Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Digital Art: Flare

| 1 persons flung their shoes

If God had Photoshop, it wouldn't have taken him as much as seven days to create the world...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Eating Your Own Pants

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Don't get sick in Japan if you're poor. Because if you do, you'll have to eat your own pants.

Foreigners complain a lot about the health care system in Japan. A Peruvian friend said something about "medicines as effective as tap water", a Thai friend echoed his sentiment; others have something to say about the mechanical, unfriendly doctors. Whether or not these claims are true, are rather subjective and should be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, they come from foreigners. You know, they complain too much.

There is, however, one thing that even a typical Japanese would agree - the high cost of medical fee. And as a poor guy who has recently got substantially poorer, thanks to the doctors, I think I have the right to have my say in this matter.

Two weeks ago, with a half-lucid mind and looking almost like a pot-smoking hippie, I dropped by at the hospital. At the reception, I was greeted by a lady who was suffering from a bad case of PMS.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


| 0 persons flung their shoes
Faces of Japan :: Shichi-Go-San
It was 15 November, Shichi-Go-san. For the second time in the month, I found myself at Meiji Jingu. The place was teeming with families visiting the shrine. Most of the kids were dressed up in kimono, some in Western style formal wear. In front of a building within the shrine's compound, I spotted a pretty young girl posing for shots. A number of photographers gathered around her, firing their shutters away.

Shichi-Go-San is a traditional festival in Japan, celebrated by three- and five-year-old boys, and three- and seven-year-old girls. Parents bring their children to the shrine to pray for their wellbeing. In the olden days, the celebration was observed by the nobles and the samurai class, but since Meiji period, the tradition has passed down to the commoners as well.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Don't Touch My Body

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Don't touch my body, because I've got chicken pox.

Three days ago, I went to the doctor because of fever and headache and lethargy. It was rather scary because I don't think I had been lucid since the previous evening. Strange though it may sound, I felt drunk, or should I say, drugged. Everything was inexplicably surrealistic.

Instead of picking up the brush and starting to paint something to the likes of The Scream, I was quickly brought back to my senses. I mean, come on, unless you've just eaten some mushrooms bought from some hippie in the back alley, unexplained light-headedness calls for serious attention. Besides, what worried me more was the red spots on the chest. I might have been stung by some mutant mosquito from outer Mongolia and was now infected with a deadly tropical disease.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Halloween Parade

| 0 persons flung their shoes

31 October, Halloween - The ghouls walk the streets of Kawasaki. Not just monsters and ghosts, but witches and mummies, Spiderman and Masked Rider as well. Halloween is perhaps the third most commercialized festivity in Japan, after Christmas and Valentine's Day.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Shoot and Run Street Photography

| 0 persons flung their shoes
Of all the different kinds of photography, candid shots are perhaps the most difficult to take. Because unlike shooting still objects, in street photography, your subject is constantly and therefore it is fairly difficult to frame your shots. Besides, most people don't like to be shot. If you're caught secretly snapping away at them, pray you didn't mess up with someone you wouldn't want to. The obvious solution is to get permission before you shoot, but that won't be called a candid shot, will it?

That's where shoot and run street photography comes in. The point is to blend into the surroundings, anticipate your subject's moves, shoot and evacuate. Sometimes, you get cursed. But if you're good enough, you'd be gone by the time they notice.

In street photography, a telephoto lens might be a good option if you don't want to risk getting beaten up by pissed off strangers. But if you've tried this before, you'll know that nothing's better than working with your subjects in proximity. These photos were shot at "point-blank" with a 50mm prime lens.

Faces of Japan :: Smile

Monday, 19 October 2009

Light Tunnel

| 3 persons flung their shoes
The Light Well
I'm falling in love with black and white photography. It works especially well with photos with high contrast between light and shadow. What this photo is actually about, I leave to your imagination.




彼女には覚悟 ができてる





Thursday, 15 October 2009


| 2 persons flung their shoes

Almost a month after my Macau trip, I'm finally posting this. As much as I'd like to write a complete account of the vacation, I unfortunately do not have the leisure of time. Therefore, I'll just pick up a few from my pool of photos and go through them in a breeze.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Historical Town, Melaka

| 2 persons flung their shoes
Greetings from historical town, Melaka. The place which, together with my hometown Penang, was listed as UNESCO heritage sites a year ago.

Historical Town, Melaka :: Stadthuys Square
Our first destination was the Portuguese Square. Unfortunately, the place was desolated except for a few shops and a humble museum.

"Sorry there's nothing much to see in this museum, because I am the living museum," said the museum keeper, a septuagenarian who is a direct descendant of the Portuguese. He then spent more than two hours talking to us with obvious passion about the history of Melaka and problems faced by the Portuguese descendants there who are struggling to maintain their cultural identity. While the local community is eager to help promote the city as a tourism spot, funding from the government is meager. The same thing goes to Penang. It all boils down to politics. Because sadly, Malaysian political mentality is seriously stunted.

We spent one whole afternoon walking around A Famosa's vicinity. The fortress was built by the Portuguese, who conquered Melaka for more than a century after defeating Sultan Mahmud of the Melaka Sultanate in 1511. It was located under a hill, where the St Paul's Church stood.

Then in 1641, the Dutch captured the city with the help of the Sultan of Johor, a direct descendant of Sultan Mahmud. The fortress was destroyed and only part of the main gate - also Melaka's landmark - now remains. The church too, lost its roof (whether to the war or to the elements of nature, I do not know) but nevertheless, still retains its former glory.

On the other side of the hill, is another famous landmark, the Christ Church, the clock tower and the Stadthuys. These buildings, constructed by the Dutch were painted in distinct red.

Historical Town, Melaka :: Cheng Hoon Teng
Further away, in Jalan Tokong, is Cheng Hoon Teng (青云亭), the oldest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, built by a Chinese Kapitan in 1645.

Historical Town, Melaka :: Jonker Street
Our last notable stop in Melaka is Jonker Street, the heart of Melaka, with historical buildings selling curious antique goods as well as local delicacies such as cendol and ais kacang. It's probably Penangite pride but it's in my arrogant opinion that Penang cendol and ais kacang are far more superior.

But if you've the chance to drop by in Melaka, make sure you check out one of these shops and see for yourself how long they are. Melaka folks were once required to pay tax according to the size of their house. And by size, I mean the width, not the area size. Naturally, the inhabitants build their houses narrow and long. The one which we checked out is as long as 200 feet! But do ask for permission before you start wandering into the house because normally, while the front part of the building is used for family business, the other half is normally where the family lives!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Pulau Redang

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Pulau Redang :: Beach
Sun-kissed beaches, swaying coconut trees and crystal clear waters - it's Pulau Redang, a scenic island off Kuala Terengganu on the East Coast of Malaysian Peninsula. Right when we stepped onto the island, I knew we made the right choice of destination for our open water diving course. (Yeah, we're now certified open water divers!)

Monday, 31 August 2009

Summer Internship

| 3 persons flung their shoes
In my first year in university, I spent my summer holidays working like a horse; the second year, travelling around Japan; and the third year - which is this one - going for a summer internship.

Outside Japan, internship may be synonymous to "disposable cheap labour" but here, things are as different as heaven is from hell.

The company I went to is Amada, which makes sheet metal machines. Not only does Amada hold the biggest share in Japan, it's also the number two biggest maker in the world. Its biggest vision now is to dethrone the German company, Trumpf, its archrival. The competition is fierce, as can be seen in MF-Tokyo - Trumpf's blue-and-white machines and Amada's black-and-red machines dominate half of the exhibition area. (I'm looking forward to receiving my invitation to the event which is to be held from 14 to 17 October this year.)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Even a Supermodel Needs a Rest

| 0 persons flung their shoes
Even a Supermodel Needs a Rest
Not a very sharp one but I couldn't step down more than this because of the lightings. Man, cam-whoring in the middle of the night is tiring! Especially when you've been sleeping before eleven for the last five days! Taking your self portrait means you're doing both the photographer's and the model's job. It's twice as demanding as typical photography.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

| 0 persons flung their shoes
Rainbow Bridge :: Horizontal 1 (16:9)
Somewhere over the rainbow, off the coast of Tokyo Bay, is a manmade island called Odaiba. It's linked by a suspension bridge, Rainbow Bridge, that is synonymous to the island itself.

