Priority in place: travel

While travelling, money spending is an important aspect not to be overlooked, lest the money being prematurely spent. Hence, careful planning is always recommended. A worksheet with formulas in place, a text file with your favorite calculator app, or the analog way – writing down on paper, all these methods work.

Most of my friends opted the conservative way of travel in terms of budgeting, as many of them saved as much as possible whenever possible. One method was to travel via a low cost carrier to Japan, the other one was to take the bus to travel to a destination instead of the shinkansen bullet train or a domestic flight whenever possible. A friend of mine told me that she don’t mind eating foods from the convenience store, a view I largely shared with.

While travelling to Taiwan, I went for the same route, with the exception when the local eatery is cheap or unique enough to spend some bucks to try it out.

I heard from another friend of mine that he spent the night in the Tokyo airport before departing to Mount Fuji the next day(!).

A similar case happened to me when I chose to sleep on a bench in Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong International Airport) midnight while waiting for my flight back to Penang in the early morning in 2018. Sleeping on a bench was not the most pleasant experience: I had to be on alert with potential pickpockets and not falling down from the bench. With the 5am alarm set on my phone, I fell into a short yet deep sleep as the faint sound of cleaning workers cleaning the area echoed throughout the building.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it is not easy to go around without taking precautionary steps. Yet, this does not hinder one to enjoy the most while travelling domestically. A friend recently shared her plans to travel outside the Tokyo metropolitan area to a few cities which spanned multiple prefectures. Her plans, in my opinion, sounded splendid indeed. The plan alone really made me excited to travel into further areas again.

Wrapping up in the thoughts of travelling, budget and time seem to be manoeuvring the entire plan. Achieving the optimum balance usually brings the most joy, excitement and satisfaction in the entire trip. With plum rain season officially hits Japan, and the summer vacation quietly approaching, I think it’s time to draw up a plan to hit the road.

Where shall I/we go next…

Climbed to the top: Mt. Tanzawa

Last Saturday, my friend and I, on a somewhat spontaneous agreement, decided to climb Mt. Tanzawa to its top (elevation of 1567m), located outside Tokyo metropolitan in Kanagawa prefecture. As it was located far away from my place, I woke up early and took the first train headed to Tokyo.

I transferred at JR Ochanomizu station to head to JR Shinjuku to meet up with my friend, and took the express train on the Odakyu line to Shibusawa station. The jingle for this station is an excerpt of a famous 90s Japanese pop music – Makenaide by ZARD (see below). Just listening to it made me happy, probably because I knew this song. I think anyone who knew this song would be somewhat happy.

I last climbed a proper mountain 2 years ago — Mt. Fuji with another friend in early September. It was the last weekend for 2018 where they opened the public to climb, before closing the tracks until the following year (it was not safe to climb afterwards due to potential snowfall and unsafe tracks).

The mountain that my friend (let’s call her YY) and I climbed is located in somewhat middle of Kanagawa prefecture, neighboring Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. Hiking to the top would take about 4 to 5 hours, and completing the entire journey would last about 8 to 9 hours. We began climbing at some time after 8 a.m. from the Tanzawa Oyama Quasi National Park entrance.

The friend of mine continuing her journey uphill.
Continuing her journey uphill.

YY is an avid mountain hiker/climber, hence she proceeded more smoothly than I was throughout the journey. We reached the top about a quarter to 1 p.m. (probably around 12:50 p.m.) after a few breaks along the journey.

One of the plain paths full with greens as the sunshine warmly covered the area.

However, we couldn’t see any views below the mountain as it was a cloudy day — in fact, we were briefly covered by fogs that rose to the mountain top as we had our lunch (the weather turned cloudy after noon.). Luckily, it didn’t interfere with our mountain descent.

Mountain path turned foggy with YY ahead of me as we continued to the top.

We reached the entrance a quarter to 5 p.m., which was within our schedule. I think we reached earlier than we planned due to the shorter time it took to descend the mountain via the same route we took to ascend the mountain. However, we were worn out after that climb, yet satisfied.

