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‘Expat musings’ Category

  1. Sambal soba

    July 27, 2012 by yuming

    Hi my dears, I’m sorry I’ve been missing from this beloved space. I would say I genuinely felt overwhelmed and it has been crazy busy since my arrival in the US. This article which a friend posted on Facebook made me re-think what it means to be “crazy busy”.

    This morning, as I was re-tracing my steps for the past three weeks, I don’t have overly much to show for it. I’ve attended all my classes every Saturday and tried to keep up with my other blog. I think I’ve spent a lot of time on planes and socializing. However, that doesn’t reflect it was a meaningless waste of time. I like my friends and spending time with them is a luxury because they don’t live in Tokyo.

    I have loads of photos and precious moments to share so hang tight, will ya?

    This would be my last post about the Japan side of my life for a little while…


    As an expat in the kitchen, I borrow my favourite bits from various cuisines and mash them together. Sometimes they turn out alright but sometimes a real flop. Today’s picture exudes a bit of nostalgia for me because I used up the last of my mum’s homemade sambal chilli paste which amazingly lasted a little over two months. I only had a small tub of it and I always make sure I use it for time when I crave a spicy kick. I think I could only get another batch early next year on my way back to Tokyo from Sydney. I would be in Singapore in Sept for a few days but it would be on my way to Europe so I can’t possibly lug around sambal chilli in my luggage. But it’s best to keep this a rare condiment because this is what makes it so special too…

    It was a busy day (I need to do something about this!) but I wanted something a bit more hefty than a salad so I whipped up my very own mutt-like stir-fried noodles. I boiled up some pure buckwheat soba noodles (none of that mixed stuff in my pantry!) and tossed it together with garlic, napa cabbage, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, onion, tomato, egg, and a big dollop of sambal chilli — a touch of Chinese, Japanese, and Singaporean. Oh my, it was so tasty and savoury…

    Do you cook like that as well — making it up as you go?

  2. Oasis in my hood

    July 12, 2012 by yuming


    The kangaroo and I were furniture shopping one Saturday afternoon in June. It was warm but it felt like late spring when the sunset brings a slight chill in the air. We were on our way home and instead of taking the train, we decided to walk all the way home…And stumbled upon a majestic temple just 10 minutes from our house.


    We were the only ones there poking around and it was so serene and peaceful. I can tell you that I take Tokyo’s “greatness” for granted and I stopped noticing all that is uniquely Japanese since I come face to face with it daily. But once in awhile, I get impressed and I was quite pleased we found this traditional nook…


    On a completely separate note, please forgive my recent absence as I’m on the road again with the kangaroo. I’m in Montreal right now and before that San Francisco. I have a backlog of photos and stories to share so stayed tuned…

  3. Matcha soy latte

    July 5, 2012 by yuming


    Matcha was one of the Japanese flavours which I couldn’t really get into. My younger sister loves anything matcha, even Kit-Kat. The strange bitterness that tastes deep and dark never sat well with me and the caffeine was too strong for me to take. I still can’t hack it, but last week, I had a very tiring day and I surprised myself by ordering a matcha soy latte so I could hold my head up during my Japanese lesson. It tasted really good — this warm mug of matcha, sugar, and soy milk. I think I prefer it with soy milk over dairy milk which is often paired with matcha desserts. I also enjoyed the matcha ice-cream at Aoya which was divine.

    What on earth is happening to me? I’m a matcha convert now. Not that I’m stuffing my face with everything matcha but I would probably not avoid it like before. There you go, you could do a sudden about turn about things you used to dislike…I wonder if I would feel the same about other funky Japanese things like natto or preserved squid paste in time?

  4. An evening stroll around my hood

    July 3, 2012 by yuming


    Once in a while, I like to just take a walk around my neighbourhood. This late afternoon I took a nap which was very unusual for me as I never sleep in the middle of the day. I think I was just weary from lack of sleep and I listened to my body. It was a good snooze but I needed to shake the cobwebs from my mind…


    An old-fashioned looking yakitori joint.


    A funky looking cafe with a bakery store front selling puddings, I believe.


    A “natural” laundromat which probably uses non-chemical agents to wash their clothes…perhaps?


    …and a big-ass Don Quixote which is like Mustafa to those of you in Singapore…a sprawling multi-story complex that sells everything under the sun from electronics to groceries to perfumes.

    I like my hood and I’m lucky to live here.

  5. Hanko

    June 27, 2012 by yuming


    For the first time ever, I got myself a hanko, or signature seal in Japanese, but I cannot use this officially because the kanji characters do not match my name on my alien registration card. It’s really too bad because I think hankos with kanji are way cooler than those with alphabets or katakana.

    I tried to register my kanji name at the ward office but to no avail. My Chinese name in my Singapore identity card is in simplified Chinese so the middle character is non-existent in Japanese, so I switched to traditional Chinese instead, but since they do not match exactly, it was a no-go.

    Apparently, if I used my Chinese characters to sign up for utilities or insurance, I could register my kanji characters but due to the fact that I am in a screaming rush to apply for something official for some paper work I need to do, it was just not an option. In fact, from July 2012, there would be even stricter laws concerning hankos. From what I understand, you cannot suddenly change your name to kanji characters even with proof that you have used it in Japan so I think you need to register your kanji name from the get go, i.e. when you get your alien registration card.