It's probably some kind of romanticism, but almost everyone who has been to Odaiba deems it a romantic landmark. I asked a few Japanese girl friends which spot around Tokyo they think is the best dating spot and their answer, as expected, was Odaiba. It has got the beach, the breeze, the malls, the restaurants the ferris wheel, and the ultimate symbol of romanticism, Rainbow Bridge...

I'm going to prove otherwise. Because without lightup, Rainbow Bridge is no different from any other dull bridge. This is a bunch of dull Rainbow Bridge shots to make you pull out your hair and go nuts for the rest of your life.

You have been warned.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Bracing for Quakes

| 1 persons flung their shoes
Be afraid. Be very afraid. The Big One is probably not far away.

I'm betting 50 Yen there's going to be another earthquake this morning. Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking forward to it. In fact, I'm slightly troubled.

Sunday. I almost dozed off in front of the terminal. Then it began with some small tremors, which nevertheless shook the wooden shack rather badly. It could be the passing herd of elephants, I thought; they do that all the time. But then, the tremors grew stronger. The walls squeaked in protest, the bookshelf swayed angrily, the kitchen rack threatened to smash the dishes on the floor, every piece of furniture came to live. It was hard to tell which one it was: a poltergeist or an earthquake. For a moment, I thought about diving under the desk for cover. But, the tremors stopped. Everything settled down again as if the spell that brought them to live suddenly wore off.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Getting to the Bottom of the Barrel

| 2 persons flung their shoes
Take a look at the signboards of three of the biggest convenience store (kombini) chains in Japan - 7 Eleven, Lawson, AM/PM. What do you see in common?

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe convenience stores - as the name suggests - are there for the sake of convenience and also for times of emergencies, especially. Like, say, when you run out of midnight snack, or when your girlfriend runs out of tampons. When you frantically run around in the neighbourhood searching for the nearest convenience store to buy cup noodles or a pack of tampons, all you need to do is to look out for the beacon of hope that shines in front of every kombini. So if I were to open a kombini, I'd put up a big signboard which says, "Food/Tampons".

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Hippies to the Elections

| 0 persons flung their shoes
From cosplay to hentai sub-culture, Japan has it all. But a cult running for the elections? I've to admit I didn't see that coming.

I first heard of it yesterday when I was on my way back from my grocery shopping. They had a van running around in the neighbourhood. The loudspeaker played the same message ad nauseum, breaking the ennui of a lazy summer afternoon. But when your brain has gotten used to the yaki-imo vans and the recycling trucks, it doesn't take any effort to ignore loudspeaker vans of other sorts.

The candidate running for the general elections waved at the passerby's, "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!"

Not that I'll get to vote this August 30. But so as not to appear rude, I smiled and nodded at her. That's when I caught a glimpse at the name - Happiness Realization Party.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Odaiba's New Toy

| 4 persons flung their shoes
The weather couldn't get any better. The sky was clear; not a cloud was in sight. I thought it was a perfect day for a photo outing but alas I was wrong.

I got off at Tokyo Teleport station. My destination, Shiokaze Park, was 20 minutes' walk away. It was the longest 20 minutes I've ever walked. The temperature was unbearable - 32゜C. And to make things worse, the humidity. Now I finally recalled why I hated summer.

I went through all the torture just to take a look at what everyone has been talking about lately. A new landmark has risen over Tokyo's skyline - Gundam! Standing at 18m, he's a 1:1 replica of the inaugural RX-78-2 Gundam from the popular anime series.

Odaiba's New Toy
Obviously, I have to salute Mr Gundam. Staying outside in this summer heat is no joke. But he's doing all this for his fans, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Gundam series. He's also Tokyo's green ambassador, pushing for a cleaner environment in the bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Yukata Camwhore SP

| 2 persons flung their shoes
Yukata Camwhore 2
Summer, is all about hanabi (fireworks), matsuri (festivals), and yukata (summer kimono). After three summers in Japan, I finally got myself a yukata, partly because some friends wanted to go to an aquarium and it happened that at Aqua Stadium, there's a 50% discount on the ticket for visitors wearing yukata. In the end, I spent more than 6000 Yen on the yukata, to save 900 Yen on the ticket. Something seems to be wrong with the calculations here... Oh well, a trip to Sunshine City next week will save me another 120 Yen. And then, there's the hanabi!

Of course, for camwhores, it also called for a self-portrait. I tried to find a katana to go with the yukata but they don't seem to sell them at the department stores anymore. So, I had to make do with a folding fan instead.

It's most probably not the best self-portrait you've seen but hey, understand that I'm anything but photogenic. Still, people should be taking more SP's because where can you find a more willing subject than you yourself?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Sun Gazing

| 0 persons flung their shoes
The rain god ignored my prayers. It rained until ten this morning and the clouds still linger on until now. Dang, I knew I should have bought a PrayerMAX 5000™.

The weather might not be on our side but giving up was the last thing we had in mind. Martin and I headed to the rooftop of the tallest building in the campus at ten.

"No entry. Authorized personnels only."

Forget about it. Rules are meant to be broken. Especially during times like this when the world is coming to an end. (Unless if you've been staying under a coconut shell for the last few weeks, I'm sure you've heard of the doomsday prophecies.)

I was glad I didn't keep my anticipation high. Although the rain had stopped, not a patch of blue sky could be seen. If you ask me, this is a curse. Missing the most phenomenal event just because of crappy weather?

However, it didn't take long before our patience paid off. The sun offered us a momentary glimpse; about half of it obscured by the passing moon. Martin snapped away with his 300,000-yen camera equipped with a 150,000-yen lens. (No, he doesn't work for National Geographic.) Even at a focal length of 1.4 x 300mm, the sun turned out rather small (see it on Flickr). To the eye, it was but a mere 4mm blot in the sky.

The astrologers advised all Librans against leaving the home during the eclipse, but here I was, defying all advices, and of all things, watching the eclipse from the rooftop of a ten-storey building. For all I know, I've been cursed for the rest of my life for leaving the house this morning to witness the eclipse. I could have just gotten swept off the rooftop by a sudden gust of wind, ending my uneventful life with an elaborate finale.

But that didn't happen because an hour later, I was swimming in the pool.

Or maybe I could have gotten a heart rupture in the middle of the pool but that didn't happen either because later that evening, I was cycling like a madman, trying to rush for work in time.

Yes, I could have gotten rammed by an SUV on the busy road but that too, didn't happen because fourteen hours after the solar eclipse and counting. I'm still alive and kicking.

Except, I'm having a cough and runny nose. It might be the curse at work.


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Praying to the Rain God

| 0 persons flung their shoes

22 July 2009. The longest solar eclipse in the century; 6 minutes and 39 seconds. It's said to be the biggest phenomenon of the century. In fact, this is one of reasons they call this the International Year of Astronomy.

Meanwhile astrologists warn of disasters. People like me, who were born under the sign of Libra, are advised to stay home and wear the briefs over the pants. And those who can't avoid going out should hang a chicken foot around the neck. Failing to do so will result in eternal damnation. And by that, I believe they refer to getting a perennial wart in the butthole.

I had a wart on my right hand before and it wasn't a pleasant experience. I can't imagine getting a wart in the butthole but to hell with it! Who's going to miss the chance of witnessing this rare event?

Initially, I thought it would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take photos but after doing a quick research, I had not choice but to ditch the plan. First, a solar filter for lenses costs at least ten grand. Then, to get anything more than a bright, tiny blot, you need a focal length of 2000mm ideally, or at least 1000mm. Obviously, we're talking about getting a telescope here. Of course, a workaround is to get a 500mm lens and double the focal length with an extender, but whoa, as if I work for National Geographic!

Plan B.

I looked all over the internet for solar filters but they were all sold out. Heck, I even considered getting one from an auction site, if only people weren't as desperate as to be willing to spend more than two grand on a filter. But luckily, after checking more than a dozen online stores, it finally paid off. I managed to grab two solar filters!

Unfortunately, it was a little too early to do my victory wardance. Because, the weatherman is predicting a cloudy weather in the morning!

After all this anticipation?

Hell, I need to make some sacrificial offerings to the rain god...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Being on TIME

| 4 persons flung their shoes

TIME is probably going to sue my pants off for this but heck, as if it's the first time I'm doing this! Besides, if they decide to feature me on their magazine cover one day, this ought to save them the trouble of designing it.

In the process of making this, erm, magazine cover, I learned two things.

Lesson number one: You can't expect to look better than a chunk of melted ice-cream when you take a self-portrait after an exercise. See the Adidas logo on the T-shirt? I was probably not in the right mind; this was taken after I came back from jogging. The initial plan was to get a wet, tired look, but all the shots turned out disastrous. By the time I managed to get a decent shot, I was already more than dry.

