Monday, March 26, 2012

This Blog is Back!

Wow! It has been a long time since the last post but I AM BACK! Back in action and finally got myself re-motivated to re-start this blog. Loads have happened in the last 3 years since the last post and I do hope to be able to share it all.

Procrasination was the main cause of my stopping blogging the last round but I do hope it will not repeat itself. I know it won't cause there is a lot of ideas floating in my noggin' and I do want to get it all down here.

Some of the things which I will be posting to look forward to:-

1) an experience learning about mediation from Singapore;
2) more travels, including America, Korea, a re-visit to Japan, UK and much more!;
3) hopefully, some toy reviews; and
4) how to plan a wedding. Or rather how to plan a non-wedding and enjoy it!

Am excited to be back online and look forward to sharing my experiences with all of you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yokoso Japan! - Day 3 (Shirakawa-Go!)

"Oh, I'm sick of doing Japanese stuff! In jail we had to be in this dumb kabuki play about the 47 Ronin, and I wanted to be Oshi, but they made me Ori!"- Homer Simpson

It's been a while since I last posted but life has been kinda keeping me busy. Hmm, always seems to be the case doesn't it?
Anyway, our trip on day 3 to Shirakawa-Go represented the highlight of our entire trip to Japan. Shirakawa-Go is a traditional Japanese village which has been allocated World Heritage Status by UNESCO and is located some 6 hours away from Tokyo (by Shinakanzen). As we planned for this trip at the very last minute on the recommendation of Wai Ling's aunt, Harvon, we had to ensure the long day trip rather than booking a place at the nearest town of Takayama to spend the night (which I would highly recommend to anyone intending to go make a visit). Takayama is a quaint little country town with its own little tourist delights which can be completed within a day.

But I digress. Shirakawa-Go was so important for the Japanese government that they 'imported' traditional village houses from other districts to Shirakawa-Go to provide the authenticity of a traditional japanese village. Another thing Shirakawa-Go is famous for is its Hida Beef which some compare favourably to Wagyu and Kobe Beef.

The day started about 4a.m. when Wai Ling and I had to take another expensive cab ride to the Tokyo Station to catch the Shinkanzen to the Nagoya station where we change trains to Takayama. Armed with our bites and drinks from Lawsons, we enjoyed the nice quiet ride all the way to Takayama which also gave us an opportunity to catch up on our lost sleep. The train route also passed by the Japanese country side which provided us with amazing views. We reached Takayama about 11.30am which was just in time for our 'lunch' seeing as how we only had snacks for breakfast way back at 6am!

A chashyo ramen later, we were on the bus to Shirakawa-Go!

A gorgeous site greeted us with lush greens framed by mountains. It is too incredible to describe and as my words will not do justice to how beautiful the place was, I won't even try. Just view some of the many pics which we took. Shirakawa-Go is a self-enclosed village with one road leading in and out with about 60 tatched roof houses i.e. dried straw in an area about 1 over acres in size. The villagers there make their money from the tourist which visit and do still plant their own veges. When we were there, it was autumn and we saw paddy and chillis being planted. There may have more but I don't know how to tell my vege's from my fruits!
And don't mistake the villagers for being poor as I spotted the car below parked in front of one of the houses! Vroom! vroom! indeed.
As it was Golden Age week in Japan (entailing an unprecedented 7 day holiday) the place was packed with local tourists, some dressed to kill. Case in point, see pic below :). Goth fashion indeed.
Even the dogs were visiting (Japanese Dog: What'chu lookin at?)!
Anyway, we walked around for about 5 hours stopping only to savor the some amazing snacks like green tea ice cream and charcoal grilled hida beef (which I might add is truly succulent) as well as hida beef 'pau'. Our walk ended up a small hill where we could capture amazing images of this Village from another century. It was just like being in Japan in the 16th Century.

