November 5th, 2009

My Tokyo Trip in A Few Pictures

Hi everyone, I’m back from my trip to Tokyo, Japan. Had a great time there! Here are some pictures from the trip.

Tokyo Tower is the tallest self-supporting steel structure in the world and apparently, de facto icon for Tokyo and Japan. Here’s an embarrasing fact — before my first trip to Japan, I’ve never heard of Tokyo Tower. Back then, when I thought of Japan, Mount Fuji was the only thing that came to mind. Oh, that and Hello Kitty.

Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan

The design of the tower was inspired by a world famous icon — you guessed it — the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When I gave my mum a little Tokyo Tower souvenir replica, she asked me why I got her an Eiffel Tower thingy instead of something with Mount Fuji or geishas on it. LOL.

On a beautiful sunny day, we went to Meiji Jingu — a Shinto shrine near Harajuku and Yoyogi Park. There were a lot of boys and girls in traditional dresses at the shrine. So so cute, or should I say kawaii!

Meiji Jingu - Shinto shrine near Harajuku and Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, Japan

Wishes on votive tablets at the shrine. Shawn Yap from Singapore, you made me LOL. :D

A cute wish at Meiji Jingu shrine

We went to the Studio Ghibli Museum at Mitaka City (1000 yen). Was a little underwhelmed by the whole experience. I always imagined the place to be more magical and whimsical, the kind of feeling I get when watching Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.

Ghibli Studio Museum at Mitaka City, Tokyo, Japan

We stayed near Akihabara Electric Town which is the place to get the latest electronics gadgets. Huge neon signs all over the place and a very noisy place too. Sales people stand in front of their stores shouting words of welcome and the latest deals. Pachinko parlours. UFO catchers machines.

There are a number of “maid cafes” in this area too, where the waitresses are dressed up in French maid costumes and addresses you as “Master”.

Akiba is also the centre for otaku culture. In fact, we saw The Otaku/Stormtrooper man himself, Danny Choo, in the midst of a book signing.

Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo, Japan

About 5 months ago, I reintroduced seafood into my diet. I got a little sick with having soya beans as a my main source of protein (is it normal to feel nauseous each time you drink half cup of soy milk?).

I ate mostly kake soba (hot soba), inarizushi, onigiri, mitarashi dango (rice dumplings with sweet and savory sauce) and tempura with rice. Here’s my ebi tempura don (prawn and vegetables tempura on rice) and miso soup which cost 500 yen. I didn’t eat any traditional Japanese sweets because I don’t really fancy adzuki beans (and they really love their red bean paste here).

Ebi tempura don - Prawn fritters and rice meal in Tokyo, Japan

I put on 2 kgs despite eating only 2 main meals/day and walking at least 6 hours per day. Hmm… I wonder why. Oh wait, I did eat a ridiculous amount of junk food there. I bought the chewing gum on the right (square boxes) because I remember eating loads of them as a kid. :) Not seen in the picture: a whole stack of Meiji chocolate bars.

Snacks - my junk food stash in Tokyo, Japan

And I still have a couple more bars with me right now. *Happy*

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October 14th, 2009

The Cat Returns

Hey guys, I’ve been really busy the past few weeks frantically trying to complete all stuff related to work. Why? Cos I’ll be flying to Tokyo, Japan next week for a little rockin’ n rollin’. So excited to be going there again! Will post some pictures if I’m not too busy stuffing my face with sushi and soba! See you later. :)

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September 10th, 2009

Train of Thought

There was a boy, about 12 years old, traveling by himself on the scenic train ride we took in Switzerland. He was seated two seats away from me but the car was relatively empty so the few of us who were in there kept switching seats to get a better view of the beautiful landscape. There is so much natural beauty in the Swiss Alpine region it’s hard to choose which side of the the train to look out from. When there was a particularly awe-inspiring sight, we’d poked our heads out of the windows.

“Achtung!” the boy warned me. The train was going through a tunnel and, bewitched by the gorgeous vista, I didn’t realize it then. “Danke” I thanked him, effectively using 25% of my total German vocabulary. [The other 75% consisting of the words "bitte"- please; "auf wiedersehen"- goodbye (thanks to Heidi Klum and Project Runway) and "würste" - German sausage (which wasn't very useful since I don't eat sausages). I don't know even know if I can construct a coherent sentence with those words: "Please! Sausage? Goodbye." See what I mean?]

Anyway, language proved not a problem for us and the boy and I continued communicating throughout the journey using a series of gestures and sound effects.

At one point, the train stopped close to a herd of cowbell-wearing cows. Hearing the bells jingle softly as the cows lumbered across the field was a surreal experience. I knew what cowbells sounded like, but this was in real-life stereo. So authentic. And soothing. I pictured myself living in the mountains doing nothing but painting landscapes and eating fine Swiss Chocolates for breakfast when the kid gave a loud “Moo!”, interrupting my daydream. The train started moving again and the crowd continued their seat-shuffling routine. The boy did a little monkey dance and pointed at everyone, himself included, suggesting that we all looked like monkeys. I looked around and nodded in agreement. We both giggled quietly and put our fingers on our lips, not wanting to share this silly little observation with anyone else.