Lesson number two might be a great tip for some people. Using Adobe Lightroom to convert photos to jpeg format before uploading them solves the issue of colour desaturation. When I converted the file to jpeg in Adobe Photoshop and uploaded it, it didn't turn out the way it was supposed to - I looked like a corpse. But, saving it first in tif format, and then converting it to jpeg with Lightroom solved the problem. It might have something to do with the colours palette but this is the only solution I know of.

Enough technical gibberish. For those who wish to buy or frame this (probably never-to-be-published) cover, do it quick! You might be the only one in the world to own this unique magazine cover!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Doomsday Prophecies

| 8 persons flung their shoes
The solar eclipse coming up next Wednesday (July 22) is said to be the longest total solar eclipse that will occur in this century. While the rest of the world is jumping with joy at this rare occurence, the fate of the world troubles me.

You see, solar eclipse and doomsday is like vodka and sex. Vodka leads to sex; solar eclipse leads to doomsday. It's the most natural chain of events imaginable.

When it comes to doomsday, Nostradamus and his fellow seers have plenty to say. They've presented all sorts of fantastic doomsday scenarios one can possibly come up with. Natural disasters, nuclear war, rampaging humanoids, meteor strike, ice age, invasion of the ugly-butt martians... The list goes on. Sitting right on the top of the list at the second place is Santa Claus, who is believed to bring destruction to the world. The first place, of course, belongs to none other than Jesus Christ, our saviour.

In keeping up with tradition, I thought I ought to come up with my own prophecy for doomsday. Unfortunately it isn't easy to come up with a fresh doomsday scenario these days; Hollywood has explored all the possibilities.

All, but perhaps not this one...

A friend of mine suddenly had the urge for chicken rice. Not long ago, it happened that someone mentioned of a chicken rice restaurant in Suidobashi and I've been planning to try it out too. And so, we agreed on going for a dinner date last Sunday.

On the train bound for Suidobashi, I somehow felt being out of place but it took me a while to realize I was the only guy in the train. The rest were all girls.

For one moment, I thought I'd boarded the ladies-only train but that couldn't be possible because they're only available early in the morning and late at night... Which led to only one other explanation - by some divine miracle, all men vanished in a blink of the eye and what was left of the world now was me and the ladies!

My fantasies was short-lived though. It just happened there was a Tohoshinki concert at Tokyo Dome and the girls were heading there.

Nevertheless, I barely felt disappointed. Instead, I believe it was a divine sign. Think solar eclipse. Think doomsday. And bam! This is a sign which says that I must stay in a train when eclipse starts. And when it's all over, I shall go forth and repopulate the world.

On second thought, doomsday is supposed to wipe out all of mankind so this doesn't technically count as a doomsday prophecy.

Dang, I've to come up with something else. Forget about writing it down though, because prophecies are more accurate when they're not put on paper...

Ten days till the solar eclipse. Brace yourselves, make your prayers. May god bless you.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Flip Flop Policy

| 3 persons flung their shoes
I hate resorting to harsh language but I'm not going to hold back my anger towards a stupid decision made by the Malaysian government. The idiocy of Malaysian policymakeres knows no bounds. If you follow the Malaysian news, you'd believe the country is run by a bunch of imbeciles.

I can't believe this is happening. The government has decided to end the use of English in Science and Math teaching, reverting to the national language as the medium of teaching. This issue has been at the center of debate for some time now but to think that it would actually get through the parliament was the last thing I expected.

When Tun Dr Mahathir called for the teaching of Science and Math in English six years ago, it was in line with one of the nine challenges of Vision 2020 - "to form a progressive science community". It is believed that the people should embrace English as the international language in order to make themselves a competent nation. While there were issues to be addressed, the idea was lauded as a bold move that will benefit the country in the long term.

Unfortunately, some brainless scarecrows in the parliament have just made a stupid decision to undo the previous efforts. The teaching medium of Science and Technology is going to be reverted to the national language in 2012. Supposedly, the achievement of Malaysian students in the subjects has been at a steady decline since English was introduced in 2003. It has therefore prompted the government to make the decision to switch the teaching medium. But if you ask me, it seems more like a desperate political move to regain support from the Malay nationalists.

Our dear MP from Kulim, Zulkifli Noordin, is an example of our diehard nationalist who's relentlessly fought to defend the pride of the national language. Using English in schools is seen as a threat to Bahasa Malaysia, which is the integral part of Malay heritage. Two days ago, he made a comment on his blog, saying, "English proficiency does not guarantee scientific progress". Oh, as if using Bahasa Malaysia as the language of instruction is a better shot.

Our narrow-minded guy didn't just stop there. Instead, he went on bashing Tun Dr Mahathir for the policy, which he claimed deters the students' achievement. He then went on making some sweeping statements.

Quoted from his blog post (translated):

"People in the Philippines are proficient in English, but many landed up only as maids. The Philippines took pride in their peoples' ability to speak English but had only succeeded in exporting many maids, whereas Japan has produced many international award-winning scientists who could not even utter a word of English."

When I first came to Japan, I, too, wondered why the Japanese can be such a progressive nation despite the pathetic level of English. It appears that the Japanese can afford not to master English, although it is the language of knowledge. Japanese academic books can be found easily; newly-published English books are often translated into Japanese within weeks if not days. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, how often do you find academic texts in Bahasa Malaysia? Even the local reference books I used to read weren't reliable.

Looking at the English syllabus in Japanese schools, it's hard to believe that the students here are learning English in much more detail than we do in Malaysia. But I can safely bet that the average Malaysian can understand English better than the Japanese. This is because of we are exposed to the opportunity to actually speak the language instead of learning just the grammar rules. Using English as the medium of instruction was the right move to make. Increasing English lessons in schools will never compensate for the damage that is going to be done by the abolishment of the use of English.

Am I disappointed? No, I'm furious.

If you're curious about what Tun Dr Mahathir has to say, head over to his blog. (The post is in Bahasa Malaysia.)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Enemy at the Gates

| 7 persons flung their shoes
It's a time of hardship. The Mongolian invaders are outside the walls. The riches of our country are going to be plundered, our wives and children enslaved, our cows raped... Unless if we stand up and fight for all that is held dear.

Like water and oil, Mongolians and walls just don't mix. Build a wall around your city and before long, you get troops of Mongolian invaders trying to bring it down.

The war lasted for 108 days and resulted in a truce. But now, they're back again, stronger than ever. Fearless warriors, fire-breathing dragons, catapults and battering rams as usual, only in greater numbers this time.

We've conscripted a considerable amount of young men from the village to defend our land. The repairmen work around the clock repairing the wall, the archers shower the enemies with arrows, but the attack shows no sign of ceasing.

We're lucky to have the Tibetan monks on our side. Their secret art of fireball-hurling worked at first but unfortunately aren't as effective against the rampaging cave trolls, our latest threat. Fed with the blood of Genghis Khan, these creatures rage on until they crack their heads on our wall.

The Invisible One has been aiding us in the battle too, flicking his Invisible finger at the invaders, tossing them into the air. But if we were to live through this dire hour, we'll need a miracle.

May God have mercy upon our souls.

Stick Wars on iPhone
Haha, it's Stick Wars on iPhone. Stickmen versus stickmen, a simple yet addictive game which I've been spending several late nights playing. At this rate, I'm going to rub my fingers raw...

Monday, 29 June 2009

Wet Days

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Thanks to the rain, I couldn't finish my jogging course. Now, here I am, wet from the rain, and sticky from the sweat.

I thought I could push on till I finished the 10-km course. But when the rain got heavier, I started getting worried. Several possibilities flashed through my mind.

The first one, of course, was that the rain'd stop soon and I'd complete the run, get a shower and have a good night's sleep. That was pretty optimistic but unfortunately, was unlikely considering that it's the rainy season.

So, that brought me to the second possibility - I push on, the drizzle turns into a downpour and I get screwed. Should I get stranded 10km away from home, catching a cab would be a sound choice. I have, uh, 105 yen in my left pocket. But I was quite sure 105 yen couldn't even pay for the minimum fare. Nor could it get me a train ride or a bus ride. No, nothing more than a bottle of sports drink from the 100 yen shop, which was exactly what it was intended for.