We wrapped up the day with a (somewhat mediocre) dinner (YY seemed to agree with this) at a seafood izakaya near Shibusawa station, and parted our ways back home after arrived at Shinjuku station.

Glass of cold beer that we had at the izakaya. Cold beer after a long day sure is delicious!

I particularly enjoyed the entire journey — able to meet with various hikers with a casual konnichiwa as we passed by, a “ganbatte! You are almost there!” encouraging message from a random hiker as I rested a while to regain composure before reaching the top, shops in ‘checkpoints’ that were unique in each ways (I should’ve captured more photos of shops in each checkpoint!) — these truly shown the unique aspects of mountain hiking, especially with a companion.

A shop selling snacks and drinks at one of the checkpoints.

Equipped with the excitement I had in casual hiking of the mountains, I look forward to conquer another mountain, someday in the future. Perhaps a future target would be Mt. Takao. Maybe another mountain in the Saitama prefecture. Or perhaps, one that is far away from the metropolitan area…

Monolog: The faraway target

While changing a line from JR Sobu to JR Chuo to head to Shinjuku, I looked up at the platform indicator. To Takao, it indicated. As I was heading to Shinjuku to meet up with a friend before proceeding to head to our destination, I had a feeling that I should head to that place instead.

Going to Takao is on one of my to-do list, among other to-do lists. Famous for one of the hiking spots in Tokyo, its iconic Mt. Takao has a lot of faces according to different seasons. As it is summer currently, the lush greens decorate the visitor center and its surrounding buildings, forming a view direly needed for someone to temporarily escape from the concrete jungle.

Embed from Getty Images

Going to Mt. Takao is as easy as hopping on the upcoming train which heads to Takao and simply hop off there, however, this day was not the schedule for Mt. Takao. Perhaps someday.

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.

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.

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…

Happy New Year 2020!

Hello, 2020

It is now the year 2020. Apart from saying goodbye to the 2010s, this year also marked the last year before the end of the decade. I’ve been happily enough to count down with my girlfriend here in Taipei.

Rainy end

It was rainy for the past few days here in Taipei at a relatively cool temperature averaging at 16 C. Currently it is winter in Taiwan, but it does feel like early autumn in Japan. I had the opportunity to ride on the Taiwanese shinkansen, or the High Speed Rail, to Kaohsiung with my girlfriend too.

Alas, not all things went as planned, and one of it deserved its own post. I will write one someday when it is fully resolved.

The New Year eve was a cloudy day and it slightly rained as well. However, it did not deterred the determined ones to gather at hot spots, such as the Taipei 101 and Taipei City Hall to witness the countdown events and the fireworks. One of my friend spent her countdown with her boyfriend in Tainan, southern part of Taiwan. I spent mine with my significant other in Taipei. Truly, it was remarkable, witnessing the change of date and time into the new year.

Comes the sunshine

The weather forecast in my phone’s app showed partial sunshine in these few days. Indeed it is. Perhaps it was due to the winter season, the sunshine in the noon shone over the city like it was in the afternoon. However, the temperature had risen over 20 C, providing warmth to people across the street. As I rode the YouBike rental bicycle and walked through the streets of Taipei, I felt relaxed and warm as I casually breezed through.

My girlfriend and I casually talked and teased about our targets for this year. I said to her, “I wanted to cut down inappropriate talks in daily conversation.”. However, to sum what we’ve said, it was basically continuing the targets set in the previous year(s). Getting fit and reducing weights are our common targets, but with the non-stop new discovery of street foods in Taiwan, that would prove a difficult one to realize…

The year of the Rat

2020 is the year of the Rat, and I was born in the year of the Rat two cycles ago. Coincidentally, I bought a Mouse branded laptop last year.

Appendix: knowing a new friend

On the flight to Taipei via China Airlines, I got to know a fellow Taiwanese who was on her way to the United States, transiting via Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. From our 3-hour conversation, she planned to take a brief break by going back to her home in Taipei before continuing her journey to the US the following day.

I was amazed by this planning. Not only she was able to stroll around Taipei/Taoyuan area in the process, she could also go back to her home, then continue to be on her way to her final destination. I was reminded of the case where I had a half day layover in Hong Kong in November 2018 when I was heading home for my graduation.

