Detailed work can last for a long time

As a software developer, one of my jobs is to produce a working software that meets the end user’s requirements. This involved lots of “behind the scenes” details where logics and arts intertwined with each other.

While placing sufficient checks in place to ensure the software doesn’t crash and the users don’t experience the frustration, I got to sprinkle some arts in certain parts of the code that the users interact with directly and indirectly.

The logic planning part required pre-planning, that is, going back to something equivalent to a storyboard, of which, in my case, is either a collection of PowerPoint slides or the traditional pencil-and-paper. However, the artistic “sprinkle some arts” part happened at random. For example, I did some in the front-end (UI part of the program), and some in the back-end (program codes), however I quickly realized that I wasn’t born with artistic cells…

I recently (re)watched the first three Matrix movies (rewatched the first, first time watching the second and third on Amazon Prime) in anticipation for the fourth, which was released earlier in Japan. After finished watching the third movie and rewatching the first trailer for the fourth, I was pleasantly shocked that the ending of the third movie seemed not… finite.

When my friend’s (who’s a movie fan) schedule is more free, I’ll definitely grab the tickets to watch at the cinema.

While wandering around the lands of YouTube, I discovered this gem about the making of The Matrix, which had gone into the vast amount of details and hard work poured in laying the groundworks, setting the scenes, training the actors, etc. that had blowed me away.

The dedication to preparing such in depth really reminded me of the worlds in the software development field, where great depths of preparation and planning are crucial in producing an excellent software. Such excellent software, if planned and executed beautifully, will impact others and can last for a long time…

Looking back 2021

This was a fulfilling year despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.

I discovered and checked many places off the Japan’s must visit prefectures checklist. There were parts of the journey where I went with my friend using a travel pass to 1) travel various parts of Japan’s Tohoku region, and 2) “checking in” at various Starbucks in different prefectures to taste their local frappucinos. Albeit a rush journey, we were able to visit important tourist spots and tasted their delicious frappucinos!

I also made new friends through events, such as a barbecue gathering, and meeting through my friend. I recalled them coming from various backgrounds which made me appreciate more of my current circumstances. Perhaps harder to know a new friend is a thing as you grow older.

A new kind of birthday present. Instead of receiving, I began giving away by donating to the needy. I feel more fulfilling by giving more than receiving, as I know that my contribution would have alleviate some people’s inconveniences.

Thought of the past more and more. Especially about you. Wherever you are at the moment, I hope you are safe, well, and happy with your loved one. From afar, I wish you a happy new year.

Think of plans for 2022. Since we are still confined in our respective countries and cannot freely travel overseas, I planned to explore further southern part of Japan, new spots in areas that I have previously visited.

It already is 2022 as I write this post. I have high hopes and had renewed wishes for this new year, and are looking forward to fulfill them all. I hope you, dear reader, will have a great 2022 ahead as we battle through this pandemic and other obstacles. Hope you, dear reader, are fine and well, whereever you are.

Happy new year!

Merry Christmas 2021

On this slightly rainy Saturday Christmas morning, I wandered around the streets of Tokyo to enjoy the Christmas mood. As I walked at a somewhat empty street, I spotted a snowman faithfully standing outside a bar, welcoming guests to enter the premise. It seemingly extended its arms with huge welcome with a huge smile. That was a great gesture, I thought, as I briefly stared at the snowman.

Out of curiosity, I tried touching its body to confirm that it’s snow, and indeed it was. I snapped this photo at around 11 a.m., and the surrounding temperature was near to 10 C, which was relatively warm. I can’t help but to wonder how long will this snowman last before it melted.

My friends online and in Japan had celebrated this occasion in their own ways as well, and so do I, as I assembled a small table of feast that I bought from a local supermarket in front of the television as I munched away while watching Die Hard.

The Christmas season came and gone so fast that I didn’t properly enjoy the atmosphere as much as I would, but I digress. I look forward to the heavily decorated shopping malls and supermarkets with Christmas ornaments, Christmas songs, and of course, the next Christmas occasion.

I wish you, dear reader, had a wonderful Christmas yesterday, and hope it had brought you some joy. May the last week and days before the end of 2021 be good and memorable to all of you!

