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February, 2008

  1. We’re moving

    February 28, 2008 by admin

    Alas, the shoebox adventures will be over soon. Nope, we’re not leaving Tokyo but we’re moving to a lovely apartment in the same neighbourhood. It’s more than thrice the size although it’s still a one-bedroom apartment with a spacious living area, which will double up as a guest room.

    I try not to dwell on “I hate Japan” days but the last two weeks were annoying. It was a pain to go through all the paperwork just to apply for an apartment.

    This tedious process is almost like a job interview — they pick you and not the other way around. We sent in documents for bank statements, visa, passport, alien card, a certificate from the Singapore embassy to prove that my scribble is indeed mine, my employment letter and a certificate to state my annual salary. Plus, we have to sign up with a guarantor service company — it’s like an insurance company for those who don’t have Japanese guarantors. The system seems so watertight, it’s impossible to run away without paying the rent. Most countries just need a deposit and you’re alright to go — who needs personal details?

    But somehow it was worth it. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep when I got the news. I messaged the kangaroo and he called me from Sydney just to talk about our plans. It feels like a rush of relief and happiness that something is going right in Tokyo. Nothing’s terribly screwed up here but it’s just that the way things are done makes life so hard sometimes. People are tough to read or communicate with, and the culture constantly throws you curve balls, especially when you think you got them figured out.

    I love Tokyo but I really don’t know if I can live here for 10 years. I suppose I’m going through my second downward slide on the “W” curve in Japan. Even though I’m comfortable with daily life, I am rejecting my adopted country’s values and attitudes. For now, I’m feeling up for a bit — we got a new home!


  2. No gal power

    February 26, 2008 by admin

    In a recent article in The Japan Times, Japan is ranked 54th out of 93 countries in the UN’s Gender Empowerment Measure index. Singapore is at 16th position, while other developed countries like Australia (8th), Germany (9th), Canada (10th), Britain (14th) and the USA (15th) reached fairly high spots. The Scandinavian countries emerged top winners with Sweden in number one position yet again.

    One of the few things that would stop me from settling down in this country is the gender inequality here. For a first world country, the treatment of women is shocking, as it goes unchecked and runs deep in the cultural mindset. That doesn’t mean that people here don’t see it or feel it — my female students complain about how hard it is to get promoted and sniff at male chauvinism at the workplace and at home. The most tired story I hear all the time is how high position female professionals are in charge of the tea service if she has a meeting with her male colleagues.

    It is precisely these habits that are more insidious than those molesters on the train. The absolute disrespect for women is felt everyday — from the rude salaryman who snatches a seat from the woman next to him to the expectation of women quitting their jobs once they get preggers to the men in the elevator who step out first with the lone woman holding the lift button.

    It was nice to ride the train home from the hash run with an American friend the other day. He refused to call me by my nickname (Wet Muff) because it was just disrespectful. I always thought it was hilarious how I got my name and please don’t think I’m one of those women get upset over the slightest gender inequality infractions. For someone who is used to being treated with respect everyday, it’s hard to experience the opposite.


  3. Nepal: Gorkha

    February 24, 2008 by admin

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    Since we had such a strenuous cycle the day before, we decided to chill out in Gorkha for one day. The kangaroo was the first among us to suffer an attack of food poisoning — the culprit was a plate of chicken bryani which he refused to have again from herein.

    We crept out of bed rather late by Nepalese standards: 9am. This merchant town has only one tourist attraction which is a temple on top of a hill where the Monkey God resides. We thought we’d pay him a visit.

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    Cute little goats pranced around us as we hiked up.

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    That was our first glimpse of the Annapurna Himalayas (which means mountains with snow) — they would be a constant backdrop for our long journey towards Pokhara.

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    The kangaroo was truly relaxed without his laptop and became philosophical when he stood next to the Monkey God. He toyed with the idea of playing chess all day whilst guarding the deity. He suggested I haul firewood by way of strapping the sticks to my head to take care of our household.

    The hike proved a little draining for the sick kangaroo so he retired to our room while Ben and I wandered around taking pictures in the dusk light.