The boy suddenly turned to a man in front of him and with much excitement, pointed to something in the distance while saying something in German. The guy replied, “Sorry kid, I don’t speak your language,” unaware of the fact that for the past hour I had been talking to the boy without the need to utter a single word.

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September 8th, 2009

Memories of Montmartre, Paris

Thought I’d start sharing selected accounts of my European trip in May.

The day before we (hubby and I) did the standard Paris thing – Eiffel Tower, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe. There wasn’t an actual itinerary for the second day – get to Montmartre and we’ll see what that leads us to.

We got to Montmartre by metro. Tip: if you are going to use the public transport more than 8 times (or 4 times each if you’re with a partner), it’s cheaper to get a carnet of 10 tickets (11.60 Euros) than a single ticket (1.60E).

Once there, we browsed through the shops selling souvenirs and then continued in the direction of the Sacre Couer Basilica. Along the way, we paused to take in the view of Paris from the hill. Ah, how blessed to be able to do this. Sat down to do a bit of people watching. There were a couple of guys hawking goods near the foot of the basilica. Some guys were forcibly tying friendship bands on tourists’ wrists and then demanding money afterwards. Here’s another tip: if you’re visiting a place, it helps to learn about the type of scams prevalent in that area.

After that we continued exploring the little alleys of Montmartre. I thought I’d have the feeling of stepping into set of one of my all-time favorite movies, Amélie(Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain starring Audrey Tatou), but no — this was real life so the scenes unfolding before us were not color-processed towards the warm tones characteristic of the movie. Ha ha. The area is very pleasant and charming nevertheless. We just need to walk one block away from the main tourist track to find ourselves completely alone.

We chanced upon a grocery store called Au Marche de la Butte that looked remarkably familiar.

Collignon's grocery store from Amelie Poulain movie in Montmartre, Paris

It was the store from Amelie (where Lucien and his evil boss, Collignon, worked). The real owner’s name is Ali and he has become a mini celebrity because of the movie. One of his shop windows was covered with newspaper clippings mentioning his store. Apart from that, the store front looked exactly as I remembered it from the movie. The Two Windmill Cafe (Café des 2 Moulins) looked totally different though. It has been painted pink all over. There was a garden gnome sitting on the counter.

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June 8th, 2009

Travel Advice

“I’m thinking of going to *insert-country-here* in September/Winter/next year. Any good advice?”
Big Ben, clock tower, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London

Here are some I received from well-meaning friends as I packed my bags for the trip in May:

“London?! Why? It’s so… dull! Skip London, go Paris instead”

“I didn’t like Paris. Highly overrated! Rude people. Go to Prague, you’ll enjoy it better!”

“No! Don’t. go. anywhere. There this Swine Flu thing going around!”

(Well, okay, the last advice was from my Ma)

Eiffel Tower Tour in Paris London for me was vibrant and full of life; I encountered many helpful and friendly French people (et non, in my eyes, Paris is not overrated at all!) and although I find Prague a beautiful city, I can’t say if I enjoyed it “better” than Paris.

Travel is such a personal thing. Whether or not your experience is a good or not-so-good one depends on so many factors — the weather, the people you happen to meet (or who you’re travelling with), your interests, age and expectations. If I were to take any of the advice seriously, I would end up avoiding most of places I had planned to visit. So my advice is this: if you are keen on a place, do your own research and just go. Don’t let others dictate what your personal experience will be for you.

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December 4th, 2008

Aiming for the World

When I’m presented with the question, “What would you like to do before you get too weak/retire/die?” I’ve always answered “travel around the world.”

Earlier this week I was spending some time setting goals for 2009. One of the things I did was to list out a few countries I’d like to visit next year.  After I’ve done that I decided to expand this exercise by listing out all the countries I’d love to visit and realised that I don’t really want to go to every country of the world like what Chris is doing. I only really want to go to 30 (plus 20 more that would be “nice but are not must go’s at the moment”).  What a revelation! I’ve always thought the number would be closer to 100 but 30 sounds very achievable. So I went on to list done the feasibility of visiting these 30 countries.

List of countries to visit

If I were to visit a country each year, I’d achieve my dream in 30 years. That’s alright, but that’s not very efficient. I could tackle the countries by regions, dividing them into the following: Western Europe, Scandinavia, Northern Africa, North America, Latin America and Eastern & Southern Asia. After working out a very rough estimate, I reckon I’d need about $6000 per one month trip to a region (it is possible to go on a much lower budget but I’m not planning to rough it out. Yet.). Quite a bit of money, but if I were to aim to cover a region say every three years, that would work out to less than $170 a month or under $6 a day.

Can I actually save $42 a week? Let’s see… My once a week cafe time costs $5. Our weekly movie date, $40. Magazines? $5. And I also have a habit of buying huge amounts of snacks each week – up to $25- worth. That’s a total of $75. If I were to save a little over half of that, I’d still have more than enough change to rent a film and get some popcorn. Of course the other question is, can I afford to take leave off work for a whole month? At this moment, the answer is no, but I think I’ll worry about that later. I realised that when you set a goal and work towards it, things have a way of working out in your favour unexpectedly and faster than you’d imagine so we’ll see. :)

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