To you…

From the bottom of my heart, I wish you a Merry Christmas, whereever you are. Hope you and your loved ones are safe from the affected disaster areas, and wish you have a wonderful year-end holiday too.

Playlist that never changes: shop BGMs, and others

Yesterday evening, I was on my way back home after getting my laundries done, where I stopped by a store to buy some groceries. Since it’s the Christmas season, it’s not weird to hear a compilation of overused, easily identifiable Christmas music being played in the store’s speaker. Apart from the occasional announcements done by the store’s staff (e.g. promoting products, asking for assistance at the cash register, etc.), the store atmosphere was heavily filled with Christmas song.

However, one song immediately caught my attention, which was an instrumental version of Kohmi Hirose‘s Strobo. Being a fan of hers, I quietly hummed the song as the store staffs quietly arranged the goods and other customers minded their own business as they filled their carts.

Different than that of stores in Malaysia, I often find older songs being played on repeat, which gave me an impression that they were the current popular songs (which they aren’t), especially English songs. In Malaysia, I would have the chance to listen to contemporary songs in coffee shops and shopping malls, but it proved otherwise here, which was refreshing.

I vaguely recalled listening to Celine Dion in a large shopping mall, which was slightly bizarre.

Although one can listen to the top 10 contemporary English songs in an online streaming platform, e.g. Netflix and Apple Music, I still find it pleasant to be able to listen to older songs in a public area, especially in a coffee shop. I don’t doubt if the youngsters recognize and/or have a 80s-2000s era song as one of their favorites, since Aerosmith‘s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing is still being played in many Japanese shows.

Since this is the month of Christmas, I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in shopping malls where Christmas songs were pleasantly repeated as I sipped a cup of coffee in a cafe or slurping away a bowl of ramen in a restaurant while realizing that this playlist will be gradually replaced one that fits the Japanese new year at the end of this month. I certainly enjoying the end of the year more than the beginning of a new year in this context. Perhaps it’s due to the “wrapping up” atmosphere that many people and places are eminating despite the ongoing pandemic.

I hope you enjoy this month, where ever you are, and take care!

Staring at the same sun and sky

Last month, I went for a short trip to Hokkaido, where I spent my first full day at the most northern tip of Wakkanai city. To get to there, I deliberately started my trip to Wakkanai by boarding a 5-hour plus limited express train from the prefectural capital of Sapporo city.

Before ending the tour of the day in the city, I stopped by at Cape Nosshapu, moments before sunset of the sunny day (mildly decorated with clouds). As the sun began to descend at the horizon under the chilling temperature of 8℃, I can’t help but to continue staring at the distant sun, along with Mt. Rishiri located far away. I fondly think of the mountain as another Mt. Fuji.

As I continued staring at this wonderful sight, I can’t help but to think of you. Realizing that the same view, composed of the sun, water, and sky, is the same as the one that you are viewing at the other parts of this world. I wonder what were you thinking while you stared at the sky at that exact moment?

This view, I wanted to share with you so much.

Seeing the calming seas with the skies having a gorgeous gradient, I think you were having a great day there, the same as I was. I wonder, was the sky that you were looking at equally beautiful like I saw? The answer would be a subjective one, yet the feelings one had conceived upon looking at the sky above might be an objective one.

View from the cape’s observation area right after the sunset. The gorgeous gradient of the sky still remained while the tourists visiting the area quietly disappeared as it turned colder. I hurriedly caught the last bus for that hour back to the train station.

At the visitors area, they were selling postcards and stamps that one can send to various locations. Since I don’t have your physical address, I might write a virtual postcard instead…

九月的秋分之日

在九月的秋分之日的晴天下午,我从筑波山神社爬上了茨城县筑波山的女体山的最高处。或许是因为久违的登山的关系,距离虽然不到三公里,但是我却花了接近2个小时才到山顶。也许是因为前几天下雨的关系,虽然登山口路道的土壤已干了,但是往山顶的路道依然有不少的水迹和烂泥。山里因为许多树木的关系,我很难看得见蓝天白云,但是幸亏山路依旧可走。我和擦肩而过的登山客和下山客一边轻轻打个招呼,一边吃力的往女体山顶处爬。

