Category Archives: Travelling:Outstation

Outstation: Selamat Siang from Beautiful Bali (22nd to 28th Dec 2011)✿バリ島は天国みたい✿

The Bali sun smiled on my nose, her smiles were full of passion.
My nose remembers her fiery kiss and now it’s exfoliating.

I was abducted to the beautiful, chicken-shaped island of Bali by my German friend, Jenni, who spent 4 months living, breathing, eating and , of course, studying there. Having bade farewell to the cleanliness, order and modern comforts of Singapore, I found myself standing in the middle of the airfield of Ngurah Rai International Airport with other dazed tourists as A360s roared overhead. Bali may have been the perennial tourist destination for a romantic getaway, the logistical infrastructure and hygiene standards have consistently maintained itself throughout the years for a developing country (i.e. less insane than the urban chaos in South India. Refer to my Tamil Nadu travel post ). With exception to Nusa Dua and Tommy Suharto’s Dreamland, the narrow roads are clogged with blue taxis and motorcycles on which goods and pillion riders are balanced acrobatically between biker and machine.

From the car window, I see shops, shrine, shop, shrine, rice field, shrine, shops, shrine, Kerbokan prison, shops, shrine, rice fields… Bali is the only island in Indonesia with Hinduism as its mainstream religion however instead of the bells, smoke and fire we see here, Bali has modified the practices and decorum substantially. Ritual offerings were made many times a day at the shrine, the shop entrance and even at the traffic junction. I was told the bigger the shrine, the greater the family’s wealth and influence. Duh.

On the first day, Jenni brought me to Moka’s, a French cafe, for a nice European breakfast. I was already in paradise after being served a generous bowl of honey-drizzled yoghurt fruit salad, thick avocado juice (unlike the watered down version in Singapore) , a chocolatine bun and a cup of hot tea with milk (42,000 Rph=SGD 7). Fruit salad became my top breakfast choice for my remaining days in Bali.

We strolled along the shopping street lined with glass windows displaying designer summer wear, home accessories and funky jewellery before hopping into a Blue Bird taxi to see the Monument Nasional (National Monument) in Renon Square. Blue Bird is Indonesia’s major taxi company and not only do all the taxis run on metered fare, the drivers have some proficiency in English. Getting around by taxi is both convenient and cheap and probably the only transport option for a first-time visitor. We rented a non-metered taxi for a day at a dirt-cheap rate of 400,000 Rph= SGD 60 to travel to East Bali. Even when traveling to South Bali on meter, covering Tommy Suharto’s Dreamland and Padang Padang beach (Think ”Eat,Pray,Love”), the total fare was approximately 450,000 Rph.

The Monument Nasional is a musuem which houses a series of dioramas depicting the history of Bali. Ascending a spiral staircase (menstruating individuals are not allowed, don’t ask me why) takes us to the viewing platform where one can see the whole Denpasar city landscape. What surprised me was  for such a magnificent architecture as this,  Jenni and I were the only foreign tourists. I was amused when the local Indonesian tourists asked to have a photograph taken with us. I guess they don’t really get to see the blue-eyed and slit-eyed in these parts. We took a cab to the Bali Museum but it was closed so we strolled around Puputan Badung Park marvelling at the giant chess board and visited the temple next to the museum. We also decided to give Pasar Badung a miss thanks to the monsoon rains and the lack of parking space.

The next stop which left an impression was Pasar Burung,  a one-stop market for pets and supplies. The first thing that assaulted my olfactories was the pungent stench of salt, ammonia and wet feathers. Then the sight of birds, dogs, cats, rabbits, lizards, fish, chickens all displayed in rusty wire-mesh cages and rattan enclosures. The whole bloody domestic zoo is for sale. Matt Damon could afford this one for his kids’ petting zoo.

The monsoon rains started to pour again and we headed south to Nusa Dua to purchase a ticket (US$ 65) to the Devdan musical for Jenni’s cousin. Nusa Dua was where the ASEAN summit was held, graced by US President Barack Obama and I was excited to find dustbins lining the neatly trimmed hedges of the area. It felt like I was back in Singapore where the streets are clean, toilets are brightly lit and restaurants ridiculously expensive. Back in Kerobokan, we had a nice dinner at Warung Sobat 2 which is situated just behind the prison. The main course is served on banana leaf, sate is served on a mini charcoal grill and it comes with a free dessert of either black rice with banana and coconut milk or a scrumptious slice of sweet banana cake.

My personal favourite is the grilled squid with avocado salad and mashed potatoes. The grilled pieces of squid was succulent and juicy and it goes very well with the creamy mashed potatoes which is not in the menu. After a satisfying meal, we headed to the airport to receive Jenni’s cousin, Dani. It was hilarious to see the looks of anticipation on the arriving visitors change to shock when they see the hordes of people greeting them behind a metal barrier ( think Chennai airport at Arrivals/Departure) and the gradual slackening to an expression of dazed exasperation. Jenni brought us to a beach club for some drinks. Along the way we saw sexily clad transvestites grabbing the arms of motorists and gyrating to the music from the clubs that lined the road.

The dance club at the beach had really bad music and crawling with inebriated Australians who don’t exactly seem to know how to work their bodies to the music. That concluded my Denpasar experience for the day.

Day two (24th Dec 11, Christmas Eve), we hired a driver for 400,000 Rph for the entire day to drive us to across the emerald terraced rice fields of Tabanan to Tanah Lot temple, one of the 6 most important temples in Bali (hence visitors are advised to cover up and leave their bikinis behind). Tanah Lot is one of the few places I would like to return for its breathtaking beauty, an epitome of paradise on earth where the azure skies and the turquoise sea are separated by the brilliant shades of blue and quartz-white sea foam. It’s a pleasure to see and hear the powerful curling waves crash against the rocks and dissolve into foam and spray. The unadulterated photos speak for themselves. Taken with my humble iPhone 4 and my crummy Casio 5-Megapixel digital camera.

The rolling waves seemed intent to swallow my hapless flip flop into the blue bowels of the sea. Dani stepped into the waters to rescue my flip flop in a Cinderella-esque act of chivalry. The amazing views do not stop at the temple. As we crossed to the other side of the shore, an exquisite sight greeted us. And again, these photos have not undergone any photo-editing.

I was so awed by the sights and the sensation of the sea breeze on my face I totally forgot about the harsh burning sun. My arms, nose and scalp were thoroughly roasted to an angry lobster red. It was so well grilled by the scorching sun that raindrops felt like bullets on my arms and head. After getting soaked in UV rays and sea water, we headed back to the villa in Umalas to dress up for the Devdan musical at Nusa Dua. We ended the night with a nice Christmas dinner at the same restaurant behind the prison.

Waking up to a Christmas morning, we found a drunk German kid asleep by the pool (wished he was sleeping inside the pool for the bloody racket he made every night).

We headed eastwards to the chicken-butt of Bali towards Gunung Agung, barreling through rustic rice fields, circling the twisting roads around the mountain which had me reach out for a barfbag. The beautiful landscape offered a brief respite before we roller-coastered towards the foot of Besakih Temple.

The Mother Temple of Besakih is the holiest and largest temples in Bali. After hiking up a slope flanked by shops peddling sarongs and souvenirs for 10 mins, we finally reached the temple where we see the tour guides a.k.a. Temple Guardians (or so these guys claim) swarm towards foreigners. Pilgrims and worshippers filed along the flanks of the main shrine with colorful offerings balanced on their heads.Peep,Peep,Peep… There were little sacrificial baskets containing a duckling and a chick cheeping away, probably aware of their  fates. The monsoon clouds hung ominously overhead and when we reached a souvenir shop beyond the first shrine, it began to pour. This is when hawkers gathered around us offering to rent their umbrellas for a sum (should have brought a raincoat or an umbrella).

We continued the trek upwards to the shrine at the peak of the hill after the rains were reduced to a drizzle. We met a tourist who was making his way down towards the shop and he told us there’s a lot to see at the top. He was right and to make it even more awesome, the only tourists were the three of us. The first thing we saw at the base of the shrine was a pile of offerings and a carcass of a white chicken with it’s rear facing the shrine. The view which the sacrifice was facing was magnificent, especially when the sun offered a brief respite from dull grey Kodak moments.

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✿London is so loverly✿(26 May 11 to 3 June 11)

The anglophile inside has revealed itself even before I arrived in the fair city of London. For starters, Malaysians do not need a tourist visa and an adapter for my chargers which saves a lot of pain. And oh, the many lessons I have learned in this dreadfully short one-week visit.

Iconic phone box of Britain

Lesson 0: Get a smartphone, sniff for wifi and switch off the cellular data function at all times. I got an iPhone4 for this trip and it became my laptop-cum-camera-cum-telephone box (you can’t carry a red telephone box with you for starters. Her Majesty’s bobbies would come after you with their truncheons). All the photos were taken with the iPhone4 and I could do so discreetly (very useful in museums, the tube, meal tables, hurhur) and beautifully ( brilliant colours and focus). Perfect in every way, except of course, I wish Steve Jobs could extend its short battery life. <全部アイフォンでとった。アップルすごい!>

Tower Bridge and cloudy skies at Tower Hill where it began to drizzle soon after.

 

Armour galore in the White Tower!こんなプラモがいいんですね!

The famous Greenwich Meridian Time line.↑GMT+-

Relaxing on the cool grass and feeding pigeons while enjoying the warbling waters of Princess Diana fountain in Kensington Gardens(^^)

The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. Lovely weather and colour isn’t it? Thanks to iPhone (>w<)

National Portrait Gallery next door: Portrait of Sir Stamford Raffles, the colonial visionary who founded Singapore.

The grand Aquarium and London Eye along the Thames (as my own eyes began to swell…(3A3))

Queen Boudicca、an example on why you shouldn’t fuck with women, more figurative than literal. Check out the thong <0><0>.

 

The eminent King’s College in Cambridge.

The architectural marvel at James Street in Covent Garden.

Twinings at the Strand, since 1706. The varieties of tea blends are astounding.

If you see Big Ben, you know you are in London.

The back entrance of Westminster Abbey where HRH Prince William and Catherine were wedded on 29 April 11.

Westminster Abbey holds a memorial service for the East Japan earthquake on 5 June. 六月五日ウェストミンスター寺院が東日本大地震追悼礼拝をする。

The grand British Musuem, where the history of the world is kept.

Inside the British museum. Isn’t the roof marvellous?

British museum: The Elgin marbles which was taken from the Parthenon… Greece is still pissed.

British museum: The amazingly dramatic depiction of the Royal lion hunt by the Assyrians.

British museum: One of the many well-preserved mummies around.

British museum: Japanese British tea house. 本田菊xアーサーカークランド www

Harrods: Oh my god, Hello Kitty x Harrods?!イギリスもキティに嵌まってる?

Harrods: The famous bears of Harrods.かわいいいいオマワリサンとソルジャー♥

To get to London, what better way than to fly in its national carrier, British Airways? Just 13 hours from Singapore.

Lesson 1: For solo travellers who’d like to have the opportunity to sit next to children or even babysit them, choose the front row seats where the cots are. On my flight to London, my fellow passenger was an Englishman with his toddler, Mr B. Mr B was an adorable little gent who strews die-cast cars and carrot-cucumber sticks around him, has an incredibly tough head and has a preference for inner seats. I was really impressed by the attentiveness of Mr B’s father and the air stewards who made sure that Mr B has a comfortable overnight flight. I’m privileged to babysit Mr B temporarily and watch his “butlers” attend to his needs. (/w\)

3 friends in the Tube. London is in the Oyster card (Suicaと同じ用のカード).

Faeries do exist in London and they take buses! 夜バスで妖精さんが乗った!

Lesson 2: Stand on the Right. Mind the Gap (and the cow!). Watch out for Station Closures. Carry a Map. While on escalators in  Singapore and Tokyo, keep to the left. In London, keep to the right.  The platform gap of London’s stations could be as abysmally wide as 15cm! Now that is what I call a gap worth minding. With the 2012 London Olympics looming, the city is preparing to expand key stations such as Tottenham Court with lots of construction work on weekends and throughout the week. We wouldn’t want the Londoner to risk getting his toes rolled over by the vicious wheels of the tourists’ Samsonite now do we? Another thing that surprised me while commuting on the Tube is the only time I heard the English language being spoken is when there is a public announcement being made. Tourists and immigrants have helped make the train ride a multi-cultural experience.  On my arrival to Earls Court, I feared the place would be similar to the labyrinth-like cities of Japan that even a map is useful as an accessory to show that you are a hopelessly lost tourist. In London, there are street signs clearly marking the direction and area. With a map in hand, I am confident to say that a friendly Londoner would approach a hapless tourist to offer help. After I was discharged from hospital(we’ll get to that in a while), I shuffled to Embankment station for bearings,  trying to find my way back to Leicester Square in the rain. I had a Lonely Planet guidebook in hand and was scrutinising the map on the information post when a kind Londoner approached me and asked where I need to go. He looked like he was on his way home with his bag of grocery. He walked me towards the direction of Leicester Square in the rain, he didn’t have an umbrella mind you.

Monster blister, the boil that started it all.

Warded:Tuna salad pasta and a jug of water.

Warded: ”NSAIDS” to notify staff what NOT to give me. The staff took good care of me, a tourist (3w3)キュン

Lesson 3: I am happy to pay the whopping 16% VAT because it contributes to the NHS (national health service). The medical services are priceless. The thought of getting a tax refund never crossed my mind after I admitted myself to St. Thomas’ hospital for an eye-popping allergic reaction. It all started after I took ibuprofen as recommended by a kind Englishman whom I met along the streets of St Pancras at midnight. After the horrific discovery of a monstrous blister on my left little toe and thanks to the uncaring, apathetic staff at the Generator hostel, I made my way to some hospital which I have no idea how far it would take. The pain took all caution out of my mind and I trotted the dark quiet streets alone, and cold, in search of a clinic or a hospital. I was fortunate to approach an Englishman (ティムさん) from Manchester who happened to be an army medic and he took a look at the monstrosity and advised me not to walk the streets in the area alone and recommended some anti-inflammatory painkillers and remedies. He and his Canadian friend chatted with me in the cold and it made me forget about the pain and piss. Despite the disappearance of the suit and bowler hat ensemble, the English Gentleman still exists in England! I took some ibuprofen the next morning and headed to Leicester square to purchase a ticket to see Les Miserables in the evening. As usual I rambled on aimlessly and found myself in the magnificent Trafalgar Square, trotted further along the Thames to see Big Ben. It was then my eyes started watering and my gut told me it could be a reaction to the ibuprofen I took. Lady Luck smiles on me again when I found St Thomas: hospital just opposite the bridge where Big Ben is. The medical staff directed me to the Accident and Emergency to take a queue number to be registered. By this time, my eyes have swollen to the point where my vision was only 70%. The black admin staff took my particulars down and I highlighted to him that I’m not a UK citizen. Contrary to the complaint of our mentor minister perhaps it’s just his luck that there were alot of patients on that night), it only took me 15 mins before I was taken to the consultation station where the doctor diagnosed my condition as an allergic reaction to NSAIDS. A nurse (Amy) led me to a room where I was given some antihistamines and steroids and I was put under observation for the next few hours to ensure that I did not get an asthmatic attack from the ibuprofen. Later, they put me into a ward where I was very impressed by the care and attention given to the patients by the nurses and doctors. I told the nurse that I would like to be discharged as soon as possible as I had a musical to catch. The kind nurse (Katy) brought me lunch that is available in the pantry and a jug of water. The doctor discharged me upon my request and advised me not to take NSAIDs (anything that ends with -fen). At the pharmacy, I collected the steroids and antihistamines and asked how much they were. The pharmacist told me I do not need to pay for anything and sent me off with a smile. From what I described, it seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? Excellent medical treatment, compassionate staff and it is all free, even for non-UK citizens. That made me fall in love with London even harder than before.

Lovely performance at the Vortex jazz bar. The bass player was cute. (♥w♥)

Blood Brothers:The only musical that made me cry.(;w;)

Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. The best of the 5!

Inside the Victoria theatre where Billy Eliot was performed. Love the dances!

We Will Rock You where the script is badly written around the music of legendary Queen.

Lesson 4: Be Nice. Smile more. Speak proper English.You might get a good seat. In just 7 days, I managed to squeeze 5 musicals into my itinerary. I burnt almost 200 quid on the tickets but you can’t experience the grand old theaters and ice cream during intermission anywhere else (perhaps the States?). In chronological order, I watched Les Miserables, Billy Eliot, The Lion King, Blood Brothers and We Will Rock You. I tried those discounted ticket booths at Leicester Square and managed to get a seat for 18 quid but with 70% view. Then I tried purchasing from the box office itself in the morning when it opens at 10am. The tickets cost up to 50 quid and depending on the person at the counter, they could actually put you in very good seats for the same or lower price. The best deal I got was for Blood Brothers where the lady seemed quite terse at first but after making small talk with her while fumbling at the coins, she put me into the center seat, 4 rows from the stage with a really good view of the cast. A good thing too because the musical was one of the best I’ve ever watched. There was emotional gravity in the performance and when it came to the tragic scene, I started crying with the audience. (;w;)

The famous English breakfast to start the day right…

Enjoy some Afternoon Tea at one’s leisure…Mmm Lovely scones.

