Sunday, November 29, 2009

We don't see dead people

The card almost gave me an almost imperceptible naughty wink as the word Saturday flashed in front of my eyes after two weeks of me seeing the word Sunday emblazoned on it. The good news is I wasn't alone.

Sally and I had planned to take a trip down to Seremban this weekend (we both figured it would be a nice drive on a Sunday evening) for Remy's wedding reception dinner after cancelling our plans to Ipoh at the 11th hour last week. I cannot explain how both our eyes fooled us into thinking of Sunday when it was clearly written that the dinner was supposed to be on Saturday. Nevertheless, we both missed it (I took a nap at 8:30 pm last night with the intention of finishing up my report when I got up at 11, but slept all the way through till 8 am and only found this amusing piece of news later in the day today, while Sally was online informing me about it on my FB status update)

Ah, well... another tale to add for the amusement of future grandkids, but what on earth do we tell Remy?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh, Coraline!

When it comes to awesome plots, my favourite author is undeniably Neil Gaiman with his unique blend of fantasy and horror, laden with interesting twists, ideas and disturbing characters that may sometimes leave you gaping in awe. Plus, he's wickedly good-looking. I first 'discovered' him while reading Good Omens which I have read three times so far and have been hunting down his books one by one since then, not an incredibly successful task I'm afraid as his graphic novels seem to be missing hereabouts. Can't seem to figure out which of his other books I like best, though...

I suppose it must be one of those 'firsts' for me to have read and watched a movie based on the book within one month of each other and this makes it much more fun. Coraline is a story about a little girl who is bored after she moves into her new house with her parents who somehow seem a bit absorbed in their work, leaving her to seek entertainment on her own. She finds a door in her house which apparently leads to nowhere as it is walled up but eventually leads her to adventure, good food, little black buttons and an incredible rescue mission when it opens up - much, much more than she ever bargained for.

A curious fact is that although both the book and the movie were slightly different in terms of the inclusion of extra characters (understandably needed for the movie to give it a respectable length) and a slight diversion in the story line, I enjoyed both the book and the movie immensely for the entertainment value they offered. The book because of the plot and the general storyline which is disturbing enough although it was written for children/young readers and the movie because of similar reasons, and the fact that it is stop motion, although both my sister and I find the Coraline in the movie slightly loud and almost annoying at times. Not what you'd picture the Coraline from the book to be. I did think the little "extra" information regarding the two ladies who happen to be her neighbours made the movie a tad bit more interesting. I suppose we could say that the book (and the movie) has a hidden message for parents to pay attention to their kids, which may otherwise lead them to paths no one really likes.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Japan - In a Nutshell

I have finally loaded up the whole Japan diary entry. The last count on Word was 78xx words altogether and yet I feel that it cannot describe fully all the new sights, sounds and tastes I experienced, not to mention the insanity that struck the whole lot of us. It could be that being a process engineer in the paint manufacturing sector can lead to serious damage of brain cells what with the smell of solvents wafting around and all.

A few things I forgot to mention in the previous posts includes how open minded the Japanese are... coming from a country where everything is censored (this includes the cleavage you see in pictures of actresses - some of our newspapers blur the cleavage - as if people don't know what it is), and I was incredibly intrigued by the so called dirty magazines on display (despite being a woman myself), and wanted to get one, but didn't. But I do think they underestimate women... JC and I had to put up with several rather sexist remarks, which seemed to carry undertones of them not being particularly pleased at the fact that we do not open up the pumps as a leisurely activity. For that, I'm very glad to be Malaysian. Other than a small majority of people who are idiots to begin with (some politicians, unfortunately), women are treated rather well... especially at my workplace.

Mount Fuji was an experience on it's own. We literally walked into clouds.

Another interesting thing of note I noticed was of people smoking. There are tonnes of smokers around, and yet they are not allowed to smoke anywhere they wish to (this includes open areas like the road and such) and are instead forced to stand in melancholic mood along back alleys while they get their fix.

Food was interesting (especially those outside the dorm ;)), but lacked a certain quality which I adore, that is spiciness, but otherwise it's an experience worth having.

The weather was pretty good (except for the typhoon) but that in itself was another new experience... We were too early for fall colours and balding trees, but I got to see some Japanese flora (sunflowers seem to be a favourite) and fruit trees.

