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November, 2006

  1. Winter booty

    November 30, 2006 by admin

    Seeing how mournful I was in my last post, I thought I would write about something fun. Things are a little on the rough side in Tokyo but I’m powering on and won’t let the small stuff get me down.

    One of the things that irritated me no end was my lack of stylish, warm winter wear. I have one light blue fleece from Zara (SGD29.90) that works okay for a chilly 15 degrees. When I put this on, I feel like I’m a Singaporean who’s fresh off the boat who doesn’t know a thing about winter. The tacky windbreaker feel doesn’t help at all. The second one I have is a fire engine red hooded jacket made of some parachute-like material. Also from Zara, the zipper got busted while I was in Hokkaido on a work assignment. It took five days of zipping and unzipping to undo itself. Like the light blue one, this one makes me look like a tourist from a tropical country. There’s no warm lining either. I tried on the wool (mixed with some stretchy cloth) turtlenecks I bought at the beginning of this year and the neckline never fails to cling around my neck too tightly. See what you get for paying SGD20 for crap? I’ve taken to tug at it all day long in class.

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    The only gem I have is this beautiful white coat I got from Mango that I’m wearing to death right now. “I’ve had it,” I declared to myself. “I’m sick of looking dumpy.”

    I took myself to Gap and stocked up on enough cute sweaters and Lycra tops to get through at least a week without wearing the same thing twice. It’s so depressing to wear the same top twice in a week. I only had three pairs of thick socks, which I wear one pair at home and one out. You can imagine how much washing I do. Last week I was hesitant because I didn’t want to dip into my savings.

    Can you believe I got these dirty green ones? I was on a super-tight schedule as I was only told about this work trip two weeks in advance and Singapore has an incredible dearth of great looking winter wear. I also have dull-looking blue ones in the same fashion. So unsexy.

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    The wind blew through my shivering bones today for the umpteenth time so I decided I should spend the money. What’s the use of the cash if I’m too frozen to spend it? It’s also another incentive to put the money back.

    Ah, the psychology of justifying retail therapy is enough to put a thrill through my spine.

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    I got cosy, soft togs made of angora (so exotic! I’ve never worn anything made of angora in my life!), lamb’s wool (so foreign!), cashmere (ooo luxury…) and flannel (too comfy). Sorry I’m all exclamation marks but I’m so looking forward to dressing decent for once. Hopefully feeling comfortable on the outside will seep inwards.

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    That’s my spanking new winter jacket from Zara. I know, why would I get yet another possible dud? Cos it looked so pretty!! Okay I studied it properly and the seams look sturdy to me and one zipper doesn’t make all in the shop bad. It’s got thick flannel lining too with knit on the cuffs. Kawaii desu ne…

  2. Loneliness versus solitude

    November 28, 2006 by admin

    “I’ve never felt so lonely in my life till I came to Japan,” said J. my newfound friend from Singapore. “But it’s such a refreshing feeling.” He used to be surrounded by pals back home, leading the yuppy life. Even on SGD2000 he could afford to have nice dinners and drinks at Zouk Wine Bar regularly. He left all that and feels he’s become a better man.

    Leaving home has been a dream for me for a long time. Perhaps you could liken it to one of those peeps who come from small towns that want to come out of the fish bowl and into the ocean.

    While I swam away eagerly, this loneliness is so overwhelming I’m not sure how to contain it. Back home, I lived away from the foggies and with flat mates – our paths barely crossed except for rent and busted light bulbs – and I loved the solitude. After a hard day’s work at the office, it was a relief to retreat into my cave. There were times that I also felt lonely but it was slightly different. I could deal with it. I was lonely for Mr. D, lonely for a good chat with a best bud, and lonely for affection. There were times I felt lost in a heaving crowd or MRT or a bustling supermarket but at the end of the day, I could sleep in peace and wake up feeling rested.

