Getting vaccinated and the race against time

Race for an appoinment

After weeks of trial and error attempting to grab an appointment through Japan’s Ministry of Defense’s Tokyo mass COVID-19 vaccination website, I finally secured an appointment to receive my first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last Friday. The process to secure an appointment was straightforward – I opened a web browser, stood by at the vaccination appointment website, and waited for the booking webpage to become available.

An overview to get vaccinated at the Tokyo mass vaccination site is as follows:

  1. Request for a COVID-19 vaccination coupon to be sent to your residence from the municipal (city) office
  2. Wait until the vaccination coupon is delivered to your residence
  3. Once the vaccination coupon has been delivered, browse the vaccination appointment website
  4. Check if there are empty slots available for 1st dose vaccination
  5. If there are no empty slots, wait for the next appointment round
  6. If there are empty slots available, enter the relevant info from the vaccination coupon (city code and coupon number), and pick the suitable date/time
  7. Confirm the information entered and appointment date
  8. Go for the 1st vaccination

As easy as it sounds, it is difficult to secure an appointment due to the limited appointment seats available per week (2,100 for Tokyo site), hence, the website always received large amount of traffic moments before the appointment page is available for use. To compensate for this, a static webpage that said “Please wait for your turn. This page will refresh by itself after a while.” is displayed to the end users while they queued and waited for their turn.

In the first few weeks after I received my vaccination coupon, I failed to secure an appointment due to the sheer amount of traffic hampering the page. However, third time’s a charm, and I managed to grab an appointment through the website last Friday within minutes the appointment service is opened to the public.

“Wednesday at 8:30 am”, I quickly chose the date/time and hurriedly clicked the Confirm button. After a while, a page that showed “Your appointment schedule is as follows…” appeared. I felt a huge relief when it showed a confirmed appointment with the exact date/time that I had chosen earlier.

Race against time

“Residents in Japan are guaranteed to receive their vaccines, so there is no need for a rush.”, said a senior Japanese government official as I watched the TV. According to a schedule set by the Japanese government, willing residents will have their vaccinations completed by the end of November this year.

However, with the surge of the Delta variant infection that progressively became mainstream in Japan and the world, I could not help but to think that more people ought to get vaccinated earlier to prevent hospitals from being severely burdened.

With more newer, potentially stronger COVID-19 variants likely to appear in the future, I think it is fair to say that it is currently a race against time to get protected earlier to reduce the risks from being hospitalized and suffer from serious symptoms.

Based on the schedule in my local municipality, I am scheduled to be vaccinated sometime after August with the Pfizer vaccine, however, since there is a choice to get vaccinated earlier, I grabbed any chances there are.

Getting vaccinated, 1st dose

A board showing the direction for the reception counter for COVID-19 vaccination at Japan’s Ministry of Defense Self-Defense Force Tokyo mass vaccination center

I went for my first shot at this Wednesday cloudy morning in Tokyo after an hour of train ride. The vaccination site was not jam-packed, but it had quite a number of people. However, social distances, etc. were properly practiced.

The vaccination process was roughly as follows:

  1. Temperature check
  2. Questioning – first or second time receiving the dose, health condition check to confirm the eligibility to receive a dose
  3. Moving to another building – segregated into different groups (first dose group, second dose group, etc.)
  4. Questioning – personal information confirmation, health condition check
  5. Receive a vaccination shot – I immediately felt a numb and pain in the injection area at my left arm
  6. Undergo observation period (in my case, 15 minutes) with other people at a hall
  7. Once the observation period time is up, leave the hall and exit the building
  8. Complete

After step 5 in the process above, I couldn’t raise my left arm properly, and felt a faint pain and swollen at the part where I received my shot. However, I had not had other symptoms (e.g. fever, headache, etc.) afterwards. At the time of writing, the faint pain and swollen had greatly subsided, and I can raise and properly utilize my left arm again.

Definitely looking forward for the 2nd shot not far from now.

Hello, happy birthday. #2

Cloudy sky began gradually clearing up, sometime after 7 p.m., June 21, 2021.

How are you lately?