Anyway, for easier reference, I have compiled the whole list of posts related to this particular Japan trip. Otherwise, you can refer to the category labelled Japan on the sidebar. Or scroll below

The Journey Begins
Final Week

Note:  Apologies about the massive quantity of blogging in a day, but I had to do it while I had the opportunity to do so. Blogging has been erratic of late due to various reasons that I may or may not explain on a later date, but I figured that I might as well load the whole thing here while it was still relevant. And I also apologise if I have not been visiting your blogs and commenting as usual... things should be able to get back into their normal groove by mid November. Or so I hope... 

Edit: Stuff I forgot to add...
1. Miso soup, the soup served with almost every meal differs in taste from region to region (or from cook to cook)
2. The younger generation seem to be doing jobs most older people in M'sia do. I wonder where do the older people work?
3. While sitting in a shinkansen (300km/hr), the view outside is almost synonymous with those old movies that seem to move frame by frame when you pass by electric poles
4. The shinkansen apparently shrinks in width when it passes by another shinkansen in the next track. I was unfortunate enough to not be able to experience the shrinking.

The Final Week

October 19, 2009
Training resumes

Had a long and tiresome lecture about a (banyak songeh – nearest translation I can come up with is very annoying) customer’s audit form. Their English can be incredibly confusing.

Miyoshi is cold, cold and cold. The room is freezing. Went shopping at the supermarket (a 15 minute walk only, this time. We must have been exhausted yesterday) for some sweets. (I’m falling asleep in class) and ended up a while later in CK’s and Kenny’s for some Alaskan crab which CK cooked (steamed over boiling water) on one of those electric stoves they borrowed from our apartment.

Why the hell is their place so warm?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

We have a new trainer in today, and a new training lesson, one of particular importance. Just realized that quite a lot of current practice needs to be revised.

Now, due to a certain food restriction of mine, the chef at the dormitory has been attempting to turn me into a vegetarian. He served me a fried egg this morning instead of what the others got. (I consider egg to be vegetarian – long story) It’s a sad, sad day :(

The whole group went out for dinner with a former adviser who’s now based in this plant and his friend who used to be an adviser in Indonesia and was conversing with Dewey in Bahasa Indonesia ( a slight variation from the Malaysian language) We had Chinese food. When we asked him (the adviser who used to be in Malaysia) if he preferred Malaysian Chinese food or Japanese Chinese food, he answered without hesitation… Malaysian. Malaysia 1, Japan 0 :p

Anyway, JC discovered why our apartment was always freezing cold even with the heater on before dinner. Apparently, our windows were slightly open which allowed the cold air to creep in and freeze us every day. After closing it just now, it does indeed seem so much warmer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Breakfast was sad today. The crazy dorm chef served me raw fish roe. I don’t even like cooked fish roe, and here there was a piece of raw fish roe staring at me, all pink and probably waiting to grow into little fishies to swim in the ocean if they weren’t already dead. Anyway, I left it back in the freezer area of the kitchen. Why oh why did the first trainer have to mention my bloody food restriction? I could have done selective eating like I usually do 

I suppose I forgot to mention that besides a new trainer, we also have a new interpreter who speaks excellent English and Malay (he was based in Malaysia for sometime and picked up the language here (or is it there? I’m confused… LOL) and refers to himself as Orang Paling Kacak (Most handsome person) He is most amicable and made the training pretty fun. Our trainer on the other hand (who was given the nickname “Shinkansen” by Orang Paling Kacak due to his speed while walking, which even Orang Paling Kacak had difficulty keeping up with – he keeps reminding us that he is after all 63 years old) was a bit disorganized. He made us run between the GC and the IR machines which were located in two different buildings from 1:00 pm right up to almost 5 pm. I bet it would have been hilarious for people to see us in our pale green uniforms and white safety helmets walking at high speeds back and forth in a single file.

Tonight we had dinner on our own as a group. It was a farewell dinner we had for ourselves with the usual point and order method. I wasn’t up to translating and I noticed phrasebooks don’t serve so well when you really need them to. I can’t seem to remember what I was looking for, but I couldn’t find it then. I ordered “Udon Kare” (literally translated to Wheat Noodle in Curry) which tasted different from any of the curries I’ve ever had before. It was creamy in consistency and got creamier as it cooled (I eat pretty slowly), and was kind of sweetish. We also bought a big ass sushi dish for our ‘farewell party’ later tonight which is supposed to be held at Chu’s and PY’s place. As of today, I have officially eaten all of the Japanese dishes I’ve heard of. That is an accomplishment indeed!