    You wouldn’t think of these things when you submit the forms to immigration, or if your company (or spouse’s company) registers for you. You might want to consider doing this if you prefer using your Chinese name. I don’t have an English name so I’m more drawn to having kanji characters on my documents.

    I told the kangaroo it’s hard to change my name to his name because you just can’t beat 雷 (thunder), and being the sweetheart that he is, he totally understands.

    Anyway, new one has been ordered so I will use this one for personal correspondence.

  6. Old haunt that never gets old

    June 19, 2012 by yuming


    Although I have quite a lovely track to run along the Meguro River, the Imperial Palace is still one of the best running places in town. The uninterrupted 5km path is just perfect for training and the scenery is always gorgeous and certain spots are always breakthtaking no matter what, like the giant bonsai zone just after Sakuradamon.


    This time we met near the Takebashi station stop and the path was refurbished into swish modern concrete.


    After a 5km time trial run and then a leisurely 5km to wrap up the morning, we headed to Chaya at Hibiya Chanter for a healthy veggie lunch — I got the brown rice plate set, or genmai plate, that came with a lovely creamy veggie soup, and deep fried soy nuggets (not so healthy haha but…) with a tart onion sauce.

    It was a fabulous start to a Sunday because it rained and rained in the afternoon.

  7. One-room syndrome

    June 11, 2012 by yuming

    Although I have moved to a much bigger space, I still sometimes suffer from what I call, the one-room syndrome. If you have lived in a shoe box for five years, there is no doubt that you cannot escape this affliction.

    In our first shoe box, my days would revolve around the futon. We would eat off plates on our ironing board (photographic evidence here) or while we were on the futon. We would watch TV on the futon or read. Even if we did not use the futon, we would have to fold it up to get some floor space to change or pack or clean 16 square metres. Doing laundry was a challenge and we couldn’t do big batches, and same with groceries, our fridge was so small that it could only really hold produce for three meals at a go.

    The next place was better but my life still revolved around the futon but also the dining table which was a long-ish meeting table from Askul, an office supply store. Um yeah, I’m not the best at decorating and am too practical when it comes to aesthetics. I would do my work there and then retire to my futon. We would eat on the dining table, too, and not off our laps, the floor, or the ironing board. More civilized but there were times where I did not even fold up the futon for days on end because what was the point when I was going to go back to it?

    Unfortunately, I am still in the habit of just hanging out in the bedroom where the futon is. I even eat there sometimes when the kangaroo is not around because the TV is there. Um…gross? Especially since the whole room is carpeted. I also surf the Internet, read, talk on Skype, daydream, film Beauty Box videos, and take photos of products all in my bedroom.

    But this weekend, I thought I would explore my living room and it felt great. I sat on the sofa to read, snack, surf the internet, gaze at our flowers, poke around, relax, and I also spotted this:


    …a photo montage of our Singapore wedding, a gift from my talented sisters.

    Our living room has certainly become more atmospheric since we did some plant shopping and re-arranged some knick knacks and photos. It’s amazing what a change I felt — like I wasn’t a weird mole in the ground or something.

    Do you suffer from one-room syndrome as an expat in Tokyo?

  8. Queuing

    June 5, 2012 by yuming


    Ben & Jerry’s just opened a store in Omotesando and folks are waiting patiently to get their fix.


    Check it out… I guess Ben & Jerry’s reputation precedes them and people are willing to have a taste of their decadent flavours like Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter something or other. I have had my B&J moments but I was always able to buy them from a supermarket in Singapore.

    That shows that if you have something of a cult following and you manage to get into Japan — it’s gold. Like Krispy Kreme. There were queues outside their Shinjuku store for 18 months but the hype has died down and there are several branches in Tokyo now.

    It’s amazing what sugar can do, eh?

  9. Yokohama Garden Centre

    May 29, 2012 by yuming


    The kangaroo was very chuffed with himself when he located a sprawling gardening centre in the ‘burbs of Yokohama. He felt that Tokyu Hands was way too expensive and thought a green house type of place would have a wider variety of plants and tools.


    He was in gardening heaven. Mrs Kangaroo was thrilled to help contribute some landscaping ideas.


    Rows and rows of gorgeous colourful flowers that would make any grouch smile.


    I wasn’t really into the hardcore gardening stuff so I cruised around the book shelves that had produce specific recipe books, like goya, root vegetables, etc.


    And I spotted this cute gardening ornament with Totoro and his friends…how cute is that?

  10. Big dog on a Ginza street

    May 28, 2012 by yuming


    Japanese people love their dogs and there is no shortage for dog lovers who don’t have dogs (like me) to coo over them wherever you go.

    Last week when the MIL was in town, we were shopping in Ginza and spotted a huge Bernese Mountain dog panting happily away at its owner’s feet in the middle of a busy Ginza street. Some main roads are closed off to traffic on the weekend to accommodate more shoppers. We went up to say hi to this adorable yet majestic dog. A Japanese lady tried to pat its head and he lunged at her bag sniffing to see if there were any treats.

    What boggles my mind more than just a huge dog in the middle of a busy street chilling out is that the owner lives near enough to Ginza to walk his dog casually along the shopping malls. And even more amazing is that a residential place near Ginza can house this gigantic canine wonder. Go figure.