What better way to end the day (and trip) in London with a roast beef dinner?

Hearty soups, crisp sandwiches and free wifi at Pret a Manger.

A calorific takeaway lunch on board the train from Cambridge to London. Colossal Cornish pasty…(凄く大きいです;).

Light lunch of clam chowder soup and a scrumptious chocolate and orange muffin at the courtyard of Westminster Abbey.

JK Sheeky’s famous fish pie. The food and service is worth the 30 quid.♥>゜)))彡♥

Dining at JK Sheeky’s. Walls are covered with photos of celebrities.

Cheese and Bacon chips with a refreshing pint of Magner’s cider to wash it all down(including the bitter defeat of Man United to Barca).

…Fish and chips  with pie in Greenwich (まずい!><;). No wonder British cuisine gets such a bad rap.

One of the gourmet highlights of my trip in London- Salmon and Teriyaki chicken bento (ちくしょ!何でロンドンにこんな美味しいものがあるの?!はぁはぁ).

Lesson 5: Hardcore Vegan, Blood-thirsty Carnivore, Finicky Gourmet, Belt-tightening Budget, Anything Asian … London has everything to satisfy the Global Appetite. When one thinks of British food, one hardly connotes it with the word “gourmet”, thanks to a French official’s stark comment on the gastronomic value of the much maligned (maybe not) cuisine. The famous full English Breakfast, a plate piled with fried eggs, thick juicy sausages, artery-clogging-sodium-saturated bacon strips,  juicy grilled tomato (probably the only healthy item on the plate) drowned in thick brown gravy sauce and partnered with crisp slices of toast covered in butter and jam, a hearty bowl of oats porridge, some fruit or yogurt and washed all these down with a revitalizing cup of English Breakfast tea. Then there is the oil-soaked newspaper which cradles crispy batter-fried fish in a bed of salt-sprinkled chips (thick fingers of deep-fried potato. The New World reshaped it into a dainty stick which they call French Freedom Fries.). Despite the health-threatening high-cholesterol offerings the British menu has, who could resist the classic English tradition of Afternoon tea where one enjoys a lovely cup of tea with boulders of scones covered in cold clotted cream and ruby red strawberry jam,  the assortment of sandwiches and cakes to complement the leisurely experience? Thank god and the immigration policy-makers, newcomers from all corners of the earth brought along with them their uniquely tantalising cuisines to make the global traveller feel right at home on the dinner table. The Teriyaki chicken and salmon bento by a native Japanese chef in Leicester Square was possibly the best I ever had in my travels. Huge hunks of fried chicken and a massive slice of salmon bathed in sweet, savoury teriyaki sauce is neatly placed next to a bed of fresh crisp salad and 2 tuna maki. Fish and chips in Greenwich was a real disappointment, it could hardly match the ones I have in Singapore. The saving grace was the heavenly fish pie from JK Sheeky’s at St Martins in the Fields  where I unknowingly find myself in a respectable restaurant served by waiters and surrounded by well-dressed people. The luscious cream cheese potage with fresh hunks of salmon and cod swimming under the crisp fluffy potato crust was to die for. 30 quid for the experience and satisfaction was worth it. And on days where one needs a quick bite, I usually find the ubiquitous Pret a Manger outlet for some freshly made sandwiches and thick wholesome soups, AND (more importantly) free wifi. The perfect meal to conclude the trip was roast beef with brown gravy, mushrooms, potato and carrots for dinner on my flight back home. Absolutely wonderful! (^p^)


I’m not done with London yet. Just you wait, you’ll find me crossing over to Albion’s shores once more.

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Autumn in Japan (JPY:SGD=100:1.62)日本旅行お疲れ様でした!

Vacation duration:1st of November 2010 to 12 November 2010

Destination: Kanto to Chubu region, Japan (Yes, the 2nd trip in 2010)

Temperature: 13 to 26 degrees celsius

Budget: S$4,000 approx.

JPY to SGD exchange rate: Very damn high.

Accommodation: Basically a quilt on wooden floor under a foldable table. What can I say since lodging is free…

Apologies for the travel update that is long overdue. Thanks to the convenience of uploading photos onto facebook, maintaining a blog regularly has become quite an impossibility for a bum like me. Finally, I get to savour the autumn season of Japan where the flaming red and yellow leaves paint the streets and land with rustic, warm colors despite the creeping cold of winter. The snow dust that froze my lips in March that year lingered in my mind as I stuffed my luggage case with heatec and heat packs. When it comes to warm wear and souvenirs, I was sufficiently prepared after learning the cold, hard lesson in Hakodate. However, in Japan, like any other exotic locale with their unique cultures, I was still mentally unprepared for the least expected.

After arriving in Narita airport via ANA’s spanking new Airbus, I was shuttled to the domestic flight area for the transit flight to Nagoya where my classmate, YH 部長, was posted to live like a Japanese for half a year. I was expecting a  modest sized jet engine plane to ferry me across the Japan hinterland. As the limo bus approached the jet plane it turned and steered towards .. … a small aircraft with massive propellers. One of the passengers, a Japanese salary-man probably in his late forties, went ”OH!” in shock.

For me, I was stunned. Not just about the propellers which could shred a migratory flock to pâté but also the fact that ANA is using a domestically designed and manufactured aircraft for their domestic flights. The NAMC-YS11, a model which I came across while doing some investigative research in my course of work. Those propellers and the fact it is completely Made in Japan left a real deep impression. I realized their full turbo power after finding myself strapped to the window seat with a full view of the spinning blades.

The plane took off and buzzed like an angry bee over the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji and onwards to the west of Japan. The famous peak flanked by rusty-brown landscape and jade-green bodies of water had the passengers snapping away with their mobile phones. The ride was rough but the view was exquisite.

After I arrived in Chubu Centrair airport Nagoya, I took the Meitetsu train to Kounomiya station near Inazawa where YH san is living in. Finding his house has to be the most tiring, exasperating, $%#@ing, bone-breaking part of the trip. The locals were helpful and I appreciate their willingness to direct a gaijin to the right place. A kind couple walked me to a property agency and asked for directions on my behalf. Apparently the maps were last updated a decade ago and YH’s house was not recorded on the map. Dragging 18kg of baggage across 2km of empty streets was bearable. Searching for the elusive location with an outdated map for over an hour left me drained, hungry and sore. I actually sat in the middle of a residential carpark and groaned theatrically for 5 mins before dragging myself to another alley to try my luck. I came across a building with a sign written in katakana  and containing a very important word ”international”. For any foreigner, this word is tantamount to ”English speakers here! ”. True enough, a lady who graduated from the States walked me out and gave me clear directions to YH san’s place. I found his place and the key, let myself in, took out the quilt, curled myself into a ball to sleep and dreamed of my bedroom.

The place is for single use. I guess the petite physiques and grace of the natives makes it easy for them to live comfortably within a room of liliputian proportions and exploiting every inch of the limited space to the max. The bed sits atop the storeroom where the ironing board and the like are kept. The kitchen stove and sink is a hole in the wall along the corridor which leads to the main door. I learned to tread carefully, avoiding tripping over wires or making large gestures, but my elbow always gets battered by the walls and tissue roll holder.

YH san was kind enough to let me bunk in and add to the mess in his house. Given the stratospheric exchange rates, the accommodation costs would have left a large hole in my pocket and an empty stomach. I didn’t mind sharing a room with a guy because one of us is sleeping on the floor (I take the floor). Anyway, I could catch up on my sleep in the Shinkansen.

Nagoya is a bustling city centre, just a few stops away from Inazawa. The Takashimaya mall next to the JR station was massive with over 10 stories for patrons to satisfy their shopping needs. The platinum customer service is deadly to the purse. I couldn’t resist spending S$500 on a Samantha Vega bag after the store assistant brought out all the bags on display and treated me like a taitai despite my shabby appearance (see photo of Hachimaru mascot). Getting around is pretty convenient with the Meguru bus for tourists and all you have to do is just get off when 70% of the passengers alight.  Nagoya castle is a must-see with its famous tiger-headed fish (Kinnoshachihoko) which adorn the tips of the castle roof and yummy green tea ice cream. My personal favourite is Osaka castle though, with its lovely park and ruins.

When in Japan, one must try out all the gastronomic delights it has to offer. Unfortunately, to a South East Asian, the servings can be pretty huge. Food is affordable in Japan especially if the meals are prepared at home. When shopping at the supermarket, it is advisable to bring your own bag otherwise 5- 10 yen would be levied. (I used a Cold Storage plastic bag to carry the spoils from the hypermarket in Kanayama  district www) A 1-litre carton of milk costs around S$2.50 and ready-to-eat pasta costs less than $4. Eating out at family restaurants and revolving sushi bars was not too expensive either. Making lunch out of your friend’s rice which he saved for dinner is another money-saving option. Heh heh www

Delicious gourmet from Nagoya contrasted by my fried rice which I nicked from the refrigerator.

On 3rd November, I took the Kintetsu line to Yokkaichi to meet an online friend, Chanmai san for the first time in person. I met him in late 2009 in one of the DFF paint chatrooms and I always thought that he was a ”she”. Even though he has indicated his gender in the profile, I thought he was a girl who’s joking around (My facebook gender was Male from 2008 to 2009 and reverted to Female when I started getting spammed) Everything changed after I heard him speak through a voice chat on Skype.

Manly voice = Not female.

(^p^) I had no inkling how he looks like since I didn’t ask for his photo. The only  thing to identify each other with is my tote bag with cats emblazoned on it and his cat t-shirt.

My first impression was he really wore a cat t-shirt as promised. I should have requested for Hello Kitty… www

He drove us to this fantastic restaurant called Hatsune which serves very good grilled eel on rice for lunch. Reservations must be made in advance and we saw a few customers waiting in their vehicles for the shop to open. The waitress called on each patron’s name until the seats were filled.Chanmai san filled my notebook with hilarious sketches until the food finally arrived in beautiful lacquerware. The eel was grilled to perfection and it practically melts in your mouth. I doubt I could ever savour such a perfect dish in Singapore or anywhere else. The beancurd was an exquisite appetizer, rich with the creaminess of soybean and yielding to the tongue.

This is probably the best meal I ever had in my life. Even at this moment, I can’t help but drool all over the keyboard.(0p0)

We headed to Iga-Ueno city, a quaint town famous for its ninja history and historical figures. They are namely,ninja  Hattori Hanzo and poet Matsuo Bashou.

Carmine san and Michael san brought us to the Iga-ryuu Ninja museum to see real ninjas at work.

The resident ninjas gave exciting demonstrations on the use of main weapons such as blades of various sizes, shuriken and kusarigama. There were somersaults, death-defying combats and anal trauma www  There’s even ninja children gamboling in the area. We also visited a real ninja house with all sorts of trickery fit for an ancient 007. To spread the ninjutsu tradition, Chanmai san bought a kusarigama for my brother to assassinate me.

Another highlight of Iga-Ueno is the place itself. The quiet streets are lined with charming shops and tea houses. It seems that we have walked into a mish-mash of history where wooden shop houses display ancient cameras, walls plastered with posters from the eighties and coin-operated kiddie rides. Carmine san and Michael san led us to an interesting tea house called Murai Bankoen(むらい萬香園). It is owned by Motoharu Murai san whose grandfather was one of the last ninjas in Japan.

His passion for the ninja tradition and history was impressive. Murai san generously shared stories of his grandfather, life’s anecdotes and his amazing collection of weapons and ninja paraphernalia. I never thought I’d get to handle muskets, pistols, daggers and swords. The owner even sneaked up on us in various disguises not to mention attempting to assassinate Carmine san www.

Things get wilder after this… …

If I return to the Chubu region, I’d definitely want to visit Iga Ueno again. When it got dark, we parted ways with Carmine san and Michael san and we headed to Suzuka for a ramen dinner.

It took Chanmai san about 2 hours to drive from Suzuka to Inazawa, covering 50km just to send me home. And the best part is, he has to drive back to Suzuka where he lives! I enjoyed the ride as a passenger but at the expense of Chanmai san in the driver’s seat. わるかったが本当に感謝しましたよ(;w;)rz

The next morning, we met up again at good ol’ Yokkaichi station and headed for Osaka where Chanmai san used to live with his family. Guess where…the legendary Nipponbashi a.k.a Den Den Town! Nipponbashi to Osaka is what Akihabara is to Tokyo. The streets are lined with stores selling electronic products, comics and anime goods, maid cafes and other stuff that makes it an otaku paradise. Ying san and I missed it in our last trip when we went to search for some gastronomic delights in Dootonburi.

We entered a strange little shop selling all sorts of T-shirts. It was the mannequin with Abe’s famous expression that caught my eye. The owner was a petite lady with an assortment of piercings. She showed us all sorts of funny T-shirts with iconic memes printed on them. I got 2 shirts with ”Yaranai ka” printed on them which I’m sure would be safe to wear in Singapore or elsewhere. Heck, people might even find it cool just because there’s japanese characters printed on it.

We walked into a shop that says ”cosplay” on the outside. Inside, I realized it was a shop specializing in cosplay for adults if you know what I mean. There’s * censored* and *censored* for the couple to *censored* and *censored* into the person’s *censored*. The low birth rate in this country does not do justice to its phenomenal adult entertainment industry. There’s even a handkerchief depicting all 48 positions. I wanted to get it but I can’t imagine my aunt finding this in the laundry basket…(x_x;)

Nipponbashi proves to be another book paradise for me. I’m a real sucker when it comes to shopping for books in Japan. Animate, Toranoana, Bookoff… books to me are what shoes is to Imelda Marcos. I enjoy the thrill of finding a much sought after doujin or book. For this trip, I found the last copy of B-kaigishitsu’s latest doujin in Toranoana. Chanmai san gave me a present, a DIY (Draw it yourself ww) book titled ”萌える戦国武将の描き方”. This is the perfect present for a Japan-crazy, BL-addicted visitor like me. In Singapore, you see men and kids waiting outside boutiques while the women shop for clothes. In Japan, the men wait outside the bookstores while the women shop for ”restricted material”. Well, that’s just a generalization based on my own experience ww  Chanmai san waited outside the Animate bookstore while I scoured the BL-filled store. CH san’s husband always goes to the convenience store to browse while the girls go doujin-hunting in Mandarake.

For lunch, we visited a maid cafe. It is my first time going to a maid cafe and I finally understood why this niche industry could survive so well in Japan. The french maid uniforms were adorable, the waitresses were kawaii, the service was top-class , the food… I was too busy ogling at the waitresses to notice. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in such establishments.

I apologize for behaving like a chee-ko-pek, grinning like an old, balding lecher at the girls. Even Chanmai san told me to stop leering at the maids. (If only my cousin was with me, we could leer together www) I marveled at the maid’s arm strength as she balanced the large platter of omelet rice with her left arm and squeezed a ketchup bottle to decorate the platter with her right hand. I can never accomplish such a feat without looking like a Parkinson’s patient.

It was enjoyable to ride in Chanmai san’s car. I enjoy watching the changing scenery along the highways, talking with him and watching the shows on his GPS screen. And whenever I travel, I sleep half of the time whether its on the Shinkansen or the bus. I understand it must have been dreadfully tiring to be the driver. Chanmai san obviously looked so shagged from driving that he had to make a stop at a nearby mega-mart to use the massage chair. (><;)

I’m not sure if he’d want to be driving me around again but I’d definitely would want to be his passenger (^^) またドライブしませんか?

The 2nd highlight of my trip is to Hiroshima. Unlike the loud, fast-paced Tokyo, metropolitan Nagoya or the quiet Hakodate, Hiroshima has a balanced and charming atmosphere. If I had a choice of cities to work in Japan, I’d probably choose Hiroshima. It is hard to tell that this beautiful city was once destroyed by the atomic bomb.

Thanks to YH san, I learned that Rail Pass holders can board Nozomi trains for non-reserved seats. The city has a very interesting tram system which allows passengers to pay a fixed fare of 150 yen to ride within the city centre.

We visited the A-bomb dome and the Peace memorial museum. The tragedy was deeply felt when we read about the catastrophic aftermath of the bombing where ordinary people were wiped out in a flash at the epicenter, leaving only shadows behind. From our history textbooks (which was displayed in the museum!), I could not fathom the destruction just by looking at photos of a mushroom cloud billowing from the cartographic view.