Thursday, October 22, 2009
I am officially too tired to write anything due to all the laughing at our second farewell party. Yes, we’re that crazy. We had another dinner earlier today with the trainer and the interpreter. It was fun. I know I am gonna miss this lot.

Friday, October 23, 2009
The final day

Gosh, here I am, sitting alone in this hotel room after a 6 hour journey across the island again. My flight tomorrow is in the morning, and CK, Kenny, JC and myself were chaperoned by our disorganized trainer (who by now is slightly tipsy) through bus rides, subways, the shinkansen and finally the Narita Express (this ride is awesome, baby) Had to say farewell to JC at the Tokyo station where she’d be meeting her friend. It was then I realized how lonely I’d be tonight without a partner in crime to discuss the conspiracy theory of Kenny having a thing for CK.


So back to the farewell parties of Wednesday and Thursday….

As we walked back from the Jusco shopping mall (that’s where we’d be able to have a better option in picking a venue), there was a discussion to have a party at Chu’s and PY’s place, since most of us had actually nothing better to do (unless if we wanted to write our reports, or in my case document each day before sleeping) Actually JC and I were a bit reluctant at first, and decided to go and just show our faces (there was some issue about the sushi which I can’t really recall well right now), hang around a bit and then get out. However, once when we got there, we stayed there for a long, long time playing this really strange game called 007 Pang!

It goes like this… (in case any of us ever need a game idea for a party in the future) One person starts the game by pointing at another person and says 0, that person points to another and says 0, the person who gets the second 0 points to another and says 7, the person who gets 7 points again at another and says Pang. The person who gets Pang should keep quiet whilst the two people on their left and right should raise their hands and say “waaah”. In the event that the sequence is not followed properly, the wrongdoer is required to be punished, and in this case, it was to either eat sushi or drink.

This activity got Kenny very, very drunk at some point and he began to get very friendly (a bit too friendly, I’d say) with CK as the rest of us looked on, amused. It was hilarious watching CK trying to get away from the clutches of Kenny. Actually, it was partly CK’s fault that Kenny got drunk, because when it was his turn to call someone “Pang!” he’d point to someone else but scream in Kenny’s ear (they were sitting next to each other) and this causes Kenny to raise his hands (although he shouldn’t, according to the games rules) and hence he was punished.Yours truly, with a focus that has almost psychopathic tendencies managed to avoid getting into any trouble. Besides, I usually refrain from taking alcohol. Sighs with relief.

On Thursday night, we had another farewell dinner with OPK and our disorganized trainer. The food was really good and the restaurant looked lovely. Among the dishes we had included gingko nuts, cheese and rice okonomiyaki (very interesting!), some salad, mussels in soup, chicken and sweet potato ice cream and even a dish of raw fish roe with rice and green tea all mixed up. I took one chopstick helping of that just for the sake of trying it. It had an acceptable taste, and was spicy (zOMG) just my knowledge of there being raw fish roe in it (and potential worms) deterred me from enjoying it thoroughly

After dinner, the guys wanted to hang out again in Chu’s and PY’s place for a so-called final farewell party. And since it was technically our last night together, all of us sat in their hall and watched a silent movie on their TV while chatting about the training and ourselves until Kenny wanted to play 007 Pang again. And so we did, and this time his condition got even worse than the day before, especially because after we got bored of 007, he suggested we play his version of spin the bottle, whereby the person who gets the bottle pointing at them gets punished. (Personally, I have a feeling that he really did want to get drunk)

He actually collapsed on the floor after going to the loo, but not before grabbing CK by the waist again in a very strange kind of way. I wonder if I’m being mean to suspect him having a thing for CK.

The ‘party’ ended at about 10:00 pm, and we had training for half the day the next day before heading out halfway across the island to get back.

THE END.

Halfway Across the Island

October 18, 2009
The journey across *half of Honshu

I woke up early to pack my remaining stuff and clean up the room I had seeked shelter in for the past two weeks. There was enough hair on the ground to give a doll a head full of hair. It is indeed very difficult cleaning up a room without a broom!