Which means, in the worst case scenario, I might have to seek shelter under a bridge till the rain subsided. And that could be anytime between tomorrow morning and next Monday. So, not willing to take any chances, I turned back halfway. By the time I got home, I was soaked till the underwear. I assure you it's as bad as, if not worse than soggy socks.

Speaking of the rainy season, the weather's almost unpredictable. You check the weather report in the morning, which says it's going to be sunny. So off you go without an umbrella. Then at night when you're on your way home, lo and behold, the heaven pours down! That's exactly what happened to me two weeks ago - caught in heavy downpour while cycling home, without an umbrella, and worse, with the laptop in the backpack.

Oh well, can't blame the weatherman, can we? Weather forecast is afterall, a tricky business; it can never be as accurate as tarot card reading.

However, yesterday, something bizarre happened in the news - the weatherman apologized for the inaccurate weather forecast he made the day before. Oh come on, we all know that if you want a 100% accurate weather forecast, you don't listen to the weatherman, you go to a gypsy fortune-teller. What's there to apologize? If weather forecasts are always accurate, no one's going to get caught in the rain without an umbrella. God shouldn't be denied the pleasure of screwing up a few midgets once in a while.

During the rainy season, doing the laundry can't be any harder. Now that you know the weatherman can't be completely trusted, you're basically left with only one alternative, the Chinese almanac. Yeah, the kind of calendar superstitious Chinese old ladies consult to pick an auspicious day to clean the bathroom or to dye the hair. Some days are just not meant for doing laundry; you have to live with it.

Ah, and I'm quite sure it's written somewhere that you can skip classes during rainy days...

Friday, 26 June 2009

MJ's Legacy

| 0 persons flung their shoes
Waking up in the morning can be as challenging as climbing Mt Fuji, especially for people like me whose brain takes an eternity to start up. That's why I keep my remote control just next to my pillow; the morning news gives me a jump-start.

The first time I switched on the TV this morning, it was reported in the news that Michael Jackson was sent to the hospital - no details. Still groggy from my sleep, I squinted my eyes to take a look at the time. 6.33. Jeez. I decided it was still early and went back to sleep.

The next time I woke up was at 8, when the alarm rang. Switched on the TV again and this time, there was an update on MJ's news.

He's just died.

Whoa! Talk about getting a jump-start in the morning! The crappiest news last night was about the recovery of Colonel Sanders from a river in Osaka. (See: Curse of the Colonel) I wouldn't bat an eyelid if they reported in the morning that the North Koreans tested another missle. But MJ's death? Now, that's very sudden. In fact, in a small skit we're going to make in a lesson next week, there'll be a brief reference to MJ.

I remember that back when I was about 7 years old, there was a music concert and we sang "We Are the World" as the ending song. I didn't know it's MJ's song until very much later, but the fact that it's one of the songs that was part of my childhood gives it a big significance.

I'm not particularly a fan of MJ but he's the King of Pop who once rocked the world after all. As a child, he endured the abuses by his father and rose to become a star. (To an African-American, that's a big feat.) His career reached its peak in the late 80's/early 90's, when he was dubbed the King of Pop. Unfortunately, fame turned him into a spoilt super star, and later, his reputation was seriously marred by the child molestation allegations.

It's a pity we won't see him making his comeback in his scheduled London tour the world has been looking forward to. Now, when we talk about MJ, it's going to be like when our fathers talk about Elvis Presley. I feel so old already. I mean, he's one of the people who defined the world we grew up in. And now he's gone.

But one thing for sure is, his albums are going to sell like hotcakes once more. MJ's music will live on.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Black Pepper Chicken

| 0 persons flung their shoes
The Budding Chef: Black Pepper Chicken
Amazingly, this dish can be prepared under 30 minutes and it's so simple that you'll never fail. There're only a few points to keep in mind:
  • Do not use breast meat. It's not meant for frying.
  • Do not be stingy with corn starch. Coat meat sufficiently.
  • You don't need to deep-fry the meat. Use oil sparingly but make sure the meat is evenly fried.
  • Forget about following the recipe step-by-step. Unless if you're cooking for guests, it's all about personal preferences so be your own judge!

1. Ingredients
Chicken thigh
Green pepper / paprika

2. Sauce
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce
Lots of black pepper
Lots of white pepper

1. Cut meat into appropriate size and coat with cornstarch.
2. Deep-fry until golden brown.
3. Mix ingredients for sauce according to personal preference. Set aside.
4. Leave chicken on paper towel to dry.
5. Stir-fry green pepper and onion. Remove from pan.
6. Heat prepared sauce, add meat and finally the green pepper and the onion.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Hi, We're Mormons, Not Hippies

| 5 persons flung their shoes
Hi, we're mormons, we love everyone. That's why we came all the way to Japan to do what we enjoy doing the most: talking to people about god and saving souls. I'm sure the Japanese love us too, because we have blonde hair and blue eyes and a sexy American accent.

You've probably met some of us, I'm sure. Because we're practically everywhere. Sometimes, we go knocking at doors but most of the time, you see us loitering walking around in the neighbourhood, greeting random strangers.

Many people are silly enough to mistake us as hippies, but give me a break, dude. Of all things, hippies? The hippies who believe in the power of marijuana? Come on, those people are gay. And God made it clear that He has a distaste for gay people. Hippies don't go to heaven, only mormons do. In fact, according to South Park, Catholics and Protestants go to hell. (It is also perhaps worth noting that Saddam Hussein was sent to heaven.)

I can never understand why the hippies concern themselves so much with environmental issues. I mean, who really believe we can stop global warming? We all know it's karma that's heating up the earth. Historical records show that global warming was nonexistent until after the Hindus and the Buddhists invented karma.

Global warming or not, there's nothing more important than the salvation of your soul. But eating crackers, drinking red wine and confessing your sins can only get you halfway to heaven. Let's not forget about donating to our church. We need money to send our missionaries to Alaska to convert the eskimos before the hippies get to them.

God-defying hippies, they're a wicked bunch. Isn't it surprising that in the world today, there're still people who don't believe in god? Mao Zedong, Isaac Asimov, Francis Bacon, Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Eleanor Ann Arroway, and probably Spock and Doctor Who... Their names are synonymous to god-defying hippies who practise satanism part-time.

But let's not be lax. These hippies are closer to you than you might think. Take this episode I encountered the other day, for instance. Paul and I were dilly-dallying walking around in the neighbourhood, harrassing greeting friendly Japanese when we met this foreign guy from some third-world African country called Malaysia. Alas, little did we know he was a heretic until he declared that he was an "atheist".

Oh, it took me sometime before my brain registered the meaning of the blasphemous word. While I thought all these heretics were all wiped out alongside the witches during the Spanish inquisition, here was one, standing right in front of me! It's so hard to tell a hippy from his looks nowadays. They don't wear voodoo trinkets anymore.

Recomposing myself, I tried to maintain my friendly smile. God gave me a chance to convert a heretic. I knew I could not afford to screw it up.

"Hmm... An atheist, huh?" I rubbed my chin, still recovering from the shock. "Do you believe that the universe was formed in a bang? So... Do you believe in money? Do you believe in love? In family?"

"I suppose you're asking me if I believe in the power of money, the importance of love and family. But let me clarify. I think you got me wrong. Being an atheist means I do not believe in the existence of god. Whether I believe in the belief in god is another question."

He was also quick to add, "I'm guessing that you're from the church down the street and the next thing you're going to do is to invite me to drop by."

Whoa, you'd think that people who don't believe in God are actually stupid but this one is brighter than your stereotypical type from the catalog!

"You're right. Our church is currently opening its doors to people so that they can see for themselves what we're doing." You know, some people have these strange ideas that we worship big stone statues, burn offerings and sing karaoke in the church. But that's not what we do. "What we're doing is seeking peace and happiness through God."

"Some people find peace and happiness in a bowl of ramen," the guy quipped. "Peace and happiness can be as simple as that. You don't have to resort to religion to lead a fulfilling life."

That was the most ridiculous thing I've heard. This guy must be high on coke.

"I believe only in God. Nothing you say is going to change that. I believe that when I die, I'll go to heaven. There, I'll meet our saviour Jesus Christ and we'll have a long chat," I explained. "So, are you coming to our church? If you do, we can talk more about it."

"No offense but, sorry, I'll pass."

Cool. At least Paul and I didn't have to waste our time. I'd rather try my luck with other less adamant people. It's not like we have all day to waste. We're not hippies who have nothing better to do than talking to random strangers. We're mormons. We're entrusted with the holy duty to remind people of God.