A word of caution for those visiting, as the houses are made of wood and straw, smoking in Shirakawa-Go is strictly prohibited for fear of the houses catching fire. So to all smokers going in, get your fix before entering the village. Another 6 hour trip back to Tokyo was on the cards for us but with a little twist. Our train from Takayama to Nagoya was delayed by about 30 minutes which caused us to miss our connecting train back to Tokyo which was the last train to Tokyo. However, after explaining our situation to the Japan Rail personnel,they upgraded us to the Nozomi Shinkanzen line (which is like the 1st class of Shinkanzen and is specifically EXCLUDED under our Japan Rail pass) which we took back to Tokyo. Now that is service! Somehow, I don't see this happening anytime soon in Malaysia. ("You missed your train, Sir? Too bad, we made announcement. No refund")
We also realized along the way that we had endured a 12 hour round trip for a 5 hour visit, but were relieved that it was worth every second spent! Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Back to Tokyo, a little bite was had and off to dreamland as tomorrow, we head to KYOTO!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yokoso Japan!-Day 2 (Mount Fuji)

"Homer: Satori no himitsu oshieru no? (Should we tell them the secret of inner peace?)
Bart: Dame yo, are wa gaikokujin da ro! (No, they are foreign devils.)"

It's day 2 of our trip to Japan and today, we make a trip to the town of Hakkonae to visit Mount Fuji. Hakkonae is a town approximately 4 hours out of Tokyo (by shinkanzen or bullet train) where you can catch an amazing view of Mount Fuji. We awoke early to try to start our day early but unfortunately were not able to catch the earliest train out of Shinjuku as we were not able to redeem our tourist J-Rail Pass (which can only be obtained by tourist OUTSIDE of Japan) as the counter only opened at 9a.m. So, it was a ramen breakfast first at a quaint little restaurant nearby after which we proceeded to take our ride to the town called Odawara where we would change train lines to the Hakkonae Station. A quiet trip which allowed us to catch up our sleep.

We arrived at Odawara Town just before lunch time where we took some time out to walk around the picturesque town and savour the delights.. which meant more eating and on top of that, we started our shopping at the many delightful stores which dotted the town. After some fantastic rice crackers and one of the best katsu don (pork rice with egg) I ever had, we moved on by train to the Hakkonae Central Station where we obtained a day pass to travel around Hakkonae. The day pass incorporated a tram ride, a cable car ride, a boat ride and a bus ride.

We then left on tram for the 1st stop which was supposed to be the 1st vantage point for us to view Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, the weather was not favourable to us and all we managed to see of Mt. fuji were bits covered in mist. Sigh...looks like another trip there will be required...

Nevertheless, we made the most of things and proceeded to the 2nd vantange point by cable car which was an incredible 15 minute ride punctuated by a ride over sulfer mines. It was a simply amazing sight when the cable car went over the mines. The smell, though, was another sensation altogether! Sulfur...eww..   All 'vantage posts' for the viewing of Mt. Fuji were of course dotted with many souvenir and food stores. Funny thing about Japan is that all shops carry the same pricing so you don't really have to worry about getting a better price elsewhere or getting your throat cut by unscrupulous vendors.

We moved on from the cable car stop to board a garishly decorated 'pirate boat' for a cruise around the lake. With the weather at about 24 degrees, it was a really lovely outing with an incredible view. Our fellow passengers added to the enjoyment, as can be seen from the following pictures. 

By the time the boat ride ended, it was getting late and we decided to take the bus back to the Hakkonae station where we proceeded to journey back to Tokyo town. We reached back at about 9pm or so and proceeded to have a quick dinner before proceeding taking a nice brisk walk back to our hotel room but not before stopping at our neighbourhood 'Lawsons' to stock up on our supply of kohii (coffee) and ocha (green tea) for the next day.

We planned to head to the Heritage Village of Shiragawa-go the next day which required us to start out very very an early night was on the cards for us!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reds Get The Blues

"Just squeeze your rage into a bitter little ball and release it at an appropriate time. Like that day I hit that referee with a whiskey bottle. 'Member that?" - Homer Simpson

I bet that's what SirFergie wished he could have done to referee Martin Atkinson at Man Utd's 1-0 loss to John Terry's header in Sunday's recent game. I think we have heard more than enough complaints from the Man Utd personnel, including but not limited to Fergie himself, DarrenFletcher, John O' Shea as well as new dad, Wayne Rooney's "12 men" rant into the TV camera, so I won't really comment on that save and except that sometimes that's the way the football rolls. Man Utd have benefited from some dodgy decisions in the past and I think this is something which will continue in the game as long as the referee's are still human.On the bright side, this 'human' element of the game is what makes a match exciting and unpredictable.