    Here, I feel uneasy every moment of the day. Grammar in class is getting more difficult and there are lots to memorise. When I speak to a Japanese person outside when I’m buying things, I forget all that I’ve learned in class. I don’t think I spend my days as productively as I can because I want to log on and talk to my friends from Singapore who tickle my funny bone and bring comfort to me in this strange city thousands of miles away from their smiles and hugs. But that’s not the way to go either. I need to focus on what I need to do. How can I move forward if I keep clinging to those at home? I’ve got a little over 2,000 yen (SGD25) in my pocket and it makes me feel insecure. Mr. D is away in India now. I know I can dip into my emergency stash but I don’t want to be frivolous about cash. I check my Singapore mobile now and again to see if anyone has SMSed me. But of course nobody ever does – I do it out of habit.

    I have made a few friends here and still getting referrals from friends to meet their friends. So far, I think I’m doing okay in that department because it takes time to develop friendships but of course nothing beats familiarity of old friends. With new people, you’re always trying to put your best face forward and search for the right things to say. I’m not complaining that life sucks here but it’s this unsettled feeling that is quite a shock to the system.

    The hollowness in my soul right now doesn’t seem to have a bottom to it. When I breathe in the chilly air, it cuts through the emptiness with a wistful knife. I wish the wind would sweep away these feelings of loneliness. I read somewhere that one of our greatest fears is being alone. I used to think I was comfortable with solitude and am adept at nursing bouts of loneliness but I don’t really know how to cure myself these days. I cook spaghetti bolognaise because it’s my ultimate comfort food. I can’t have mee pok here obviously but that will do. Another embarrassing confession: I watch an episode of Sex & the City before bed because Japanese TV still makes the home feel foreign (though I am delighting in some programmes where I pick out words I’ve learned in school). I make iced tea with apple juice even though it’s freezing. I chuck down a glass of warm water after that to quell the shivers. I still keep up with a few blogs from Singapore out of habit even though sometimes I do get bored of them. I wear my favourite perfume everyday – Anna Sui by Anna Sui – but I’m a little sad to hear they’ve stopped production of this (hopefully my huge bottle will last at least two years).

    Stealing an idea from The Shield, a TV cops and drama series, criminals who tend to be loners need a fixed routine in order to feel a sense of comfort. If you don’t have friends, the stability and consistency of a routine takes away the loneliness. Old people generally have that too. I always wondered why would anyone want to do the same thing over and over everyday? In Singapore I would shake up the mix. I shifted my running times, meal times, things I ate, things I bought…I was always experimenting but I’ve to admit the spaghetti bolognaise never changed :p

    I hope I will find my loneliness and solitude refreshing one day.

  3. Onsen indulgence

    November 24, 2006 by admin

    I’m kicking myself for not taking my camera out to the steaming baths in our hotel, Oodaru Spa Amagisou. Megumi warned us there was no place next to the baths to place our things so we only took our towels and bathrobes.

    It must’ve been five degrees out, but the more we soaked in the hot water, the less cold it felt even in just a bikini and a thin flannel robe. Mr. D was keen on a Japanese experience but was skeptical as to how much he’d enjoy taking baths. Let me just say, he was always the last one out and looked surprised when we were going to move on to the next one.

    One unforgettable onsen was a fertility cave. The air was humid and warm, unlike the cool outdoor ones, and the water was so hot it took me a few minutes to relax. Also, there was a fertility statue – a smiley old woman who put her arms round a large stone penis. We couldn’t stop laughing and I wish I could’ve taken a picture.

    In three hours, we soaked in 12 baths. Another incident that tickled was an old man who refused to wear his swimmers in the public onsens. His son or relative tried in vain to cover him up but the ol’ geezer kept swiping away his towel. In fact, he hobbled into the bath Mr.D and I were in – close to the stone I was sitting on. I had to look away and splashed my way to my kangaroo’s side. His utter lack of self-consciousness was too funny.

    After a dip in the indoor bath, we gathered in Scott and Megumi’s room for our dinner spread. Woweee…that’s just the first course.

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    Check out the shipful of sashimi. It looks as good as it tastes. Going in and out of onsens sure work up a healthy appetite.

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    That’s my idea of a great spa. Forget beauty treatments and massages. By the way, my skin felt super smooth after this trip.

