Dreaming of the person in the distant past

Lately I had dream of a particular person in the distant past. It occurred in a regular fashion, yet my recollections were hazy at best. It was like a failed attempt to chain the series of dreams I have been experiencing lately.

A quick search on the Internet revealed to me of this person’s existence. However, a clear conscious told me that the connection of the chain (or anything that had to do with it) must only be attempted somewhere rather than this reality.

Due to work, I had lesser dreams, less much about this particular individual. Maybe the chain has begun to disintegrate, or maybe it had began to decouple over time… by itself. Nevertheless, its physical effects (much of it still was pain) still have a remarkable effect on me, even today. Even now.

May you live happily, where ever you are, especially under current circumstances.

Working from home

It has been a month since I began working from home.

Work. At home.

Rewind to mid April 2020. It was a week before the Golden Week holidays. I was finally given a work laptop by the company to allow myself to work at home.

Boy, was I excited. To be able to wake up slightly late than usual, dressing freely yet getting work done and do not need to go out? That was really a sweet deal. Unlike Malaysia where mandatory lockdown (known as movement control order, MCO) was in effect and everyone was forced to work from home (where necessary), Japan did not enforce a lockdown.

Japan’s own version of MCO was “state of emergency”, where people were advised not to go out if not necessary. Business nationwide were somewhat forced to close or to change ways to conduct their business — off the premises. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to work from home. Despite that, I needed to go back to the office at least once a week to ensure my desktop was in proper order, etc.

A new normal

Back to present day, May 21, 2020.

Except Hokkaido, Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures, people are allowed to go out and businesses are allowed to resume operations (gradually). People are still advised not to move across prefectures, let alone going overseas.

A new lifestyle, a new “normal” has begun taking place.

Whenever I go out, wearing a mask has become a must. The sensitivity of the whole COVID-19 situation has not subsided, despite the decreasing numbers of confirmed cases and deaths nationwide.

I have been busy working on work, and catching up with the project deadline — at home. It was fun – not having to go to work and able to continue work with the comfort at home. Truly blessed.

My development laptop was really a modest one — an Intel Celeron processor (really?) equipped with a SSD (thank goodness), as well as a standard 8GB of RAM. For the past month, it ran well, despite a few hiccups. It’s probably like that because of my main IDE — Visual Studio 2010 SP1. Imagine if this PC ran the latest version of Visual Studio 2019. Phew.

The real work

Last week, I went back to my company to update my PC. Since it ran on a HDD, it took a while to complete the entire update, as well as a couple of virus scans. In between, I began typing away on my work laptop.

The office was very quiet. Apart from managers, most staffs were at home. The “Work at Home from <start date> to <end date>” note filled the entire attendance board for almost every department (including mine). Except for staffs at essential departments (where they have to make sure the company infrastructure stays smooth and alive), the overhead light at most of the desks were turned off.

Quietly, I turned on my PC and began working away, with minor chatter and ambient noises accompanied me throughout the day. My senior manager, who happened to came to work that day, asked if I was OK with my work (all my colleagues were working at home). Smiling with my face masks on, I answered with a “OK, no problem”.

The atmosphere at home, workplace filled with people, and workplace where people were scarce were totally different. It was as if I came in in the weekends. However, with the COVID-19 situation, I imagine that this atmosphere will last for sometime, until it gradually recovers to its former state.

Weekday office with a weekend atmosphere. We do live in strange moments now. I wish I can continue work from home for the many months to come until COVID-19 subsides to a level where travels are acceptable, and mandatory quarantines are no longer necessary. Maybe next year.

Short haircut and frozen hair

Last Saturday, I visited the barber nearby my house to get a haircut. A lady helped me settled my haircut as I briefly told her that I would like my hair to be cut short. This was done as she had cleaned the seat that was used by the previous customer.

The hair cutting session between the lady and I went smooth and silent. A guy who sat next to me, while getting his hair cut, engaged in a small conversation with his barber about the problems that COVID-19 caused. I shut my eyes while listening to the conversation they had while getting my hair cut.

