some points were expiring in March but the link to the online shop to redeem products have been down. I tried to go through the MH website to see if there were other links, but there was only one where I could get a RM50 voucher. The options weren't many, since they seem to all belong under the YTL umbrella of hotels and restaurants.

Clicking on the link led me back to the members page, where I was faced with the same problem. In fact, I was asked to login again even though I was already logged in on a separate tab. When I did finally found myself at the voucher link, it only mentioned voucher for extra luggage, and not the hotel/restaurant mentioned on the website.

Sending an email to the online shop bounced back, even though it was the only email address given in the notification. So I sent an online enquiry trying to find out what else I could do.

I got this reply :

Dear Ms.Lee,
Greetings from Enrich Malaysia Airlines.
Please be advised that you may redeem RM 50 vouchers via the Enrich Vouchers tab in your account or directly at our ticketing office at KL Sentral. 
Please note that these vouchers are valid for 6 months.
Thank you for making Malaysia Airlines your travel partner.
We look forward to assist you again in the future. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any additional inquiries.
Kind Regards,

Enrich, Malaysia Airlines

I replied to "Ann", telling her that I only enquired about the RM50 voucher because the online shop was down. I also told her that since I was based overseas, I expected the basic functions on the site to work. I imagine there must be other non-Malaysian residents and foreigners and even Malaysians-gone-overseas who are Enrich members.

Then this reply :

Dear Ms.Lee,
Greetings from Enrich Malaysia Airlines once again.
Please note that as per our edm sent out in June 14, Temptations has terminated its partnership with Enrich. However  this is temporary  as we are in process of reviewing the offering  to enhance the benefits to Enrich members. Please bear with us and do keep a lookout for our announcement for Temptations  soon. 
Thank you and kind regards


I think "Ann" didn't get it. She assumed everyone received the EDM, I'm not sure if she checked with the marketing guy who was managing CRM. If the said EDM was sent in June and it's now April and the problem is still there, it's beginning to sound more than just "temporary". I imagine there must be some high-flying Datuk traveling very frequently on MH with many more points which might have expired between the period of June 2014 and April 2015, who must have had to redeem many RM50 vouchers.

It seemed "Ann" did not understand that my points were about to expire and I wanted to know if there was another way I could get a hand on the catalogue so that I could select my product. It seems like I'm being forced to redeem my soon-to-be-expiring points for some voucher I could probably never use.

This was the last reply I received :

Dear Ms.Lee,
We are in the process of reviewing the offering  to enhance the benefits to Enrich members.
We will advise of the progress as soon as we have finalised.
Thank you and kind regards

How nice of her to remind me in bold that they are trying to enhance benefits to Enrich members. I'm sure there will be some EDM sent to me that the "temporary" inconvenience will come to an end.

As I write this, my March points would have expired if I wasn't "forced" to redeem them for the voucher. I guess there's no point writing back - you can easily see the difference between the email below and the correspondence I've had here which doesn't seem to go anywhere. Not merely the email, but overall customer experience.

I can sympathise with companies who are not in the best shape, and I'm more than happy to help suggest some basic customer service etiquette and communication tips. There's been many colourful promotional banners and exciting promotions on the MH site, but what's the point when their loyal customers are not getting basic customer service? =.="

Thursday, April 02, 2015

one of the reasons why i (still) love klm

I first wrote this post in September 2013 after returning from a business trip in London. I was supposedly upgraded to Business Class on the AMS-LHR leg, but was not served any food, rendering me treated less than even an Economy Class passenger.

It was a much smaller craft due to it being a regional flight, so the upgrade didn't make any difference to me in terms of comfort nor amenities. It was my first time being upgraded so I wasn't sure what I was supposed to get, and didn't want to cause a scene. I looked longingly towards the back as the air stewardess served the other passengers their food and drinks. At that time I wished I wasn't upgraded!

Upon my return to Japan, I decided to send in an inquiry to KLM, and this is what they responded with... (nevermind they got my gender wrong!) :

Dear Mr Lee,

Thank you for your message. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience you mention.

I am sorry to learn that you did not receive a meal on your recent flight with us from Amsterdam to London and can well appreciate your disappointment.