  4. Where have I been?

    by admin

    Sorry for not posting in a while. I’ve been caught up in several things here. Mood-wise, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. There are days where I feel so lucky to be here but there are others when my mind is in a mess and I wonder how do I make my stay here worth the while or I just feel plain disoriented.

    I try to have a skeleton of a routine so I don’t feel so on edge. It’s my first time moving overseas and I don’t know if it’s just Japan but it has a peculiar way of making you feel you’re way out of your comfort zone. A few weeks ago, I felt so beaten because I couldn’t understand what the woman at the ramen shop in Shinagawa was saying. She looked at me funny as I nodded and stuttered my responses to whether I wanted an egg, or tamago, or not. Of course, the stone-cold rejection of my re-entry permission form was sobering. I got lost twice on this day and it’s not fun at all when a two-hour errand becomes five.

    Moving in again with Mr. D is proving challenging. I love being together and all but adjusting to our changed schedules and a different apartment poses obstacles I never thought of before. I wonder if it is just the apartment – the small space can get a tad annoying – but I figure just take things as they come. I wish there was a how-to book out there but I think patience and understanding are key to maintaining a loving relationship. What’s going on is the boat is being rocked, and if I had a choice, I don’t want to be doing the same ol’ same ol’ back in Singapore.

    Anyway, despite the dips, I’ve had highs, too. One of them was last weekend when Mr. D and I headed down south to Izu, a hot springs region, with Scott and Megumi. Just driving out onto the freeway and zooming past the endless metropolis felt surreal. It was a bit early for catching autumn colours but we did spot some gems like this one.

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    The landscape of Japan reminds me vaguely of what I saw in Italy — breathtaking mountains, valleys and densely clustered housing in the ‘burbs. Japan’s a little like that but its Japanesey style of architecture puts a unique spin and there aren’t any vineyards of course. Instead, rice padi fields are scattered where there is space. There must be something special in looking at so much red, orange and green in 24 hours because I felt fabulous.

  5. The foggies

    November 16, 2006 by admin

    Something’s been bugging me at the back of my mind – my folks. When I left, I made a promise to myself I’d email them once a week at least, plus calling. But it hasn’t been easy.

    Nobody replies to my emails. I include my sisters in the loop and I thought they would mumble a line or two in return.

    I called my mum two Sundays ago.

    Me: Helloooo. How are you?
    Mummy: Why are you calling? What do you want? (I kid you not)
    Me: Just calling to see how you are.
    Mummy: Oh.
    Me: So how are the dogs?
    Mummy: The same lor. Taffy’s eye is permanently blind now (my poor pug suffered a severe ulcer in her left eye two months ago)
    Me: Did you go to Greg’s granny’s funeral? (my brother-in-law’s grandmother passed away when I visited them)
    Mummy: No, what for?

    And this went on for another two minutes. She nagged me to take my vitamins so I won’t fall sick in winter.

    Me: Is Daddy there? Can I speak to him?
    Mummy: Okay, bye bye.

    Dooooooooooooo… I only heard the dial tone and not my dad’s voice.

    I know my folks are just being themselves and not ignoring me but it’s very discouraging for me to contact them in this one-sided way. All my life I’ve wondered why my parents are not only typically Asian folks but why can’t they defrost a little? As a teenager I used to read these books on American kids and their families in various fictional series where adults gave their offspring hugs when they felt sad, kind words of encouragement when the going gets rough, open affection was displayed like how the movies showed and people talked about their feelings. I was envious that I didn’t have that kind of family.

    Of course, as I grew up, these expectations are just impossible and unrealistic. I realise that whether I am there in the same country or not, I don’t really know my family all that well. I judge them on their behaviour and interpret their actions from my perspective, but do I get them at all?

    I will continue to fling my polite and censored versions of my experiences in Japan through cyberspace but I need to muster some strength to make another phone call.

  6. Piss Alley

    November 15, 2006 by admin

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    A lot has been said of this famous Tokyo icon — Piss Alley. It’s a labyrinth of tiny yakitori restaurants that can seat only up to 10 people at a go. I’ve been here twice already. The first was with Sue when she was in town and last Sunday, we met up with my friend Paul and his wife Serena, who were in Tokyo for two nights. They were touring Japan for two weeks. I’ve never met his wife but she’s a great gal to chat with. Mr. D enjoyed talking to Paul.

