Thursday, 31 July 2008

Alive, Kicking and Eating

I was reading some of the blog posts that I wrote while in Nagoya and thinking how wrong it was of me to complain about the meals being too big.

For the whole of this week, I could barely eat. Finally diagnosed to be suffering from bowel infection and on the road to recovery, I realised it is such good fortune to be able to eat properly. As I have been saying, "Good to be alive, kicking and eating!"

Porridge for 1 week to detox

They put me out of my misery.

Once, I could eat 2 slices of toast just within the time taken for the lift to travel from 6th to 1st floor. Now, I couldn't not even finish it as I drove from Jurong West to Jurong East. Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly is my strategy to avoid further stress on my stomach. Anyway, this is only temporary. As soon as I clear out the bacteria in my stomach, I should be ready for 麻辣锅!

My doctor in Jurong has relocated. The Japanese street below the medical centre has many restaurants with fascinating exterior decorations.

Would you be mistaken that you are in Japan?

Friday, 25 July 2008

Jarkata (Day 2-5). I will never forget you.

How do you create unforgetteble memories for travellers? Try offering the most ancient temple, the best scenery, the most delicious food and the warmest hospitality. If not abuse them, give them hardship and sickness.

On day 2 in Jarkata, I was bedridden for 12 hours. My eyes could hardly open and I barely had energy to do anything. 2 panadols and a long night sleep tucked under the warm quilt were effective remedies. I can't image what caused me to feel like that, maybe it was the polluted air.

Poor visibility, the air smells like something is burning

On this day that I am going home, I could barely swallow anything. After a long night of "revolution", I think my tummy is finally PH balanced now. It was Chinese, Javanese, Sundanese, Western that filled my stomach over the last couple of days, and it was as if the "racial disharmony" in Indonesia has replicated in my body. I suspect it was the assam that was the final straw... anyway I am sure I will stay clear of chilli for a very long time to follow.

Despite these, I find Jarkata an interesting city. The slums especially, are some of the worst ones that I have seen. On the other hands, the posh new shopping malls in the expensive areas of Jarkata are nothing shy of our Raffles City and Marina Square at home. Is it fair to describe the lifestyle of the rich and the poor in Jarkata as "heaven" and "hell"? I think it is.

The slum area. Also see a motorcyclist dressed as if he was going to rob a bank

I always find it difficult to imagine how hard people's live can be, living under such harsh conditions and owning so little. Yet they survive and make do with what they have... tiny houses, dim lights, poor hygiene and ventilation, no money, no education... In a way I admire their spirits. Maybe you will say some chose to be condemned like this forever because they are lazy and refuse to work hard. Nevertheless, let this be a reminder to me that how fortunate I am to have various opportunities opened to me.

In any case, I am glad I am going home today. And Jarkata, I will never forget you (for making me feel so sick, haha)!

Monday, 21 July 2008

My first visit to Indonesia! Jakarta (Day 1)

A gust of wind blew, and I landed in Jakarta.

This is my first visit to Jakarta, first time in Indonesia in fact. And no, I have never been to Bali, Bintan and not even Batam.

There is a weird excitement inside me. Coming to a place that I have little pre-conception on, armed with only S$100 equivalent in Rupiah and a bunch of credit cards; hmm... seems like I can expect lots of the unexpected to happen.

And it's true. Everything since my arrival in Jakarta has been beyond my expectations. When I heard the pilot announced that our landing time would be delayed for another 10 mins as there was only 1 runway at the Soekarno Hatta International Airport, I was puzzled. How do they cope with the volume of air traffic these days? Then, instead of finding dull looking, flat and squarish terminals at the airport, I was surprised to see structures resembling little "huts" where I would be arriving at. Wow... should I be expecting some tropical resort-style fun in Jakarta?

Soekarno Hatta International Airport terminal

Uh, uh... not quite. The pollution in Jakarta is bad, one of the worst I have experienced. It is as if the whole city is wrapped around in a thin layer of smog, and this time, with me inside. Everything in my vision is brightly grey in an uncomfortable manner. If you know what I mean, it's like a photograph that is over-exposed.