Those who survived faced radiation sickness, starvation and thirst from the extreme heat of the blast.  Body remains were preserved by the musuem to show the physiological effects of the radiation.The only consolation for us is we came with an empty stomach. We had a quick okonomiyaki lunch in one of the nearby shopping arcades and took a long tram ride to the Miyajima ferry port where we boarded the ferry bound for Miyajima. Miyajima is a cultural heritage site known for its iconic red torii gate. When we arrived to port, the tide has subsided, leaving a carpet of seaweed and the torii gate exposed. It was fun picking up the seaweed and throwing coins onto the ledge of the torii gate.

The food was absolutely scrumptious. I had grilled rice cake with a plump, juicy oyster as we walked along the arcade facing the coast. Sorry I forgot to take a photo of the delicious treat because I couldn’t resist wolfing down the rice cake drenched in soy sauce. After visiting the temple at the mountain top, we headed to a nearby shop selling handmade momiji manjuu, a maple leaf shaped sponge cake with red bean filling. It was still warm and we were served hot roasted tea. Back in the bustling arcade, we joined the queue for grilled oysters when we could no longer resist the smells wafting from the shops. We were lucky to get the last few oysters before it was sold out. The juicy plump oysters was to die for and I virtually licked the shell dry just to savor the rich salty flavors.

As sunset approached, the shops and restaurants closed for the day and we had no choice but to return to the city where we checked in and went to a nearby ramen shop for dinner. The small ramen shop was run by an delicate old lady and her muscular, body-building son. I couldn’t help but comment on the wall plastered with photos of beefy men flexing their muscles. The ramen was delicious with a light soy sauce based broth and thin noodles characteristic of the Hiroshima variety. For breakfast, we had another round of  okonomiyaki at a restaurant recommended by the friendly guesthouse personnel before heading back to Nagoya.

Armed with my dog-eared JR Pass, I headed to Kofu in the Yamanashi prefecture to visit the Takeda Jinja, a shrine built to house the spirit of  Takeda Shingen.

Statue of Takeda Shingen holding the iconic metal fan which he used to deflect Uesugi Kenshin’s attacks.

I couldn’t help but snap this picture of the wall. Takeda and Yamamoto are just too kawaii.

As usual, it’s another uphill trek that took me 30 mins to reach the shrine. After paying my respects to the great shogun whom I learned about from the Taiga drama ”Fuurinkazan-風林火山” and searching for one of the 24 land markers that depicts Sanada Yukitaka, Yukimura’s grandfather, I grabbed a box of inari sushi and a scrumptious minced pork patty (total cost =400yen/$5) and headed to Tokyo by train.

After arriving in Tokyo, I bought a Koppepan (bun filled with red bean jam and margerine) to sing to the theme song of Fuurinkazan (youtube video above www). Just joking, the Koppepan’s for breakfast and it is not priced at 120yen www

The next day, I headed to the controversial Yasukuni shrine which always have Chinese nationalists jump up to protest whenever a Japanese Prime Minister pays the shrine a visit. True, the terror and misery caused by the Japanese occupation was completely whitewashed and the Nanjing ”incident” was only a one-liner. Well, China made no mention of what terrors occurred when the Communists marched into Tibet either. For the curious and those wanting to see the Japanese perception of history, Yasukuni shrine is definitely worth a visit and the Yuushukan museum is well worth the 800 yen paid to gain admission.

The Yuushukan museum is a military otaku’s paradise. Thanks to ジェプレー社長’s recommendation. Just at the entrance, one could start getting trigger happy with the camera. There’s the life-size Mitsubishi Type 0 carrier plane, the C56 Locomotive no.31 which ran along the Death Railway and big guns. Only these exhibits can be photographed whereas after paying 800 yen to enter the museum all camera devices have to be kept off. I guess it’s for a pretty good reason since the FAQs paint the country as a victim of circumstances (unfortunately it continues to be so). When will there ever be an official apology like what Germany did, I don’t know.

It took me more than an hour to walk around and gawk at the large collection of military memorabilia and weapons. There is a life-sized submarine, the Sakura fighter plane which carried kamikaze pilots to their demise, more big guns, swords, uniforms and the like. Thousands of black and white photos of young men were fixed onto the walls. Some look as young as 12 years old. Also, visitors get a peek into the letters written by soldiers to their family and friends. No idea whether such letters have been screened by the military government at that time since most of the content describe a highly patriotic soldier who is willing to sacrifice for his country and is bidding his last farewell to his loved ones.

At the museum shop, there is a whole array of military paraphernalia and content for sale. I even saw a book that claims the Nanjing massacre was exaggerated and false. It comes in both Japanese and English. I admit I had no guts to purchase such highly controversial material even for someone who could nonchalantly buy piles of BL manga. In the end, I bought a CD collection of military songs for 3,000 yen/$40.

It was nearly 3.30pm and I took the train back to Ikebukuro to have a ramen dinner and to do some last minute shopping. I went to try out Muteki Ramen which already had a queue at 4.30pm! The pork broth squeals of pig and the braised pork was a heavenly melt-in-your-mouth experience. The only downside is the broth reminded me of pork liver mee suah.

Whenever I come to Tokyo, I’d always visit Ton Chin in Ikebukuro to slurp up their rich tonkotsu ramen. It became my first love when CH san and her husband brought me to shop in the summer of 2008. I brought Ying san and MC san to slurp up the ramen last Spring. On top of the hearty broth and springy noodles, one can ogle at the nice arms of the cooks cum servers cum ramen decorators.(^q^) This year, their black uniforms with navy aprons became white and the counters have been renovated with a metallic finish.

The next day, I zipped off to Kyoto via the Shinkansen. First stop was to Uji, well known for its delicious green tea and the setting for one of the chapters of the Genji Monogatari. I stopped by a tea shop to ask for directions and was offered to sample good quality sencha. The tea had body and a savory sweet flavor which is completely different from the usual cheap green tea we get anywhere else. 

Byoudouin (平等院) is another world cultural heritage site famous for the lavishly decorated Phoenix Hall which houses a massive Amitabha Buddha statue. The Hall itself was featured on the 10 yen coin. Entrance fee to view the hall from the gardens is 600 yen. I guess the maintenance fees must be pretty steep… 

I had doria for lunch at a nearby Saizeriya restaurant and headed back to Kyoto for more sightseeing. The bus terminal was swarming with locals and tourists alike. Since almost 80% of the temples charge an admission fee, I decided on visiting the famous Kiyomizu temple (清水寺). The bus was crammed with people and with all the noise, I really wished I could jump out of the window. I wonder how the local residents could tolerate this in their daily commute. I got off and followed some local tourists up the hill towards the temple. Along the way, I was lucky to find 2 maikos making their way down and being the gaijin tourist I approached them for a photo to be taken. I don’t even have to cram myself into the bus to get to Gion to see the maikos.(^^) Don’t you think the maiko on the right looks more ‘hiao’ than the one on the left? www

One must have strong knees and legs when it comes to visiting Japanese temples. Most of the shrines and temples are built above ground. After the slope, there’s a whole lot of stairs to contend with. Stairs that lead to the entrance gate, more slope and stairs to the admission counter where tickets are purchased for 300 yen. Then a little bit of stairs to get from the famous stage to the temple which houses a buddha and some more steps on the other side of the hill which provides a full view of the stage.

The wish written on the wooden tablet says : I wish for a ♥Kawaii♥ girlfriend. I hope his wish comes true  www

The view was magnificent. It is amazing that the wooden structure is built without nails and has survived for centuries. It is believed that if you jump off the stage and survived the fall, your wish would come true. You jump, I jump. Nobody did www

All the climbing made me peckish for something sweet and hot and my butt was yearning for a seat. I stopped by a tea house for some oshiruko, grilled rice cake in sweet red bean soup. It was so sweet I could feel sugar crystals form in my kidneys.

I took the bus back to JR Kyoto station and walked for 10 mins to the Honganji temple (本願寺). Admission is free hence my interest to  visit the temple which houses an Amitabha Buddha www Unfortunately it was closing time when I reached.

As my legs and butt were screaming for a seat, I decided to walk into Nakamura Tokichi and ordered a dessert set consisting of matcha ice cream and a complimentary green tea jelly. I observed that the local customers would make a sandwich out of the clam shell wafers and consume the ice cream sandwich in this manner. I followed their manner of consuming this dessert and ended up with melted ice cream streaming down my arm… …

By 5.30pm, it’s a slow trot back to JR Kyoto station where I waited for WTR san to have dinner and chat about DFF. She’s a charming friend whom Ying san and I met online. I’ve never met anyone who’s as faithful to Zidane from FF9 as her. I even forgot that it was 11 November where I’d draw a picture of WOL from FF1 to commemorate. We had okonomiyaki for dinner in the shopping basement of the station. It’s fun to hang out with WTR san and she’s always generous. Thanks to her, Ying san and I became Black Thunder addicts. She passed me some Kyoto snacks and KNK san’s outrageous doujin (we can never get enough of it ハァハァ).  She walked me all the way to the Shinkansen entrance and I ran to catch the train before it departs 3 mins later. The funny thing is, both our periods came after we reached home. I suspect there’s something about the food we just ate. Hmmm…

Esto no es en espanol. It’s Jap-glish meaning  ‘Escalator’.

For the remaining 2 days, I headed to Akihabara to maximise the use of my Rail Pass. I went to grab a few more books and started pillaging every convenience store of Black Thunder. Basically I wiped out the whole stock of Black Thunder that day (0///0) For lunch, I had Shrimp burger at MacDonalds. This could probably be served only in Japan. I would be really ashamed if any Japanese visitors discover that Singapore is selling the Samurai burger.

Gundam cafe with its legendary Char Zaku toilet www

On the last day, it was a long train ride to Chubu Centrair Airport on the Meitetsu. The sky was gray and cloudy. I was hugging 22kg worth of luggage and nodding off while 2 high school kids opposite me were playing hanky-panky. I got my backpack and luggage checked in by a nice lady at the counter who told me the luggage would be transferred to the chartered plane bound for Singapore so I have 30 mins to hang around in the transit lounge.

The transit at Narita airport was a nightmare. Some idiot staff told me I had to collect my baggage and insisted that I go to the belt to collect it. Thanks to the imbecile, I wasted 30 mins of my time standing there waiting for the baggage that never came. I checked with one of the counter staff who verified that the baggage has already been transferred to the chartered plane. The F-word came out loud and clear before I could shut my mouth and I could see the poor lady was really stunned. (><;) I apologized and sprinted back to the transit customs with my Samantha Vega paper bag flailing on my arm.

Thanks to the idiot, I did not get the chance to purchase any Umaibou, a tasty and cheap corn snack which is not sold in Singapore and ended up sweating like a pig. Apparently kaizen which is central in the work culture of Japan has stopped somewhere. Well I guess they place more importance in incoming tourists and homecoming natives than outbound passengers. Hmph. =/

This trip is entirely different from the one I had in March. I got to learn what it is like to live in Japan and the social norms that prevail in the country. Love it or hate it, I can never get enough of this country and its people. (0w0) またくるよ~げへへへ

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3 days in Chennai and a week in Tamil Nadu – An experience worth more than 3 years at home

I have never considered India a travel destination in my life until a fellow dungpicker and friend, Radeeca, invited me to her wedding in Chennai, India.

In my mind, I can only visualise images taken from a Bollywood movie and Slumdog Millionaire.
A dark human flotsam with Tata Steel cars and autos swirling in the dusty, garbage lined streets.
The chugging of smoking diesel engines and tongue twisting exchanges in the various Indian dialects provide a continuous assault to the ears.
Smog and flies blooming in the air as strays and beggars pick at heaps of litter for some scraps.
Water which guarantees a quick and prolonged laxative effect to the foreign stomach.
The state of the public toilets that is too shocking to imagine.

The 4-hour flight on Striped Cat Airways to Chennai was awful.
The seats were cramped with hardly any foot room to speak of.
The varied odours of its passengers made my nostrils cry.
Even my fellow travellers who could sit through 10 hour flights started to swear that this was the worst flight they’ve ever took.

I hardly slept and was eager to get off the plane, even if it lands in Afghanistan.
Thus I was happy to cough up a few extra hundred bucks for my 2nd trip to South India via S.Ingapore Airlines.

Once we stepped out of the airport, the odour of the city never fails to prickle my olfactory nerves.
A pungent mix of turmeric, drainwater and dust.
Shops of all sizes and colours line along the crowded streets and yellow three-wheelers zip through the spaces between larger vehicles like Indian Initial D.

Unlike the retail clones that cover Singapore, India’s shops and stalls are one of a kind. I’ve yet to come across 2 shops which look identical and sell identical stuff.
Gangly indian men were peddling pirated books, decorative accessories, shirts, slippers, household wares, food, toys… anything to lure the ruppee out a tourist’s pocket.
The real temptation for me lies in the marbled walls of saree emporiums such as Pothi’s and Kumaran Silks.
I vowed never to buy a saree as the only time I could ever use it is for racial harmony day.
I yielded to the platimun service (Saree for you Madame?) and luscious silks which the male sales assistants unfurl with no hesitation.

Gee, what am I going to do with 4 sarees? (^p^)

Thanks to my dear friend Radeeca, I had the opportunity witness a Brahmin wedding and to don in a saree for the occassion.

For my 2nd trip to South India, I joined Bavanee and her family to visit the famous temples of Tamil Nadu.
I felt really fortunate to have them smuggle me into the sacred heart of the temple which houses the statue of the residing god. All I had to do was paste a bindi on my forehead, dress in a chudi or saree and call one of Bavanee’s aunts my mother-in-law.

When some local priests started yelling at me and gesturing for me to stay outside (I forgot my bindi), I realised how the blacks must have felt during the apartheid to be ostracised just because of the colour of their skin.
I was a little worried too that I would be spending the rest of the trip staring at the intricate gorpurams outside the temple grounds like a lone tourist.
I did feel a little upset and incredulous that the same bloody priest still refused to shut his trap even after Bavanee’s family told him I’m a Chinese Hindu.
Well, it’s an isolated case.

We did not encounter any similar problems for the next few temples.
The priests blessed us all the same. More blessings in the form of sachets of holy ash and flowers if one offers some ruppees.
Every temple’s interior is lavishly covered in ornate carvings and surrounded by columns of Yali (a mythical creature) or divine figures in a state of dance. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed within the inner sanctum. Perhaps because the cameras would have been crushed to smithereens by the raging human throng as people jostled to pay homage to the deity.




After traversing through rain-soaked rice fields, unkempt towns, damaged roads in this 2nd trip, seeing how the locals could survive the dust-covered faces of poverty and urban chaos, I finally tasted contentment and appreciation for the modern comforts I took for granted such as hygiene, urban planning, clean roads, order.
When in India, expect chaos and the unexpected.

That’s why it enthralls me, the shifting beauty and ugliness of the Indian landscape, the excitement when one consumes his lunch without knowing how the dish was prepared or what was contained inside, the dizzying array of colourful cloths and glittering jewellery waiting to adorn, the heat and smell of steamy garbage piles as dust-colored cows scavenge for morsels of food in the parking lot.
The chaos and disorder invaded my senses, pillaged my lofty expectations and robbed me of my discontent.
All that was left was gratitude in my heart for what I had.
The routine and order of modern life.
The access to India’s sacred temples where the ancient sages carved the secrets of the universe into stone.
Everything, the pains and the joys, that brought me to where I am now.

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R and R in Kuala Lumpur(お宅ライフ)

It’s a 5-day rest and relax program for me in Kuala Lumpur this week.

My itinerary is : eat, sleep, draw, play video games, read manga/doujins and surf the net. And play with my cousin’s lovely bitch, Jing Jing. (sorry about the language…bad influence from my cousin’s latest purchase, Grand Theft Auto IV)

The game is very violent, proliferating with swear words and senseless criminal activities. It’s like junk food, bad for the health but really tasty. The main character Niko, an East European immigrant, is free to earn a quick buck driving taxis, chaffeuring gangsters, extortion, running down innocent bystanders… etc and he could spend it all on booze, go on a date (and getting laid) or strip clubs (my favourite).

Otherwise, he could stay home and watch the TV which the player can enjoy. The dialogue and TV programmes poke fun at the social issues plaguing America. For example, one of the anti-terrorist messages on Niko’s TV flashes ‘Brown=Terrorist’ in white bold letters across the screen. Highly entertaining.

Just imagine, two twenty-plus year old girls watching strippers gyrating and thrusting into a game character’s face on the computer screen … (>w<;)

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Japan Trip – Back to Tokyo …for more fun and food! (ありがとうございました!すごく楽しかった。SP帰りたくない。)

3/08/2008 – 5/08/2008 (Last day)

Pumpkin Pudding from Hakodate. Heaven!!!

Pumpkin Pudding from Hakodate. Heaven!!!

JRs train to Onuma. Very traditional steam engine!

JR's classic train to Onuma in Hakodate station. Very traditional steam engine!

It travels between Hokkaido and Aomori (in the main island) of Japan through a 53 km undersea tunnel.