Jumping to a new high

The pandemic still hasn’t turned out better as expected — the stronger Delta variant had almost become mainstream amongst other variants worldwide. Looking back a year ago today, I cannot help but to wonder if you are doing well. Perhaps the answer is yes, since you are surrounded by a important and supportive partner, and friends.

My image and memories of you still retained at a decade ago. Although you have changed a lot since then, rest assured that they still remain pleasant. The image and memories that I see occassionally remained vivid.

Keeping the pace of…

It was cloudy today in Greater Tokyo, and the ongoing rainy season had painted this week’s weather forecast grey (as it will be raining throughout the week). After I ended my work for the day, I turned off my work laptop, changed into a simple exercise outfit, and went out for a quick jog at the park not far from my home.

There were almost no people — only a few elderly people leisurely walk outside the jogging paths, people practicing kendo in a sports facility nearby the park.

I took off my mask, and went for multiple rounds in the park. Despite focusing on the pavement and the distance between park users, my mind had drifted to the multiple layers of grey clouds as it waded through the clouds to search for something.

You

“Where you are at now, is the sky today beautiful?”

Behind the imposed restrictions and face masks lie a great smile, I thought.

With ongoing times like these, from afar, I wish you all the best. I hope I can be of a help in any ways possible. Stay healthy, stay awesome, and stay great.

Happy birthday.

站在交叉之路

1/4

最近跟同龄朋友在聊天时,不时会提起彼此的生日。我不禁说道,“就这样,我们就过了我们1/4的…”。话未说完,我便沉静了一会,意识到后半句和整个句子的含义和其”重量”。

在这个月的15日,我进入了1/4后的世界。

回头一看

回头一看,铺着今天走的路道上的各种经历充满着各式的材料。上中学前曾发生的一件事,可谓彻底的影响了一生和人生观,毕竟,该件事的源头和让其结尾变得不精彩的主角是自己。回头一看,这也许是因为我不定期的在《白纸黑墨》里写下各种点滴的关系吧。然而,我也不忘对在那故事的另外一个主角抱着感恩的心。写在实体纸上也罢,写在虚拟纸上也罢,对你的感恩,我永远忘不了。希望在来世,自己不会再犯下其愚蠢的错误吧。

说到回头一看,我无法避开不提起此疫情。COVID-19疫情为世界带来的影响,已经足够的改变了世界的许多根本,尤其是肢体上的接触。曾经何时,原本已经是奢侈的亲朋好友聚会,通过此次事件变得更加奢侈了。在长期独自生活和实行社交距离期间,我赤裸裸的面对自己时间也变得更长。在无需过度在意他人眼光之下,对着蓝天白云按下手机的快门按钮,将那漂亮的夕阳放入半永久的脑海和手机容量的存档里。

将照片上传到自己的Instagram之际,为照片留下的内容无需放多言,只留下简单的一句话。“心里最纯粹的那个想法。”,我不时想着。疫情一旦过了之后,当生活渐渐恢复正常之际,“新的正常”会是怎样的呢?我不时这样想着。

站在交叉之路

…在这里的期间, (今年就)进入第三年…不久后就要决定是否要继续留在这里…

在这段时间,无论是和家人、朋友或上司,我都会以不同的方式说出上述的句子。这一般都是在问自己未来的打算之时所会用的句子之一。我不时会在脑海里翻看早前设下的未来计划,一边看着家里白色的墙壁放空,一边想着接下来该怎么做…。这可谓站在路的交叉之间呀。

日本在近期已经宣布会开放给18岁以上的居民打疫苗,并且已经有些公司已经开始让员工接种COVID-19疫苗。我住在的城市和所属的公司尚未宣布可以让居民或员工接种疫苗,因此唯有耐心等待而已。

2021,生日

今年的生日是在一个极为普通的,阴天的星期二工作日。自从日本气象厅公布我所住的关东地区已经进入梅雨期,天气预报也变得不太靠谱(所以这才叫预报,不是吗?)。尽管显示的是乌云,在该地区忽然下雨也不是一件稀奇的事。我搭了早上8点多的巴士到办公室,如常上班。电脑锁屏界面显示的「6月15日(火)」也显得特别。

今年我所“收”到的礼物是“给有需要的人的寄付(捐款)”。

At the crossroads of a long journey

Looking back last year and the year before that, the notion of dwelling on the past grew larger and larger.