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    Lookie what we have here: a sarong kebaya — the unofficial national costume of Singapore which all the Singapore Airlines flight attendants wear. What was it doing here?

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    These ladies looked a little serious but they were really friendly and excited to see us. We figured the Nepalese thought that taking a photo is an important affair so they shouldn’t goof around. Another conclusion is they don’t have mirrors (just going by our humble hostel dwellings) and it was a way to see their reflections.

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    This little guy totally hammed it up for Ben’s hefty camera. He readjusted his collar and rearranged his hair. Everytime he posed, his female companions would shriek with laughter. This is an example of why travelling is so wonderful — you meet the locals and communicate even though you don’t speak the same language but you have a laugh anyway.


  4. Nepal: From Kathmandu to Gorkha

    by admin

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    We were racing downhill for 140km towards Maoist trading town, Gorkha. The boys arrived five days before I did and fell ill (due to Herculean day trips out of Kathmandu and the awful pollution) so they slept for two days. . It was exhausting but it was a great first day — we were full of energy and ready for our Big Trip Out.

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    This was our trusty support car that crawled behind us all the way.

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    A water and granola bar (the kangaroo calls them nougat bars) break and a sweaty grin for the camera.


  5. Nepal: Setting off

    by admin

    It’s embarrassing to post this almost two months after my Nepal trip. Usually I would just forget about it but it really was a special trip. I’m having a quiet weekend so I thought it would be appropriate to sit down and write it out. I put up my pictures on Facebook so I was a little lazy to rehash the whole experience but I think those who can’t access my Facebook pictures would enjoy this pictorial story.

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    Our friendly bike rental shop sat in the heart of buzzing tourist belt Thamal, Kathmandu. They kitted us well and the kangaroo concluded that this was the cheapest long holiday we’ve ever taken (plus point of travelling across a developing country).

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    The kangaroo took me through balancing drills on my mountain bike. Since we were going through rough terrain, it was important to ride standing up. Not pictured, the staff from our hostel, Tibetan Peace Lodge, giggled as I stumbled about. Later, the kangaroo teased me, “They were looking at your pink underwear peeking out from your jeans.”

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    The streets of Kathmandu were filthy and polluted. We were glad to race into the country the next day. The smog was the thickest I’ve seen and visibility was barely 10m.

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    We had Christmas dinner at a Western restaurant (they usually hawk a myriad of tourist faves like steak, pizza and pasta) the night before we set off. Although the kangaroo was nonchalant about missing Christmas with his folks, he still insisted on having a second turkey dinner (he and Ben had a European Christmas dinner the night before — the Europeans celebrate on Christmas Eve, while the Aussies have it on the actualy day). It was pretty special to be near the Himalayas and tuck into turkey with brown rice.


  6. Strong winds

    by admin

    Gusts of wind are blowing up to 48 km/h in Tokyo today. Actually it was very windy from yesterday evening already. The trees and traffic lights are swaying in the most scary way and it was my first experience to be literally blown across the road.

    Just when the weather seemed to get a bit warmer mid-week, the city drops back to chilly temperatures. It’s so ironic to look at the bright cerulean sky outside my window to the eerie howls and squeals of a fierce, angry tempest wind.


  7. The boss’ spy

    February 19, 2008 by admin

    Hey folks, it’s my first day at work. Well, technically, I’ve been working at home, but today is my first full day at the kangaroo’s office.

    Nobody is here — the kangaroo is in Singapore, one colleague is off sick and the other, the sales manager, is out. He was very nervous around me this morning. He was rushing about and panted in and out of the office to make me a set of keys. He apologized for not talking to me because “(he) has no experience speaking to ladies in English”.

    A little history: this sales manager actually doesn’t have much to do because the company has only just started to land deals and deal-making in Japan is excruciatingly s-l-o-w. You can imagine my surprise that he was bustling around and was in the office by 8am (he usually arrives at 10am). Maybe he really had several meetings – who knows?

    I pinged Azure to wish her happy birthday and we gossiped a little before her meeting. She chuckled over this salary man behviour: “You’re the boss’ spy, what.”

    That is true. I think this situation can only get more interesting.