Oh, we give free English lessons at our church too. Join us any time you want.

God bless you.

*This post is partly fictional.

False Conviction

| 1 persons flung their shoes
In the world of CSI and Bones, there's no unsolved crime, no bad guy goes unpunished. But unfortunately, in the real world, that's not how things work.

Imagine suddenly being taken away by the police for an interrogation, where you're forced to make a confession on a crime you've not committed. Then before you know what happened, you're chucked into a prison to spend the rest of your life there.

That actually happened to a guy from Tochigi. He was "convicted" of the murder of a 4-year-old girl. The 62-year-old was released yesterday, after DNA tests came back with a negative result. It's more than good to be a free man again after spending the last 18 years in prison for false charges.

18 freaking years of life, gone. So many things can happen in 18 years' time. 18 years ago, George Bush Senior was the president of the United States. 18 years ago, Michael Jackson was the King of Pop. And 18 years ago, we couldn't tell apart simian DNA from that of a homo sapien's.

The chances of a coincidental match back then was about 1 to 700, which was considerably high. That was how the man got convicted. But what's more unacceptable is that during the investigation, the man was roughed up and coerced to make a confession.

The press conference was in the news the other day. During the session, the man appeared calm but when he spoke about the forced confession, he couldn't hold back his anger.

"The police will not be forgiven." For a man who has lost 18 years of freedom, that can be naturally understood. He has lost much, including his parents who passed away while he was in prison.

It's scary to know that when we're expecting law enforcers to protect us, innocent men are actually convicted of false charges. Who knows how many others are there? And it can happen to just about anyone.

News articles:
DNA test findings lead to lifer's release
『警察、検察許せぬ』 釈放の菅家さん 語気強め捜査批判
足利事件:菅家さん「謝って」 記者へ手紙

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of a Free Bible

| 7 persons flung their shoes
Forget about those hungry mouths in Africa; forget about those killer bees from Outer Mongolia; forget about those shrinking gonads of the general male population. Why should we even be concerned with these issues when there're other matters that demand urgent attention? Like, say, saving the rest of humanity from the eternal furnace in hell? That's why you see pretty girls and old aunties going from door to door to get new members for the church. More churchgoers means more tithe. And that would appease god, because god loves tithe. And what's more than having an appeased god? He's our ultimate solution to the famine in Africa, the killer bees, the shrinking gonads and other earthly issues. Praise god.

It is also the donations from generous souls (may god bless them) that I get to see the light of day. Obviously, it'd be more preferrable that I didn't end up in this garbage bin but despite my shortlived existence, I'm more than proud to have been entrusted with the holy duty of spreading the gospel.

I have as many days to live till the next garbage collection. But spending your last four days of life with a banana peel and a bento box in a garbage bin sucks high time. Which is why I'm going to pen about my brief wondrous life as a free bible before the garbage truck comes.

Yes, I'm a bible. Not just any bible but a bilingual one - English on one page, and Japanese on the opposite side, just like those Penguin readers. Learning English can never get better! It was a brilliant idea from our beloved priest, who had his epiphany (praise god) when he rolled off his bed in the middle of the night.

I came into existence in a printing factory, together with thousands of other copies just like me. Each and everyone of us was printed on 100% recycled paper with soy ink. So whatever those enviromentalist hippies (may god have mercy on their souls) tell you about melting polar caps and mutant lizards in the Pacific Ocean (I believe the Japanese call them godzilla), we have nothing to do with them. True, recycled paper and soy ink cost more but the church has deeper coffers than you can imagine. The cost for a thousand copies of bibles can't possibly be enough to fund an African child for more than 826.21 days anyway.

I don't really know where my brothers ended up. But some of us, including me, were given out to passer-bys in front of some university. Just in case you don't know, cults are pretty rampant in Japan. A lot of them satanists (may they burn in hell) actively recruit unsuspecting university students. (That's a reason why you shouldn't be an atheist. Nothing is more susceptible to cults than an atheistic mind.) You know, they invite you to coke parties, make you drink goat blood and whatsnot. That's why, we have the holy duty to reach out to the innocent minds, before they fall into the dark abyss of devil-worshipping.

It's simple. It works the same way as giving out free tissues. Sometimes, people just come up to you and ask for a pack. But in our case, people actually walk away from you so you'll have to coerce them. No one is rude enough to reject a free bible stuck right in front of his nose. Believe me, it works because that was how I ended up with some dude, whom I barely had the chance to give sermons to, because before long, I was shoved into a garbage bin ten paces away. (Lesson of the day: never give out bibles within ten paces away from a garbage bin.)

Oh, holy Jesus son of Mary, wife of Joseph! May god have mercy on the heathen! I hold no vengeance upon that misguided soul but I do hope he'll come to his senses soon and seek forgiveness from god.

It's lame to end up in a garbage bin but looking on the bright side, I'm leaving behind a legacy, this little autobiography chronicling my brief wondrous life!

Now, will you excuse me, I have to give a sermon to the banana peel and the bento box. God bless you.

*This autobiography is 'mostly' fictional.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Self-torturing Ritual

| 2 persons flung their shoes
Jogging is a fun self-torturing ritual. It's more fulfilling than banging your head on the wall.

A game of soccer is charged with adrenaline; your eyes can never stray away from the actions on the field; once you do, you get kicked in the balls. Swimming is pretty much a matter of life or death; you know you can't stop paddling until you reach the end of the pool or you'll drown.

Jogging, on the other hand, is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Except that you have to do it at a fast enough pace, or you'll have to call it "walking" instead. It sounds deceivingly simple, but it's as boring as watching a moustache grow. Occassionally, you bump into a hot chick on the jogging course but to be that lucky, you'll have to have amassed a hell lot of good karma in your previous lives. Instead, more often than that, you only get to jog together with shirtless uncles. So, you see, what keeps a jogger on the track is a sheer will of steel. And for fickle-hearted souls like me, it's a mental torture.

I had the worst jogging session today. After a long week of rain, the clouds had finally broken. A rainy day may be much dreaded but thanks to global warming, a sunny day in spring isn't quite as much a welcoming thought as it used to be. Today's a freaking 27゜C. Good for a bottle of scotch on a sun-kissed beach but certainly not for jogging under the scorching sun.

Nevertheless, I set off for my self-torturing ritual, feeling all eager to keep up to my previous personal record. My target was to go all the way to Futako-tamagawa roughly 7km away, and back, just like last time.

This was the route I took the other day. I didn't strictly followed the same route this morning but thanks to iMapMyRun that malfunctioned for the second time, I have to make do with this one.

Let's just blame it on the breakfast I skipped in the morning but for some reason, I was in low spirits. The red lights at the crossings pissed me off as much as the nicotine addicts puffing away by the streets. Even the slopes were killing me. Merely after 15 minutes, I started to doubt I could finish the course. The anticipation of running into a hot chick couldn't keep my attention on the track.

First bridge crossed. This was supposed to be the best part of the route but unfortunately, no breeze was blowing. To add to that, the sun was ridiculous. I wondered if by the time I finished the course, I'd be so badly sunburnt that my mom would mistake me as an Afro.

After crossing Marukobashi and turning right was the start of the jogging track. To my right was Tamagawa, where a bunch of anglers could be seen dozing away by the river. Along the river, there are more baseball fields than you can count, where aspiring kids train to be the next Ichiro Suzuki.

Futako-tamagawa could be seen in a distance. If it could be seen, it could't be too far away, eh? Yeah, right, 30 minutes away, to be exact. At this point, I started feeling as if I had had cow dung for breakfast. But I couldn't stop because my calves would start to hurt if I did. Anyway, I hate to admit it but I did make more than a few stops.

It felt almost as long as it takes to reach the end of the universe, but surprisingly, I managed to come to Futako-tamagawa within schedule. There were significantly less people there compared to Golden Week. After all, it was spring last week; today, it's summer. You don't go for BBQ in this weather unless you're thinking about getting yourself fried.

I soon came to the spot where we had our picnic last week. No picnickers there now. I thought I'd just lie down in the bushes and get dried up like a prune in the sun, till the next group of picnickers come by next Golden Week and discover my mummified body.

The last half of the course was more of a battle of mental strength. But I was just running a 15km course for goodness sake. By the time I train myself to finish a marathon course (if that ever happens), I'm sure I could light a match by mental power!

Now, here I am, feeling all achy in the calves and drained from the workout, physically and mentally. Preparation for the presentation? Nah, after a few episodes of my newfound entertainment, South Park.