After the haircut was done, I briefly chat with the lady barber about the upcoming weather (it was forecasted that it will snow and rain heavily the next day). She told me that it’s gonna be cold, and I promptly agreed. As she said while adjusting her face mask,

“Luckily you had your hair cut short, otherwise the hair might get frozen tomorrow! Hahaha.”

That was definitely a good one, until I chuckled at it.

As I went to the counter and paid for the brief session, she said, “I see that you had came here last month.” (note: she was the same barber who cut my hair last month), while checking my previous visit. Shortly afterwards, she stamped at my member card, making me eligible for a discount forthe session.

As she handed back my member card, she bowed to me and said, “Hope to see you again next time!”.

I will definitely see you again, next month.

Good job!

Student: Bakku-gurowndo?

Teacher: Oh, you mean, background. Good!

I was using my laptop in a local coffee shop recently when I heard an audible conversation that naturally caught my attention. It was an English speaking practice session between, presumably, an English teacher with her student. I found it unusual as it took place at a public area, however it wasn’t loud until it could interfere the others. Or maybe it is because I sat a few tables away from them.

The English teacher went on explaining what “cover of a book” meant as the student continuously explaining something about a book — presumably explaining about a book that he recently read, or a story that he stumbled upon recently.

As the conversation progressed, the teacher switched back to Japanese to explain further about the topic that the student was learning. This evoked the times of intensive speech training that I underwent many years ago.

Without a clear guidance, it seemed that I was in a collision course. Indeed, when I first arrived, I stumbled upon walls and dead ends before I finally steered away from them. Learning something new is not easy; when a guru guides you, you will sure can avoid stumbling upon the said course.

COVID-19: When it all began

It was December 31, 2019.

I was in Taipei, resting in my room while watching the television. The news was reporting about some unknown pneumonia cases found in patients. These cases occurred at Wuhan, China. The fact that these cases were characterized as “unknown” made me alert and unease as I was outside Japan.

When the new year of 2020 began, I saw news where people who came to Taiwan who had departed from Wuhan must undergo screening if they have high fever. One of the main entry ports of Taiwan, Taoyuan International Airport, had implemented inspection and quarantine measures to ensure the situation do not escalate out of control.

A few days before I went back to Japan as the year-end holiday was about to end, I read news of a Chinese individual who had came back from Wuhan contracted fever and eventually got hospitalized. It made me wonder about the future of travel Japan and Taiwan, especially during long holidays, such as the Golden Week.

The entirety of January was full of news regarding the Wuhan pneumonia (precursor of COVID-19). The number of confirmed infected patients increased sharply, as well as the number of deaths as a result of the disease. Days before I departed back home for Chinese New Year, I saw news about the disease began spreading in Asia.

The day before Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The night when I departed back home from Chiba’s Narita International Airport, I saw news where people (especially Chinese citizens who were heading back home) hoarded face masks, sanitizers, and other items in huge bulks (think boxes) at various places in Japan, including pharmacies. This action caught me off guard as I didn’t fully realized the scale of the disease and its impact. Even the pharmacies in Narita International Airport had its masks all sold out.

Before I hopped the limited express train bound for Narita Airport, I bought a pack of face masks (and paid attention to buying those which had ability to repel bacterias and viruses) and took the initiative to wore it the entire journey.

How I wish I had bought more of those face masks beforehand. They were all sold out shortly.

Days before going back

Before I went back to Japan, I managed to secure several packs of face masks by purchasing each for RM8. Expensive, but desperate times along with extraordinary demands led to this outcome. Not willingly to take the risk, I bought several packs, just to be sure.

When my father and I visited the nearby pharmacies to buy some 3-ply face masks (or possible, N95 masks), we were met with disappointment when they told us the masks were all sold out.

Fast forward: March 2020

Face masks, hand sanitizers and the such are still largely absent in pharmaceutical stores. Waiting them to be restocked seemed to take forever. Lines were formed outside pharmacies hours before they opened, just to buy masks.

In my company, flexible work policy was implemented to permanent staffs (previously for contract workers, temp staff, and others), allowing them to work from home if necessary. Staffs were encouraged to come to work while avoiding the commuting peak hours.