People say that they are "feeling blue" when they are down and we often refer to the depressed feeling on the first day of the week as "Monday blues"... but wait till you see one in grey, utterly depressing.

Me and my limousine driver lost our way today. We stopped to asked for directions almost 10 times! It got my local colleague real worried and called twice to find out what happened to us both.

But it was great fun chatting with the driver along the way, communicating in the little English that he knows. I love talking to the drivers, they are often my first guides to a new city. When I was asked how different are the streets of Singapore compared to Jakarta, I could only answer, "we have fewer motorcycles". I didn't know how I could explain that I have never seen 6 cars squeezing through a 3-lane road at the same time, or big buses moving along side my car just less than 30 cm apart, and the tall buildings covering every inch of land back home (which my driver refered to as "malls")... it's going to take at least half a day to get these messages across.

Look, someone swimming in the river!

The traffic conditions in Jakarta is unpredictable. But one thing for sure is that you'll need at least 40 mins to travel from one place to another. Should our traffic back home deterriorate to this level, our government can consider imposing toll fee that few can afford. How about $8,000 for a start?

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The transformation... from nothing to almost complete!

After 2.5 months of dust, mess and frustrations, the long and tedious process of renovating the house has finally come to an end. Now that I know how much work this involves (though I am only involved in less than 50% of the details), I am going to think twice or even thrice before I move again.

See the transformation from some of the before and after pictures below. Nothing elaborate, just simple lines, bright and spacious.

Study room. The laminated surface on the bench by the window has been replaced 3 times. Originally, 3 pieces of material were required. Finally, it was completed using 12.

Living room. The 2 glass doors of the cabinet that you see here (extreme left) are the 3rd set. 2 other sets before that have gone to waste due to various design and manufacturing glitches.

Bedroom. This one gave me the biggest headache. I nearly collapsed when I first saw how it turned out. Other than replacing some of the laminated strips on the headboard, the walls have been painted 3 times and the final colour choice could only make the room look like this. I wish it was better, but I have tried my best.

Dining table. Also a replacement set that you see here. The first one has a defective surface, and although small, did not survive my careful scrutiny.

Guestroom. By far the most "successful" room (ha, cos it has nothing inside!). No major hiccups other than some scratches on the wall after the painting was done. I love this room, the colour of the wall (kiwi green) and the fabric for the curtains are picked by me, 100% to my fancy. It feels like a cool summer day in this room, I hope that will help make my guests feel cozy.

So welcome to my humble abode.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Kyoto in a day

From Nagoya to Kyoto, it only takes 30mins by Shinkansen.

Kyoto is the ancient capital city of Japan until the early 19th century. Other than handicrafts, old shrines and temples, the Geisha can often be seen in Kyoto. They are available for hire to private dinner parties.

Heian Shrine, brightly coloured in green and orange.

This decorative ropes are made from the rice plant. The ropes represent rain clouds and the dangling strips of paper represent lightning. This is to pray for rain and a good harvest.

Kiyomizu Temple was the top tourist attraction in Japan, but now ranks 2nd, after the Disneyland. The temple has 5 million visitors each year. So touristic!

The Buddha's feet. It was used for worshipping in the early times as this Buddha (forgot his name) had left instructions to his disciples that no statue of him should be made after his death. So the "feet" scultpure was carved instead.

Ladies in Yukata. This is the summer kimono, made of cotton.

My Japanese managing director took us to dinner this evening, as he happened to be staying in Kyoto over the weekend.

It was a lovely restaurant on the river bank where we ate, and I heard it is so expensive that even the Japanese do not normally dine there.

Like a boat house.

Try to see beyond the 2 alcholics flushing down their beer (only 0.1% alcohol in this beer). The restuarant is literally sitting on the river on a platform.

This was an extremely difficult shot. Firstly, I had to sneak around to watch the Geisha entertaining at the next table; then the lighting was dim and didn't help that she was moving all the time.

Nagoya (Day 3) - "Food" for thoughts

There is nothing which does not taste delicious in Japan. This is my conclusion after the 3rd visit to this country.