Super Hakucho(スーパー白鳥): It travels between Hokkaido and Aomori (in the main island of Japan) through a 53 km undersea tunnel.

After spending nearly 10,000 yen on foodstuffs in Hakodate and packing my bursting backpack, I headed back to Tokyo via Shinkansen. The temperature is worse than when I left for Sendai… I sweated as I lugged my bags to the hotel building but before a drop of perspiration could touch my shirt, it evaporated from the dry heat. (xAx)

After checking into a splendid business hotel in Ueno (my god, the room is immaculately designed with wood and parquet!), I left for Akihabara to go pen tablet hunting with chihaya san. When we met and headed out to the streets, the heat… was unbearable…We were just fanning hot air into our faces… But Akihabara is really an otaku’s heaven! There were manga/ anime shops all over selling 801 manga~~~where I began to burn some cash.

懐かしい (nostalgic)!!! Everyone including I who walked past this shop were exclaiming this word. One can guess which generation were from...

懐かしい (nostalgic)!!! Everyone including I who walked past this shop were exclaiming this word. One can guess which generation we're from...

 

2nd hand NDS software from Book Off... Cheeaaappp!!!!

One of the many 2nd hand NDS software from Book Off... Only 1,980 yen (abt SGD 21) Cheeaaappp!!!!

There’s also tons of electrical goods shops. chihaya san brought me to a 2nd hand book store called Book Off which sells mangas at 150 yen! Game software prices were also a bargain with some slashed to as low as 30% of the original retail price! Again, I burnt some more cash. Later chihaya san brought me to a cosy restaurant famous for their chicken dishes.

10,000 yen kaiseki chicken... (joking)

10,000 yen kaiseki chicken... (joking)

 

We were ushered into a softly lit enclave with a Japanese style table inside and a Japanese sliding door to ensure the privacy of its diners. It was fun talking with chihaya and somehow the topic moved from food to ghost stories… She told me of a beautiful spot in Hakone where people commit suicide by the waterfalls. Photographs taken of the spot sometimes reveal ghostly human forms wading in the waters…that really sent shivers down my spine. (><;)

We did not buy any pen tablets from Akihabara in the end because chihaya san told me we could get better deals at Yobodashi Camera in Ikebukuro (yay!).

The next morning, I met up with chihaya san and her husband, Nao san in Shinobazu exit of JR Ueno station. I was a little late after getting lost… again. We strolled down Ameyoko street well known for the old shops selling all sorts of provisions like dried fish, seaweed, fruits etc. The smells that wafted around us was as expected…

the catcher clasped around the box but went up without the box. Daylight robbery!!! Nao san pulled a few plastic carriers on the side of the machine as consolation prize. (which we later used to keep my intuous dry)

Taito catcher machine: the catcher clasped around the box but went up without the box. Daylight robbery!!! Nao san pulled a few plastic carriers on the side of the machine as consolation prize. (which we later used to keep my intuous dry)

Then we took the Tokyo Metro to Asakusa. We tapped our Suicas and passed thru the gantry and realised both tracks go on the same direction, away from Asakusa. The station attendant issued us a ticket with ‘Wrong boarding’ written on it in Japanese. Hmm, we haven’t even boarded the train yet… But it was really a surprise for chihaya san and her husband as they’ve never gotten a ticket like this before.

The Wrong boarding ticket which we had to use to re-enter the other gate.

The 'Wrong boarding' ticket which we had to use to re-enter the other gate.

Mikoshi at Asakusa station
Mikoshi at Asakusa Tokyo Metro station

I’ve been to Asakusa and the famous Kaminari gate about 8 years back (?) on a family tour package with Ying san. It was a cold evening during winter and I did not have much of an impression of it except the giant lantern that hangs over the gate and the shops in nakimise dori. In the day, nakimise dori is full of stuff to see! From yutakas to flying ultramen to ningyoo cakes, it’s a nice sensory experience (minus the heat). We strolled to the main shrine where tourists are fanning choking incense all over themselves. I remarked they could just try sticking their head into the incense urn to get the maximum blessing…hohoho

We went to the cleanse our hands at the stone water basin where ladles are used to scoop the water. chihaya san scooped some water for me to wash my hands with and after the refreshing ritual was performed on me, she scooped some water to purify her husband’s feet. (ie wet his shoes)(゜Д゜;)

 

At the Kaminari gate with the iconic red lantern ~

At the Kaminari gate with the iconic red lantern ~

重いー!!! Some gaijin power!
重いー!!! Gaijin power!

 

 

Enormous feet of the gate guardian...Check out the pulsing veins!

Enormous feet of the gate guardian...Check out the pulsing veins!

 

Ceiling painting in the main shrine~

Ceiling painting in the main shrine~

 

The gate before the main shrine~

The gate before the main shrine~

Enormous sandals!Just use the kid below it as a scale guide.

Enormous sandals!Just use the kid below it as a scale guide.

Enormous sandals. Just use the kid below as a scale guide.

2 swords called Masamune(正宗) in a shop at Nakamise dori. Only one third the length of Sephiroth's beloved sword... (偽モンだ!)

After paying our respects to the Buddha residing in the shrine, we walked towards the Sumida river. The heat was unbearable and we decided to stop by a dango shop called Kaede for some shaved ice.

Kaede (Ying sans favourite word) with the most delicious dango!!!

Kaede (Ying san's favourite word) with the most delicious dango!!!

Dango at 100 yen for 5 balls and melon flavored shaved ice. Paradise~

Dango at 100 yen for 5 balls and melon flavored shaved ice. Paradise~

The freshly made dango was so delicious I couldn’t help getting excited. At 100 yen a stick for 5 balls, it was very cheap too! chihaya san ordered nori dango which is wrapped with a piece of nori. We sat on the bench slurping on our shaved ice before continuing our journey to the river.

On the way, we sought refuge in a department store. After 30 mins of strolling around, chihaya san’s husband led us to a popular Monja restaurant for lunch. We were famished and relieved to be sheltered in an airconditioned restaurant. Monja is a gooey version of okonomiyaki and it’s the customer who will be doing the cooking. chihaya and her husband wanted me to try cooking for them but I told them unless they want to die, then I would do so. (after so many previous failed attempts in basic food preparation) The only guy in the trio became the chief cook. 

It was fun watching Nao san keeping the highly viscuous cheese monja batter away from the soot at the side of the hot metal plate. The monja soon turned into a gooey mass which is eaten by scraping the goo with mini teppanyaki spatulas. The burnt, crispy parts are the most delicious which chihaya san scraped for me. It’s a fun and unique dining experience! Next was bacon okonomiyaki which is a pancake made of cabbage, batter and other ingredients. Chef Nao skilfully shaped the pancake and drizzled lots of magic sauce (sweet and tangy soy sauce) on it. The couple then requested I oekaki on the pancake… which I did with the mayonaise bottle. Bonito flakes were scattered onto the pancake and more mayonaise was spread over it and were done! It was so yummy!

10,000 yen cheese monja... (joking)

10,000 yen cheese monja... (joking)

Dump the ingredients in...

Bacon okonomiyaki: Dump the ingredients in...

... shape it into a circle...

... shape it into a circle...

 

...Slather on magic sauce and decorate with mayonaise...

...Slather on magic sauce and decorate with mayonaise...

 

...Sprinkle bonito flakes, nori powder and more mayonaise...

...Sprinkle bonito flakes, nori powder and more mayonaise...

... Pass spatulas to gaijin(怪人) and Itadakimasu!!!

... Pass spatulas to gaijin(怪人) and Itadakimasu!!!

Mushroom monja!

Mushroom monja!

We had mushroom monja and as I waited to let the food settle in my stomach, I took the chopstick and started to oekaki on the soot covered part of the metal plate by scraping the black soot off. Umeee~

10,000 yen kaiseki monja-okonomiyaki ... (joking)

10,000 yen kaiseki monja-okonomiyaki ... (joking)

 

Umee~

My oekaki : Umee~

Money!

chihaya san's oekaki : Money! NG!

 

It’s back to the scorching heat and we finally reached the edge of the river where I could see the famous golden flame of Asahi building. The heat was so forbidding, even the pigeons are scuttling really slowly under the shade of the trees. We decided to head for Ikebukuro (yay!) to shop for pen tablets.

Asahi building and Sumida river

Asahi building and Sumida river

As we walked about, we came across the latest Vocaloid software called Gacktpoid. (eh?) Yep, the user can compose music with the vocals of music celebrity Gackt.

Gackt Vocaloid... ehh

Gackpoid : Gackt Vocaloid... ehh

I got an A6 intuos which is priced at 22,900 yen (abt SGD 240). That’s almost half the retail price in Singapore!!! Furthermore, chihaya san redeemed 2000 yen worth of discount points so all I paid was 20,900 yen!!! Arigatou!!!! (TwT)

After that, chihaya san asked me where I would like to go. The answer was Otome Road! We walked to Mandarake where the famous butler cafe Swallowtail was located. I felt really apologetic towards chihaya san’s husband because he told us he’ll be in the convenience store while we shop for BL doujins. Gomenasai… I can’t resist my fujoshi desire to purchase gay manga.

We probably shopped for nearly an hour in the doujin paradise. I saw delicious FF7 doujins by kiki priced from 630 yen to 2,500 yen. I bought the cheapest one and yum yum, it’s as erotic as promised on the item tag.

FF7 doujin by kiki which I purchased at 630 yen. Umai....!!!

'Naked': FF7 doujin by kiki which I purchased at 630 yen. Umai....!!!

I also saw a thin, B5-sized Blood+ Hagi anthology priced at 8,400 yen (abt SGD 86)!!! I bought a few FF7 doujins which are full of gag and we headed back up to find that it was raining outside.

We went to Tokyu Hands to check out the coolest and craziest accessories and hobby supplies.

Facial hair stickers with TV demo... oooh~ The answer to every cosplayers follicular needs

Facial hair stickers with TV demo... oooh~ The answer to every cosplayer's follicular needs

The Humping Dog USB… imagine hundreds of them humping away at the front display.

I was impressed by the food key chains, fake facial hair, coin banks with creepy moving faces, pets etc. We were particularly amused by the ‘Humping Dog’ USB which when it is plugged to the computer, the dog starts to hump against the computer. (-\\\-)

We continued on a drizzly journey to a popular ramen shop where we picked up investment brochures along the way to shield our heads from the rain (I picked up ‘Grand China’ while chihaya san took ‘Maharajah India’). After we reached the shop, it started to pour like there’s no tomorrow. It was such a relief for us~

The most delicious pork broth ramen Ive ever had!!! Umaiiiiiii!!!

The most delicious pork broth ramen I've ever had!!! Umaiiiiiii!!!

The ramen was fabulous-!!! The thick pork broth was divine and the char siew meat was so soft and juicy. Plus, it’s all for around 650 yen regardless of the serving size of the noodles. I ordered 1.5 serving of noodles. If a franchise were to open in Singapore, it could probably spoil the ramen market here. (>w<)  (I am confident to say that the ramen I had in Asahikawa was crap (can’t even hold a candle to Beppu Ramen in Singapore). )

And that was my last night in Tokyo.

I really didn’t want to leave so soon. Uchi koishikunai…(‘Koishi :’a verb learnt from chihaya san which means miss)

The train ride to Narita airport was full of grey clouds and rain began to fall over the city. (the news reported flooding in Shinjuku -eeks!)

18 kg (Another reason why I didnt want to return home. I dont have a trolley with me)

Total luggage weight: 18 kg (Another reason why I didn't want to return home. I don't have a trolley with me)

The sweet moments on the gloomy ride to narita airport. The Chiffon Lipton milk tea is so smooth and Shiroi Koibito white chocolate biscuits from Hakodate was wonderful.

The sweet moments on the gloomy ride to narita airport. The Chiffon Lipton milk tea is so smooth and Shiroi Koibito white chocolate biscuits from Hakodate was wonderful.

Deloitte Tomatsu banner advertisement in Narita airport ... I was planning to go to the Tokyo office to snap a picture. アホだ!

Deloitte Tomatsu banner advertisement in Narita airport ... I was planning to go to the Tokyo office to snap a picture. アホだ!

As the plane was about to depart, I thought of the 1st day I touched down in Tokyo and meeting chihaya san for dinner. Tears started to well up and I started to cry. (Oh my god! So embarrassing) My heart was full of mixed feelings. I was touched by the kindness of the people I’ve met along my trip and the many things I’ve experienced in these 17 days. And these tears are tears of gratitude to all who made this trip so beautiful and meaningful. And that includes my family and friends who are not on this trip with me. (the Japanese air stewardess said ‘thank you’ in Japanese when I left the plane. She probably thought I was Japanese leaving for Singapore for good. 恥ずかしいー!!!)

I would do this one more time.

お世話になりました。わぁーい!!!来年またち!!(≧ワ≦)

My Japan trip was a success!!! お世話になりました。わぁーい!!!来年またね!!!(≧ワ≦)

Maybe autumn next year… for Comiket in late August!!! (^w^)

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Japan trip – Aomori neputa (濡れられた!)

2/08/2008

 

Sea Urchin and toro donburi ~

Breakfast at Hakodate: Sea Urchin and toro donburi ~

Cheese cream pudding from Mt Hakodate

Dessert : Cheese cream pudding from Mt Hakodate

Snaffles Fruit tart and Earl Grey tea

Tea time: Snaffles' Fruit tart and Earl Grey tea

Snaffles famous omelette cheese cake and fresh coffee flavoured milk.

Snack on train: Snaffles' famous (美味い!!!) omelette cheese cake and fresh coffee flavoured milk.

Arrived at JR Aomori station~ mini neputa float behind me

Arrived at JR Aomori station~ mini neputa float behind me

I headed to Aomori via JR’s limited express for the neputa festival which is the highlight of the Aomori prefecture. It is where giant lantern floats are paraded along the streets along with dancers yelling “Rasserah”. The giant floats are pushed and turned by pure human power.

The neputa floats were almost 2 storeys high!!! Wooo-----

The neputa floats were almost 2 storeys high!!! Wooo-----

The guys underneath are getting ready to push the neputa 360 degrees~ oof!

Rice characters... kawaii~

Rice mascots?... kawaii~

Monkeys and devils

Monkeys and demons? Weird combo...

Totoro !!!!!!!!!

Totoro !!!!!!!!!

Each neputa float is accompanied by a  percussion ensemble that plays the same rasserah rhythm throughout the parade!

Each neputa float is accompanied by a percussion ensemble that plays the same 'rasserah' rhythm throughout the parade! Rock it baby!

Miss Neputa... Very pretty!!!

Miss Neputa... Very pretty!!!

Neputa dancers who skip and dance while chanting Rasse, Rasse, Rasserah - 4,800 yen to rent an outfit. Naah, Id prefer a raincoat.

Neputa dancers who skip and dance while chanting 'Rasse, Rasse, Rasserah' - 4,800 yen to rent an outfit. Naah, I'd prefer a raincoat.

I got the front spot when it started to rain. Got my jeans soaked kneeling on the road but the view is worth it!

I got the front spot when it started to rain. Got my jeans soaked kneeling on the road but the view is worth it!

It was quite crowded when I reached 2 hours early and the worst thing was just as the parade began, it started to rain… (–|||) Everyone was soaked but the show had to go on. It’s pretty cool the organisers wrapped up the lanterns with giant sheets of plastic.

The whole parade was amazing especially when the people underneath the neputa floats went ‘Ngghhh!!!’ to summon strength to spin the heavy floats 360 degrees.

the neputa express

Special train service: the neputa express

Brazillian Chicken cup noodles. So delicious and the slices of chicken are huge!

Supper: Brazillian Chicken cup noodles. So delicious and the slices of chicken and potato are huge!

It ended at around 9pm and I headed back to the station to catch the Neputa Express back to Hakodate. I reached Hakodate in midnight and was so famished, I rushed to buy a BIG cup noodle from a nearby combini. I wish I could shake the hand of the person who invented the concept of 24 hour convenience stores.

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Japan trip – Hakodate, moe~ (燃え?)

1/8/2008

Streetcar of Hakodate

The tram-like Streetcar of Hakodate

After filling my tummy with sushi (please see pictures in previous entry), I headed to the JR station to purchase a one-day pass for unlimited streetcar rides around Hakodate. The main objective for me is to get to Goryokaku Tower to see the star-shaped fort and the bronze statues of Hijikata Toshizou (uh hoh!).

Moe! Especially when the statues of 2 bishonnen soldiers are viewed in this angle.

Moe! Especially when the statues of 2 bishonnen soldiers are viewed in this angle. The butt looks inviting。And the guy holding the baton looks like he's going to use it to ... ... (腐)

A 可愛い sculpture titled ’Look at your hands’

A 可愛い sculpture titled ’Look at your hands’

Another cute sculpture~

Another cute sculpture~

It’s a 5 min walk thru a street of restuarants and shops from the Goryokaku stop with public art to admire along the way.