But despite all that, I guess I'll be off in my running shoes again next week.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Odawara Castle

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Odawara Castle

Come to think of it, I've only been to two castles in Japan. The first one being Matsumoto Castle (松本城) in Nagano Prefecture and this second one, Odawara Castle (小田原城) in Kanagawa Prefecture. Stopping by in Odawara wasn't my initial plan. Waking up at 5.30am, taking a two-hour train ride followed by a three-hour hike left me longing for an afternoon nap, even just a doze before going off again for a farewell dinner with my colleagues. (It wasn't much to my surprise that after the dinner, we ended up at a karaoke till the last train!)

But, spending all that effort and money to travel all the way to Hakone (箱根) just for a morning hike wasn't too fulfilling. Besides, I had to transit at Odawara station anyway, so why not make a brief stop, I thought. So, after treating my famished stomach to a gyuudon (お好み牛玉丼) at Sukiya - by the way, it was my second time since last Sunday - I headed towards Odawara Castle.

Odawara is an old city located at a strategic point on Tokaido (the ancient Edo-Kyoto Highway).. Whoever was in-charged of this city also controlled the traffic between Sagami area (now Kanagawa) and Tokai (south of modern-dayTokyo). During the post-Warring States Period (16th century), the castle belonged to the Hojo clan for five generations, but was taken over by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) and handed over to Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康). Later in 1870 during the Meiji Period, it was sold away by the government and demolished, only to be replaced by a shrine 23 years later.

In the early Showa Period, there was even a ferris wheel, which was naturally a famous local attraction. It wasn't until the year 1960 (22 years after Odawara city was designated as a national historical site) that they finally rebuilt the castle keep.

All in all, it's a small castle with a big compound and a short stretch of moat on the lower side. There's no more ferris wheel but guess what, they keep monkeys and an elephant right in front of the castle keep! What's more, there's even train rides for children! I guess this is the quirkest castle I'll ever see.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Personal Favourites

| 1 persons flung their shoes
I've no idea whether anyone even bothered to read last month's posts on my trip to Seoul. It reads, "Seoul in 6 Days" but there're only four entries. The last two days are missing, owing to my feeling lazy to pen them down. And when I eventually feel like doing it, I have problems recalling much of what I did except for some bits and pieces, like my awe and amazement upon seeing a kimchi refrigerator, the visit to the spooky Seodaemun Prison (with its torture chambers) that scared me shitless, and the commanding view from the fortress city of Suwon.

Ideally speaking, I'd like to post those first before doing this. But, I've been wanting to share four of my favourite photos taken during the trip.

1. So, here goes, starting from the first one taken at Namiseom. (Day #2 - Korean Wave)

South Korea Wallpaper #1
Jangseung 장승; 長承
This is a Korean totem pole, usually placed at the edges of villages to ward off evil spirits. In the olden days, Koreans used to practise shamanism that was influenced by Buddhism and Taoism from China.

2. This second one was taken at Namsangol Hanok Village. (Day #3 - A Cultural Evening)

South Korea Wallpaper #2
Namsangol Hanok Village 남산골한옥마을
A lantern in a traditional Korean house.

3. The third one, somewhere in the city, next to a busy junction, and amidst skyscrapers. (Day #5)

South Korea Wallpaper #3
Red and Green 단청; 丹靑
This pavilion is located at a busy junction in downtown Seoul. The contrasting colours of green and red were especially vibrant under the light up.

The word 단청 literally means "red and green". For a list of the names of different shades of red, please refer to Korean Language Notes.

4. Lastly, the one I like the most, taken at UNESCO site, Suwon. (Day 6)

South Korea Wallpaper #4
Hwaseong, Suwon 수원화성; 水原華城
Suwon is about one hour from central Seoul. The fortress, Hwaseong is definitely a must-see spot. Built by King Jeongjo to guard his father's tomb, the walls surrounded the city of Suwon. The place is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This gate (Janganmun), located in the north, and the other one (Paldalmun ) in the south are the largest of the four gates. They resemble Namdaemun in Seoul, which unfortunately has been wrapped under vinyl sheet since the arson incident.

Notice the five small figures on both ends of the roof? They're the characters from Journey to the West: the Monk, the Monkey, the Boar, the River Monster, the Horse and a dragon. What role the famous Chinese novel played in Korean history, I haven't got the chance to find out.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Religion and Social Dysfunction

| 0 persons flung their shoes
In the news this evening was a special interview with a former member of The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. It's a "Christian sect" started in South Korea but is not recognized by the Church. In fact, it's often referred to as a cult. Despite the controversies shrouding it, the movement is active around the world, especially in South Korea and Japan. In the interview, the lady claimed to have been conned of at least 3 million Yen. But there're reports from victims who supposedly paid as much as 10 million Yen to the "church".

Obviously cults are detrimental to the society. They make you part with your money and family, they require you to pledge absolute commitment to the cult. But how many of us actually think for a moment if religion actually does much good to us? It's a common belief that religion is beneficial. Advocates are steadfast in view that the belief in supernatural presence is critical to the development of a stable society.

Embarassingly, as Malaysians, this very stereotypical view is firmly embedded in our head. I'm sure skmming through any essay written by a Malaysian student can confirm this. Whenever we're asked to discuss about social problems, we immediately point to the lack of religious faith as one of the underlying factors.

But check this out. According to a study made by Gregory S. Paul, "the most religious democracies exhibited substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics." (Excerpt from Los Angeles Times: The Dark Side of Faith, October 01, 2005)

Inarguably, there's no way to come up with a definitive conclusion but at least the result will hopefully encourage further debate on the matter. People should be aware that religion is no holy issue which should be, by default, spared from scrutiny. Because, like it or not, religion plays a big role in the formation of both government and judicial policies. Think about the laws on abortion, gene therapy, cloning, stem cells research... They are made based on the standards set by religion, presumed to be the default public consensus. Believers or not, we are all dictated by religious dogmas. How then, can laxity towards religion be tolerated?

See also:
"Religion is Bad for Societal Health" - Church of the Churchless
Testimonial of a former member of the Unification Church (Japanese)
Legal complaints filed by fraud victims of the Unification Church (Japanese)

Friday, 17 April 2009

Running Away from Boredom

| 5 persons flung their shoes
People who complain about being busy obviously have not had a taste of extreme boredom. It's worse than having an itchy spot on your back where your fingers can't reach to give it a good scratch. You know you ought to move your ass and do something, anything; but for some uncanny reason, it's rooted to the chair or to the bed or to wherever you parked it on. You'd rather just sit there, and stay as inanimate as your other furniture, for as long as it takes rigor mortis to set in. Or until you eventually get bored of looking like a retard, and decide to put on your sports shoes and go out for a jog, just like what I did.

Taking a jog out of boredom was my first time. The last time I did it was for the peace of mind. It helped clear my head and offered me solace, albeit a temporary one. Ironically - or, should I say, in a masochistic manner - it feels good to have every muscle in your body throbbing in pain, and your lungs screaming for air.

However, I didn't achieve what I intended to when I set off for a one-hour run yesterday evening. The legs were vaguely aching from the weekend's badminton session but no bursting lungs. In fact, I was enjoying the run, to and fro Tamagawa 4.55km away from home.

Alden, I can see you stifling your laughter! I'm not a marathon runner, mind you! But maybe I should try to cover 10km within an hour the next time!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Washing Legs

| 3 persons flung their shoes
Senzoku-ike 洗足池

This photo was taken at Senzoku-ike (洗足池), one of the most famous spots in Tokyo known for cherry blossom viewing. It's a small pond with a serene view, situated right next to the buzzing Nakahara Highway. (By the way, Nakahara Highway was a main road linking Edo - now Tokyo - to Kanagawa in the olden days.)

During the cherry blossom season, stalls are set up by the pond and the place is crowded with people, though it's far from the likes of Ueno's. You could either choose to go up the small hill to enjoy the breeze, or sit by the pond watching the ducks and carps and gulls, or rent a boat to paddle or row in the pond. Either way, it offers a chance for city folks to relax and unwind.

All this while, I've been confused with the name of the place, for Senzoku can be written in two ways - "千束" and "洗足". I did a search and found out that, coincidentally, the history of the place is related to that of Honmonji. See previous post: The Last of Sakura (Friday, 10 April 2009)

During the Heian Period (794-1185), the place was known as "千束" (literally "thousand bundles"). The paddy fields there belonged to the monastery, so up to 1000 bundles of paddy were exempted from tax each year.