This Taiwanese girl is currently working in Tokyo area, and was on her way to the US to join her roommates in exploring the area. She also expressed concern on the upcoming 2020 Taiwanese presidential election, where we discussed in length about the political situation in Taiwan (I was not Taiwanese!). We were thrilled to talk about various issues and memes circulating a certain presidential candidate, yet cautiously talked as we do not want to spark and ignite any flames over differences in political ideas with other passengers.

As we left the plane, we parted for our ways and even exchanged social media accounts. As of current writing, she is having fun in the US. I also learned that Taiwanese do not require a tourist visa while travelling in the US, while Malaysians still require one (so envy of her!).

Pray and wishes

What do you pray for? What do you wish for?

In these few weeks, I have visited various places surrounding natures, particularly shrines and temples in the prefecture where I stay. As one of the places where Buddhism got widespread in Japan, I naturally got attracted to its history, places of worship, and the architecture.

I am not a religious person, but showing respect to a religious place is an absolute minimum that I do. Following the locals’ way of showing respect, I bowed in front of the statue (of both shrines’ and temples’), and offered prayers.

Many kinds of things ran through my mind in that brief period of time of praying. The things that I wished for were mainly peace among world and society, family and friends, and the ones that I cherished. Albeit sounded cheesy, with the current situation happening worldwide, I hoped my wishes could at least ease some of the pain certain people is facing right now.

If you were in front of a shrine, temple, or a religious place of your choice, what would you wish for? How would you realize it?

Some of my friends are atheist, and hence do not conform to the idea of religion. However, we shared the same idea of “wishes” — thoughts that something can happen. Removing the aspect of religion, isn’t that pray synonymous with wish?

Behind these abstract concepts lie a core idea – a desire that something be realized. One of my wishes is to fix a broken rope. This rope might already been broken, yet it only takes two hands to fix it. One hand offered the rope, but it is up to the other hand to accept the offered rope, and combined two hands to fix the broken rope — to become, once again, a normal rope.

I recalled a conversation between two siblings at a shrine where the older sibling scolded the younger sibling for throwing a coin with a low denomination of the Japanese yen into the box. “Why are you so stingy [for throwing a low denomination coin]? Aren’t you afraid that the god [of the shrine] gets mad at you!?” Unless the higher entity is a materialistic one (which I highly doubt), I believe that what one offered in heart matters the most.

So, now, what do you wish for? What do you pray for?

Japanese-influenced Chinese

When I met my girlfriend a while ago, she noted that my Chinese had been steadily deteriorating. On top of that, she also mentioned that the vocabulary I used was influenced by Japanese’s kanji. Baffled by this, I recollected the words that I used when I attempted to communicate with the locals (and her).

The use of wasei-kango (Japanese-made Chinese characters) in Taiwan is prominent in some ways, as Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan is influenced by Japanese in some way.

I have only been in Taiwan (specifically Taipei) for a short period of time, however I have observed the use and influence of Japanese’s kanji in the daily use of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. Take some of the examples below:

Trad. ChineseMeaning
歐吉桑uncle (Japanese: ojiisan)
歐巴桑auntie (Japanese: obaasan)
通勤commute (Japanese: tsuukin)

Learners of Chinese and/or had knowledge of Japanese might notice that the Chinese words are identical to its Japanese counterpart (except for uncle and auntie).

Not only that, some place names in Taiwan had also pronunciation in Japanese! (Taiwan was ruled by Japan previously.)

Place Name Chinese Japanese
板橋 Banqiao*1 Itabashi
高雄 Kaohsiung Takao*2

*1 A district located in New Taipei City

*2 I was made known of this pronunciation by my girlfriend’s great teacher, Mr. Young (楊), in his history class.

On top of it, certain stations in the Taipei MRT have their own Japanese pronunciation too, presumably to make the Japanese tourists feel comfortable, in my opinion. Oh, I love too much about these aspects.

With regards to the observation made by her, I also noticed the steady decline of proficiency in Chinese myself. It’s time to polish it for the upcoming Taipei trip!