My luggage had been couriered on Friday night, so I only had my backpack and a hand carry. This was the time I regretted my decision for lugging my laptop around. We switched trains so many times I have some difficulty remembering them. The best part though was I got to ride the Shinkansen, the ever famous bullet train (shaped like a bullet, interestingly) Somewhere in the middle of the journey, our trainer who was with us beckoned us to a back window, and pointed out Mt Fuji to us, a little speck that disappeared within a minute. I can’t say how incredibly glad I am that we actually went up Mt Fuji instead of relying on getting a peek at it from the train.

Upon reaching Nagoya, we took the subway, changed trains twice until we finally reached our stop where we were picked up by the company car and a cab. One thing I have to say is that despite being on the same island, Nagoya seems worlds apart from Hiratsuka. Firstly, the people in Hiratsuka were much better looking (sharp noses, larger eyes, animated faces) whereas the people of Nagoya were rather ordinary looking. Secondly is the climate, while Hiratsuka was cool, it was not as cold as Nagoya is. Of course the most obvious difference is that Hiratsuka was a somewhat bustling place whereas Nagoya is somewhat country-ish and not as clean. Amagasaki – near Osaka (the place I visited in 2007 was the cleanest and crispest of the lot)

After putting up our heavy bags in our rooms (JC and I share an apartment unit this time) we were shown around the dorm and taken out for a group dinner. It was a Japanese-Western fusion restaurant where the food was just OK. Personally, I think the combo of JC, CK and myself have found much better food by ourselves in this country where we don’t really speak the language (we mostly order food by pointing our finger on the dish that looks nice)


Anyway, we’re not in Nagoya city as I thought but in a small town called Miyoshi. The nearest supermarket (which also housed the restaurant we went to) is about a 25 minute walk away, that is after a whole day of traveling while lugging a couple of heavy bags around!

This room is freezing. I’m gonna go and sit in the hall where the radiator is.

*Naturally, this is an exaggeration

Standing on Top of the World (Almost)

Saturday, 17 October, 2009
Over 2000 metres on top of the world.

So, it’s supposedly Diwali/Deepavali today, aside from the few texts I received from a few friends (too few indeed, not even from some of the usual suspects - nobody likes me! :(, but then again, I didn't send out any either) and my sister (my parents have yet to learn the fine art of texting) as well as a few of my training buddies (in person), the day was spent in the most unconventional way for what is well known as a traditional holiday with supposedly traditional activities – in my case eating and sleeping (because you would be lacking sleep the few days before as you stay awake to bake cookies and clean the house, etc) We went all the way to Mt Fuji!!

As I might have mentioned earlier, the idea of going to Mt Fuji was not very well received by our trainer. He tried to talk us out of it by saying that you could die there, falling off the cliff, and how cold it would be, etc, but we would not budge. He finally relented (albeit reluctantly) while stating that he’d get us some influenza medicine in case we fell sick!

The journey to Mt Fuji started early as we trooped out of our dorms by 6:45 to be at Hiratsuka station by 7:30 the latest. It was an hour long train ride followed by an almost 3 hour ride by bus to the fifth station of Mt Fuji, the highest the buses would take us before you trekked up the mountain in your own with your backpack and your own two feet. Going up along the way, I tried to recall the geography lessons from the school days about the different types of flora (and here it was in autumn colours which were lovely – the rest of Japan is still green with sunshiny days, although the wind can be quite chilly) you’d see with elevation as you climbed a mountain, but alas! My memory failed me big time.

Finally at around 12:05 pm after a scenic journey (and tons of noise from an American family in the bus with us), we reached the fifth station only to be greeted with teeth chattering cold. Nevertheless, I did manage to catch a glimpse of the mountain peak before it got covered in clouds again.

The Fifth station was filled with souvenir shops which we skipped as we headed straight towards the path which would eventually lead the more adventurous to the peak. After donning on our winter wear (they said the temperatures were about 10C there, but the cold winds made it feel much cooler), we trekked up the pathway, walking into clouds and seeing volcanic ash along the way (Mt. Fuji, or Fuji-san as it is known locally is an extinct volcano which last erupted in the 18th century ) and it’s interesting to make a speculation as to how old a certain particular piece of volcanic rock was. I took one piece as a souvenir.

Overall, it was a one of a kind experience. Later, after our descent (we may have walked about a kilometer one way, mostly on a straight path) we checked out the souvenir shops. I went a bit crazy on the mochis for the familia. Hopefully, it stays fresh until it reaches Malaysia. Ate a delicious sausage with mustard (the Japanese kind which had the same effect that wasabi has)

And then it rained.