My only complain is that the amount of food served for each meal is way too much. Not that the portions are big, but the varieties are sometimes overwhelming! Added on to this burdern is the "free flow" of beer and sakae... it has been tough on my digestive tract to sustain these good meals day after day.

This was my lunch... almost; only the appetizers.

Today's dinner at a restaurant specialising in eel fish. Again, another one of appetizer (before this, there were already 3 others served) and beer, which I did not order but came straight to my table.

The main course at dinner. This alone is enough to be served as one meal for me.

These good food comes with a BIG price tag. A meal like this cost Yen6,000, almost S$80. Sweat....

Everyone knows that it is expensive in Japan, and in fact most things are costlier than at home. Therefore, I am surprised to find out that a tall Latte in Starbucks Nagoya costs only Yen360! That's a bargain, even when compared to prices back home.

I am writing like the way my Japanese colleague speaks... he's a bad influence!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Nagoya (Day 2)

(1) "Flush" the embarrasement away

This unique "equipment" in the ladies toilet in Japan never fails to amuse me.

What is the use? Let me demonstrate how it works:

Got it? I wonder what can be found in the Gents.

(2) Sing your heart out

After a long day in meeting, it was time to enjoy a casual evening accompanied by good food and great friends.

I thought dinner alone was crazy enough, as I had a few sakae too many. I lost count of the number of "Gan Bai" I have made... I don't know why my cup was never empty.

Representing Dongguan, Thailand, Shanghai, Japan and Singapore

Then it was karaoke after dinner... Oh My God! Though I was able to spare myself the embarrassment of having to sing, the night went wild as my colleagues and their bosses sang their heart out!

Colleauges from Beijing, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines... music has no boundaries.

I am happy to have my colleauges from around the region get together in Nagoya. It was really a crazy evening and I had so much fun! BUT that doesn't change anything on the agenda of tomorrow's meeting... there will be questions they dread to answer.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Nagoya (Day 1)

People who are visiting Japan for the first time should go to Tokyo, or they will risk having the wrong impression about Japan.

Nagoya is an industrial area and quite ulu in fact. It is not as glamourous, not as extravagant and not as energetic when compared to Tokyo. There is nothing much to do here, but I have managed to find some time to visit the top tourist site in Nagoya today.

Nagoya Castle was built in 1612. The unique feature about this castle was that it consisted of various big and small Donjons, linked together by bridges. The castle was preserved until the 1940s, when most parts of it was burnt down during World War II. See, everyone suffers during the war, including those who initiated it.

The Donjon, (main castle) what we see here is reconstructed in 1959 after the original one burnt down during WWII.

The site where Hommaru Palace stood, now reduced to this nothingness. The palace was use as offices and residence of the feudal lords. I can't really imagine how it looked, even after seeing photographs, I guess it will be even harder for you. But looking at the bare ground, I can't help to feel a little pity for the heritage and culture that have been lost in this space.

The original Southwest Tower from the 17th century and the reconstructed Main Gate which was burnt down during WWII.

Carvings on rocks. These are some of the different markings used to represent the various clans of the feudal lords at that time. It was used to distinguish which lords contributed to carrying rocks in respective sections of the castle. Because the rocks were so heavy, sometimes requiring hundreds or thousands of men to haul and pull them, it was important for the effort to be accredited to the right people.

Interesting drainage cover inside Nagoya Castle.

Love is in the air. Heart-shaped leaves.

It's back to business tomorrow and the day after.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Take me to Nagoya

Look what I found in my suitcase!

A little squeaky toy to help me sleep better at night?

Wonder who did this mischief...

3156 miles, 6 1/2 hours flight time, that is how far Nagoya is away from home. It is not light years far, in fact measuring by the speed of light, merely a little less than 1/50 second away! Things are quite often only a matter of perceptions.

I'll be there and back in a jiffy.

(Tips: Light travels at 300,000 km per second)

Monday, 7 July 2008

Be my guests!

Another day of unpacking, washing and filling up the cabinets.

Can't promise you much about food, but I guarantee the drinks will be "1st class" when you come visit. See part of my "elaborate" collection of glasswares.

And this is my favourite room... cool in grey and silver. Looks a bit bare now, but will get better in no time.

Getting ready... for your arrival!