The never-ending pandemic and those who set sail back home

It is hard not to touch upon the topic of a global pandemic, especially when it affects one’s daily life, no matter what your status and location is. I sincerely hope that for those who were badly affected due to this situation can recover quickly and resume normal life.

Some of my friends and former classmates who are now staying overseas, carry on with their lives there, as they cheerily shared their status in Instagram and other social media platforms. There are some who retreated back to Malaysia as they stepped into the next chapter of their life, be it pursuing new opportunities or harbor in their hometown after a long time away from home. Either way is fine, in my opinion.

1/4

I joked to friends of my same age, saying that we had reached a quarter of our entire journey. Before I can finish the sentence, I stopped at “a quarter” and began reflecting at the entire sentence. The weight of the sentence, which was carried equally by each of us, is heavy.

“Knowing this, why don’t you stop wasting time doing such meaningless stuff?”, a friend jokingly reminded me as I told the story of a distant past, which remained vivid in my mind. “Dwelling on it is the only thing that I can do, so I won’t repeat the same mistake again in the next life.”, I replied to my friend, in my head.

The ones you can’t buy are time

I recently read stories revolving several characters who were terminally ill, and had less time left, decided to accomplish new things together despite only knowing each other briefly. Among all of the things one can have, time is the only thing one cannot buy or exchange, the stories tried to convey.

Perhaps it was due to this extraordinary situation, and the ability for me to observe the changes of the skies outside my balcony almost everyday without going out much had me pulled back to the reality, and not the world filled with ones and zeroes.

Halfway across the a quarter of the road

“… in the third year…before I need to make a choice whether I wanted to continue to stay here”.

Recently, I increasingly mentioned this to my work superiors and family members as they asked about my plans in the future. I looked at my roadmap and couldn’t stop wondering what to plan ahead.

Japan today has begun allowing certain companies to conduct COVID-19 vaccinations to their employees and relevant family members. This, thus, is a beginning to an end of a journey, I think, though, it is still a long way to go. As of now, I am still patiently waiting for my turn.

I liked more and more the notion of giving away than to receive, so I had chosen to donate to the needy groups, as a way of giving back to the society. For many, this day is just another Tuesday working day. I think of the same, as I will be hopping onto the 8 something A.M. bus to my workplace, be it rainy or sunny.

Happy birthday to me.

The new guy in the department

A new guy (let’s call him M) has joined the department where I worked at a few weeks ago, who was employed by the company. On the contrary, I worked in this department as a contractor, so I don’t get the “full experience” in joining the company. From the brief introduction by my manager and brief “get to know each other” group meeting held not long ago, M is a recent graduate.

It was a refreshing sight, at least for me, as I knew a few contractors who joined the department, left after about a year working here. The reasons why they left, I do not know. What’s more, the identity of M in joining this department as a company employee may have left a deeper impression among us.

I haven’t got to talk with M a lot, since I worked from home most of the days in a working week. M was expected by the manager, in a charmingly cheering voice, to pick up the various programming languages and tech stacks that we use in our job in that brief group meeting, which was an hour before lunch. “I will try my very best!”, M answered in a cheering voice while we welcomingly clapped our hands.

Minutes after the normal working hours ended today, as I leisurely sat in my place while lazily scrolling Facebook on my phone, M walked passed by me as he flipped his name card on the attendance board – a method to visually conveying to the department that he had “punched out for the day”. I took note of his action, greeted to him, and continued scrolling Facebook.

As he proceeded to walk out of the office, he paused a while and walked to my place. “Khor-san, right? I heard you know some stuff about the language that we use?”, M asked. I was slightly surprised by this, but I quickly responded to his question after a while. More than ten minutes had passed as he asked some technical questions.

“(It’s way passed normal working hours.) Is your time OK?” I asked him before I went further with my explanations. “Nah, it’s OK, don’t worry about it!”, M responded. I quickly opened up a few browser tabs and explained the technical details he asked earlier. Since then, I quickly knew that we came from different technical backgrounds, and were unsure of some details in the programming language we used frequently, C#.

