Monday, July 31, 2006

KOBE the Port City Part 2 of 2

Picture depicting the devastation of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995

Pictures and videos shown were really depicting a different Kobe in it and I could hardly imagine how it was like then because most of the areas that we were stepping on were new structures and the ones in the video were wrecked beyond recognition.

A little reminder of the Great Hanshin Earthquake kept at the memorial

There was a small area kept for remembrance as a result of the devastation where concrete pavements and building columns were ripped apart and highway structures tumbled under herculean dynamic forces of the earthquake. I have seen with many years of experience on how highway structures were built in my time as an engineer, so what I saw in the aftermath was extremely tragic.

This guy makes you go nuts...

On one side it was all solemn and on another it was in total contrast, there was a harborside performance by a Japanese who managed to draw a big crowd. We too were engrossed by his funny antics and "near-falls" in all his stunts.

Mosaic, shopping district

We hanged out at the Mosaic, a shopping area at the Kobe Harborland until night fell. We planned to catch the night scene of Kobe and waited till the lights were on. The picturesque night scene of Kobe port was both brilliant and awe-inspiring!

We managed to "kidnap" Angeline to stay with us in Osaka and followed us to Kyoto the next day. I was really happy she came along and being such a good sport. We managed to catch up lots of updates/news about our common friends in Malaysia, what more she just came back from Malaysia! Again, the world is really small. Everyone seems to know each other and she too knew my other Samadian friend in Kyoto.

Osaka's famous Okonomiyaki

We went up to her place for her to pick up some clothes before returning to Osaka. Once in Osaka, we stopped over for Okonomiyaki, a mixture of pancake and pizza and which Osaka is famous for. We didn't know Angeline's birthday just passed a week ago, so we stopped over to another dessert place to celebrate the occasion.

We celebrated Angeline's belated birthday in Osaka
That is when she was put in the limelight where there was a loud birthday song played for her. It was all in good fun, planned by Wai Cheong. But then, I am sure she was really enjoying it as much as we did.

We went back to Wai Cheong's house to call it a night. Then, we managed to catch up with lots of chatting. I was so engrossed with Angeline's university "experiences" that I managed to stay awake for another hour before I was entirely knocked off from exhaustion at approximately 2am.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My trip to Osaka

Tokyo Station - awaiting the next bullet train for Shin Osaka

I had been so busy that I hardly have any time left to blog nowadays. But today is one of those days with a tight passage for free time. I might as well settle my long overdue blog about my Kansai trip. Initially I wanted to watch a movie from the collection that I downloaded here or write about my trip to Aizu-Wakamatsu, but that is in the cold storage, frozen and perhaps I'll defrost it later.

Ok, my trip to Osaka. Let's just say the trip to Kansai. It could not have been any better. All thanks to my friend, Wai Cheong who, so happened, was available from his tight schedule and returned to Osaka for the long weekend. He was the tour guide for our Kansai tour. It was great having him around lest we wouldn't have covered so many places and known so many things , not to mention the good places for Osaka's favourites. It was the Marine Day holiday that fell on a Monday. I did my trip with fellow compatriot, Sarah. Both of us went on a shinkansen (bullet train) which only took 5 hours for a journey of 900km from Niigata-Tokyo-Osaka, inclusive of transits. It was damn fast. Of course, the price was 2.5 times higher than taking a bus or the local trains. It was a choice between time and money. We chose time. I am happy that it was the right decision in the end.

The N700 Series Shinkansen

I was all excited when I realised that I was going to sit on the new N700 shinkansen series from Tokyo to Osaka.
The high-speed train suddenly looked like a packed public bus
The other coach in the shinkansen

Because of the long break, everyone was rushing back. The train from Tokyo to Osaka was packed. Yes, even the shinkansen was packed. I could not imagine if I had to stand in the train for 3 hours before reaching Osaka. But after reaching one of the three stops in Nagoya, there were many people getting off, so it was free for all. I had my seat after an hour.

We arrived in Osaka at 9.15pm. Wai Cheong was caught in a terrible jam because of the same reason, balik kampung exodus. As soon as he arrived, we were on our way to his favourite Kyushu Ramen shop. This place is special because the ramen that they serve is pork bone base soup and the broth tastes better with chopped garlic. Quite a rare experience for ramen...

Osaka's night skyline

After dinner, he brought us to a "secret mountain" to watch the night skyline of Osaka. We were at the vantage point and the night scene was just breathtaking. It was then again that I was so glad that he was around to bring us to such places, or else we would have done what most tourist would do; go places recommended in the internet or travel guide book.

