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April, 2008

  1. Hanging out in Sydney

    April 28, 2008 by admin

    What makes a place feel more and more like home is when you get to know the peeps. Sydney has always been a familiar destination, what with the kangaroo’s family and friends. But more recently, I’ve forged my own friendships in the land Down Under, and it’s been nice catching up with them in person, rather than on MSN Messenger.

    So I got to know Jean through the kangaroo from his time in Melbourne, but in the last few years, we were invited to her wedding in Oz, met up for drinkies in Singapore and munched on yakitori in Tokyo.



  2. Why I am in Sydney

    April 24, 2008 by admin

    I’m attending the kangaroo’s little brother’s wedding this weekend so we are hanging out here for 10 days. We have a string of family gatherings and meetups with friends.

    Last night was the meet-the-in-laws bbq at Epping, where his brother and fiancé live. It’s a very suburban area and looks like Perth — wide open spaces with big residential houses stretched out along a seemingly endless road…

    We had fun seeing some of the family while tucking into some good ol’ Aussie barbecued steak and chicken.


    Today at lunch with the colleagues I learned these Aussisms: “cracking the shits” and “farting sparks” — they both mean to be very angry. Hilarious.

    Anyway, this could be my last post till Monday because I won’t have Internet access. Have a good weekend, everyone!

  3. Only in Japan

    April 23, 2008 by admin


    The dwarven board…flowers instead of teddy bears…

    I forget how weird this looks to those who don’t live in Japan. Ambien asked me to pose for her. I was laughing my ass off…

  4. My first nabe party

    April 22, 2008 by admin

    I am a huge fan of hot pot, so when Ambien and her hubby were going to visit my new pad as part of their Tokyo itinerary, I knew I had to make my Japanese hotpot debut.

    To get started, I bought a portable gas stove from Biccamera (JPY2,400), a funky green nabe pot (it’s actually a claypot, which is similar to the Chinese version), and sake.

    Itching to try an authentic Japanese recipe, I went online in search for an easy, delicious one. Like many gaijins who look for recipes in English, I was a little disappointed and what I found were on Western sites that looked quite dubious in their authenticity. A British blogger who used to live in Japan came up with his modified version — a lot of white wine with salt and pepper. The search results threw up Youtube videos, too, and I only found a Japanese stew hot pot demo, and to my amusement, a Japanese recipe for Western-style nabe. What could be in this hybrid? Carrots and sausages! Gross…

    I finally came across another gaijin blog who had a Japanese friend prepare a nabe for a party he threw — so that’s where I got this recipe to serve four people:



  5. End of season snowboarding trip in Niigata

    April 19, 2008 by admin

    Since I lost all my photos in the big iBook crash, I couldn’t blog about certain events. But a few days ago, a friend emailed me her photo album on Picasa, so here I am, sharing pretty pictures of my last snowboarding trip of the winter season.

    A gal pal invited me to her company’s ski trip in late March. They got a massive discount on accommodation and free lessons thrown in, so I couldn’t resist. Her group of colleagues was fun and easy going. Everything was well organised and all we did was tear down the slopes, eat, drink, played silly games and dipped into the onsen twice a day. ‘Twas bliss…

    Meanwhile, the kangaroo was back in Tokyo lugging our things from the old apartment to the new. My friends teased me for abusing my boyfriend, but really, our lives are so spontaneous schedule-wise, that stuff like this happens sometimes. His business trips are unpredictable and I make plans regardless whether he would be in town or not. As an aside, this is one way I survive as a trailing partner. If I waited for the kangaroo to tell me when he would be passing through town, I wouldn’t make any friends nor go on many outings. My advice is: make plans as if you were a single gal. If he can fit into your plans, cool, if not, you can hang out as a couple another time.

    Back to my awesome trip…


    We stayed at New Greenpia Tsunan Ski Resort in Niigata, which was about an hour away on the shinkansen, plus an additional hour’s bus ride from the station. It’s a big family hotel, but for the reasonable fee, who cares?


    I love snowboarding but I am not good at it. This is me struggling to get up to pose for a photo but I couldn’t stand upright on this down slope.


    The view was amazing. It makes all the tumbling and aching muscles worth it.


    On breaks, I would just sit on the snow in the sun and gaze at the mountains and trees.