爬到山顶之时,茨城的部分美景把我和其他登山客给吸引住了。在山顶处到处都是岩石,而且也没有篱笆,若脚一滑而跌倒有丧命的危险,但是我和其他登山客都安全的找到各自的“岩石”,并且靠着岩石坐下来欣赏美景。也许是因为被美景所吸引的关系吧,有部分的登山客(包括自己)在即使抵达了山顶之后没有立即离开,而是选择坐下来/站着继续观赏其景色。

女体山顶
从女体山顶处看得见的景色之一
从女体山顶处看得见的景色之一

我不太了解茨城县的地理,所以我不知道眼前的密集地带是属于哪个城市。很幸运的,我偶然听到身边貌似是父子的两人在谈着眼前的这片景色。“从这边(因为云的关系而)看不到,但是在那城市的稍微远处就是霞浦湖。”父亲一边指着某个城市,一边对儿子如此热情的解释着。听他这样仔细说明着眼前景色的地理,我也因此学到了新的事物。之前在网上和电视看过某搭巴士的旅游节目里曾有介绍这座湖,但是至今我还没去过。有时间或许可以到这座湖周边观光!

好几十分钟后,我稍微依依不舍的离开了此处,开始下山。在爬山前我看到有注意事项,提醒游客和登山客在太阳下山前离开,以免迷路。更何况,在海拔数百米的地方和到处都有树林的情况和没有方便的交通工具之下,在适当的时间离开是上策之一。很无奈的,我因为太迷上了观赏美景和享受山上的小片美食而错过了最后一趟前往筑波火车站的傍晚5点的巴士,所以只好搭计程车到筑波火车站。当时身上持有的钞票也不多,但是幸好计程车的司机接受无现金支付。(虽然在拿到收据的时候就发现费用不便宜就对了。。。)

无论身在何处,夕阳总是那么迷人

在计程车的那至少半个小时的车程里,我和司机先生聊了不少话题,让我觉得那段车程感觉不长。从司机先生推荐的拍摄夜景的好地方到和司机先生所吐的有关本地政治的各种苦水,我享受那段聆听他人讲故事的时间。我和司机先生也笑着说,若时间再长一些,我们还能多聊几句。“您小心慢走!”,抵达在筑波火车站的巴士中心之后司机先生下车向我轻轻鞠个躬边笑笑的对我说。我也轻轻的举个躬,之后就进入车站等候下一班往东京方向的快速电车。

等着电车之际在车站内星巴克买了一杯新推出烧芋口味的Frappucino

久违登山的关系,肌肉在隔天就开始酸疼起来了。然而,这个酸疼仿佛是激发身体某处开关的效果,也许也无意识中鞭策了自己应该去实行自己爱做的事。

Chemistry between water and music

Exhibition poster for Sumida River Storm and Urge

I attended an exhibition of a collaboration work (installation) between Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani in Tokyo a while ago. Titled “water state 1”, this work is explained as follows:

In the center of the work, water droplets spread out as ripples on the mirror-like jet-black surface of the water, and the precise and detailed sounds corresponding to it envelopes the venue. Based on weather data from around the world, the amount and location of water droplets changes, and as each drop intersects with the water surface, it forms ripples that overlap and return to “water.”

https://dotou.tokyo/news/129/
Entrance to the “water state 1” exhibition area

As I entered the exhibition area (free of charge, booking required), I noticed a table with its surface filled with water that was jet-black in color. Located above the table was a machine with a large board of hardware full of wires and sprinklers which were programmed to produce water droplets at a certain interval. Speakers were also strategically placed within the area to produce a desirable atmosphere.

Few number of people observing the work at close distance.

I couldn’t capture the work beautifully, so here is a video of someone’s recording on YouTube.

While observing the water droplets dropping onto the jet-black surface of the water from the ceiling, the spreading ripples were accompanied with a music that lasted shorter or longer, which depended on the ripples and amount of water droplets observed.

As a person who enjoys the nature and the rain, I am absolutely fascinated with how melodies were created as the rain droplets hit the tree leaves, the asphalt roads, the rooftops, the balcony made of wood, etc. However, I find the rain droplets hitting the water surface to be calming to hear to. This work certainly pushed the pleasure of listening to nature’s melody to a higher and better level, thanks to Sakamoto’s music.