    I met Paul at a Channel 12 pow-wow yonks ago when I was working for a certain women’s magazine. Trapped near the coffee counter, I was dying inside of boredom because I didn’t know a single person, except for a rival magazine’s editor, who was in a snappish mood. As I shifted my weight from foot to foot, a friendly voice said, “Hi, I’m Paul from Canadian Pizza. Nice to meet you. You are?”

    It started from there. We kept in touch loosely and talked about our partners. It’s rare to talk to someone who is not girlfriend and we hit it off quite well. Once in a while we’d meet for lunch and before I knew it, he’s in Tokyo with his gal and we’re laughing and talking in a tiny hole-in-the-wall Japanese eatery in Shinjuku.

    Can I say I love yakitori. The buffet of barbecued meat chunks and mushies on sticks make me drool. You can choose teriyaki or salt and pepper marinade – I prefer salt ‘n’ pepper where you can savour the real flavour of the food. My top faves are golden mushrooms wrapped in bacon, chicken wings, chicken with leeks, emperor mushrooms, lady’s fingers and quail eggs. Paired with plum wine soda, I was a happy bunny. At 5,000 yen a head, it was a bit expensive. I probably wouldn’t go back there often for yakitori but it’s also the experience of the dark, smoky alley that bustles with tons of peeps.

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  7. I’ve got the shivers

    by admin

    It’s going to be six degrees out today. The past week or so has been chilly. Last night Mr. D and I slept without the aircon (it’s usually set at 23 degrees) and with the windows closed. We tried this a few days ago and I asked with a quiver of anxiety, “Is it okay to sleep without any ventilation?”

    We’re still alive. In hot and humid Singapore, it’s unthinkable to have the windows shut without the aircon on. It doesn’t even feel stuffy in our 16 square metre room. The cold bites into the skin and nips your nose and ears as the breeze picks up. As I’m typing this, I’m wearing flannel pants, a singlet and a sweater, plus piping-hot green tea by my side.

    Adding to the windy weather is my antsy mood. My mid-term exam is today and thought I’d distract myself before some last minute revision. This is crazy that I should even feel a tinge of nervousness. My goal in this course is to learn how to communicate in Japanese well. With confidence, I can tell you I will pass this test but that’s because I’m fairly well-trained in taking exams. The teacher hinted heavily what will come out. Even better, she told us which kanji words would be tested. Chapters one to seven only need to be studied. Last night, I focused on the revision sheets (two sets of quasi exams) given to us.

    But I can’t speak for shit. I can order food alright now though yakitori is challenging because of all the different meat parts and vegetables. I only know the word for fruit — kudamono. I don’t think I could give proper directions to a taxi driver yet. Thank goodness we live in an area that is well-known and near to a train station. All I need to say is, “Akasaka-dori, onagaishimasu.” When he reaches our corner, I quickly inform him, “Migi desu.” Then at our apartment, “Ko ko desu.”

    I should be more anxious that my SGD2,500 is not well-spent as yet because I haven’t grasped speaking. My sole purpose was to be able to get through daily life without stumbling around in half English and half Japanese. Mr. D said it takes at least seven years for children to master one language, let alone a rusty-brained adult.

    It’s been exactly a month and a week of lessons. Wish me luck.

  8. New furniture

    November 13, 2006 by admin

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    We haven’t moved to our new digs but Mr. D had enough of the clutter and a book avalanche so we went to Muji to do some shopping.

    The shoebox looks spiffy now with two new shelves and three plastic storage boxes, which means almost zero piles of books and magazines on the floor. There’s space to potter around without sliding over errant clothes, bags or socks. To complete the new look, I vacuumed this morning. Ahh…

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  9. First club night in Tokyo

    November 11, 2006 by admin

    What looked like a quiet Friday night turned into a fun tryst at Womb — a super club in the heart of Shibuya’s love hotel district.