The journey down took longer than expected as there was a massive jam. I just realized that we didn’t have lunch and I wasn’t feeling hungry as well then. As we parted with our trainers at the train station, we were told to gather at the same place at eleven-ish the next day for our journey to Nagoya, where the second phase of our training begins.

On the way back, we split into two groups again. Five of us, the 3 Malaysians, Kenny and Dewey (the Indonesian) went back to the dorm because we had plans to go to the barbeque restaurant seeing that it was Deepavali and all. Chu and PY went to Toys’r’us for toys for their kids.

After chucking our heavy bags (winter coats are bloody heavy!), all of us except for Dewey (because he has certain severe food restrictions) headed out to the barbeque place for dinner. They turned us out. So we trooped next door where they served teppanyaki style cooking. It was a bit of an issue as none of us can really read Japanese that well, and we had to ask the waitress to explain what each dish was. With a mixture of my incredibly rusty Japanese and some body language, we managed to order some Okonomiyaki, something I can’t recall the name (edit: Monjayaki) of and some Yaki-soba (mee goreng, if you will – seasoned with what tasted like barbeque sauce) It was a delicious meal in an equally cosy restaurant. The teppanyaki stove gave us tropical people some much needed heat.

It was a lovely day.

PS: I can't seem to get a good flow between the pictures and my words, sadly. From the top left: 1. The view as we walked towards the peak. 2. The peak seen from the 2000 meter level before the clouds ganged in on the mountain. 3. Volcanic rock - probably from the previous eruption 4. The flora along the ride up the mountain 5.  Indicator

Week Two - Hiratsuka

Monday, 12 October 2009.
Back to training

The skin is still awful, and I found a whole bunch of hair fall off my comb while combing my hair. Is it the MSG, or the water, or my shampoo?
Anyway, training today was pretty dreary because the whole lot was conducted in the classroom. Turns out, the PEs in Japan too are sometimes faced with unsolved mysteries in terms of product problems, so we are not alone.

After training, we headed out together for dinner, all the 7 of us because the cafeteria was closed (It was apparently a holiday in Japan which we and the trainers were not involved in!) As CK, JC and I had travelled the streets of Hiratsuka on practically a daily basis, we seemed to lead the way to the place we were supposed to go for dinner. It was hilarious seeing CK being all tour guide-ish, informing our other 4 friends what restaurants there are and what they serve and the price range. Finally, we ended up at a very cozy looking place which served ramen noodles, but the variety of soup bases were much more interesting. I was incredibly glad to have found that chilli does indeed exist here and requested for the spicy soup base. It tasted like a fragrant version of curry mee. Chu paid for the meal stating that it was on the Thailand company’s account. I have also officially stopped eating rice for lunch and dinner. It takes up way too much space and time.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Fully into the groove of the second week of training. Nevertheless, we had changed venues, and the PE office is right next door. I was incredibly distracted by the sounds of the paper shredder. Do they have that many confidential documents? Honestly, I’d rather not use the paper shredder… I use the recycle bin after I’ve used both sides of the paper!

I took 5 cups of Japanese green tea today. The chocolate milk carton I bought turns out to be a cocoa drink and lacks real milk. I worry to think of the fate of my bones these three weeks. Osteoporosis, please stay away. Unlike the last time, I noticed that I could at least drink plain water this time. Another bunch of hair came off the right side of my head today. And yet another thing to worry about.

JC, CK, Chu, PY and I headed to the Hiratsuka Station by bus after dinner to prepare for our Mt Fuji ‘expedition’ on Saturday. The temperature up there would be about 10 C. Naturally getting to the peak (0 C) would be out of the question, but no one wants to have news sent back home that they’re up on Mt Fuji, frozen or worse, dead due to hypothermia, either.  I wanted to get a beanie and a scarf and a small hand carry. Long story… but the beanies there were ugly as hell, so I only ended up with a scarf and the hand carry.

Anyway, CK mysteriously carried his backpack to town, something he’s never done before. And he went off shopping by himself stating that he’d meet us at stop no 6 (our stop) after 15 minutes or so. Also, we usually exchange news on items we found/bought, and this time, he pointedly refused to reveal what he got, stating that it’s a *guy thing…  and I thought it was women who usually played the mysterious card! Finished Lost Diaries tonight after a marathon reading session, regrettably. Now I’m out of books to read!