However, I think that the awareness and actions taken were still not sufficient. The Hokkaido prefecture was its first large-scale victim. If the society do not adapt policies similar to its neighboring countries, I think a huge scale, nationwide infection might occur, especially when Tokyo Olympics 2020 being just around the corner.

I can’t help but wonder when will this pandemic ends. But one thing is for sure — if we do not cooperate to counter this disease, then it will surely be hard to mitigate. All things planned are effectively disrupted.

El Mar Mediterrani – “Fantastica!”

Ryuichi Sakamoto leading as conductor in the finale of 1992 Barcelona Olympics in performing “El Mar Mediterrani”. This is also available as a separate album with the same title.

As the commentator said when the ending of the music approaches, “Fantastica!“.

I can imagine the performance itself being very emotional and epic. Would love to visit a live performance of his someday in Japan!

Japanese immigration

Whenever I go for travel internationally, clearing immigration is one of the most important steps to do. The immigration facilities in Japanese airports are unique for me, due to the modern machines and the sounds they make.

Take the facial recognition based automated gates (below) for passport control, for example. I had been deeply attracted by it when I first saw it while queuing up at another counter that served foreigners who had Japanese residence cards.

Facial recognition based automated gates deployed at Narita International Airport. It takes 10 seconds to complete the entire immigration process!

The facial recognition gates can only be used by Japanese citizens at the moment. Not sure if it can be expanded to be used by foreigners residing in Japan, because if it does, clearing immigration will sure be a breeze, whether one is entering or exiting the country!

When I cleared immigration while coming back to Japan, the device used by the counter that I usually queued at captured my biometrics, including fingerprints and face photo. It, too, made alert and notification sounds along the way (see below).

A biocart (?) machine capturing a foreigner’s biometric info while scanning the passport’s information simultaneously.

Device sounds always kept me fascinated.

As a contrast, Malaysian immigration’s automated gates do not even emit a sound. While I was pleased that the entire process was quick and smooth when I was clearing immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the lack of sound indicator made me appreciate the effort made and done in Japanese equipments.

The immigration clearing process for Malaysian nationals who use the autogate. Highly recommended to use it to avoid the long queue.

I wonder if there are other countries that share the same characteristics with the Japanese. That is another research topic for another day…

Readjusting routine

After coming back from a week of holiday (the year end holiday) at Taiwan, I am struggling to calibrate the lifestyle here in Japan. It seemed that I was getting too cozy there. As I arrived Narita International Airport, the immense cold instantly reminded me of the current winter season. (It was cool in Taipei, resembling the climate when autumn began.)

As I cleared immigration and customs, the reality began to sink in.

Feeling tired, I brought my luggage back home and felt asleep not far from midnight after settling all down to prepare for work the next day. Perhaps it was the fatigue after a long travel, especially the previous day when I went to Chiayi.

Fast forwarding to this weekend, I felt that several weeks had passed when the fact was only a few days had passed. Planning ahead for trips to Taipei again this year, I wished I could visit there again soon.

I had a quick chat with the friend I had met while en route to Taipei, and she complimented that I was quite suitable being in Taipei. In fact, my girlfriend and I had some talks about moving to Taipei so we can meet each other often. I applauded the idea, but both of us knew the reality of such idea.

Today is Coming of Age Day in Japan, as well as a public holiday. Time to adequately recharge for the week…

Long time no see!

How are you, my friend?

At my last day in Taipei, I took the Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) from Taipei to Chiayi to meet a secondary school classmate who I had not met since we graduated (let’s call this person TW). I knew TW only for 2 years when TW transferred from another school to mine during the Form 4 -Form 5 years.

I made a quick decision to meet TW when our schedules were OK for a chit chat session. Getting to Chiayi from Taipei wasn’t near using common transportation methods, so I opted to ride again the HSR, with my girlfriend, to Chiayi (yay!).

Getting to Chiayi

A gotcha while travelling to Chiayi via the HSR was you had to travel to the Chiayi railway station to reach the Chiayi railway station. TW had kindly enough to suggest me to take the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from the HSR Chiayi station to the Chiayi railway station.

