Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bound for Cambridge...

I still can't believe that it is really happening. That I just came back from Japan (for good) and would be going to England instead to further my postgraduate studies. I have been offered a Shell Centenary Chevening Scholarship to do an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge. I have learnt that I was the only Malaysian offered for this year's Shell Centenary Award and to do it in Cambridge. That makes it harder for me to turn it down if I ever thought of doing so.

But the baggage of guilt continues to burden my mind that I have not only sacrificed a darn good scholarship from Japan but also the fact that I have to leave the friends I made in Japan, my host mother, the wonderful and dedicated senseis and the opportunity to learn a new language. The hardest episode was to leave at the time when I was awarded an Achiever's Award at the recent graduation.

I am currently in Kuala Lumpur to finalise my packing for Cambridge, meet up with friends, relatives and to mentally recuperate from the loss of my (excellent) Japanese scholarship, and experiences from the Land of the Rising Sun.

At the same time, I am very much looking forward to the path bound for Cambridge as I believe it would be a lifetime experience, not to mention the chance to study at one of the top universities in the world. I have made friends with most of this year's Chevening scholars via a dedicated scholars' webgroup and am really looking forward to meeting them. The Chevening scholars group was set up really fast and we managed to establish the camaraderie within these few days. This was something that I wished I had when I was with the Monbukagakusho scholarship. Equally exciting is this year's scholars including our Malaysian 3R host Kartini Ariffin who would be doing her Masters in London and she is a very friendly person based on my chats with her earlier. They are all over the UK with the majority of them in England and Scotland. Unfortunately, I have not met anyone else going to Cambridge so I may be this year's sole representative from Malaysia, which I hope not!

Japan is my "first love" but it is impossible to have the best of both worlds without sacrificing another. Sometimes in life, we have to make difficult decisions and for me, this was it. Initially I was quite depressed over the loss of the Japanese scholarship, but I have to see the bigger picture that perhaps, the Japanese experience coupled with a Cambridge degree is a fitting match for what I intend to do next.....

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Journey of 1500km begins in Niigata

Tomorrow I will be pulling a mad stunt that I have never done before even when I was in Malaysia . I will be traveling 1500km up north to Hokkaido on a train, that would be 3000km on return. The journey will take at least 13 hours, even with one of the fastest trains in the world, the bullet train. I hope I won't drop dead when I reach Sapporo. I have always wanted to travel to Hokkaido during the summer holidays, but the travel time has always been a turn-off. So here I am now, attempting to try it out tomorrow....stay tuned...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Launching of the new Honda STREAM

Last month I was fortunate to witness the launch of the new Honda Stream in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo. It was a very nice model and looked so much better than the older one.

Flying the Malaysian Flag....

Malaysians in Japan just celebrated the Merdeka on 3rd September at the Malaysian Embassy in Shibuya, Tokyo. As Japan is a big country (population of 140 million vs Malaysia's 26million) and there are about 4,000 Malaysians scattered over Japan, it was impossible to gather everyone. So, most of the attendees were from the Tokyo area. I was the exceptional one from Niigata. So happened I made a trip to Tokyo.

And I was able to meet my flight-mate(=the person who sat next to me on my flight to Japan), See Tatt (next to me in the picture) , who is one of the 6 undergraduate for this year's Monbukagakusho Scholarship Award. It was indeed exciting to meet again, now that we were more familiar with the Japanese environment, and could share more things about our lives in Tokyo and Niigata.

It was a great opportunity to meet other Malaysians and see new faces. And of course, take a bite on some long awaited rendang chicken, sambal prawns and nasi lemak!

This year's Merdeka celebration is special to me, not only because I am observing this special day from overseas, but because I received a "special gift" a day after 31 August.

It was our graduation ceremony. That was it...our intensive Japanese language course has finally come to an end. We have graduated! And the special gift that I am talking about is the "Great Achiever's Award" which I was awarded during the graduation ceremony.