A few things I noticed this past one and a half weeks… living without the internet is possible, although you may miss certain things you usually do, like finding out what’s on people’s mind, or sharing what’s on yours, or communicating with certain people whom you occasionally communicate with via the internet, or even blogging, but it doesn’t kill you. The quiet life is not too bad, as long as you’ve got some good music (still loads available), good reads (I’m dead now), and something to pass the time with. I currently find that doing the laundry and reorganizing my music files makes time move. I kind of miss Malaysia, though…

* Naturally JC and I played a little game among ourselves trying to guess what CK could be so secretive about. Edit: Turns out we guessed correctly. Back in M'sia sort of admitted to getting some Japanese porn for himself and the guys... can't see why is that such a big secret!

14 October, 2009
Still in Hiratsuka

JC and I can’t seem to wait for Saturday where Mt Fuji beckons. Training was as usual… more discussion and we find out that all PEs have very similar problems. Slept late last night because of Lost Diaries, and paid dearly for it today as I was incredibly drowsy during training.

Attempted to make myself a cup of coffee from the Blendy coffee packet and gave up. Even with two sticks of sugar the coffee was bitter and made my hair rise on its ends. Pouring some milk from the mini milk containers didn’t help either. I think I will just stick with green tea after this.

Stayed in today as we have apparently seen all we needed to see in Hiratsuka. Had to do some packing as well as we shall be sending our big ass luggage by courier to Nagoya on Friday evening, our next point of training. I tried to do my report but seemed to have lost my gusto for it, instead I sat next to the laptop and listened to some new stuff a friend gave me over a month ago. Good stuff.

My plans to sleep early was thwarted by a sudden obsession to play solitaire, of all things!

Thursday, 15 October, 2009

I am planning to sleep early today. Training was ok, but we seem to keep repeating the grinding process, which should be good for me as it is the hardest part as well as that I happen to be in charge of it at my place. Still am moodless to do the reports. Went out with JC for a walk for chocolates for the people at the office. I got some free chopsticks today when I asked for a pair from the salesperson.

Spent the rest of the night doing laundry and listened to more music.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Last day of training in the Hiratsuka plant
I can’t believe that two weeks are over. This second week seems to have moved on pretty fast. It’s only 7:15 pm here as I type this and I’m incredibly sleepy. Managed to haul my big ass luggage down the stairs, and it’s now there awaiting the courier man who will arrive anytime between now and 9 pm.

Training was pretty good today, although I was still feeling drowsy (my sleep was disrupted by a pretty disturbing dream about me organizing a contest between a lion and a tiger to see who was better at catching a single prey, in this case a white fluffy rabbit in an open field as throngs of people who think gore is good looked on from elevated platforms. I even shook hands with the tiger! Nevertheless it was a sick sight as the rabbit turned from white to a pink hue and everyone knows what that pink colouring is. For some reason, I had to leave the place and drive home, leaving behind my jacket and bag, only it wasn’t home although my family lived there. I had to use the gps to find the venue again, and as I entered the elevated platform I was on earlier, it was blocked because there was a Chinese calligraphy competition for kids going on. I retrieved my stuff and woke up.) We ended the training session with a small photography session.

I shall attempt report writing in a bit.

Old Meets New

Sunday, 11 October 2009
Kamakura

I looked at my face in the mirror today in shock, not that I don’t look in the mirror every day, but I had on my contact lenses and could clearly see my skin peeling around the left side of my nose. I blame it all on the cool wind (despite the sun shining at your face)

Today we visited Kamakura, an ancient place with shrines and temples aplenty. We checked out Engaku Ji, a shrine that houses Buddha. Unlike the last time where we did an Amazing Race type visit, this one was very relaxed and laid back. Personally, I preferred the Amazing Race type. At least I managed to get some background info on all the places I visited, but I shall refrain from complaining. These people sacrificed their weekend to take us around.

After the shrine, we took a train to the town, where we had lunch at McDonalds. As weird as it may seem, I welcomed the idea because
a)    Their menu is different from ours
b)    Change is good
c)    See above

Apparently, Kamakura is another tourist destination because there seemed to be streets dedicated to shopping, filled with brick brats famous in local culture and loads of people walking along those streets. Some of us did some souvenir shopping here. I refrained from getting too many things this time… I saw a toy katana and the sidekick sword, but wasn’t too sure if the airport authorities would be pleased by it, so I didn’t get it. After all, it was only a toy, so it beats the purpose.