However, one can also choose to take a taxi (priced approximately TWD100) to the said railway station as well. If you choose to take the BRT to Chiayi railway station, you can ride it for free by showing your HSR ticket to the driver. The BRT also accepts EasyCard too.

Meeting up

Our meetup was a simple one — chit chatting while enjoying the local delicacy and comfort food: turkey rice. This was one of the highlights in Netflix’s Street Food episode in Chiayi. However, since we had only one afternoon, I didn’t get the chance to explore the tourist attractions and taste other delicacies.

We talked about topics after our secondary school graduation — from advancing studies to knowing new partners, small talks to somewhat serious talks, knowing other friends’ conditions and promises to explore places inside and outside Taiwan.

Scoring gifts

Fortunately, my girlfriend and I managed to score some local gifts (square cookies, said to be unique to Chiayi!) to be brought back home, as well as tasted the TRA bento boxes (packed meal boxes) that we’ve longed to taste ever since our last trip to Kaohsiung.

I bought the pork cutlet bento while she bought the chicken bento.

Next time…

Taiwan HSR’s January 2020 edition of travel magazine featured Chiayi, where it briefly introduced Chiayi as one of the oldest cities founded in Taiwan. It also introduced some tourist attractions and delicacies where tourist can try. Despite its location, I found the surroundings blessed with modernization.

Getting to know a location always makes me excited as there are many things left undiscovered. I can’t wait to go to Chiayi again next time!

It’s nice to see you again, TW. Next time, delicacies are on me, and no more arguing on who’s paying again!

Travel note: Activate debit card overseas

I was in a predicament while travelling in Taipei where I needed to pay a huge sum of money for accommodation due to issues in my Airbnb accommodation. In my trip, I brought cards issued from Japan and Malaysia.

Can your card be used overseas?

This might sound odd, but credit cards surely can be used overseas. No, I’m talking about debit cards. Usually, these cards cannot be easily used overseas unless their overseas use has been authorized beforehand.

Although this highly depends on bank, this feature can be easily turned on/off via the online banking service. Activating it was a breeze – simply logging in to the online banking service, turn on the overseas debit card feature, and confirming the action via a secured way (e.g. entering an authorization code).

Well, I forgot to activate the feature in my Malaysian card. No wonder my debit cards were virtually useless at that point. I was greeted by various apologetic looks from the hotel receptionists as they informed me that the transaction was denied.

Increasing your credit card’s upper limit

My credit card issued in Japan is the only way to settle huge sums of money when needed. A swipe of it proved to be failed as well, as I had used it earlier when I needed to urgently find a stay.

Check the spending upper limit, my instinct told me. Indeed, a quick check using the phone’s app showed that the swipe would made me instantly hit the spending upper limit previously set.

Luckily, the credit card’s online service allowed me to temporarily raise the spending upper limit, so I quickly took advantage of that. Since this was my first credit card, I’m not quite sure of other companies’ feature. I wondered if this feature was standardized worldwide, as the upper limit will be automatically reset to the preconfigured spending upper limit after a certain amount of time lapsed.

Will it require a confirmation code to be sent? Will it require a phone call to verbally verify your request? What happened if the act was done overseas? These questions do need to be researched further.


I noted the followings as reminders for me should I travel overseas again next time. I hope you will benefit from them too!

  • Activate the appropriate debit card’s overseas use feature before you depart from home country. This allows you to use the debit card for payment and withdrawing cash when needed.
  • Allow at least 24 hours to ensure the feature is properly activated and acknowledged by the bank. Check your bank’s information to know more.
  • Secure an amount of emergency funds. You may never know if you need to access them.
  • Know your credit card’s upper limit, and if possible, the amount of money usable by the credit card.
  • Know the ways to instantly (temporarily) increase your credit card’s spending upper limit when needed.
  • If the credit card’s spending upper limit cannot be increased instantly, be sure to increase it and confirm the increased spending upper limit prior to departing from home country.
  • If credit card cannot be used, use a debit card to perform the payments instead. Bullet point #1 applies here.
  • Under dire circumstances, use cash payments to mitigate the issue. Then, find ways to withdraw cash via ATM or other ways (e.g. Western Union)