On the right, Goryokaku Tower. One the left is the Hakodate Art Museum.

On the right, Goryokaku Tower. One the left is the Hakodate Art Museum.

Goryokaku Fortress viewed from the Goryokaku Tower.
Goryokaku Fortress viewed from the Goryokaku Tower.

 

Whoopee, I can see whats right under me!

Whoopee, I can see what's right under me!

I was quite excited to hop into the lift to get to the top of the tower. The pretty lift ladies would usher the visitors into the lifts and announce that the lift doors are closing. When the doors closed, the lift interior grew dark and the white walls started to glow in ultraviolet light. Then pictures of historical personages and words appeared on the walls and a star started to glow on the ceiling. Very nice touristy experience!

Melon Milk Mix ice cream~ yum

Melon Milk Mix ice cream~ yum

I get to stroke Hijikatas muscular thigh~ Uh-hoh!

I get to stroke Hijikata's muscular thigh~ Uh-hoh!

Hijikata pose!

Hijikata pose!

HIjikata Rider -! Cool T-shirt~

HIjikata Rider -! Cool, wished there were Harley Davidsons in his time.

Kawaii Hijikata~~~~

Kawaii Hijikata~~~~

Kawaii Shinsengumi with Hijikata in the middle - Inside the box are chocolate dangos (rice cakes)...

Kawaii Shinsengumi with Hijikata in the middle - Inside the box are chocolate dangos (rice cakes)...

Shinsengumi... ... erm... what is this?

Shinsengumi... ... erm... what is this?

When we reached the top, I was awed by the beauty of the star-shaped fort. It was Japan’s 1st Western style fortress constructed in the 19th century. But it seems the main attraction for me was Hijikata’s statue (sitting and standing versions). Uh hoh! I’m sure alot of fujoshis visited the tower because Hijikata’s knees and hands were very polished. (セクハラじゃん~?)

Boo exhibition - Pig art

Boo exhibition - Literally communist pigs... very politically sensitive piece of artwork... but I like it!!!

I also visited the nearby art museum which was featuring Pig art exhibition. Very cute but too bad it’s quite hard to snap a picture with the curators lurking in every corner.

Getting my feet poached at the Yunokawa onsen footbath- 気持ち良い~

Getting my feet poached at the Yunokawa onsen footbath- 気持ち良い~

I took the streetcar to Yunokawa Onsen to pamper my feet at the public onsen foot bath. A mother and her 2 kids joined in and the little girl was so adorable when she kicked the water and smiled sheepishly at me. Then she asked me why my heels were covered with plasters. Well, cos I’ve got big feet… (-w-)

I took the streetcar to the marina bay where the fireworks festival is held. Learning a lesson from the Yokohama trip, I went there 2 hrs early to reserve a nice spot. Meijikan was a nice shop with pretty glass objets d’art and orgel. The warehouses-turned-shops have many interesting souvenirs and foodstuffs to satisfy the tourists’ craving to burn some money.

 

1,000yen for 2 cakes and tea at Meijikan~ Divine!!!

1,000yen for 2 cakes and tea at Meijikan~ Divine!!!

Hakodates croquette (milk potato and pumpkin)

The best comfort food I've ever had: Hakodate's croquette ( I've ever had: Hakodate's croquette (milk potato and pumpkin)

Grilled pork and spring onion. Yakibuta?

Grilled pork and spring onion. Yakibuta?

Hakodate marina bay where I found a spot to watch the fireworks~

Hakodate marina bay where I found a spot to watch the fireworks~

Hanabi da!!!

Hanabi da!!!

I enjoyed the fireworks and the view by the bay although it was pretty cold. (had to wrap my hair around my neck before zipping up my jacket) But of course, nothing beat the one at Yokohama where chihaya san brought me on the 2nd day.

 

OMAKE

During the moments where I had to answer the call of nature, I encountered a few interesting notices in the toilet cubicles. The chinese translation is quite erm… despite the fact Hokkaido has many Chinese immigrants and tourists.

Toilet in JR station

Toilet in JR station *请雇用背后,不要流动?*

  

Toilet in Goryokaku Tower.

Toilet in Goryokaku Tower.*便器扔掉?

Toilet in Goryokaku tower II.

Toilet in Goryokaku tower II.*厕所塞满?*

 

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Japan trip- Hakodate…I like. ^^

Where Furano and Asahikawa was a disappointment, Hakodate came as a relief to me. Hokkaido is still worth the visit after all.

Chocolate sponge with nama chocolate and fresh cream inside!

Stuff I ate while on the train to Hakodate: Chocolate sponge with nama chocolate and fresh cream inside!

 

I miss veggies hence I got this bento which costs 500 yen (abt SGD 6).

Stuff I ate while on the train to Hakodate: I miss veggies hence I got this bento which costs 500 yen (abt SGD 6).

Weather in Hakodate was cool and the air blowing from the marina was refreshing. I’d arrived at about 5pm and checked in at New Ohte Hotel which had rooms available for 3 nights. One thing that made me happy was there’s wireless broadband in the hotel rooms even though the hotel looks a bit old. At least it’s better than the hotel in Asahikawa which sucks big time. Not only was there no internet access, the concierge are not as spontaneously friendly as the ones I’ve come across in Tokyo, Nikko, Sendai and Hakodate.

Since it was already evening, I decided to take a bus up to Mt Hakodate to view the glittering city. It was a pretty nervous ride for me. The roads were narrow and there are many tight, tortuous curves. I’m impressed the bus driver could manoevre the big, fat vehicle of a bus through sharp S-curves up the mountain. I’d like to see a pro-driver drift his car up and down Mt Hakodate… more likely send the car flying off the edge of the road.

Sunset at Mt Hakodate~ Brrr... the wind is chilly!

Sunset at Mt Hakodate~ Brrr... the wind is chilly!

 

Hakodate city from above~

Hakodate city from above~

 

It was cold and a little foggy when we reached the top of the mountain at about 7pm. I waited until it grew a little darker and for the fog to clear and… … the view is beautiful. Hakodate city was a glittering jewel. The transient sight was worth the cold and the wait.

At 350 yen a cup, I cannot waste even a drop of the milk!

At 350 yen a cup, I cannot waste even a drop of the milk!

However, the fog grew worse at around 8pm and I decided to warm myself up with a cup of hot milk (abt SGD 5…monopolistic pricing) before heading to the bus stop for my ride back to JR Hakodate station.

As I waited for the bus, I wanted to laugh when I saw all the tour buses coming in. The fog had gotten so bad I could hardly see what’s in front of me 5 meters away. It’s a relief that I didn’t sign up on a tour package. One can’t have much of a freedom to choose the time to visit a place, to choose the stuff one wants to eat, nor the chance to interact with the locals.

When I reached Hakodate station, I was a little famished. There’s no restaurant in sight except a pricey looking one near the hotel I’m staying. Heeding the cries of my hungry stomach, I ordered Hokke teishoku (Grilled hokke set meal; abt SGD 17).

 

Before - Hokke Itadakimasu!

Before - Hokke Itadakimasu!

 
 

After - Hokke Gochisousama deshita!

After - Hokke Gochisousama deshita!

Oh my god. It’s so big and delicious I did not even stop to take a sip of water. I just kept shovelling the fish and rice into my mouth. The fish is as long as my forearm and the thick meat is bursting with sweetness and fish oils. The skin was grilled to a thin crisp. The okra side dish was refreshingly tasty too. The miso soup… oh man, is probably THE perfect miso soup I’ve ever had in my life. Umai da!!!

The next morning was even more umai!!!

I went to the nearby morning market where live squids were swimming in tanks and fresh fish laid on ice. Right next to the market is a street lined with restaurants specialising in seafood donburi, sushi and sashimi. I decided to have order a sushi set for breakfast!

Sushi set for 2100 yen (abt SGD 23)

Sushi set for 2100 yen (abt SGD 23)

 

The scallop is huge!*drool* Fresh from the morning sea!

The scallop is huge!*drool* Fresh from the morning sea!

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Japan trip-Hokkaido is not my cup of tea (I love Shakotan though!)

Cape Kamui, shot with a digital camera. Only!

Cape Kamui, shot with a digital camera. Only!

Cape Kamui in Shakotan. The waters are so clear and blue!!!
Cape Kamui in Shakotan. The waters are so clear and blue!!!
The opposite side of the cape is just as breath taking! (although I was scared shitless by the height and winds)

The opposite side of the cape is just as breath taking! (although I was scared shitless by the height and winds)

 

 

I only enjoyed Shakotan of all things. Sapporo`s weather is wonderful. It is as cool as Genting highlands.

Sapporo crab buffet! Plus, all waiters speak Mandarin to accomodate the hordes of Chinese tourists...

Sapporo crab buffet! Plus, all waiters speak Mandarin to accomodate the hordes of Chinese tourists...

The aftermath...

Sapporo crab buffet: The aftermath...

Sapporo in the night

Sapporo in the night

This summer vegetable pasta is delicious! Check out that soft boiled egg sitting on top of this dish... How did the chefs do that?

Sapporo: This summer vegetable pasta is delicious! Check out that soft boiled egg sitting on top of this dish... How did the chefs do that?

This ramen is delicious! Right under the blanket of spring onions is tender charsiew meat and clear pork consomme. Very delicate on the taste buds and stomach ~
This ramen is delicious! Right under the blanket of spring onions is tender charsiew meat and clear pork consomme. Very delicate on the taste buds and stomach ~
Personally I think this is overrated... Or maybe tourism killed the flavour. I prefer having cup noodles...

Personally I think this is overrated... Or maybe tourism killed the flavour. I prefer having cup noodles...

Milk cream puff from Asahikawa~~~ Almost like ice cream~~~

Milk cream puff from Asahikawa~~~ Almost like ice cream~~~

Oh yeah and the food is a small consolation. Milk pudding at Tomita farm was excellent (despite being overrun with Chinese-HK tour buses). I had 2 servings of melons. The cream puff was light and delicious. Ramen at Asahikawa was good. Crab in Sapporo was worth the trip although it is not recommended to bring your date there if you want to impress her/him.

A moving oven

Norokko train to Furano: A moving oven

The reason why the ride was so hot and stuffy... because were in the BBQ car!!!!

The reason why the ride was so hot and stuffy... because we're in the BBQ car!!!!

Please allow the staff choose the melon slice. An obvious case of the ugly chinese tourist. This is one of the reasons why I avoided signing up for tour packages in Spore.

The sign says in Mandarin: 'Please allow the staff choose the melon slice.' An obvious case of the ugly chinese tourist. This is one of the reasons why I avoided signing up for tour packages in S'pore. Imagine having to fight for a bite of food on the table with those people ...

2 slices of this lovely fruit makes the suffering go away...

2 slices of this lovely fruit makes the suffering go away... slurp

The milk pudding is divine!!! So smooth and light. The curry rice tastes crappy though... with spice overload. I cant tell whether theres more rice or cumin seeds...

The milk pudding is divine!!! So smooth and light. The curry rice tastes crappy though... with spice overload. I can't tell whether there's more rice or cumin seeds...

Five-colored field at Tomita farm

Five-colored field at Tomita farm

The smell of lavender wafting wherever I go~~~ Aaaaah....gh.

The smell of lavender wafting wherever I go~~~ Aaaaah....gh.

Otherwise, Hokkaido feels like a tourist hotbed with probably 50% of its populace made of Chinese/Hong Kong tourists. So bad that even the waiters at the well-known crab buffet restaurant in Sapporo started speaking to me in Mandarin!(actually the restaurant hired Taiwanese) And damn, Furano is swelteringly hot! I`m amazed the pretty flowers have not shrivelled to their roots.

Why I enjoyed Shakotan very much was 2 reasons:

The scenery at Cape Kamui is just amazing!!

The scenery at Cape Kamui is just amazing!!

1) The view is amazing. It is as awesome as the Fireworks dear chihaya san brought me to. I wanted to yell at the top of my voice from the cliff because it`s too beautiful!!! (partially also because of the height and very narrow trail. I was scared shitless that the sea wind would blow me down the cliff) Thanks to Taichirou san, who kindly offered his hand and helped me across the narrow trail (I was scared shitless by the height…), I could enjoy the magical view of Cape Kamui. And he:s also kind enough to take very good pictures of me at the cape and by the Otaru canal. I made a new friend! \(>w<)/

Tanaka Taichiro san and me. The gate to Cape Kamui says Women are not allowed. Probably because the sea breeze might blow their kimonos open? *panchira*

Tanaka Taichiro san and me. The gate to Cape Kamui says 'Women are not allowed'. Probably because the sea breeze might blow their kimonos open? *panchira*

 

Otaru canal~no smell unlike our stinky Singapore river!

Otaru canal~no smell unlike our stinky Singapore river!

 

Yo! Buddha brotha~ A weird looking mannequin in one of Otarus shops...

Yo! Buddha brotha~ A weird looking mannequin in one of Otaru's shops...

Crunchy and sweet, the perfect after lunch dessert.

Otaru: Crunchy and sweet, the perfect after lunch dessert.

Uni donburi and fluffy buttered potato!!!
Lunch in Otaru: Uni donburi and fluffy buttered potato!!!
Otaru souvenir shop has full of interesting gag items like this car decal...Oyaji!!!

Otaru souvenir shop has full of interesting gag items like this car decal...Oyaji!!!

... A parody of Boss Coffee.

... A parody of Boss Coffee. I just love the old man's look~

No Employment Education and Technical skills. Perhaps I have that inner desire to be one too?

A hot favourite of mine... NEET: No Employment Education and Technical skills. Perhaps I have that inner desire to be one too?

2) Because it is a 3hr bus ride from Otaru and the cape is very scary to reach, no travel agency has put it in their packages and probably the insurance companies would want to exclude this in their policies (ie risky). Therefore, very few tourists want to visit the cape. Good! (>w<)b

 Other than Shakotan and Sapporo, I do not find Hokkaido a place worth going to if one wants to experience authentic Japan. So much so that I started missing the craziness of Tokyo and the cold, wet weather of Tohoku. I would rather stay in Nikko for a few more days and chat with the nice elderly there!

(–|||)

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Japan trip: Goshikinuma ponds – Beauty and mud.

 

At the 1st pond of Goshikinuma~

 

All veggie bento lunch on Shinkansen. The horse chestnut and inari beancurd pieces were tasty~

All veggie bento lunch on Shinkansen. The horse chestnut and inari beancurd pieces were tasty~

I set off for Kooriyama via Shinkansen and transferred to the JR Ban-Etsu line which goes past Mount Bandai (Inawashiro station) to Aizu-Wakamatsu station. It’s a wonderful ride because one can enjoy the scenery of thickly forested mountains and rice fields from the train itself. I alighted at Inawashiro station to find a very sleepy town, almost ghostly… From there, I took a half an hour bus ride (abt SGD 18 for one way) to the Goshikinuma ponds. More Mt Bandai to see as the bus winds up the mountain.

After reaching the Goshikinuma visitor center, I set off on the nature trail which the JNTO pdf promised to be 1hr long. First stop was the largest, bluest pond, Bishamon numa.

Giant koi fighting for a bite of prawn crackers

Giant koi fighting for a bite of prawn crackers

It’s waters are a brilliant turquoise and I could see giant koi swimming around, fighting with the ducks for prawn crackers thrown by visitors. The weather was perfect too. Sunny but cool~

Another pond along the muddy trail~

Another pond along the muddy trail~

I searched for the nature trail and found the sign ‘hiking trail’. The trail was a narrow, muddy and entangled with tree roots… (-_-) I began to regret wearing flip flops and a dress.

Yellow and orange colored ponds

Yellow and orange colored ponds

So off I went, gingerly steeping over jagged rocks, mud and tree roots. The mud is thick and sticky. The wetter mud is worse because my flip flops would slap bits of mud onto the back of my legs. After alot of squishing and slapping, one of the hikers remarked that my legs were all spotty. On hindsight, the Goshikinuma hike was really fun if I’d worn hiking boots instead of flip flops. It’s quite a gross feeling to have one’s feet sinking into the thick mud and the mud getting in between your toes.My black flipflops have just dried and they are brown from the dried soil I picked up from Goshikinuma trail. Eewww…. I had no choice but to dump them in the hotel trash bin.

The cool running stream where I washed my feet in

The cool running stream where I washed my feet in

Aaaargh!!!Its so cold, I cant feel my feet!!!

Aaaargh!!!It's so cold, I can't feel my feet!!!

Even salary man visits the ponds...erm...to read business news..

Even salary man visits the ponds...erm...to read business news..