    Mike, Mr. D’s friend and business associate, invited us to check out his friend Shane’s DJ set. The kangaroo felt beaten up at work all week so he craved for a piece of ‘steaky’ (Japanese speak for steak). Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of this night out as the ones I took on my phone suck and my trusty Canon Ixus was sleeping at home.

    At 9pm we took off to Hobgoblin, an Irish or English pub we couldn’t decide, nestled within Akasaka’s hub of endless restaurants and bars. The warm, orange glow of the low lights wrapped us up cosy in this cocoon of lager and pub grub. Our sirloins were drizzled in tasty sauce with a generous side of green peas and chunky fries. Mmmmm. I was sorry when the last bite of juicy beef was wiped off my plate.

    Over cider (my fave pub drink of the moment) and beer, Mr. D and I compared notes on our days. I love that we are both learning Japanese and we discuss the language all the time. We even say ‘good night’ in nihonggo, “Oyasuminasai!”

    I digress. Back to Womb. Apparently, this mega club holds up to 5,000 peeps and has the best sound system in Tokyo. Well, it better be because the good folks here splashed a million bucks on the sound system.

    The VIP area was impressive — not in an overwhelming kind of way but it was done up artfully. Lush red velvet lined the walls and funky chandeliers hung from the low ceiling. The music was the best part though. I think Singapore club music desperately needs new inspiration or at least a new attitude. I’m so used to the monotonous offerings that I just wasn’t keen on dancing at places like Zouk and MOS. I thought maybe I’m just over clubbing.

    Not till I stepped into Womb. The beats were playful, cheeky, varied and the DJs were in tune with the crowd. They seemed to know when to slow things down or take it up a few notches. They threw surprises in rhythmic curve balls, which delighted the crowd. People dance differently here – kind of like the Robot Man move from the 80s but with more style and fluidity. Sounds silly but everyone looked like they were having a great time. I wasn’t even buzzed but the funky beats beckoned my hips to move. Now that’s cool music.

    As usual we rounded up the night with ramen at 3am. Mr. D needed some persuasion though but he couldn’t resist a plate of gyoza. I asked for the bill in Japanese, too, “Checku onagaishimasu.” Cheap thrill but I love it when I get to use what I learn in everyday life.

    Below is a picture of shoyu ramen taken when Sue came to visit. We went back to this same shop for our supper last night.

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  10. Insomnia blues

    November 9, 2006 by admin

    Since Saturday night, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. My mind is alert way after midnight and I wish I could block out the overactive brain activity. Before I know it, it’s dawn and Mr. D’s alarm goes off. Unable to sleep, I get up and potter around. After some brekkie, I sink into the futon for a half-hour catnap.

    …1130am rolls around and I wake up in a jolt — only one hour more to leaving the house! I haven’t done any Japanese study and my head feels heavy like I’ve taken one too many cold tablets. I’ve a confession: I’ve been taking Valerian Root pills when I get desperate for some shuteye. The problem is this sleepless remedy takes two to three hours to kick in so by the time I’m going crazy in bed it’s 2am.

    Perhaps it’s too much caffeine or I’m suffering a delayed reaction to relocation shock. When I first arrived, I loved the chilly nights because they made snuggling up so much more cosy. Maybe I wasn’t used to a lot of my surroundings and I was exhausted by late afternoon — but i would sink into this blissful, deep sleep and by morning I’d be raring to go.

    Even after running 6-7km, I still can’t sleep. I used to switch off in a snap. Today I decided to undo several things: I won’t injest any caffeine (I caved in at 3pm and gulped a small iced tea. Cheers to resisting a big bottle of milky latte); I won’t run this evening because this shoots up energy levels; I won’t drink any alcohol; I won’t eat any ice-cream or chocolate before bed to prevent any kind of sugar rush.

    Maybe it’s relationship blues. Everything is okay now but had a rocky patch with the kangaroo. Lots of people tell me reuniting after a long bout of long distance will have teething problems.

    Do you ever try to make emotional wish lists? I hope I will sleep well, return to my cheerful, sane self and stop mauling my kangaroo.

    Gambatei (Trying my best).

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