    One new thing about Japanese culture I learned is they are absolutely into taking lessons. The Japanese believe in structured classes where they will practice till they get it right. Since this was a company trip, we had to participate because attendance was taken. It was particularly challenging for me as the lessons were all in Japanese.


    If you’ve got time to kill, stop by the sake museum at Yuzawa station. For a small fee (probably less than 1,000JPY), you can try five different cups of sake. How it works is they have a huge selection of sake along a wall where the rice wine is dispensed into your tiny cup. I tried anything where I could recognize the kanji — from dragons to flowers to red monkeys, I sipped my way to a giggly, tipsy state.

    I’m quite a loner most times, and if I do travel, it’s always with the kangaroo, so this group experience was refreshing. Anyway I hope the pictures will encourage you to try out Japanese ski slopes — they are just breathtaking.

  6. Taking Japanese lessons again

    April 17, 2008 by admin

    I have reached a point where my paltry understanding of Japanese is not enough to skate by. The nitty gritty in moving apartments, shopping online, and speaking to customer service folks in Japanese is humbling. I felt like a three-year-old who had to ask my Japanese friends for help in these “adult” routines.

    The latest incident involved me ordering a piece of glass instead of an exercise bench for the kangaroo weight-lifting sessions. Sounds dumb, right? Let me explain: the glass is meant to convert said bench to a coffee table and was photographed as a bench on Amazon Japan. Didn’t I see the word “glass”, you may ask? Frankly no, because I have a bad habit of relying on pictures and skim over clusters of hard-to-read Japanese characters.

    Even a simple conversation with the Japanese company who delivered the glass was impossible to decipher after the first three sentences into our dialogue. I gave up in frustration, as he didn’t speak a word of English. With my tail between my legs, I called a Japanese friend to call them on my behalf.

    I joined a school in Azabu Juban where I will take one-on-one lessons with a middle-aged sensei (teacher) starting in May. Japanese for busy people II will be my text. I prefer this brand of learning materials because it has explanations in English. When I was in that first intensive course last year, the daily lessons were conducted only in Japanese and I was so confused over certain grammar structures. The kangaroo uses this same series of texts so when I flipped through his book one day, I could completely understand the stuff that I was boggled over before.

    During the trial lesson with my new sensei today, I had so much fun. I forgot how interested I am in language learning. I began the lesson with a resolve to go through the pain of studying hard for the JLPT test but emerged thinking, “I am going to enjoy this!” I like absorbing practical daily life type of expressions and words. Tanoshimi (looking forward to it)…

  7. Bummed out

    April 16, 2008 by admin

    I am not feeling so well again. Ever since Nepal’s massive attacks of food poisoning in December 2007, my digestive system has not been 100 per cent. Coming from Southeast Asia, I was proud to have a cast-iron stomach that can tolerate food that has been lying around or boiling away all day in an open cauldron. But these past few months, my constitution seems a little weak.

    Last week’s stomach bug was awful and I felt nauseas and headachy all day for four days. I began to feel like that after lunch today and left for home at about 530pm. Perhaps it is the change in weather (which is temperamental) or the lack of air in the office (the aircon was not turned on because a certain colleague thought it was too cold) — whatever it was, I refused to chuck up in the office loo which has walls as thin as paper.

    The other reason why I am bummed out is I missed yet another hash run (my expat jogging group). I’m not trying hard enough to balance work, fitness, the kangaroo, and building a social life in Tokyo.

    I hope May will be a better month.

  8. Dinner at Singapore Seafood Republic in Tokyo

    April 15, 2008 by admin

    Just when I thought I was cooling towards Singaporean cuisine in Tokyo — they are not that great, honestly — a pretty good one pops up on my radar. I have been trying not to be so hard up about laksa and hokkien mee and all those yummy dishes from home. Japanese nosh can be a bit bland with its ubiquitous soy taste in almost every dish.

    Instead, I satisfy my cravings with a comfy mix of my own “fusion” dishes, like stir-fried udon noodles with oyster sauce chicken and veggies, or cod fish porridge (yes, it’s cheap in these parts), or jalapeno sauce and sesame oil grilled chicken wings.

    A Singaporean friend suggested a dinner there after an Indian friend introduced it to her. The lunch was fabulous, so a week later, she wanted to go again and she raved to me, “It’s so authentic that I can go anytime!”