Kirei da!!! I wanted to exclaim with the kids when we found this brilliant turquoise pond

Kirei da!!! I wanted to exclaim with the kids when we found this brilliant turquoise pond

I love the hiking experience despite the muddy and slippery trails. The colorful ponds were beautiful. Even the bunch of elementary school kids in their banana yellow hats were gasping “Kirei da!!!”, which means pretty in Japanese. The fellow japanese hikers were friendly and one of them even advised me to join them by a clear, flowing stream. The water was freezing cold but very refreshing! My legs were shaking after I stepped out of the stream with squeaky clean feet. Unfortunately, it’s back to the mud again…

Brilliantl blue sky and pond~

Brilliantl blue sky and pond~

I also met a very nice old couple who chatted with me. The wife Noriko was very friendly and we took the bus down from the Bandai Ura bus stop back to the entrance of Goshikinuma ponds where they alighted. I continued my bus ride back to Inawashiro station where I stopped by a sleepy cafe to have curry rice for lunch; which is delicious!!!

Delicious curry rice (abt SGD 8)

Delicious curry rice (abt SGD 8)

 I think it’s beef stew curry with melt-in-your-mouth potato. I took the train back to Sendai where I slept like a pig in preparation for the trip to Sapporo the next day.

My favourite red bean + margerine 'koppe'-bun which I eat in Sendai everyday. A pair of red bean 'manjuus' and souvenirs
My favourite red bean + margerine

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Japan trip:Matsushima-Seagulls everywhere

I headed to another recommended tourist spot in the Miyagi prefecture- Matsushima bay to see the famous clusters of little islands. It is also a place where oysters are farmed and the seafood is fresh. I was hoping for a bright, hot sunny day (what is summer without the heat?) but all I got was a cool. cloudy drizzle all day long. (–|||) Not very good for the ice cream business.

Islands of Matsushima- taken from the port. Eew, wheres the sun and blue waters?

Islands of Matsushima- taken from the port. Eew, where's the sun and blue waters?

I bought a boat ticket for 1400 yen (abt SGD 15) which will circle in between the cluster of islands back to port. It was fun especially when the seagulls started flying really close to the boat to be fed with prawn crackers by the passengers. (I was wondering if I could throw a pellet of Xylitol into a seagull’s beak and see what happens) The wind was sooo refreshing and the smell of the sea is lovely unlike the pungent stink of the sea back home….
The wind was superb and I dont care if my messy hair is even more messed up!

The wind was superb and I don't care if my messy hair is even more messed up!

...And the seagulls are rushing to get a bite of the prawn sticks. Not the passengers fingers I hope...

...And the seagulls are rushing to get a bite of the prawn sticks. Not the passengers' fingers I hope...

The passengers and I were zipping between port and starboard to get a glimpse of each island that came to view. It’s amazing how each island looks like a bonsai pot afloat on water. Date Masamune really knows the nice spots to capture for his domain. I wasn’t paying attention to the names of the islands the PA guide was explaining because I was too busy running to and fro trying to snap a nice picture of each island that emerged into view.
This seagull stayed put through out the boat trip when the other seagulls flew away after the prawn crackers were finished. I wanted to call it skipper.

This seagull stayed put through out the boat trip when the other seagulls flew away after the prawn crackers were finished. I wanted to call it 'Kojiro'.

Looks like someone seated on the rock... as the PA guide claimed...

Looks like someone seated on the rock... as the PA guide claimed...

There are holes carved out of the base of this island. Reminds me of mouse holes...

There are holes carved out of the base of this island. Reminds me of mouse holes...

After the boat ride, I was hungry and headed to the nearest restaurant from the port. I pointed at a set meal called ‘Masamune teishoku’… Ah, what a sucker I am for anime/game characters. It was a little pricey, 2200 yen (about SGD 24) but I think it’s reasonable because… there’s 4 big juicy oysters (size of a rambutan) batterfried with bread crumbs, sashimi (scallops, tuna, prawn, squid and octopus), rice, preserved stuff and miso soup with seaweed and fish cake. When I bit into the oyster, it burst with juices dripping out of my mouth. I don’t really like shellfish but this… I could eat this!!!
Masamune Teishoku, very fresh, very oishii...!

Masamune Teishoku, very fresh, very oishii...!

I also went to visit Kanrantei, Date Masamune’s guesthouse which offers a beautiful view of Matsushima bay and its islands. It was given to Masamune by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the building was moved to its present location by Masa’s son, Tadamune.

 

 

Kanrantei

Kanrantei

View from Kanrantei.

View from Kanrantei.

I also went to Zuiganji temple which is built by Masamune Date. The main temple is unlike Nikko where the restoration works are carried out regularly. Paint has already faded from the wooden carvings. However, the inner sliding doors with gorgeous paintings on them were still shining like gold. The gardens and tall cedar trees are breathtaking too.
At the gate of Zuiganji temple with my umbrella

At the gate of Zuiganji temple with my umbrella

built by Date Masamune. It also houses the tablets of his 20 followers who followed Masa in death.

Zuiganji Temple: built by Date Masamune. It also houses the tablets of his 20 followers who followed Masa in death.

Little kids sliding down the steps for fun. Kawaii---(^^)

Little kids sliding down the steps for fun. Kawaii---(^^)

The main hall...with kids running around the corridor...

The main hall...with kids running around the corridor...

Garden and Seiryuden which houses buddhist and historical artifacts.

Garden and Seiryuden which houses buddhist and historical artifacts.

Goddess of Mercy housed opposite of Seiryuden

Goddess of Mercy housed opposite of Seiryuden

Caves with carvings of kannons

Caves with carvings of kannons

One of the many carvings from the caves

One of the many carvings from the caves

After that, I headed to Gobaido hall where it sits on a small island, or to be more precise, a rock. This rock is connected to the mainland by 2 red bridges. The rafters have wood carvings of the 12 zodiac animals (very proud to say I discovered it myself without reading the pamplets, if it ever was written).
Bridges leading to Gobaido

Bridges leading to Gobaido

Gobaido- There are wood carvings of 3 zodiac animals on each side of the shrine.

Gobaido- There are wood carvings of 3 zodiac animals on each side of the shrine.

The bell which is hit with the rope. Not much of a sound. The 3 zodiac animals on the front of the shrine are snake, horse and goat.

The bell which is hit with the rope. Not much of a sound. The 3 zodiac animals on the front of the shrine are snake, horse and goat.

The center wood carving is that of a horse. Unfortunately it is blocked by the sign of the shrine.

The center wood carving is that of a horse. Unfortunately it is blocked by the sign of the shrine.

the boar ^^

My zodiac: the boar ^^

I headed towards the looooooooong red bridge (525m) which connects to Fukuurajima island. But when I reached the mouth of the bridge, I saw a sign stating that a toll of 200 yen is to be paid for access to the bridge. Too lazy to walk…and too stingy, I decided to give it a miss. Anyway the lady selling souvenirs told me all you do there is ‘sampo’ (take a stroll).
The sign at the bridge.

The sign at the bridge.

Fukuurasan bridge and island...

Fukuura bridge and island...

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Japan trip: Sendai’s founder,Masamune Date (MOE!)

I bought a Loople bus one-day pass for one goal: to see Sendai’s founder, the one-eyed dragon,Date Masamune~!!!*Moe daaaa!!!!* The Loople bus is cute itself as it looks so quaint, with wood and brass fittings. The great thing about the 600 yen (abt SGD 6.50) pass is it can be used for unlimited rides and it’s a convenient way to see all of the city.

Even construction accessories are so kawaii!!!

Even construction accessories are so kawaii!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Loople Sendai city bus

The Loople Sendai city bus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiroshige river.

Hiroshige river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Loople bus~

In the Loople bus~

So the 1st stop was Zuihouden Mausoleum. A replica of Date Masamune’s tomb sits atop a hill. The Kansenden and Zennoden mausoleums (housing Masamune’s successors)were on the other side of the forested hill.

Map of the hill showing where Zuihoden, Kansenden and Zennoden mausoleums were located.
Map of the hill showing where Zuihoden, Kansenden and Zennoden mausoleums were located.
More climbing up the hill. A fork which leads to Zuihoden and to Kansenden and Zennoden

More climbing up the hill. A fork which leads to Zuihoden and to Kansenden and Zennoden

The outer gate to the replica of Date Masamunes mausoleum

The outer gate to the replica of Date Masamune's mausoleum

Zuihoden mausoleum.

Zuihoden mausoleum.

Are you ready? Dates mausoleum is surrounded by markers of his loyal followers who killed themselves when he died.

Are you ready? Date's mausoleum is surrounded by markers of his loyal followers who killed themselves when he died.

Intricate wood carvings and gold leaf. The center is fixed with the emblems of the Date clan.

Intricate wood carvings and gold leaf. The center is fixed with the emblem of Date Masamune, sparrows and bamboo. Sparrow ni narite?

Next up is
Reconstruction of Date Masamune from his remains.

Reconstruction of Date Masamune from his remains.

Famous crescent helm unique only to Date Masamune.

Famous crescent helm unique only to Date Masamune.

Masamune Clan line. Check out the branch 小次郎. (801!)

Masamune Clan line. Check out the branch 小次郎. (801!)

Zennoden and Kansenden mausoleums which are located within the same compound in the other side of the hill.

The outer gate of the Zennoden and Kansenden mausoleums. More climbing...

The outer gate of the Zennoden and Kansenden mausoleums. More climbing...

Kansenden and Zennonden mausoleums. Dunno why only these 2 guys have to share the space...

Kansenden and Zennonden mausoleums. Dunno why only these 2 guys have to share the space...

Next up, Aoba Castle where only the foundations of Date Masamune’s castle remain. The highlight is the statue of Date Masamune mounted on his horse and overlooking the whole city of Sendai.
Moe!!! However on my way down to catch the Loople bus, there were some charming things on the way.
Pretty ajisais, which grow all over the place!

Pretty ajisais, which grow all over the place!

Same slope back down to the Loople bustop. Its a nice walk being surrounded by trees.

Same slope back down to the Loople bustop. It's a nice walk being surrounded by trees.

Creamy Golden Potato. Its made by an old couple who were very friendly. The husband is 63 yrs old but he looked 53!!!

Golden Sweet Potato: It's rich and melts in the mouth. It's baked by an old couple who were very friendly.

Mrs

Isn't the shop cute? This is the shop owner's wife, Mrs Sugawara. They also bake macarons and cookies

The Golden Sweet Potato was a lovely treat and the shopowners were so friendly. The husband even came out to say hello and chat with me. I was surprised when he told me his son is already 35 years old and he is 63 year old!!! He looked 53 years to me. I wonder if sweet potatoes are the secret of his youth…

After the sweet little treat, I hopped onto the Loople bus and headed for Aoba castle where Date Masamune’s statue overlooks the whole city. As usual, more climbing…
The gate to Aoba castle (before it was destroyed) Check out the huge foundations that still remain. How do they make those bricks?

The gate to Aoba castle (before it was destroyed) Check out the huge foundations that still remain. How do they make those bricks?

Until I reached the top of the foundations and saw the whole of Sendai city! Further up was the statue of Date Masamune mounted on a horse. MOEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!
Founder of Sendai. You know?

Lord Date Masamune: Founder of Sendai. You know?

Fuujoshi paying respects to MasaMoe Date

Fuujoshi paying respects to MasaMoe Date

Apparently Date Masamune is not just a brilliant ruler, he is also a culturally refined and intellectual gentleman. At the Sendai City museum, there were several poems written by him for the Tanabata festival. There’s also a poem written by him in Chinese!!! Furthermore, he sent his retainers on a mission to Europe to meet the Pope. This was documented by Scipione Amati and I could read the 1st page of the document as it’s in Italian. His name was written as ‘I DATE MASAMVNE’. Wonder if Date is learned in Latin too… … vvv
It started to rain and I ran to the nearest shelter I could find. A souvenir shop. I bought an umbrella and some souvenirs and went around finding some chow…. And I found this rice cake dessert called Zunda mochi. It’s covered with sweet green stuff which I think is some kind of bean.
Mochi!

Very delicious tea time snack!!!

Touristy photo....hahhahahahahaaha!

Touristy photo....hahhahahahahaaha!

. I hopped back onto the Loople bus to visit the Sendai City Museum which houses all of Miyagi’s archaelogical treasures including scrolls and military gear of Masamune. That’s where I learnt Date not only loves poetry, he could even compose one in Chinese!!! (0A0)
Another cool thing is it also houses a 3 headed demon armor belonging to Uesugi Kenshin.
Worth a trip to get to know more about Sendais history and Date Masamune.

Sendai City Museum : Worth a trip to get to know more about Sendai's history and Date Masamune.

For dinner, I didn’t wanted to go for Gyuutan as it’s too rich for my gut. So I went to Mos Burger to have a go at their chicken burger. It’s way better than the ones in Singapore and they minimise the use of disposables by serving drinks in glasses. It was the most delicious and filling Mos burger I’ve ever tasted.
Mos Hot Chicken burger

Mos Hot Chicken burger

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Japan trip: Out of the city and into Nikko (plus shaking Sendai)

Now I understand why the people who’ve been to Japan prefer the ulu places rather than the bustling CRAZY city. Man, just trying to get to the tourist info section to get my rail pass in Shinjuku station is a killer. I’ve covered a distance of 1.5 km in the station itself only to realise the office is open at 10.30 am. I felt like dying… Luckily the Ikebukuro (1 station away) office opens at 9.30am. And from Ikebukuro I took the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya to transfer to the JR Nikko train.

Nikko is a lovely tourist spot with all the greenery and old historic stuff which the people are proud of. And after killing my knees from climbing the slopes and steps, they have a very valid reason to do so.

Of course, as usual, I couldn’t find  the inn the same way I got lost in Shinjuku. But I find the residents here really friendly and warm. Especially the elderly people who stop and chat with me. Different from Tokyoites. Of course the charm about getting lost is finding something unexpected.

 

Pretty lilies growing near a drain

Pretty lilies growing near a drain

 

 

I got lost but hey, the Daiyawara River rocks!

I got lost but hey, the Daiyawara River rocks!

It was already 2pm when I found the inn and after dumping my backpack, I walked towards Shinkyo bridge (took me 5 mins *pant pant*) to begin discovering the World Heritage sites.
Shinkyo bridge in the evening...

Shinkyo bridge in the evening...

Shinkyo in the day~ First stop.

Shinkyo in the day~ First stop.

Rinnoji, Toshogu, Taiyobyouin. START! And the ascent begins~

Rinnoji, Toshogu, Futarasan. START! And the ascent begins~

The nice thing about Nikko being a tourist trap is the tourists! I came to a fork with 2 flights of stairs leading to opposite directions. The 2 German tourists sitting on the steps told me lots of people took the left direction so I did and I arrived at Rinnoji Temple where 3 great Buddha statues were housed. It was neck-breaking to marvel at the 3 intricately carved golden Buddhas because they’re almost touching the roof and there’s not enough space to step back. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited. And even if I could sneak a shot with my handphone, the photo would be too dark to see.
Rinnoji Temple which houses 3 great Buddha statues.

Rinnoji Temple which houses 3 great Buddha statues.

After Rinnoji, I climbed a slope towards Toshogu Shrine area. And from a distance I can see the 1st gate, a simple torii and a sign carved ‘Toshogu’.

Getting only this far doesnt count. I only wanted to take a picture with the Toshogu Shrine sign, haha.

Getting only this far doesn't count. I only wanted to take a picture with the 'Toshogu Shrine' sign, haha.

Past the torii gate and there’s a flight of steps leading to the first gate and ticket counter. This is only a warm-up session to what’s to come.
Warming up session. First gate to Toshogu.

Warming up session. First gate to Toshogu.

 

Through the gate is the courtyard where the famous monkey carvings and the 2nd gate to the Toshogu Shrine is. Omigod. The founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, is probably Japan’s version of France’s notorious Louis the 16th. Everything must be spectacularly ostentatious and no amount of gold leaf or artisan is spared. Every inch is worth appreciating for it’s artistic beauty and intricacies.
The stable where the monkey carvings are.

The stable where the monkey carvings are.

See, Hear and Speak no Evil. What about Smell?

See, Hear and Speak no Evil. What about Smell?

Yogic monkeys... (sweat)

Yogic monkeys... (sweat)

The courtyard with steps leading to the 2nd gate of Toshogu Shrine

The courtyard with steps leading to the 2nd gate of Toshogu Shrine

The 2nd gate. Check out the carvings~

The 2nd gate. Check out the carvings~

The Final gate to Toshogu Shrine itself. Picture time!

The 2nd and Final gate to Toshogu Shrine itself. Picture time!

The outer part of Toshogu Shrine. The inner building is so awesome!!! Especially the dragons, on each pillar, are so life-like and gravity-defying. The carvings and ceiling is so awesome I stood there for 10 mins with my mouth open. Too bad photos are prohibited. Darn.

The outer part of Toshogu Shrine. The inner building is so awesome!!! Especially the white stone dragons, on each pillar, are so life-like and gravity-defying. The carvings and ceiling is so awesome I stood there for 10 mins with my mouth open. Too bad photos are prohibited. Darn.