The rounds of simple coding while explaining concepts reminded me of the times when I was in university. M seems to be a good person to work with, like the other employees.

In other news, 2 weeks from today, certain workplaces in Japan will undergo mass COVID-19 vaccinations. I hope my workplace will be part of it early!

The certain afternoon, and the full moon

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.

Paul Bowles (via Goodread)

I was jotting down a thought that constantly lingered in my mind about a distant memory when I recalled the quote above (which I indirectly knew from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “fullmoon” from the album “async”). What surprised me was how the time and event being described the quote matched the background (time and event – a certain afternoon in my childhood that affected me so deeply that it had rooted in me ever since).

The more I read, the stronger the urge for me to take some kind of… action.

I recalled seeing a full moon not long ago in my home at a distant country. I can’t help but to wonder, how many times would I be able to see that full moon here.

What are your thoughts of the quote above? (Listen to the music, and listen the quote being read in various languages.)

A view of lavender and wisteria in Ashikaga Flower Park

The JR Ashikaga Flower Park station entrance, with its steps decorated with photos of wisteria.

Recently, I went to Ashikaga Flower Park, a tourist spot in the Kanto region, which is famous for the wisteria festival with some friends. Situated in Tochigi prefecture, this place is about 2 hours by normal train or about more than 1 hour if gone by express trains, including the shinkansen bullet train. Aiming to view at the splendid view of wisteria, my friends and I departed early in the morning from our respective places to the Ashikaga Flower Park station.

I first grew interest of this station due to its unique jingle sound/music played depending on the train direction (see below). Later on, the distinctive view of wisteria (purple-colored flower) and the peak viewing season became the reason I decided to visit.

During the peak season, entrance fee is priced at JPY1900 (which is a bit pricey, in my opinion). Being a flower park, upon entry, one can see various kinds of flowers, which bloom at different seasons, such as maple leaves in autumn, and rose during spring and summer, etc. The flower park itself is divided into multiple sections.

The park’s interior map.
(Source: http://www.ashikaga.co.jp/flyer/details.php?type=news&id=260)

However, the view of Japanese wisteria (below) truly blew us away. I jokingly said that I wanted to find an empty spot to lie down and stare at the ceiling full of purple-colored wisteria, but couldn’t do so due to coronavirus, and other reasons.

Purple-colored wisteria fills the sight with the crowd busying appreciating the sight.

The “Light Pink Bridge” (below) had the wisteria plant decorated as well, which matched well under the bright sun.

The Light Pink Bridge (うす紅橋) decorated with wisteria.

While we were strolling around the area, we passed by a small eatery selling coffee and local sandwich. What attracted my eyes was the uniquely designed, flower themed sandwich, which looked delicious!

Fruit themed sandwich which had flower decorations. Looks yummy!
View of the park taken from another angle.

Along the way, I noticed a woman drawing while sitting on the floor. Equipped with her drawing set, she was drawing a huge tree, along with the wisteria decorating it, which was amazingly drawn. I didn’t talk to her but I couldn’t help but to admire her skills and drawing.

A woman drawing a tree and its surrounding wisteria while sitting on the floor.

Before leaving the park, we had a quick lunch, which included the locally famous potato yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles) and the fuji (wisteria) ice cream (see both below).

Potato yakisoba
Lavender flavored fuji (wisteria) ice cream

Train station sign for JR Ashikaga Flower Park.

This flower park was chosen by CNN in 2014 as one of the dream destinations in the world. When the pandemic gradually subsides and international travel is permitted, and if you happen to be in Tokyo, why not consider spending half a day here? I’m sure you’ll be amazed by not only the wisteria tree, but also the other plants and flowers on display here.

Location: Ashikaga Flower Park, 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture 329-4216. Website: https://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/. To view the wisteria flowers at its peak, do come during mid-April to mid-May. More information is available at its official website.

Stroll of spring across the Boso peninsula

This week is the last week (where you can enjoy the spring flowers) before the raining week ahead.