Then one day during the Kamakura Period (12th century), a monk by the name Nichiren (the founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism) passed by the place in his journey. He stopped by to rest and allegedly washed his legs at the pond. Henceforth, the place has been known as "洗足池" (literally, "leg-washing pond").

I don't know about you but it doesn't sound like an elegant name to me.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Last of Sakura

| 4 persons flung their shoes
The Last of Sakura
桜吹雪 風に舞う
(Direct translation: Sakura blizzard, dancing in the wind)
Kelvin complained that the previous sakura shot was "stiff and dead" and that "sakura shots should always be petals dancing in the wind, full of life swirling around in the air". It's easy to image a perfect "sakura blizzard" but to shoot it is another question.

I gave it a shot anyway but this was the best I could do. See those white speckles? Those are the petals dancing in the wind. Hope that satiates your sakura fetish, Kelvin! No more sakura shots till next year!

Now, for some background information on the place where I took this shot. I know it won't be of much interest to most people but I'm doing it anyway for my own record.

This shot was taken at Ikegami Honmon-ji (池上本門寺). It's a famous temple belonging to the Nichiren (日蓮宗) sect of Buddhisim, founded by Nichiren himself shortly before his death at the same place. Nichiren was born during mid-Kamakura period. At that time, different sects started branching out from Buddhism, each with its own interpretation on the religion. Nichiren studied Buddhism in different temples from the age of 16 to 32. He then concluded the contemporary teachings of all other schools to be misguided, and put forth his own interpretation.

The land on which the temple was built on was donated by a wealthy feudal lord named Ikegami Munenaka. Obviously, that was how Ikegami city got its name.

The temple is situated by a hillside, providing a commanding view on the city below. It somehow reminded me of the temples and shrines in Kyoto - pagoda, tall trees, spacious compound... Most of the buildings were destroyed in the air raid during World War II except the main gate, the scripture hall, the stupa and the five-storey pagoda, which has been designated as a tangible cultural asset.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Bye-bye Sakura

| 10 persons flung their shoes
Bye-bye Sakura
I'm starting to get fed up with cherry blossoms. Seeing the blossoms with your own eyes is one thing; shooting them is another. Firstly, framing is difficult. I find macro shots the easiest but they normally turn out lame. But if you attempt to shoot the whole tree, there's the problem with contrast - you don't get the details.

Last Saturday night, when I was trying my hands on shooting lighted-up cherry blossoms at the compound of a hospital nearby, a middle-aged man stopped by and started chatting with me. It turned out that he's a professional photographer and he shared the same opinion about photographing cherry blossoms. He then invited me to his house (he lives just around the corner) and showed me the shots he took. They were awesome! He managed to capture the depth in the scene by cleverly choosing his angle of view, thus reproducing the liveliness of the blossoms.

Armed with the generous tips given by Fukumiya-san, I headed towards Chidori-ga-Fuchi Ryokudou (千鳥が淵緑道) just outside the imperial palace for the cherry blossom light up. But unfortunately, I did not manage to get any decent shots. The place was as crowded as a rush-hour train!

One last day before university lessons starts tomorrow. It's today or never because the flowers aren't going to wait any longer. I eventually resorted to taking macro shots. Oh well, I've got to brush up my skills before the next spring!

Bye-bye sakura!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Kanamara Matsuri かなまら祭り

| 4 persons flung their shoes
This is the wildest Japanese festival I've ever been to! Giant dicks parading the streets! And I mean it literally!

What: Festival of the Steel Phallus (An annual Shinto fertility festival)
When: First Sunday of April (Procession starts around noon)
Where: Kanayama Shrine, Kawasaki-shi (川崎市金山神社)

The Kanamara Matsuri is centered around a local penis-venerating shrine once popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. It is said that there are divine protections also in business prosperity and the clan's prosperity, easy delivery, marriage, and married couple harmony. There is also a legend of a sharp-toothed demon that hid inside the vagina of a young girl and castrated two young men on their wedding nights with the young girl before a blacksmith fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon's teeth, leading to the enshrinement of the item. ~Kanamara Matsuri, Wikipedia
The train to Kawasaki Daishi (川崎大師) was crowded, although not as fully-packed as during the hanabi's. Hey, you don't get to see portable penis shrines all the time! Just the mere thought of it was kinky. No one bothered to make the effort to hide the naughty grin on their face.

There were three penises in the procession.

Firstly, there was the steel phallus, known as the "Kanamara boat portable shrine", donated by Hitachi Zosen Corporation.

Second in line was the one that stood out the most, the pink phallus, known as the "Elizabeth portable shrine" donated by a cross-dressing club in Asakusa by the same name. While the other two portable shrines were carried by the locals, this one was mainly carried by guys in female clothing, chanting "Kanamara! Dekkaimara!". (Steel phallus! Big phallus!)

Last but not least, there was the wooden phallus, called the "Kanamara Big Portable Shrine". This is the oldest of the three.

For some reason, the black penis is smaller than the pink one... The wooden penis, the smallest...

People went wild during the festival. Rushing forward to touch the penises, licking penis and vagina candies, old ladies showing off big Chinese pao's in the shape of a penis, cross-dressers everywhere...

There were obscene souvenirs too. A toy that when you wind up the guy, humps the girl from the back, for instance. And a handkerchief featuring different sex positions, selling at a price of 1000 yen. Also, penis and vagina key chains which are unfortunately too small to satiate your sexual desires.

Click to view large
Yes it was a wild festival indeed. I mean, could you have imagined seeing a girl harassing a guy with a dick?

Note: For more photos on the festival, see Kim's blog.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Sweet and Sour Pork

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The Budding Chef: Sweet and Sour Pork 酢豚
Tada! Sweet and sour pork, folks! Just to tease your appetites!

This was actually done quite some time ago. I'm not sure why I went into all the trouble making this dish. I think it was more because of the fun of taking the shot, than because of the fun of making it.

Recipe on Flickr page (Note: Double the sauce)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Can I Go to Bed Already?

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Can I Go to Bed Already? :: Wallpaper
I spent the whole afternoon working on a composite photo but it turned out crappy. So, I ended up taking a simple shot instead, starring Stitch's cousin.

Decent shot, don't you think? At least, now I can call it a day! Phew!

The white backdrop effect was achieved by turning over a wall calendar and propping it against the wall. No special lighting equipment used. Just the fluorescent lamp on the ceiling. I've been thinking of making a light tent but for the meantime, improvisation does the trick. "Necessity is the mother of invention," as the saying goes!

View Large Size (1280 x 800)
Download Large Size (1280 x 800) as widescreen wallpaper

Tuesday, 31 March 2009


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The Budding Chef: Makizushi 巻き寿司

It's my honour to announce that I was featured on Kim's blog! But seriously, being dubbed "the chef of the day" was an overstatement. Now I feel the pressure to live up to the fame.

The day after the party at Kim's new home, I made myself more makizushi, not because of any hangover, not to brush up my sushi-rolling skill. I just wanted to take this shot!

With two cups of rice, I ended up with four rolls of sushi, which was just enough to feed me for two meals. No nigirizushi this time. Can't afford having shrimps everyday!

Monday, 30 March 2009

"Wednesday" Evening

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Ready to Spring
The sakura's are all ready for spring. It won't be long before they all spring to full blossom.

Pardon me for being clichéd , but there's only one way of saying this: time flies! Come spring, it'll be my fourth year in Japan. Which means at least two more years here. Chances are, I'll be here for many years to come but by the time I finish my undergraduate studies, I'd be 25. Presuming 75 is the average lifespan, I'll have spent one third of my life.

50 years is a long way to go, you say, eh? Well, think again.

Have you ever felt how time speeds up after Wednesday? Monday always seems like a long way till the weekend. Having five consecutive days of work or school ahead of you isn't much of a welcoming thought. But the least you can do is to indulge yourself in making the weekend plans, the sole source where motivation can be derived from.

But once you make it through Wednesday, it'd be the weekend before long.

Now, using that as an analogy, by the time you reach 25, it's "Wednesday" evening. And thereof, it takes only a blink before the weekend comes.

Weekends are cool, of course. Late Friday night, lazy Saturday morning, and the much-anticipated Sunday outing...

Well, you can always look forward to your Sunday outing, but you can never tell whether if it's going to rain just to screw up your plans.

This is really no pessimism. It's just a realistic view on life.