At the end of the street was another shrine. It was a pity that I never got its name. The trainer tried explaining the religious beliefs of the people of Japan, which would best be summarized by saying that it is a blend of Buddhism and God (Shinto-ism) I caught a glimpse of a Japanese traditional wedding ceremony (although I think I saw two separate brides and ceremonies, JC says there were three brides and three ceremonies, one after the other), little kids dressed in traditional costumes for the 3,5 7 ceremony. This one involves girls aged 3 and 7 and boys aged 5. 

We climbed up the stairs to the building above and our Japanese trainers were worried about the stairs. They are apparently unaware of the existence of Batu Caves and it’s 272 steps. Once again, it’s not as though any of us visit Batu Caves on a frequent basis. The last time I was there was maybe around the late 90’s or early 00’s. Anyway, the steps were not daunting to say the least, I climb more flights of stairs at work daily.

After this particular shrine, we walked back along the shopping street and went back to the train station to head back to Hiratsuka. It was still early when we reached there, and we wanted to hang out a bit more to make the weekend more worthwhile. Our invitation to the rest of the group was once again declined with excuses of wanting to rest/wash clothes, etc. So CK, JC and I hung out again to look for Monday’s lunch (we were asked to get a bento box because the cafeteria would be closed), and do some window shopping and exploring that particular part of Hiratsuka. We then had dinner at a place that specialized in soba, buckwheat noodles in cold soup and lots of wasabi. Then it was back to the room.

I started reading Adrian Mole’s - The Lost Diaries tonight after finishing 1984, which took me about a week. I strongly believe that I am going to run out of books to read before my three weeks here are up.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

(Don't) be my Yoko Ono, (Yokohama) !

Saturday, 10 October 2009
Yokohama!

From the very beginning of our visit, our trainers had been asking us where we’d want to go for the weekend. Even while back in Malaysia, while busy compiling stuff (work related) to take CK and I had planned that we should check out Mt Fuji and Disneyland (this was CK’s idea. For some unknown reason, Disneyland wasn’t part of my itinerary, me being more interested in the cultural or historical aspect of things but I was cool with it. After all, chances are I might never be able to get to Florida to go to the real one) However, we were soon to find out that Disneyland needs at least two days, and that everything would be in Japanese. And somehow, the Japanese were not too keen on Mt Fuji, stating that we could see it from the Shinkansen when we travel from Hiratsuka to Nagoya. Why would we want to just see Mt Fuji? Going to it would be a better bet, aight?

Anyway, we met with the trainers at the train station at 10 am to go to Yokohama. I absolutely love the train system here. Now, Yokohama is well known as a tourist’s place as we saw a huge number of tourists (mostly Western in origin) We walked around the outside of the stadium, across Yamashita Park where I tried snapping a picture of a tortoise, met a crazy person (seriously, the dude was shouting at no one in particular while I blurly tried to get a shot of the fountain), and we finally headed to walk along ChinaTown (See, it IS a tourist spot) We saw the Hikawa Maru, a ship that travelled between Yokohama and Seattle around the 1930’s right up till 1961. Somewhere within those years she was made into what they called a Hospital Ship during the war. There seemed to be an international carnival of sorts going on as well, where cuisine and brick brats from certain countries were displayed for sale. It was interesting to see, but I thought it was odd getting cool stuff from the African or Peruvian stall whilst in Japan. Don’t ask.

Lunch was Chinese (but I’ve had better)  and we then just kept on walking and walking. I thought it was a waste that we just walked instead of stopping at places that could have been interesting (we passed by a silk museum, and the Soka Gakkai Building among others). Coincidentally, half of our group was stuck at a red traffic light and I had the chance to take a picture of Nihon –O Dori, the first modern street in Japan. I am now interested to find out more about the slightly more modern history of Japan. Enough of reading on emperors and the war in school.

We saw another ship after that, this one a training ship followed by a performance by a street performer and some jazz music near the Communication Tower (name?) A request to check out the aquarium (which houses a killer whale, I kid you not) was rejected for some reason. We then took the train back to Hiratsuka. The trainers took us to a 100 yen shop near the station as we related our almost sad tale of not being able to find the one near our dorm on Friday. Dinner was ramen this time. Not fully up to our expectations but it was alright seeing that we lacked variety in our daily food intake. Once again it was only the three of us, CK, JC and myself, with one of the trainers. The other trainees had decided to get bento boxes (lit translated: lunch box) for their dinner.