    Just an aside, the office is in Okubo, which is only a stone’s throw away from my ex-language school in Shin-Okubo. For those who don’t know, this area is nicknamed Korean Village because of all the Korean joints lining the streets. Thai food is in abundance here and so are other cheap eats. In the evenings, it has a certain disrepute for night shenanigans. Not many expats get to have their office in a shady part of town — most are in affluent business districts like Roppongi, Kamiyacho, Akasaka-mitsuke (where I live) and Otemachi.


  8. St. Valentine’s Day

    February 14, 2008 by admin

    The Japanese celebrate V-day (what Singaporeans call Valentine’s Day) with the women giving the men in their lives chocolate — from their hubbies to their bosses.

    This is our second V-day in Tokyo. Let me recall the first: we just planned to meet back at the shoebox in the evening and the kangaroo suggested a tapas place nearby. The waiter put us way in the back room that looked like a sorry medieval dining room — replete with red and bronze print tablecloths and severe candlestick holders. Bizarre European shite in the middle of Tokyo. We were both tired and stressed — he about work and me about moving countries.

    So this year wasn’t toooo different. Though we planned to meet at home and then head out, I thought I should take some initiative: I bought him Godiva chocolates (they are more expensive on the actual day — much like roses in Singapore) and booked a place at another tapas bar that seemed warmer and cosier.

    Turned out the kangaroo’s business meeting ran late — usually they have a formal meeting end of the work day and then go for after-work beers but these guys were hungry and ordered food, too. Derek was antsing away and apologised for rushing off from the biru (beer) time. He asked, “Are you doing anything with your wives?” They said, “We’re going back to the office.” I cracked up when I heard it.

    His colleague, a Japanese girl who has an Aussie boyfriend, feigned sickness to get out of the informal dinner and drinks — which is so Japanese because I think she didn’t want to look unprofessional and declare she had a date, and not a fever.

    It was lovely nibbling on mushies, mussels, shrimp and bread drenched in olive oil and parsley, with sips of red wine in between. Then we held hands all the way back to the shoebox.

    My gfs are all anti-V-day and I feel a little embarrassed to like this experience. But hey, if it’s an excuse to dine like a princess with nice wine — why the hell not?


  9. Not bouncing back

    February 11, 2008 by admin

    I had quite a big weekend — two late nights of heavy drinking followed by two horrible hangovers.

    Even though yesterday was spent watching environmental movie Earth and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, I still felt weary and sluggish. I highly recommend both, especially Earth — it’s got drama, tragedy, humour, action, a fabulous soundtrack and a strong message about global warming. It’s narrated by Patrick Stewart who lends his gravelly storyteller voice to the film. Al Gore’s Inconvienient Truth was moving and shocking with its statistics and future projections but Earth spins a political message using breathtaking images and a compelling narrative.

    As we headed home in the breezy cool evening, the kangaroo suggested we get up early for a morning run which I actually prefer but it’s always hard to do on my own. It was nice to have a buddy who goes, “Oi wake up, it’s time to run!”

    But I feel terrible now, like I have the beginnings of the flu — feverish, aching limbs and overall exhaustion. I think the chilly winter air this morning could’ve been too much. I sound like a bloody auntie or oba-san (old lady in Japanese). Whine…


  10. Grouchiness

    February 9, 2008 by admin

    I hate hangovers. I hate feeling like I spewed a lot of bullshit the night before but I’m not quite sure what I said. We were only going to have one drink at our neighbourhood pub. But we had four? God, who knows how many…

    The kangaroo was very sweet — he hopped out to get us some giant-sized lattes, offered headache tablets and hugs.

    I still felt muddle headed and then I thought a spicy fix was in order. When I had a banging hangover in Telok Kurau, I would head out to have bah chor mee (noodles with minced pork and other delights) or laksa (white noodles in a spicy coconut gravy) or lontong (Indonesian vegetable curry with rice cakes).

    Obviously these are not available here, I decided to try a friend’s mum’s belachan (chilli paste with secret spicy ingredients) in my tofu egg scramble. Can I just say POW WOW. I am more than halfway to happiness. Thanks to my friend for this Singaporean necessity. You know who you are!