Oh well, I guess this is what they call midlife crisis.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Three's Company

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I told them we couldn't all fit into the bathroom but they just wouldn't listen!

Three's Company: Me, Me, and Me
Lately, I've been wondering how far a photographer should go in post-processing. While a purist would wag his finger at edited photos, I think the photographer ought to be given the freedom to decide his way of conveying the message. Photography is all about creativity of expression after all, so why follow the conventional rules?

Having convinced myself of that, I hastily set off to make the first composite photo of my own.

The theme: Me, me and me.

The conventional strict-purist approach to achieving the effect is to take a shot of multiple exposures. But, being deprived of the necessary props, I had to settle for a simpler technique. I took three separate shots and merged them into one using mask layer in Photoshop. Then the colours were tweaked to achieve a dreamy effect.

It would have turned out better if I filled up the bathtub, shampoo-ed the hair, and got a rubber ducky. But it was just so chilly in the bathroom that it didn't cross my mind. Besides, I was too impatient to process the shots and see the result. I'm glad to say it turn out well!

Now, it's time to make some space in the room and try another theme!

Original Sin

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Being a superhero is not only about fighting super villains and saving the world. Me, for instance, pose for the camera in my free time.

This is not a composite; it's telekinesis. All you need is patience, patience. It works if you stare at the apple long enough. After all, "Rules are meant to be broken," they say. So does the law of gravity.

No, I'm not joking... Well, at least not about the photo not being a composite. Now, this is what I really did. Prep the camera, toss the apple and press the remote. Simple as that. All it takes is timing and practice. This technique was inspired by Rebekka's ingenious shot of the floating apple,

I had a tough time deciding whether to make this into a biblical them or a Deathnote theme, but went for the former since it's more widely known than the latter. A friend, though, suggested that I should have gone naked to better fit the theme...


Also: See non-captioned version

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

South Korea - Land of the Morning Calm

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I have no idea what I've been doing these past few days. It's the holidays for goodness sake but I haven't done anything meaningful. I promised myself I'd write one post a day about my trip to Seoul but it's a promise I can't keep to myself. I intended to write this one after I finished till Day 6 of the trip but I guess I'll do it now instead.

I've edited four photos I took in South Korea into wallpapers (1200 x 800 pixels). My personal favourite is the fourth one, taken in Suwon. Taking the photo from a guard outpost opposite the north gate, the roof and the wall provided a perfect framing for the shot.

South Korea Wallpaper #1
Jangseung 장승; 長承
This is a Korean totem pole, usually placed at the edges of villages to ward off evil spirits. In the olden days, Koreans used to practise shamanism that was influenced by Buddhism and Taoism from China. (Taken on Day #2, at Namiseom.)

South Korea Wallpaper #2
Namsangol Hanok Village 남산골한옥마을
The interior of a traditional Korean house. (Taken on Day #4, at Namsangol)

South Korea Wallpaper #3
Red and Green 단청; 丹靑
This pavilion is located at a busy junction in downtown Seoul. The contrasting colours of green and red were especially vibrant under the light up.

The word 단청 literally means "red and green". For a list of the names of different shades of red, please refer to Korean Language Notes. (Taken on Day #5, in downtown Seoul)

South Korea Wallpaper #4
Hwaseong, Suwon 수원화성; 水原華城
When I checked the map in front of the Suwon station, I thought Hwaseong was close enough for me to go on foot without getting lost. But I took one wrong turn and it took me 30 minutes before I realized I was heading towards the wrong direction. Tracing my steps back, I finally found my way though; it took me one hour.

Suwon is about one hour from central Seoul. The fortress, Hwaseong is definitely a must-see spot. Built by King Jeongjo to guard his father's tomb, the walls surrounded the city of Suwon. The place is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This gate (Janganmun), located in the north, and the other one (Paldalmun ) in the south are the largest of the four gates. They resemble Namdaemun in Seoul, which unfortunately has been wrapped under vinyl sheet since the arson incident. (Taken on Day #6, at Hwaseong)

Friday, 6 March 2009

Day #4 - A Cultural Evening

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Day #0 - Arrival
Day #1 - Acquainting Seoul
Day #2 - Korean Wave
Day #3 - A Sip of Soju
»Day #4 - A Cultural Evening

23 February 2009, Monday
Every year on the third Thursday of November, Korean high school graduates sit for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT). This is probably the most important national event. Work starts later than usual so that office workers going to work don't cause any traffic jams. Policemen are mobilized to control the traffic, and sometimes, even to send candidates to school on time. To a foreigner who is not well-informed, it might easily be mistaken as a state of emergency. It was hard for me to imagine it until I saw it on the TV. (Yes, it's always reported on the Japanese news as well.)

I can never understand why the Koreans put so much emphasis on academic results. They treat CSAT almost like the civil exam in ancient China. It's aptly called "examination hell". Children as young as primary school students are sent to cram schools to prepare for the university entrance exam. It's a pity Korean children don't get to enjoy their childhood. When I commented to Cholong about that, she replied in a nonchalant way, "True, but you can always enjoy later in your life."


The ultimate goal is to enter a high-ranking university, especially the Seoul National University.

This is the gate to the Seoul National University. Its entrance is adorned with a triangular gate and a peculiar tower in the shape of a key.

The place isn't exactly a sightseeing spot. I just went there so that I can say this, "I've been to the Seoul University!" Oh, and also, this was where I had the cheapest meal in Seoul, 2500 Won. Now that's merely just enough to buy a bottle of water in Japan.

Other than that, there's seriously nothing to boast about. Now, moving on.

My next stop was Yeouido (여의도; 汝矣島), a large island at the Han River. The island got its name from "useless land", and true enough, there wasn't much to see either. There's the National Assembly Building, but there was some construction work going on nearby so the area was in a mess. I headed towards the river bank, hoping to take a good snap on the cityscape on the opposite side but the weather wasn't good enough for taking photographs. Besides, the place was in a forlorn state, thanks to (more) construction work.

Maybe I went on a wrong day but I have to say that Yeouido is no match for Odaiba back in Tokyo.

I left the island, disappointed; not at all pleased with the unfruitful morning excursion. But fortunately, my next destination was a more satisfactory one.

Five minutes' walk from exit 4 of Chungmuro station is the Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골한옥마을; 南山골韓屋마을). Hanok, means "traditional Korean house". Visitors get to see the living conditions of people from different statuses. Some of these houses were moved from their original locations; some meticulously restored. It's interesting how you could tell the house of a commoner from that of a rich family, just by looking at the number and the size of the kimchi urns kept in the yard.

Korean Lanterns 청사초롱
One of the houses belonged to Empress Sunjeong. Being a follower of Confucianism, she lived a modest life. Her rooms have windows smaller than the usual ones, so that less firewood would be needed to warm the room during winter.

Empress Sunjeong was the last empress of the Joseon Dynasty. She was demoted in 1910 during the Japan-Korea annexation. Then, when Emperor Yunghui died without issue in 1926, the Korean monarch came to an end.

Tracing my steps back to the station, I found my way to Korea House, a famous place for traditional arts performance. I'm not usually a patron of arts, but I thought no trip to a foreign country would be complete without learning about its people and culture. Besides, I had extra cash to spend! That morning, I exchanged another 12,000 Yen for 190,000 Won. No commission charged. Now, compare that to the 13,000 Yen I spent for 150,000 Won when I bought the currency in Tokyo a month back. You've got to love the exchange rate! Anyway, 30,000 Won for the ticket was reasonable.

The program consisted of eight performances. My personal favourite being the Nongak Nori (farmer's music), where the performers wearing long-ribboned hats swing their heads as if they were high on drugs. Also, there was the lively drum performance called Samgo-mu, whose improvised version I saw in the Nanta performance two days ago. Buchaechum (fan dance) was another interesting performance, with beautiful girls and vibrant colours. The creepiest one was the Salpuri Dance, which originated from a shaman dance for exorcism.

Before calling it a day that night, I made a last stop at Namdaemun (남대문; 南大門). Remember the incident where an old man set fire to the historical structure? This is it. Too bad restoration was yet to be done. The burnt structure was still wrapped under vinyl sheet as if to cover the forlorn sight from the public.

There is, however, another attraction in the vicinity, the 24-hour Namdaemun Market. It is somewhat similar to Lorong Kulit in Penang, or Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, where cheap goods can be found, provided that you know how to bargain.

Earlier this year, tourist information booths were set up in the market. The effort of the government to woo tourists should indeed be lauded but perhaps they should start by cleaning up the mess in front of the booth!