The giant crab on the background is said to be the icon of Osaka's Dotombori

Wai Cheong then gave us an option. Go home or continue a trip to downtown. It was already 11.30pm but we chose the latter. Our 5-hour train ride did not hinder us from traveling more. Still in good spirits. He brought us to the hip and happening place of Dotombori where Osaka comes alive at night. It was a photo opportunity too. We stopped over for Starbucks and sunk in with the night crowd and witnessed how some Japanese youth behave. The behind-the-scenes of the good ol' Japs in their real self. Sort of an eye-opening experience after having stayed in a smaller city, Niigata.

The night went pass very fast and before we realised, it was already 1.30am. We went back at 1.40am to call it a night and tried to get some sleep for Kobe the next day. However, it turned out that I was catching up stories with Wai Cheong until 4.30am and only managed to catch a 3 hour sleep.

Balik kampung exodus for the Kansai people

The next day, we woke up all ready for Kobe. The roads were choked up with the exodus rush home. We noticed a lot of cars returning to Kobe (from Osaka). There was a long queue and it reminded me so much about the PLUS Highways.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Holiday in the Kansai Region

The weekend ended with a bang and is perhaps the most productive long weekend break I ever had since coming to Japan. Monday was a holiday in conjunction with the "Day of the Sea" holiday. The trip to Osaka has not only given me the chance to meet my good old friend, Wai Cheong (Tony McCoy), but also other Malaysians whom I never expected to meet in this trip. I shall write more, but here are some posts to whet your appetite.


This is the night scenery of Osaka taken from a hilltop, frequented by many Osaka university students. Wai Cheong brought us to this place to try out our camera's night mode. Tried and tested...what more can I say. The picture is as breathtaking as the real thing.


Kobe, one of the 5 port cities of Japan is also famous for its Chinatown in the Kansai region.

This is Wai Cheong, my good old friend from Samad.

This picture will perhaps shock Shirley when she recognises a familiar face in it...


Kyoto is the must-see place for any first-timer in Japan.

...because it is also one of the historical richest or the most glorified ancient city of Japan, where big festivals gyrate in this part of Japan. This is the Gion Matsuri, which is represented by hundreds of thousands of people, jamming the street just to watch the procession and float, in a backdrop of high-class shopping malls and swanky restaurants.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How have classes been?

2 months ago, Matsuda Sensei was pleased that the class was full of motivation. She related that just like her previous classes, the motivation would not stay until Summer when the heat would sap the zest off students. Students' motivation would slowly go downhill and it is a challenging experience to perk up the environment.

I didn't know what she was talking about then.

2 months later, it's Summer and yes, Summer has arrived. It is dreadfully and awfully hot and humid. Even with the rain, the temperature stays at 27 to 29 degC everyday. I am always with the air-conditioner. It is bad but what to do, I don't have a fan with me. The temperature would only get hotter as it approaches August and starts to cool down by end of August.

But Summer could also mean that I would be able to do more stuff than before. The beaches, running in less clothings, more activities, more time in the pool, travel light to other parts of Japan, putting less burden on the water heater bill, put away the blanket, the jackets and even the shoes! Many ways to look at it.

I had been sickened by the cold initially that went as low as 6 to 5 deg C but am now taking an opposite stand on the heat here.

The silver lining now is that it reminds me alot about Malaysia and the weather now is exactly like in KL. It rains in KL, yes it rains here too at alternate days. It is hot and stuffy in my room here, and yes, it was hot and stuffy at the construction site in KL before I came here. What more can I equate..arghh..

As for motivation level, it did put a damper to our motivation level in class. There is an obvious decline in active participation and people like me, get sleepy easily. But Thank God for air-conditioners. Some damage control at least. Am I not caught in a Catch-22 now to whether dip myself in the pool, get a nice cool bath before I go home, but if I do that, I'd sweat profusely before I reach home....arghh...wicked...

Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival)

Tanabata (七夕, meaning "Seven Evenings") is a Japanese Star Festival. It is derived from Obon traditions and the Chinese star festival, Qi Xi . The festival celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, separated these two lovers, and they were allowed to meet only once a year. And this day is 7 July every year.
In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊, small pieces of paper) and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations. The bamboo and decorations are often set float on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day. This resembles the custom of floating paper ships and candles on rivers during Obon. Many areas in Japan have their own Tanabata customs, which are mostly related to local Obon traditions. I have my own tanzaku too. I did two in the class, one more during the volunteer class and another one during my friend's birthday party which fell on the same day as the Tanabata Matsuri. The biggest Tanabata festival in Japan is held in Sendai.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Record Speed

Just the other day, I managed to capture the record speed of my internet connection. It was a great 2mbps. Basically I could download one full mp3 in less than 2 seconds.