The normal certificate

The Great Achiever Award Certificate

Apparently, my overall scores were the highest in the class and it really came as a surprise to me. I never expected such recognition until my name was called out, because everyone in the class did excellently and I am sure the score differences were razor thin. There were 8 of us from different countries and at that moment of receiving the award, I felt really touched and proud that I have achieved something not only in paper terms, but also as a Malaysian representing the country. Thank God for everything!

I am 5th from left

For that, I was presented a class momento, our lecturer's own "limited edition" cup with the class picture printed on the surface, and a special certificate that has the words "Great Achiever's Award" in it.

I would never have imagined or even thought to be able to fly the Malaysian flag at such an appropriate time....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Japan's First Capital, NARA


Japan's largest bronze Buddha statue

En route to Kobe, we made a brief stop at Nara, about 42km from Kyoto. Nara is Japan's first capital and was established in the year 710. Nara is famous for the Todaiji (東大寺-Great Eastern Temple), an old temple constructed in 752. Todaiji houses Japan's largest bronze Buddha. The building itself, is also the world's largest wooden structure.

What I like about Nara is the old-Japan feel and the deer-ry surrounding. The deers are free to roam about and not in a confined area. One can touch and feed the deers and sometimes could get me abit agitated by their persistent pursuit for food.

In the Todaiji, one gets to try (and challenge themselves) to crawl through a small hole located at one of the supporting pillars of the temple. I would presume the hole measures about 1 foot x 1.5feet. It is said that if one could crawl through the hole successfully, they would achieve enlightenment. I feel this is so blasphemous especially coming from a place where the Great Buddha is exhibited, but for the sake of the "challenge", I tried. I managed to get through the hole without much difficulty even though the guy before me got stucked and I had to pull him out. I read that there were many more cases (every year) where the fire department had to be called to the scene to extricate people out of the small hole. These people may later realise they had to lose a few kilos, get some "en-lighten-ment" before trying again....

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More from Kyoto...

After Hiroshima, we turned direction and headed back to east. The trip was concluding from Kyoto. I have visited Kyoto more than any other places and now, I have been to Kyoto 4 times! This just shows how much I would recommend this place.
Trying out the different types of Ramen wherever we go, is a must. This place is in Kyoto's Shijo-Omiya. As usual, we went for the teishoku (set meal), as it is not only more worth it, but also suits big-eaters like myself. As shown in the picture, the teishoku which I took comes with a bowl of ramen, and a plate of fried rice. And people in Malaysia thought that I was on diet, judging from how scrawny I looked in the pictures. Oh please, I don't believe in skimping on meals.
The entrace to Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple)
Kiyomizudera is one of Japan's most celebrated Buddhist temples. Its history dates back to 780 and is now the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This place is called Gion. Gion is where geishas are often spotted walking along the corridor of the few remaining old architectural sites of Kyoto. We were lucky to spot one while checking out the old buildings in Gion. You may see a freaked out geisha as they are often swamped by tourist and photographers. Geisha is a dwindling profession, perhaps due to the general perceived idea of the job .

Above is the Heian Shrine.

This is Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) and was built is 1482. It is a Zen temple.

Fireworks in Scenic Miyajima Island

Our trip to Miyajima Island from Hiroshima was met with a large crowd going to the same place. It was the Hanabi Matsuri ( Fireworks Festival). The picture above shows the long queue for the ferry ride to Miyajima.

The ride to Miyajima Island offers one of the scenic views around the island.

This is the most famous floating torii gate located in Miyajima Island. This place is claimed to be the most photographed sight in Japan. Indeed it turned out to be a beautiful picture.

I never stopped clicking away when the fireworks started. Apparently, the silhouette of the torii gate turned out pretty nicely in the first picture.

This is the Hiroshima version of the okonomiyaki, one of the highlights of Hiroshima's "must-try" food. I have tried the Osaka one and this is something different. As you see it, it has a thinner layer of base as compared to the one in Osaka. It looks more like a tosei topped with mee-goreng, except that it is not spicy.