NHK’s “Good Morning Japan” weekday news program in sometime during end of March.

On a Saturday morning in early April, I took advantage of the sunny morning to travel through the Boso Peninsula (房総半島) via two local railways – Kominato Railway (小湊鉄道) on the Kominato Line and Isumi Railway (いすみ鉄道) on the Isumi Line to view the spring scenery and hop onto diesel powered trains, which were quite popular among train fans and tourists in general.

I bought a special one-way “Travelling through Boso Peninsula” ticket (cost 1370 JPY) allowing the passenger to travel through both railways, starting from the western part of Goi (五井) station (JR Uchibo Line) to the eastern part of Ohara (大原) station (JR Sotobo Line) (map shown below).

The Trans Boso Peninsula travel map
(https://www.kominato.co.jp/tourism/transboso/index.html)
The “Travelling through Boso Peninsula” train ticket which allows a one-way, multiple stops from Goi station to Ohara station in the Kominato Railway and Isumi Railway line.

Equipped with the train ticket (left), I hopped on the diesel powered train on the Kominato Railway line. Perhaps the weather was nice that morning, there were many people on board the train.

The diesel powered train has only a few cars, since it ran on a lesser populated local line. As the train gradually moved across the peninsula, the burnt diesel smell lightly filled the train, even with a proper ventilation in place. I can smell it even with a mask on.

Definitely a unique experience for people living the urban area. (This is also a huge tourist spots for people from Tokyo.)

The diesel train left the station at 9 a.m. with a considerable amount of passengers on board. Along the tracks as the train moved at a steady pace, I was able to see the canola flower field and the remaining blooming sakura flowers, which really suited the spring season that was going to quietly wrap up in the Kanto region.

The diesel powered train on the Kominato Railway line in Goi station – before departure.
The canola flower fields with people taking photos of the train and its surroundings.

Along the number of train stations passed by, I hopped off at Yoro Keikoku (Yoro Valley) station, which is one stop away from the terminal station for Kominato railway line, to stroll around. There was only one train for each direction every one or two hours, hence it was a perfect place to enjoy the nature scenery and take a quick rest.

The station sign for Yoro Keikoku station.
The Yoro Keikoku station exterior view.

Upon exiting the station, I strolled around to find spring flourishing around. The yellowish and pinkish colours painted the surroundings which made the slightly cloudy noon even better.

Train tracks of the Yoro Keikoku station with signs of springs.
A farmer working on the rice fields.

This day was “Yoro Keikoku no Hi” (Yoro Valley Day), hence there were events and performances commemorating this day. It lasted for the entire noon as dances and folk songs were performed by the local community. Under the warm sun, this was definitely enjoy to watch.

Drum performances by the local Yoro Valley community for the occassion.
A special reserved locomotive train for passengers which headed for the Goi station direction.

After resting for a while, I boarded the train on the Kominato railway to transfer for the Isumi railway. Using the same ticket, I was able to board another diesel powered train on the Isumi railway to continue my journey. Despite the same train engine types, the train used by Isumi railways was a bit special.

The Kazusa-Nakano terminal station for both Kominato and Isumi railways.

I strolled briefly around the Kazusa-Nakano station (above), which was the terminal station for both railways. The ageing station stood out amongst the mailbox and vending machines. There were several tourist spots (including castle) around this area, but I decided to visit them next time, as I had only little time. I queued with other passengers eagerly wanted to board the Isumi railway train.

Station with two platforms served by two railway companies. (left – Isumi Railway, right – Kominato Railway)
The express train serving on the Isumi (夷隅) railway.

I mentioned earlier that the trains on the Isumi railway was special because… this was a refurbished JR West train! An old local line railway map of the Oito Line (大糸線) and Hokuriku Line (北陸本線) (see below) served in the Itoigawa area in Niigata prefecture, along with the JR West logo was still left intact.

I transferred again at another station, Otaki (大多喜) station, to head to my final destination, Ohara (大原) station on the same Isumi railway line. In this round, the other passengers and I hopped onto another “one-man” train (yellow-green colored).

