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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Filed under Celebrations and Festivities, Travelling:Outstation