Toshogu Shrine is really a must-see. It’s worth the climb and the ticket. The white dragons that are floating out from under the roof are so delicately carved and so life-like. The flames and clouds were swirling about them and their claws outstretched as they menacingly seem to roar at anyone trespassing the holy ground. The inside of the shrine is even more awesome with the ceiling full of animal carvings and rows of golden dragons over the altar. Unfortunately, no photos. Means I’d have to come back again or buy their photo book.

Next I visited the famous Sleeping Cat which is right over the threshold to a flight of steps leading to the highest point of the shrine area. The climb was hell. Everyone was panting when we reached the top only to see a tree, a bronze crane and a bronze lion. But it was very cool and moist up there. And it seems you can only buy the sleeping cat charm over there.

The Sleeping Cat

The Sleeping Cat

The gateway to a hellish climb.

The gateway to a hellish climb.

More climbing...

More climbing...

When will this ever end?

When will this ever end?

More climbing until we reached the 1st gate...

More climbing until we reached the 1st gate...

...All the climbing for these...

...All the climbing for these...

After burning all the calories, I headed for Futarasan Shrine which was just next to the bottom of Toshogu Shrine. No more climbing. It’s walking time! Personally, the highlights of Futarasan Shrine would be the animal paintings and the cool sword which is as tall as me. The 1st thing I thought of was Sephiroth’s Masamune~kyaa~vvv
Futarasan Shrine courtyard

Futarasan Shrine courtyard

Futarasan Shrine with a few animal paintings of wolf, deer and horse...

Futarasan Shrine with a few animal paintings of wolf, deer and horse...

I paid for a ticket to enter an area with small shrines and small holy springs (ponds). Well, the long sword is worth the ticket. Kyaaa~so kakko ii!!!
Imagine Sephiroths Masamune... ...

Imagine Sephiroth's Masamune... ...

Daikoku-God of Wealth

Daikoku-God of Wealth

I tried this wheel of fortune (Daikoku version) where each spoke has a different type dessert or snack such as dango, cake, chocolate etc. I spun the thing and the cake stopped at the arrow. The chart told me I should be careful. Yep… When I reached Taiyouinbyo, the place was shut. So I continued the next morning after checking out from the inn.
A high caloric Wheel of Fortune

A high caloric Wheel of Fortune

That night, I decided to try some Yuba, a type of smooth soybean skin. It’s more delicate than the ones we have for Yong Tau Foo at home. There’s yuba don, yuba shabu and yuba hors d oevres. The set costs about SGD 11.

Yuba set~ tastes so delicate and light, I feel healthy.

Yuba set~ tastes so delicate and light, I feel healthy.

 

And for dessert, I bought a banana Castella cake from the 7-11. It’s the shape and packaging that caught my fancy.

Dessert!!! I want my banana!!! (Im going to be single for life if all the men in the world see this)

Here's how I eat my banana!!! Just imagine if I were to perform f*llatio (I'm going to be single for life if all the men in the world see this ^^)

Isnt it cute? The cake tastes like ripe banana and the center is made of white bean paste.

Isn't it cute? The cake tastes like ripe banana and the center is made of white bean paste.

Next morning, after a lovely breakfast made by the innkeeper, I checked out and headed for Taiyuinbyo. It was more climbing…
Fruit platter, hard-boiled egg and hot buttered toast

Fruit platter, hard-boiled egg and hot buttered toast

The 1st gate into the main courtyard.

The 1st gate into the main courtyard.

The 2nd gate, guarded by the thunder and wind gods.Fierce fellas.

The 2nd gate, guarded by the thunder and wind gods.Fierce fellas.

After more climbing up 3 flights of steps, the shrine. Its as far as we could go as the path to the top is closed off. Thank goodness...

After more climbing up 3 flights of steps, the shrine. It's as far as we could go as the path to the top is closed off. Thank goodness...

There’s just a large intricate lantern thingy made of bronze links and chains, hanging from the centre of the room.
The closed off path to the top. Yay! No more climbing!

The closed off path to the top. Yay! No more climbing!

 

Finally, I cleared the World Heritage course in Nikko! Too bad there wasn’t enough time to visit Chuzenji Lake and temple as it is a 40-min bus ride from the site. Well, next time… because I love the cool weather and environment here!

Goal! I finished seeing the world heritage sites.^^

Goal! I finished seeing the world heritage sites.^^

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty flowers everywhere, even in drains!

Pretty flowers everywhere, even in drains!

Pretty ajisai bushes everywhere~

Pretty ajisai bushes everywhere~

After that, I went back to the inn to collect my luggage and play with the inn’s dog, Chocolat. It’s time to catch the JR Nikko train back to Utsunomiya station where I’ll transfer to Yamabiko shinkansen heading for Sendai.
I bought a brown rice bento where brown rice mixed with peanuts and black fungi is wrapped in sweet beancurd pockets. It was lovely to chew and tasted really delicious.
Brown rice bento (about SGD 6)

Brown rice bento (about SGD 6)At one station, I saw a Pokemon shinkansen! Jeez, these critters are everywhere! I know ANA has them plastered all over its plane.Pokemon shinkansen: Bobbafett!!!

The shinkansen was so smooth and fast, I reached Sendai in an hour where I checked into a hotel near the station. For dinner, the concierge recommended their city’s signature dish, Gyuutan, cow’s tongue.
Gyuutan set (about SGD 16)

Gyuutan set (about SGD 16)

 

I don’t exactly like to eat barbequed meats so I did not enjoy it so much. I find it too rich for my taste. Each piece is dripping with juice which I think my brother would appreciate. When I bit and chewed, the juice just filled my mouth. It reminds me of eating pig’s tongue which I like in my kway chap.  Only bigger, juicier and a little tougher.

As I’m typing this blog, the whole room started shaking and I really freaked out. Faark!!!!!

It was minutes later the news reported there’s 6.8 magnitude quake in Iwate prefecture. Seriously, I was scared at first and already had the door open. Eeks, Chihaya san had told me the northern Tohoku area is susceptible to quakes. 助けて~(T_T)

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Japan Trip: Square Enix and La Floret Bazaar!!!

21 Jul 2008

Initially I wanted to visit Odaiba but after 2 hectic days of walking with a bad intestinal problem, I decided to go easy on myself.

I had some udon for breakfast and it really has the same taste and texture as Waraku. The price ? 525 yen (about SGD 6)

Who says one has to eat instant noodles in Japan?

I decided to take a spin in Yobodashi Camera, searching for a new camera and travel adapter to buy. The Xacti has reached its useful life. So I bought a Casio 10 Megapix camera for abt SGD 270 (with face capture function). After getting my phone and laptop charged, I made the decision to visit the Square Enix shop which only opens in weekends and public holidays. It’s Monday. But it’s Umi no Hi (Marine Day), a public holiday!!!
So off I went with my map, walking and looking at the tall buildings in awe and stopping passersby for directions,until I reached the Hatsudai area. The long journey makes the goal even sweeter as I skipped towards the ‘ulu’ shop.
Nearer...

Nearer...

Goal! Its the Square Enix Shop!!!

Goal! It's the Square Enix Shop!!! Check out the slime smiling at me!

I entered the tiny shop and voila, I was greeted by a pile of soft toys and all sorts of final fantasy and dragon quest merchandise. I saw caps priced at SGD 120 and tees selling for SGD 60. Totally out of my budget. There’s a small elevated room where all the coolest goods were kept. The first thing that greeted me was this cool costume from Dirge of Cereberus.
Wonder whats the size?

Wonder what's the size?

And an amazing sculpture of Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile… which I did not finish…
Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile!!!

Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile!!!

Then there’s Cloud Strife from FF7 which I’ve never played before…
CLoud Strife from FFVI

CLoud Strife from FFVI

….And Sephiroth!!! OMG, It’s lifesize!!! In the floor of the shop!!! Even the hair looks real enough to comb. Unfortunately he gets stepped on by everyone including me …
Life-sized Sephiroth right under my foot.

Life-sized Sephiroth right under my foot.(^^)

Poor Sephiroth...

Poor Sephiroth...

It’s a really nice place with glass displays of rings, pendants, necklaces, key chains and other metal accessories. I couldn’t help but swipe SGD 110 from my card for those stuff and the sabotender soft toy.
A very satisfied person.

A very satisfied person.

After contributing to Square Enix’s revenue, I headed for Meiji Shrine. It’s a long 10 min walk and well, it’s worth the calories burnt. It cannot beat Kamakura though. If I’d a choice, I’d rather go trawl the bookstores of Ikebukuro. The whole area is so huge! So are the crows.
Crows as big as cats.

Crows as big as cats.

The main shrine

The main shrine

I washed my hands, threw a coin and made a wish.
Then went out to the wishing tree where people were writing their wishes into the forms.
A donation and the form is then sealed in the envelope before placing it in the box.
The fee to get my wishes fulfilled is SGD 1...

The fee to get my wishes fulfilled is SGD 1...

The wish is then placed in the box.

The wish is then placed in the box.

Bored, I made my way to Harajuku, the center of Japan’s teenage fashion.
I had lunch at Yoshinoya and was served by a China lady who thought I was from her country when she spoke to me in Mandarin and I responded. Jeez.
Then I left to join the thronging crowd into the street lined with clothing shops selling the craziest and weirdest fashion for kids.
full of the craziest fashion!

Harajuku Street: full of the craziest fashion!

There are also kids dressed up as lolitas and goths. I decided to seek refuge in Daiso where almost everything is sold at 105 yen (SGD 1.50 )!
It was 1 hr later, until I was standing at the checkout counter when I realised I had left my Square Enix bag at Yoshinoya!!! Oh my GOD!!!
I dumped the basket at the counter and ran back to the shop just in time when I saw a Jap guy walking towards the door, carrying the black Square Enix bag.
I was so relieved at that time when he asked whether the stuff was mine.
On hindsight, he was planning to take it home (i.e. steal it).
But hey, good thing he was more concerned about avoiding a ruckus than insisting the bag belonged to him. (-w-!)
Perhaps the Meiji Shrine trip was worth it after all…somewhat.
I returned to Daiso to pay for the merchandise and followed the crowd until a huge building loomed. There’s a mad crowd in there… in La Foret where Chihaya san suggested me to go.
La Foret. Craziest shopping experience in my life!!!

La Foret. Craziest shopping experience in my life!!!

The mall was thronging with people and it was soooo crazy! The shop assistants were CHEERING, yelling and clapping. They even made huge sign boards declaring hourly special sales. It’s really like cheering the customers on to buy. Consumerism is a sport here!
I stumbled into a shop where the lady assistants were cheering that any 2 items in the shop are priced at 3,150 yen (about SGD 33). It’s crazy because we’re talking about knitted dresses, shoes and pants! I can’t help but bought myself 2 dresses. And the best thing is a pretty lady assistant came up to me and said I’ve made the right choice and that I’ll look kawaii in the dress. I don’t care if she’s lying but it made me feel damn good. (-w-)
I ventured to other floors where it got crazier as I was pushed about by stampeding customers. It’s really amazing to see and hear men and women of the shops yelling and cheering the customers on till their voices were hoarse.
So there, weary from the retail workout, I headed straight to the JR station for a ride back to my hotel to take stock of my latest catch.
about SGD 140

Catch of the day. Total: about SGD 140

 

Tokyo… I doubt even one week is enough.

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Japan trip: Kamakura and Yokohama fireworks gala!

Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude towards Chihaya san, who is the guide and friend I could ever wish for. ちはやしゃん!本当にありがとうございます!鎌倉と花火大会はとてもとてもたのしかった!!!ずっと忘れません。日本に来てよかったvvv
Unfortunately, she has requested me not to show her face on this blog. ><
 
20 Jul 2008 (Sun)
I had french toast+yogurt+walnut bun set  for breakfast at the hotel’s cafe.
Excellent breakfast! Totally had to drink the coffee straight from the bowl.

Excellent breakfast! Totally had to drink the coffee straight from the bowl.

The weirdest thing is they served capuccino in a soup bowl. And the spoon is totally flat and useless for drinking the coffee.
But it’s delicious, expecially the french toast with the syrup oozing from the outside and inside.
Chihaya san came to my hotel in Shinjuku and brought me to Kamakura via JR. It was a quaint town with many traditional houses and foods sold on the streets. Many japanese tourists also visit Kamakura for the sightseeing and the food!!!

First, we walked through the Komachi dori Street filled with shops selling freshly toasted senbei crackers, ice cream, warabi mochi (cool fern jellies dusted in kinako), ume products (preserved plum), croquette and all kinds of souvenirs.

Hachimitsu Ice cream in my hand.

Hachimitsu Ice cream in my hand.

It’s a perfectly hot afternoon as we strolled towards Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It’s so hot, a cat just slept under a bush by the side of the road as if it were dead. And many ladies were crowding around it taking pictures of this dozing feline. Ah, nyanko love…
Pig Man!豚人!
Munching, smelling and tasting warabi mochi, and as we walked on, finally, the red shrine came into view.
The road junction leading to the shrine.

The road junction leading to the shrine.

The Shrine itself

The Shrine itself~

The cicadas were just deafening! We climbed up to the shrine and after tossing a coin into the box and clapping, we walked around a bit. There wasn’t much to see at the shrine. Probably that’s why the tourism dept. put *Must See!* on the English brochure. A nice guard recommended us to go to see the Great Seated Buddha in Kotokuin Temple. This means we have to make our way back to the JR station to catch the bus. Hungry, we stopped for some croquette. There’s plain, meat, ume, yuzu(mandarin orange), black sesame and omigod, chocolate.

Check out the menu!!!

The croquette shop: Check out the menu!!!Ume and Yuzu croquettes.

The ume croquette is delicious although the ume bits are sour. The yuzu one reminded me of orange flavored mooncake. It’s quite filling though and we didn’t have a proper lunch.
We caught the bus to Kotokuin Temple from JR station. As the weather was so warm, we could get a bit of a shut eye for 10mins. There are quaint little shops on both sides of the road to see for hardworking travellers.
We reached the place and ooh lala, the great seated Buddha came into view. The highlight of Kamakura.

Trying to meditate like the Buddha behind us but somehow its anatomically impossible.

Trying to meditate like the Buddha behind us but somehow it's anatomically impossible.

We explored the surroundings and had cool drinks from the vending machine at nice little rest area with large flat boulders for seats.

Iced calpis and ume drinks

Iced calpis and ume drinks

Tanka poet, Akiko Yosana

By the 1st fujoushi: Tanka poet, Akiko Yosana

 We found the tablet carved with Tanka poet, Akiko Yosana’s poem. It was composed after she saw the huge statue of the Buddha.

Seems she found the Buddha a ‘美男’ (beautiful male). And I told Chihaya san we’ve finally found the world’s first fuujoshi. (´∀`)

There’s even a pair of warashiki sandals made for him!

The worlds largest foot size

The world's largest foot size. No smell though, haha.

Seriously, the Buddha is such an icon, the Japanese entrepreneurs decide to merge Kamakura’s symbol with other icons. Namely, Hello Kitty and Disney character, Stitch.

Hello Kitty Buddha...

Hello Kitty Buddha...

Buddha Stitch...

Buddha Stitch...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We strolled down to Hasedera temple and personally, I think it’s a nice place to end the day in Kamakura. The garden pools are brimming with koi fishes and flowers.

One of the garden pools. Man not included.

One of the garden pools. Man not included.

The koi were scrambling to get to shore. Im beginning to suspect they are piranhas in disguise.

The koi were scrambling to get to shore. I'm beginning to suspect they are piranhas in disguise.

 

But it’s not just the gardens at the bottom. As we ascended the stone steps, we see lots of stone jizos clustering at the 2nd part of the climb. Chihaya san explained that each stone jizo represents an unborn child that has either been lost by accident or abortion. Eeks. No wonder I saw a jizo with a blue baby’s bib around its neck.

Lots of stone jizos

Lots of stone jizos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I can’t help but take picture of a very ‘sian’ statue. I could almost hear it grumble: “Oh here the tourists come again. What’s there to see? Go away.” Chihaya san added : “Mendou kuse na-” (Troublesome…)

Very bored and grouchy statue.

Very bored and grouchy statue.

We reached the shrine housing the Hase Kannon, the Golden Goddess of Mercy.

The Goddess house.

The Goddess' house.

The towering statue is almost 2 stories high, with a long and exquisite necklace draped around her neck and chest. And of course she gleams in the dark with all the gold and bronze. Too bad photography is prohibited.
Chihaya and I went to scale the tip of the hill and although it killed my calves, the scenery and cool breeze is worth the pain.

Overlooking Kamakura beach.Watch out for eagles and windsurfers!

Overlooking Kamakura beach.Watch out for eagles and windsurfers!

We descended the hill back to the garden pools where we started. There’s lots of fragrant lilies on the side.

Smells good!!!

Smells good!!! But I prefer BL. (寒い...)

And at the bottom near the toilet was this strange tree..