While I did not agree with most of the referee's decision that night, in particular his failure to penalize John Terry for tugging on Antonio Valencia's shirt in the Chelsea penalty box, the truth of the matter is that Man Utd were just not sharp enough on Sunday night.

Playing a mobile 4-5-1 system with Ryan Giggs sitting in the 'hole' behind sole striker Wayne Rooney, the Reds were just not able to sharp enough to finish off the chances which they had created throughout the night. My favourite player, Wazza, was limited to a few long shots from outside the penalty box and the current player on form, Ryan Giggs, looked relatively ordinary in comparison to his form in his earlier matches. I would have thought that Dmitar Berbatov would have made more of a difference if he had been able to play. Unfortunately injury had prevented this.

The bright spark to the match for me was the return of the Darren Fletcher in midfield. The hard running, unforgiving tackling scot was all over the place proving how much of a ball winner he could be. I think the steel which Fletcher injected into the Man Utd midfield was evident and if he had been fit to play in the earlier match against Liverpool, the result would in all likelyhood been very different. Oh, and Jonny Evans once again proved a more than capable deputy for the United first team defence.

Taking nothing away from Chelsea who made their 1 chance count and proceeded to successfully irritate and frustrate the Man Utd players by running down the time on the clock after scoring, I would think that the Reds need to pick themselves up and get a few wins under their belt. A 1:2 win:loss ratio against the other 3 'big teams' of the BPL is not too bad a result bearing in mind that all matches were played by the Devils on away ground. Opponents should be minded to beware when playing the return match at the Theatre of Dreams.

Until the controversy surrounding the decision of referee's die down, it would be good for Sir Fergie to look into the team which looks much lacking of creativity since the departure of that Portuguese chap. 

As a die hard Man Utd fan since 1984, I do wait for Man Utd to hit the high which they did on the first day of the season against Spurs. Now that was Man Utd playing at its best!

Yokoso Japan! - Day 1 (Imperial Palace)

"Besides, if we wanted to see Japanese people we could have gone to the zoo!" - Homer Simpson

Well, it's not exactly the best way to begin a post, but believe you me, Japan is the furthest thing away you can imagine from being a zoo. As I discovered on my recent trip this year, everything in Japan is well thought out, structured to the point of being a wee bit anal and super organized. 

The people there are considerate (there are exceptions which I will elaborate on a little later) but overall Japan has to be one of the most 'polite' places I have ever been to!

My journey in Japan begin at the Narita Airport where we took a feeder bus to Tokyo, more particularly the Shinjuku district where me and Wai Ling would be staying. This gave rise to my first encounter with the 'politeness' of Japan where after boarding our bus, our ushers bow to us before we took our leave.

We managed to find our way to our hotel speaking the minimum of Japanese. A 5 minute cab ride from the bus terminal (which was the Shijuku station) costs us almost 1000 Yen(RM38). Phew, public transport in Japan is apparently one of the most expensive in the world!

As our hotel room was not ready until 3p.m., we decided to take a look see around the town. We managed to get to the Imperial Park and wanted to head on to the Imperial Palace only to find out that tours there were by appointments only and that an advance booking had to be made. Undeterred we enjoyed the lovely park. With great weather, we joined in the Japanese in lying  around on the soft grass..

In the evening, many Japanese just ride their bikes to the park, leave it by the side of the walkway and take a nap on the grass. The city is so safe that they rarely lock their bikes as well!

We met with my Wai Ling's ex-bosses for dinner (who are based in Japan) who took us for a lovely meal.We ended the night with an 'accidental' walk thru Tokyo's infamous red light district (Kabuki-Cho) which bordered our hotel area. Incredibly, even the prostitution industry in Japan is well organized with any type of girls available for 'order'at any time of the day. Just inform them of your 'preference'. Each brothel was staffed by men in black suits which look like the Yakuza guys you seen in movies like 'Black Rain'. An African man solicited me in English asking me to go in to one of the shops for a 'party' despite Wai Ling being wrapped tightly around my arm. Hmmm...not too observant or just hungry for business.  No pics of this place for obvious reasons....So sorry.

Feeling the area was a bit dodgy, Wai Ling and I hurried back to our hotel to prepare for our next day. At the hotel, we managed to take our shower in the smallest bathroom I had ever seen. On the bright side, the toilet had a seat, the warmth of which you could control. Like I said, the Japanese think of and prepare for everything!