Monday, November 02, 2009

The First Week is the Longest

Thursday, 8 October 2009
The Typhoon

I was awoken at 5 am by a loud sound, but refused to get up until after 6. The sun rises early here, and you tend to wake up with it regardless if your curtains are drawn or not. Looking out of the window, I could see the effect of the ‘tempias’ (can’t find the perfect translation for this in English, sorry) of the typhoon that hit Tokyo. The wind was so strong that you could see trees swaying like crazy. There’s a motorbike parked right beneath my window, and the sheet that supposedly protects it was blowing with the strong winds and looked as though it was about to fly. The walk to the training place was challenging compared to the other days as the wind threatened to blow us away. Surprisingly by noon, the sky was clear once again and we saw the sun. According to our trainer/translator, the sun comes out when the typhoon ends.



Later that evening, we headed out to town. ***We took the bus to the train station, which is like the most happening place there. We tried some shopping. JC needed a coat, I just wanted to look around and so we split into several groups and headed our own way until we met again at 9 pm. The saddest part is that everything closes by 8 pm and it gets dead boring. I kind of like the walkways in Japan, though. The streets have some interesting signage at certain areas.

Did laundry tonight. I love the warmth of the clothes after it comes out of the dryer!

*** This time we went out in a group, all 7 of us. JC and I have this feeling that the Singaporean dude somehow does not like us at all. I think I’ll call him Kenny. This is because, on Wednesday, when CK, JC and I went out, we called Kenny along as well after finding out that he was actually a Malaysian working in Singapore, but he declined. Turns out he likes hanging out with CK (he apparently went over to CK’s room to call him out for a walk on Tuesday night) and not JC and I. Maybe we talk too much – at least to each other. Conspiracy and orientation theories aside, it’s Kenny’s loss.


Friday, 9 October 2009
We live for weekends.

Training continued as usual today, a bit of classroom session and a bit of a lab session. They have very high tech equipment here, especially for testing and the process engineers actually have their own department with their own mini machines (one looks like those old fashioned urns people use for storing dead relatives ashes, hehehe) , a few labs and a pilot plant. It looks like a great place to work in. It would be lovely if we could expand the PE team in my workplace, get a couple of machines and have our own lab instead of having that one pathetic bench in the QA lab.

The guys from Thailand wanted to check out the *100 yen shop, and the trainers said that it was near our place. Just walk for 30 minutes and you can see it. So, we decided to go and check it out. The group from 7 reduced to just 3 of us (CK, JC and me) as one by one of the others backed out. The worst was when Chu refused to go stating that ‘no one else’ was going. Then who are we? Ghosts??? Anyway, we walked and walked, at top speed. One awesome thing about Japan is that you can walk and walk and not feel tired because the weather is such. Alas! We did not find the 100 yen shop and backtracked. I took the walking as some form of exercise, hehehe.

Walking back, we decided to stop by at one posh looking restaurant that was at the side of the street. This one had the proper tatami concept, where you’d sit on a cushion on the floor. The food was lovely compared to what we usually have at the **cafeteria. I took a noodle dish (Udon, if I’m not mistaken) with some tempura and tamago toji (egg with a meat and vegetable base that has custardlike consistency)

*The 100 yen shop is the Japanese concept where everything in the shop is sold at 100 yen, (actually it’s now 105 yen for some reason that I haven’t found out yet) which can be quite good if you’re sort of looking for something cheap. My beloved scientific calculator refuses to work here, so I bought a 100 yen basic calculator in a different shop of the same concept (about RM4 or USD 1.x)

**The cafeteria food thing was planned by our respective companies, and they’re the basic fare of rice, miso soup, a main dish (in our case mostly fish or chicken because I don’t take beef and the Indonesian guy doesn’t take pork), and a side dish and Japanese green tea. Like any other institutionalized food, you get bored after some time. For me, it was 4 days. The cafeteria at the workplace serves similar dishes as well, but you have a choice from 4 menus, and they serve everything there. I don’t usually take much meat, maybe twice a week or so, but over here, I’ve been having some sort of meat (or fish) almost every day, and a bit too much pork. I’m worried about my belly.

From the top: The little boxes where we can place our shoes safely while enjoying a meal, the meal I ordered, Udon, the fish that remained after it was sliced ever so delicately for the sashimi - the dish my colleague ordered.