The one person manned “one-man” train bound for Ohara station.
The waiting area for trains headed for the Ohara direction.

As we departed to the Ohara station direction, the station staff and railway fans (or tourists) waved their hands, and off we went into the towns as the clouds grew uneasily and it began to rain.

Station staff (left) and tourists (right) looking at the train as it was about to depart.

I arrived at Ohara station some time after 3 pm, ended after more than 6 hours of journey (mainly) on train. As I exited (and completed) the Isumi Railways route, I hopped onto the JR (Japan Railways) Sotobo line headed back home. I was lucky to witness the newly introduced, brand new E131 series train (went into use in March 2021) “one-man” train for this train line, which I thought was pretty.

The yellow-blue color scheme represented the main JR lines in the peninsula – Sotobo Line (外房, meaning “outer side”, represented by the yellow color) and Uchibo Line (内房, meaning “inner side”, represented by the blue color).

The newly replaced, brand new E131 series train operated only by a person (“one-man” train) on the Sotobo line headed for Kazusa-Ichinomiya station.

The Boso Peninsula is truly a wonder, in my opinion, as it has the Pacific ocean, Tokyo Bay, and the wonderful nature that changes color in every season that one can enjoy at once. If you’re nearby Tokyo, do consider spending a day here!

The case of a reported COVID-19 positive case

Few days ago, I received a notification mentioning that there was a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 next to my department (which was a few meters away from where I sat). Due to this, a sanitization process had been conducted urgently within a few meter radius of the affected department, of which my seat was also sanitized.

As a precautionary measure, a few colleagues and I who were in the “red zone” – area where it was designated as COVID-19 risk zone, were instructed to not go to the office for 2 weeks. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I always considered the scenario where my workplace is affected and required a partial or full shutdown of the premises.

The standard operating procedures for positive COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the pandemic reported in the office area included lockdown of the building, complete sanitization, installation of contact tracing app, undergoing PCR test In my case, neither shutdown scenario had occurred, and only the affected employees were required to work from home (unless a PCR test is taken and proven negative).

Company policies dictated that no personally identifiable information will be shared regarding the positive case(s) to prevent discrimination, but it did left me a few questions in mind, such as the number of positive case(s), what variant of the virus was (there were many reported cases of mutated variants of COVID-19, e.g. South Africa and the UK in Japan) , how was the severity of the person(s) who contracted COVID-19, etc.. If the person(s) who contracted COVID-19 were the mutated variants, then people surrounding the area might be at a higher risk to contract the virus (even worse, forming a cluster infection). My colleagues and I weren’t designated as “close contact”, so we weren’t required to undergo the PCR test.

What a strange world we live in right now (and the situation kept on worsening). Vaccinations for the elderly people began today in Japan.

身近にキミがいる(夢で)

夢でまたキミに会えた。

キミは僕のお隣さんで別々で生活している。何故こうなったのか僕は知らないが、それで十分だ。

ベランダでたまにおしゃべりをし、たまに互いを家に誘って、いっぱい飲んでいた(お酒じゃないが)。

また、キミの笑顔を見えた。気楽に遠慮なくお話をし、まるで昔のように僕を接してくれた。

お金がなくてもいい。あまりクラスのない服を着てもいい。安いおやつと温くなった缶コーヒー(キミはコーヒーを飲むのかな?)を楽しんでもいい。昔のように青い空の下で一緒にベンチに座り、キミとの会話。それで良いと思っていた。

ただ、どんな良い夢でも終わりが必ず来る。

朝7時。その聴き慣れた目覚まし時計のアラーム音が鳴り始まった。

キミが急に無言になって、ベランダを離れ、自分の家に入った。

「またね!」はない。

僕が徐々に空を仰ぎ、さっきまでに青かった空が曇り空に変わった。

僕は目を開けた。見えたのはあの白い天井。スマホの待ち受け画面を確かめ、そろそろ起きないとまずい時間になった。僕はまた、現実に戻った。再度スマホを確かめ、パッと起きて、仕事をするために準備をし始めた。

もし僕が今、ベランダに行ったら、キミが果たして隣のベランダに現れのだろうか?

また、いつか、夢で会おう。