    Well, I couldn’t refuse. Apparently, this restaurant was started by a Singaporean, who invited all the famous seafood restaurants (Jumbo, Palm Beach and International) to a joint venture. The original chefs were flown down to train the Japanese cooks and so the recipes are authentic. The exterior of the restaurant recalls Seah Street Deli in a way, said one of the Singaporeans in our group. If there’s posh Singaporean fare, this is it.


    This squid fish cake and fried fritter (or you tiao in Mandarin) dish was a delectable appetizer, so much so that we ordered three plates of six, to dip into a bowl of chilli crab sauce we couldn’t finish.


    The black pepper crab was the star of the show with the Singaporeans. It was seriously succulent and this “dry” version is a pleasant alternative to the ones at home drizzled in very salty black pepper sauce. We were licking our fingers after this one…


    I have always liked chilli crab but I don’t dream about it. Honestly I am so used to my mum’s (she cooks this dish every weekend or every other weekend — so decadent, I know) sambal version. For those not familiar with Singapore cuisine, the sauce above is a sticky, non-spicy version mixed with egg. My mum’s recipe is a droolicious mélange of red chilli, lemon grass, peanuts, egg, crab roe and other secret spices. We were all stuffed so one little crab leg was left. Gleefully, I asked for it to be doggie-bagged (or da bao in Singlish) for the kangaroo.


    Dessert was a fruit platter but it was entirely in the vein of modern Japanese cuisine — we each had a morsel of very expensive pineapple, papaya, and passion fruit (huh?). The bill was JPY5,500 (SGD74) each which is reasonable considering the food we had was quite exotic and had ingredients that were hard to get. Well, mainly sambal. I would go back again, especially to try the lunch menu, which includes mee goreng and hokkien mee.

  9. Back in business

    April 14, 2008 by admin

    Last week was a little messed up because I had a four-day bout of stomach flu. But when I got better, my iBook got sick. She crunched away to a quick death on Friday. Fuming inwardly and cursing her, I went shopping for a few errands meant to be done on the weekend. So this is why I’ve been missing for so many days.

    The kangaroo was very sweet — he put on his doctor hat and performed some surgery on the iBook to retrieve our precious travel photos from the hard disk.


    Check out the insides of the iBook. The kangaroo’s boss is a Mac user so he asked him for some advice. But all he got was, “It’s before the Intel ones came out?! Get her a new one!”


    And so he did. It’s an early birthday pressie. The other reason for the rush is we can’t afford the downtime until he gets one from the US (it’s so cheap there) or Singapore (the resale price just rocks!), so we just got me a Japanese one. I’m still getting used to the keyboard which is slightly different than the universal English one. We also got the Time Capsule which is an awesome back up drive and Ethernet hub. The speed is just incredible, especially with Japan’s phenomenal broadband system. Thanks, baby!

  10. Mind-boggling Japanese font sizes

    April 10, 2008 by admin

    Two friends from Singapore are coming over to visit and I’m keen on showing off the new apartment. I want to cook them a Japanese meal but we don’t have a dining table. I perused a few furniture catalogs, and finally, the kangaroo and I agreed on a long, white dining table and five red/black chairs from Askul, an online office furniture shop.

    It sounds strange to be ordering from them but their selection is quite flexible and home-friendly that you could very well decorate your house nicely with their offerings.

    Anyway, I had to add our home address to the online form after the shopping cart was full. This was when the trouble started. This online form requires full-sized and half-sized font widths. What the heck are they, you may ask? Apparently, Japanese fonts run on a different kind of computer coding system. For English readers, this just doesn’t matter at all. Whatever you type into an online form, it would get accepted.

    For banking online, there’s a soft keyboard (or, a virtual keyboard) for you to use so whatever you key in is set according to what the form requires — be it full-sized or half-sized. From my experience, you just need half-sized ones.

    But for Askul, they have a mix. What the f%^^&*? Unfortunately, my old iBook only has a half-sized katakana palette:


    For those of you who can read Mandarin, you can see the circled bit that it says “ban”.

    Where are the numbers? Addresses are a mix of numbers and Japanese characters so it was infuriating to find the number palette with only full-sized font widths (again, Mandarin readers, see the “chuan” character?):


    In the end, I had to ask a Japanese colleague to fix it for me on her PC. Why am I making a big deal out of this? Well, wouldn’t anyone hate to rely on others for even the simplest daily routines?

    “Ah, the joys of living in a country where you don’t speak the language,” sighed the kangaroo.