Despite only being there for 40 minutes due to consideration for COVID-19, I enjoyed the experience of observing the water droplets, the accompanied audio, and stones. As noted in the provided brochure, water is the fundamental substance that supports life on earth, and it changes its state depending on conditions freely. This made me thought of Bruce Lee’s quote on water:

Bullet train trip to the Tohoku region

A while ago, I went on a trip that covered the majority of the Tohoku region (map below) via the shinkansen bullet train with a friend. The prefectures we managed to visit are:

  • Aomori (Aomori City)
  • Akita (Akita City, Semboku City)
  • Iwate* (Morioka City)
  • Miyagi (Sendai City)
  • Fukushima (Aizuwakamatsu City)
  • Yamagata (Yamagata City)

* Stopped by only for a quick grab of Frappucino (see below).

Source: https://www.jreast.co.jp/multi/en/pass/eastpass_t.html

To accomplish this, I took advantage of the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), made available for foreign tourists and residents of Japan by purchasing it at JPY 20,000 (MYR 768.57/USD 181.57, rate as of July 28, 2021). With this pass, one can travel unlimited on the JR trains and shinkansen bullet trains for 5 consecutive days in the area above, which is a huge deal, since it is not cheap to travel on the shinkansen bullet trains.

My friend is a huge fan of the currently ongoing “47 Jimoto Frappucino” (47 Local Frappucino) campaign by Starbucks Japan, so we conquered the local Starbucks in the Tohoku region to taste their local regional frappucinos. We drank at least 6 cups of frappucinos over the span of three days in the Tohoku region.

Aomori, the second spot countrywide for its frappucino offerings.

Apple Strawberry Frappucino Blended Cream.

Being on a short trip marathoning across the six prefectures, we spent about a day per prefecture. Visits to most of the prefectures above are a first for us, so we went to various iconic spots and castles, such as Aomori Prefecture’s iconic Hirosaki Castle, which is another more than half an hour of train away from Shin-Aomori station (train station that the shinkansen bullet train stops at).

Aomori Prefecture

Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture.

Since we were nearby the castle, we wandered around the area, exploring places like Fujita Memorial Garden (owned in the past by a person named Fujita), which had a landscape that reminded me of Kyoto’s Ginkaku-ji Temple. The lushing green that painted the site and the hot weather painfully reminded us that we were in mid-summer, and expected less of seeing magnificient sights that can be seen in spring and winter.

Fujita Memorial Garden, nearby Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture.

Akita Prefecture

On the way to Akita prefecture, we stopped by Tazawako station to visit Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan. Nearby the lake lied a statue of the legendary princess Tatsuko, who had turned into a dragon to pursue her desire for eternal beauty.

Statue of Tatsuko by the Lake Tazawa, Senboku City, Akita Prefecture.

The lake’s sapphire-blue colored water left a deep impression in me as I stared at the lake’s view and water for quite some time.

The sapphire-blue colored water of Lake Tazawa, perfect for picture spot.

Apart from visiting castles and lakes, we also tried the local dishes, like Akita’s prefecture kiritanpo nabe (chicken hotpot with pounded rice) and hinai jidori oyako-don (Hinai Jidori chicken and eggs over rice).

Kiritanpo nabe (chicken hotpot with pounded rice, which uses the local Hinai Jidori chicken).
Hinai Jidori chicken and eggs over bowl of rice.

While searching for information about the kirintanpo nabe, I stumbled upon a video about how to make one. Ought to be fun to try it out someday!

It was fun to visit in the summer, albeit under the hot sun, to view various spots and taste foods and cooling beverages along the way, but I’d imagine it’d be equally interesting as well to visit them at another season. Speaking of views in another season, I captured a picture while we were on our way to Yamagata City when we stopped by at Risshakuji Temple nearby Yamadera station.

Revisiting Risshakuji Temple (Yamadera) since the first visit in July 2020.
Wonderful view of the temple’s entrance (barely visible) painted by summer’s hydrangea flowers and a hint of early autumn? complemented by the blue sky.

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.