Although catering does not form part of the contract we have with our passengers, and is offered on a complimentary basis, we fully  understand that it is sometimes one of the factors taken into consideration when choosing an airline and as such is considered important by our passengers.

Our airline carefully plans the number of meals required per flight and per cabin, and the number finally delivered is based on the final number of checked passengers; last minute acceptance of passengers in certain situations does not allow our caterers to load the extra meals without risking delaying the flight departure. This is normally communicated to the passengers in question although our crew will do their utmost to offer a solution.I very much regret that this seems to have been your case and apologise again for the negative impression you were left with on this occasion.
However, in recognition of your understandable disappointment, as a gesture of goodwill; we are pleased to advise that a nonrefundable Travel Compensation Voucher to the value of EUR50 (MYR211) will be forwarded to the below address:

The voucher can be used for payment of ticket for carriage on KLM and Air France flights.  Please refer to the terms and conditions behind the cover of the vouchers for more details.  The tickets for Air France and KLM can be issued in any Air France and KLM offices worldwide.

Should you decide to utilise the vouchers through your travel agent, please request your agent to contact us for the procedure.  The vouchers are valid for one year from the date of issuance and can be transferred to another person once. The amount stated can only be used for the passenger indicated on the vouchers.

Please be informed that usage of the vouchers for internet bookings is only allowed in Malaysia.  In this case, please make your reservation online and select the payment option “cash payment”. The issuance of ticket will have to be processed at our ticketing office at the Park Royal Hotel.

Once again, please accept our apologies for the difficulties you had experienced. We hope that our message will restore your trust in our company and that you will give us the pleasure of welcoming you again on one of our flights soon and we look forward to serving you to your entire satisfaction.

Kind regards,
C.Effendi (Ms)

Asia Pacific Customer Care Officer KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

I really liked how they came back with this nicely-worded apology and explanatory email. It gives me all the details I needed to know why what happened, happened, and what they were willing to do, to appease the customer.

Like I said, I did not expect to be upgraded, but if there was no food available I'd rather be back at Economy. But it didn't really matter since it was a short flight.

Nevermind if this was a canned response, I can tell that their Customer Care department had been well trained. I left the email as it is, since the voucher probably reached my parents' home and none of us would have been able to use the voucher!

A little courtesy, good communication and plenty of consideration goes a long way.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

diabolo ginger

Continuing on my quest for interesting food and drinks while in Japan, here's Diabolo Ginger from the Kirin's Sekai No Kitchen Kara series. I've previously had the salted lychee inspired by Thai mothers; it was quite a treat during summer and reminded me a bit of home.

They even made a really cute diaroma depicting a typical kitchen where a Thai mother would have made this refreshing drink for her family.

Apparently this was inspired by the French mother's wisdom of simmering ginger in sugar syrup. Where I come from, ginger is usually used for cooking, but in other parts of the world ginger is eaten as candies, or used to make confectionery.

To be honest, I would have mistaken this for ginger ale since it was fizzy and had gingery taste if I had not read the description behind, and went through the article where the Kirin folks visited Provence and apparently discovered this drink!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

journey into jordan : wadi rum

I know it's been some time I posted about Jordan, and I had meant to continue on them after posting on Madaba and Petra. Recently I tried to enter the KLM photo competition since I had just come back from Europe on it. Too bad I had already missed the dateline, but it made me recall some of the breathtaking scenes I had seen.

We climbed up the rocks at "Lawrence's Spring", the watering hole for camels. This was our first stop on the guided desert tour on a 4x4.

It felt like being on a different planet altogether. Perhaps Mars looked like this, with all the red sand? I'd never seen so much sand in my life before, very used to tropical greenery had made me appreciate the flora and fauna back home.

We were able to spend some time climbing the many sand dunes in the desert and just gaze around us in awe.

Our tour guide-cum-driver must be so used to seeing all his tourists taking too many shots of the same thing.

Halfway through the tour, he'd create fire, lit up a worn black kettle and proceeded to make tea to serve us. It would be one of the best tea I'd had. We were still trying to figure out what made the tea so ... addictive. We'd never have enough of it, though one might think it's like your regular black tea.

Just stopping by all these rock formations made me imagine the many million years of erosion and natural elements that shaped them to be so.

I particularly liked this one. I call it "The Standing Turtle Pooping".