Nice cubby hole to stay in...

Nice cubby hole to stay in...

 

 

 

We saw this guy as we headed the dark tunnels where the different types of jizos reside.

Hes very popular with the ladies. We had to queue to get our turn.

He's very popular with the ladies. We had to queue to get our turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the dark and low tunnels, there’s money jizo, which got the most candle offerings, safety jizo…et cetera. A little scary with its dark, moist and claustrophobic environment but otherwise it’s worth a try.

Off we went for Yokohama for a fireworks gala at the park. On the way, at Kamakura station, we saw the commemorative train for the 40th anniversary of Shonen Jump comics.

Ichigo is on the train!!!

Ichigo is on the train!!!

The ride to Yokohama is a super squeeze. I’ve gotten squeezed to the point I could stand without holding onto anything. Plus in summer, people sweat. And my dress has probably absorbed the sweat of Japan in one day. The crowd is so huge and all are rushing to grab a nice spot before the fireworks gala starts.

Squeezed in a train section for women... with the men.

Squeezed in a train section for women... with the men.

Just look at the human mass!!! Im amazed the escalators could still move!

Just look at the human mass!!! I'm amazed the escalators could still move!

Kiasuism knows no boundaries.
We arrived at the park where the police are starting to move the crowd around. We were very lucky to find a spot at the perimeter of the park. However, we’d wished someone could cut down the trees which were blocking the view.

The Fireworks gala site.

The 53rd Fireworks gala at Yokohama

The wrappers are so cute. The buns are so filling it makes our Da Bao look like Xiao Long Bao.

Niku man (Meat buns / Chinese burger): The wrappers are so cute. The buns are so filling it makes our 'Da Bao' look like 'Xiao Long Bao'.

I am perpetually always feeling the urge to go to the loo after last week’s mutton briyani. So it was one of the many terrible urges which makes my head spin that I had to go to a toilet. Luckily the friendly housewife next to us helped to watch after our spots by draping a towel over it while we searched for the loo. The nearest was a cafe where the queue is 10 persons long as everyone is dying to relieve themselves fully before the fireworks start. So I stood there and waited and drank up the menthol ointment with my nose to keep myself conscious. And when my turn came, the urge went away. Fark. As I went back to the park, the police had fenced off the area at the road junction and people were sitting behind the fence waiting for the gala to start. I saw Chihaya san and I went over to her but one of the organisers refused to let me go to her side.
Here’s what I love about Japan’s pacifist side.
The fence is low and made by tying a pole to two traffic cones. I waited till the organiser turn away before I leapt over the tiny fence. I could even mambo under it if I have the time. Seriously, I can’t pull such a thing off in Singapore where the fences are chest high with bars to prevent a hobbit from doing the mambo. And the best thing was they didn’t even bother to chase and pull me back to the other side.
We ate our dinner of niku man and Chinese yakisoba which Chihaya san bought.
And then, the sky grew really dark and the fireworks began.
Hanabi- badly photographed

Hanabi- badly photographed

It’s spectacular,magical,awesome and touching. It is an unforgettable experience which I cannot convey in words the awesomeness of watching the fireworks bloom and explode in a myriad of colors and huge golden showers! I particularly love the continuous bursting of golden showers which stream down like waterfall, bathing the sky in gold dust. And then there’s the fireworks that explode and stream down like meteor showers but each stream suddenly shoot in another direction like a comet changing its mind on where it wants to go. The fireworks were so marvellous I actually felt like crying then. (TwT) I’m so grateful towards Chihaya san for taking me to see the fireworks. ちはやしゃん、ありがとうございます!感動しました!
The way back was quite an experience too. It’s like a mass exodus of people as everyone made their long and tortuous way to the rail stations. There are rows of stalls to cater to the hungry. At the JR, it’s totally crazy! The stairs to the platforms are totally jammed with people! Again we were packed like sardines and I was wedged among 3 sweaty bodies. (–|||) At least I don’t have to hold onto anything. Chihaya san told me the morning rush hour is even worse. At least there is room to breathe here.

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Japan trip: Touchdown and getting lost in Shinjuku

The flight on board SouthEast Airlines was a killer. The service was good if you’re a big white man and the seats obviously felt like it’s made for midgets to snuggle in. Also what made the start of my trip bad was that my malaysian passport was due to expire in 4.5 mths time and the Japanese immigrations authorities could refuse entry for me into Japan upon the basis that I’m planning to overstay and work as an illegal immigrant.

Oh well, thank goodness they’re relying on the person who granted my visa. And off I went to the JR tourist centre to get the Narita Express+Suica package for 3,500 yen. Pretty cheap for a 1.5 ride to Shinjuku which costs 3,115 yen and a tourist edition Suica card with 2,000 yen value in it.

Narita Express at platform 9 heading to Shinjuku

Narita Express at platform 9 heading to Shinjuku

During the train journey, I saw rows of green rice fields turn into colourful 2 storey residences and towns with fantastic architecture such as a love hotel built like a fairy tale castle; and as the train neared the city, great gleaming buildings loom over us , reflecting the evening sun rays with sheets of glass windows. Particularly Takashimaya Times Square which shone and glittered like a giant multi-faceted Swarovski in the heart of Shinjuku.

The train station itself is overflowing with mass human traffic. The crowd is just so crazy! And the whole station is so big it is probably 10 times as huge as Outram Park MRT!!! I kept heading to the West exit as that is the direction of Kadoya Hotel where I’ll be bunking in for 3 nights in Shinjuku. Unfortunately, the West exit itself is so huge and has many exits to the surface of the station that I lugged my bag about aimlessly until I stopped a nice Japanese lady, called Takae,who took me all the way to the hotel. Her reason was that she’s heading the same direction as me. Ah well. (^^)

It was 4.30pm when I reached the front desk and got all the paperwork done. I let the concierge charge to my Citicard. I nearly fainted when the slip came out with crosses on it and she said she couldn’t charge it to my Visa. Thank god she tried again and was successful at the 2nd try. Otherwise I’d wish the immigration had rejected my visa and send me back to Singapore. It was nice they could speak english perfectly and the concierge was really friendly.

So up to my room I went and it was so cosy with a cute, compact bathroom. 

Bath sponge, razor, hairbrush, shaving gel toothbrush and toothpaste.

Body shampoo, Hair Conditioner and Shampoo!

 

Nice pajamas, nice bed, nice sleep!

Nice bed, nice pajamas, nice sleep!

There’s even a night dress folded nicely on the semi double bed with a futon quilt over it. Much as I wanted to jump straignt into bed to snore my life away, I had only 10mins to get ready before meeting dear Chihaya san and Ayakuni san. Ayakuni san knows Ikebukuro inside out and of course the doujin/ manga/ cosplay shops and even a doll shop in Otome Road cannot escape her. As we walked the street flanked by glittery neon signs and other blinding visual spectacles, swimming with the thronging crowds, picking up freebies like tissue packs along the way, I was just totally amazed by the sensory spectacle the city is buzzing with. And of course, those doujin shops!!! And those fuujoshis!!! Generally they are the female version of otakus(anime/manga/game geeks) and often seen with long hair and glasses, browsing boys love material.

Vending machine selling Sengoku Basara canned drinks

Oh man, I could spend all day browsing the tons of doujins sealed in plastic and drooling over the character goods. It’s really a test of luck by pulling out a doujin randomly from the tightly packed shelves.

Pretty dolls at the doll shop which sells everything like doll eyes and body parts.

This doll has a very lolita look~sexy!

More beautiful dolls with the most exquisite costumes.

My favourite feature in the doll shop. Mushroom toys. Mario says that eating mushrooms will make one grow big.

Quite impossible to go through every book just to find the doujin you want. I’m totally amazed by Japan’s consumerist enterpreneurship. They can just make and sell anything. Doll parts, doll underwear, Sengoku Basara canned fruit juice etc.

After all the walking, we went to this place called ‘A Fantasy Place'(I was too awestruck I forgot the name) where the winding stairs led to a restaurant. Inside, it is a bamboo forest with woody, romantic enclaves for the patrons to enjoy their little world. Chihaya san made reservations for a table and seriously, although we came early, we had to wait for our appointed time at 8.45pm. 

The food is amazing.

Grilled hokke getting deboned by chihay san

...and the grilled shisamo. Can be eaten whole, bones and all

Fried Japanese taupok is yummy!

Fried Japanese taupok is yummy!

1st dish was tofu cooked in a little wooden container. The soybean flavor just filled my mouth. It’s so delicate. The grilled hokke fish was tasty and sweet. The grilled shisamo fish was wonderfully juicy in the inside and firm on the outside. Nest was fried Japanese taupok with bonito. The outside was crispy and light and the inside was a little juicy from absorbing some stock and oil. After that we shared a cold tofu dish garnished with slimy okra, crunchy turnip or daikon(I can’t tell) and refreshingly sour ume. Ayakuni san ordered 2 chawanmushi. When it came, it looked like this:

Nabe! What is this?

Nabe! What is this?

The nabemushi with golden steamed egg, chicken, mushrooms and gingko nuts

The nabemushi with golden steamed egg, chicken, mushrooms and gingko nuts

Never try stuffing a ladle into your mouth on a Japanese table full of strangers. Attempt only when with friends.

Never try stuffing a ladle into your mouth on a Japanese table full of strangers. Attempt only when with friends.

Seriously, their chawans (tea cups) look like nabes (claypots) to me. Chihaya san and Ayakuni san call it ‘Nabemushi’. The steamed egg was a rich golden yellow and so soft it melts in the mouth. In there were generous cuts of chicken meat, gingko nuts and sliced mushrooms. Ayakuni san and I had yakitori (my god, it’s so juicy and well grilled. No black charred bits!). Finally, we had strawberries and cream pancake.

The total bill came up to about 12,430 yen (abt S$130) but with great company, great food, great service and great ambience, it’s worth it. (^^)

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Status: TOIL-Travelling On Individual Leisure

Today’s the day where I’m gonna fly from this miniscule island to a bigger cluster of islands called Japan.

Ah, and as usual things won’t go as smoothly as one would like to.

1) I bought a backpack to put my things in on the eve of my flight when I found out that generations of roaches have made home in my brother’s haversack. It is not as big as I wanted it to be but at least it can pass off as carry-on luggage.

2) The battery charger of my camera did not light up when I plugged it in. Shit. I’m thinking of just using my phone as a substiture.

3) I’ve not bought a travel adapter to fit the Singaporean 3 pronged plug to any electrical outlet in Japan.

4) I’ve got 2 travel insurances… because my dad bought me one without telling me.

5) I ate too much Indian nasi briyani and even had durian just now. My intestines are feeling rather funky. Oh, and the flatulence is divine. One whiff and you are ready to ascend to heaven, if you’ve been good. Otherwise it’s hell for naughty people like myself.

Ok, I’ll survive this. No matter what happens, what matters is the experience. I’ll make it back alive and well. (>w<) Whoopee~ and it’s nice of chihaya san to meet me for dinner on my 1st day. I hope the nasi briyani won’t embarrass me in public. The fart’s so potent, I might be mistaken for an Aum Shinryo cult follower.

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Counting down to 19 July 2008 (日本旅行に行こう~!)

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Status:On Job Training (アルゼン・クーリエ・サービスです)

 These 2 days I’ve been assisting a senior by checking and casting the financial statements, sending the drafts for typing and … …

Delivering the final product to the client’s place for signing.

In these 2 days, the senior would usually send me off with the documents in the late morning and at 6pm. As these things have to be delivered by hand and fast, I was allowed to take a taxi to the client’s isolated location. And in these 2 days, I met all kinds of taxi drivers.

The 1st one was a local Indian. (There’s a big difference between the local Indian and the apune. Nobody likes apunes. They’re noisy and they smell.) He plays very soothing muzak in his taxi and I felt like I’m in a spa. He said that he likes to listen to muzak because it reminds him of being in Changi airport. He seems like a real nice uncle who keeps wondering why young girls nowadays “excuse me ma’am for saying this, love to show off the crack of their butts”. He complained that some girls as young as 16 would offer to have sex with the taxidrivers as payment for the ride. He’s one very moralistic uncle.

The 2nd taxi driver I flagged in the evening (taxi hell-hour) was an auntie who asked me in a loud voice in Mandarin: “LEMME ASK YOU. YOU BOOKED A TAXI DIDN’T YOU? DID YOU CANCEL IT? HOW CAN YOU DO SUCH AN IRRESPONSIBLE THING BY GETTING INTO MY TAXI?” True, I did book a taxi but the operator did not give me the taxi number. I explained to her and told her it’s also my 1st time booking a taxi. She called me a swakoo ninja turtle.

Auntie:”Waah, there’s a big jam at the CTE leh. It’s already 6.25pm and you tell me your client is expecting you to arrive at 6.30pm. You’re gonna be late.” 

Me:”Auntie, I believe in you.”

Auntie:”Walau! Don’t stress me lah! When you say that, I get even more stressed! This is a taxi leh! You think I’m piloting a helicopter ah?! If I’m piloting one, I can definitely make sure you reach your client within 5 mins. Why should I drive you anyway? You never support us by taking taxis more often.”

Me:”I want to! But the thing is, I just graduated so I don’t have the monetary resources to support you.”

Auntie:”Koaz, you sure know how to crap. Can’t see that from your looks.”

Me:”Never judge a book by it’s cover. No surprise lah, auntie, I studied too much, that’s why my head’s abit screwed and full of crap.”

This auntie told me that the residents in the Institute of Mental Health are mostly university graduates, teachers and other highly-educated professionals. She had visited some and was surprised to find one of them requesting for some chicken rice in perfect English. Probably that’s why she did not disagree with my explanation that education loosened a few screws in my head.

In the end, we reached the place at 6.35pm. The auntie refused to wait for me so I had to leave the ulu place by foot and by bus.

The next morning, I was dispatched to the same place again. This taxi driver is a real bastard. He doesn’t seem to like to talk. I asked him if he could wait for me while I pass the documents to the client. The bastard said he needed to fill up his petrol tank and promised that he would come back for me. So I paid him and went to see the client. When I came back 10 mins later, there’s no one. I waited for another 15 mins. Still no f**king taxi. In the end, I had to walk to the main road to have lunch at a nearby kopitiam. Food sucked…

Stranded and lost, I decided to book a taxi. This taxidriver uncle is…. one would never have guessed it… a retired auditor from PwC! He worked for 8 years since the late 80’s and he told me of how he led his audit team in various engagements, making them work hard and telling his boss to shut up. What worried me was not the stuff he was talking about. He had both of his hands off the steering wheel while we’re cruising through the expressway! Thank goodness I’m still alive.

In the evening, I was told to deliver some documents to the same client again. It’s taxi hell-hour. I couldn’t even book a taxi because the operators were all busy. I decided to leave everything to fate. So the 1st taxi came.”Clementi?”the lady behind me asked and the taxidriver nodded. Off they went. The 2nd taxi came, the driver asked “Orchard?” and another lady behind me got on the taxi. My head was reeling.

The 3rd taxi came and I yelled “Hougang?”. The uncle shrugged and motioned me to get in. This uncle is by far the most adorable taxidriver I’ve ever met. His name is Pat, a 55 year old single with an island of scalp on his head. He asked me why I look so flustered. I told him I’m late and the client is waiting for the documents.

Pat:”Relax…There’s a jam and there’s nothing you can do. Well, you can tell your client that. If she’s unreasonable, you can tell her my father will settle things with her tonight. He’s on vacation now anyway.”

Me:”Uh… right…Your father…?”

Pat:”You know what I’m saying? It’s the 7th month mah, my deceased father is here on holiday. He can meet your client and I guarantee, things will be settled so don’t worry.”

From there, we began chatting and I got to know that Pat’s soooooo 三八(he keeps saying ‘小妹,我跟你讲hor’ and called his fat passenger ‘你这个死肥猪,给我滚。我不要载你!’). I even told him that in his face. The way he speaks and his behavior is a carbon copy of my elder cousin Ah Kuang. I now can imagine how Ah Kuang would be like in his 50’s. Pat told me he’s a divorcee and he thinks he’s gay because he had a platonic relationship with a guy in UK. Pat’s a real lovable person and it’s so fun to chat with him. He’s also real nice enough to wait for me at the client’s place before sending me home.

Me:”Anyway, what’s your name?’ 

Pat:”You can call me Patrick.”

Me:”I think I should call you Patty. You’re such a cute person.”

Pat:”你要死啊! Anyway, will the company reimburse you?”

Me:”Yes, they will so don’t worry uncle, it’s alright if you miss the turn just now.

Pat:”You should have said so earlier. I should have driven a few more rounds back and to your client’s place.”

Me:”How about you drive us to a Kopitiam and let your meter run while we have some tea?”

When I reached home, I opened my wallet and took out the remaining $30 in it to pay for the taxi fare. I’m officially bankrupt with no cash in hand. It is very expensive to be a deliveryman.

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