Thursday, 28 March 2013

My Japan Story Final Part – Lavender fields and mistaken price for watermelon

Of all hotels that we stayed during our trip in Japan, Hotel Garcery Sapporo where we spent 4 nights was the nearest to the train station and its room was the smallest of all, yet ironically, the rate of the room was also the steepest.

Upon arrival in Sapporo from Hakodate, we took a day trip to Otaru, famous after it was featured in a romantic Japanese soap opera in the 1990s. A canal adorned with Victorian-style street lamps runs through Otaru and like Hakodate; it was one of the earlier port cities. What attracted me the most was the glass works in this town and its colonial style buildings and warehouses.

We arrived in Hokkaido just in time for lavender in early July. The lavender fields were mostly centered around Asahikawa and for the lavender season, there is this special lavender train one can take to the fields, the famous being those around the little tranquil town of Biei. Besides the lavender fields, another place that is a must to visit is the Takushinkan Photo Gallery where the celebrated photographer Shinzo Maeda captured the best of Hokkaido throughout his years of living in Biei. Biking was the best way to go around Biei.
An interesting thing happened on our second night at Sapporo when both of us went to the Daimaru Supermarket situated just across our hotel. The display of honey dews and watermelons was too great for us to resist the temptation to try them. We were wondering what was so great that rock melon can cost up to about 10 thousand yen, about RM 300 and half a watermelon costs about RM 200. Then we were elated when we saw a packing of a watermelon cut into half with the tag of 200 yen (RM 6) with some Japanese writing on it. Aha….we thought it just cost 200 yen for half a watermelon that looked so delicious, worth trying right?
Rock melons on display. See the price tag!
Only at the payment counter we realized that the watermelon costs 5800 yen, a discount of 200 yen from its original price of 6000 yen (RM 180). We bought it anyway but it is the most delicious watermelon I ever tasted back then. For RM 180, we can buy at least 15 watermelons in Malaysia and I told my friend: “eat until lau sai (diarrhea). These days when I have craving for Japanese watermelon or rock melon, I can get them in Mediya at Liang Court in Singapore.
One of the farms around Biei.

Tomita Farm is the largest lavender farm in Hokkaido and we spent almost a day there taking photos and strolling around. We went to a few more which we can’t remember their names. The sceneries were breathtaking. Compared to tulip farms in Holland, I would say I prefer the lavender farms more. How I wish in Malaysia we do more to beautify our Cameron Highlands farms, make it nice, neat and conveniently accessible and we can make a scene from Hokkaido out of it.

The shot that I loved most.
Another interesting thing about Hokkaido is a few trees used in commercials and posters and therefore they have their own names such as "Tree of Ken and Mary," "Tree of Seven Stars," and "Tree of Parent and Child." What I remember most of those trees is the Tree of Seven Stars with the majestic Daisetsuzan Mountain in the background.
 Daisetsuzan Mountain from afar.
Finally, a trip to Hokkaido is not complete without visiting the famous Sapporo Beer Museum and Garden. We flew back to Tokyo, stayed for a few more days before saying goodbye to Japan and changed of perception about Japanese ever since then.
Sapporo Beer Museum and Garden.

I’m not going to write in details about Tokyo as I find that it is just another metropolitan city without much to except its famous Sensoji Temple, Tsukiji Fish Market, Yasakuni Shrine, Nihonbashi and Ginza Shopping District, Shinjuku office towers and the Imperial Palace garden.
Infront of Sensoji Temple

Tuna fish head at Tsukiji Market.

P/s: For those who have not been to Japan or Korea and not a K-pop fan, my advice will be to visit Korea first before Japan or you will find that Korea is a mini Japan and the trip won’t be fun anymore.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

My Japan Story Part 5 – By train to Hokkaido

This blog is very much overdue by more than a year since I last wrote about my experiences at Takayama, Mt Fuji and Nikko more than a year ago. Somehow the memories of Hokkaido rekindle my mood to write about it.
The journey from Tokyo to Hakodate in Hokkaido was a picturesque and memorable one. If I were to take the same journey again, I believe the views would have been different after the disastrous March 11 earthquake that destroys most of the cities along the Tohoku Shinkansen line. It is all worth the 7 plus hours spent in the train with Jared Diamond’s Collapse to accompany me.

Two bullet trains joined together, at Tokyo Station.
The journey also showed the efficiency of the Japanese as they are capable of separating the passengers and two bullet trains attached together in Tokyo but bound for two separate destinations at Morioka. In the span of 12 minutes, the one train became two with one bound for Akita and the other to Hachinohe. I was amazed and I murmured to my friend, if this is to happen in Malaysia, it will take at least 30 minutes. The bullet train line ends at Hachinohe where we had to change to another express but not bullet train en route to Hokkaido.

It was a great challenge for me and my friend at Hachinohe as we have only 20 minutes to move from one train to another with our two big luggage bags, crossed from one station to another, find the right platform (as Hachinohe is transit hub, there were at least 40 platforms) and grab our lunch without missing the train. We almost miss the train! Aomori was the last station on Northern Honshu before the train descent into the Seikan Tunnel beneath the Tsugaru Strait. It is the both the longest and the deepest operational rail tunnel in the world.

It was evening by the time we reached Hakodate; thankfully we do not have much trouble finding our hotel as we were both tired and hungry. We found a traditional Japanese grill eatery near to our hotel for dinner. It was run by a couple who only speak Japanese and we had problem communicating with them. So it ended up with drawing and sign languages but the grilled stuffs were great. To this day I still can’t forget its grilled chicken wings. The hunger in us finished off whatever stock that they had prepared. We went again the next day and again, we cleared their stock.

Before we left, the lady owner, through a Japanese gentleman who speaks a little English asked if we are going again the next night. We told them that are leaving for Sapporo the next day. I told my friend that they must be asking because they want to prepare more food if we are to be there again, much to our great laughter. The Japanese goes to those grilled places for drink and a few skews of grilled stuffs but we had close to 50 skews a night. I wonder what the owners thought of us. I have no idea what is the name of the grill house as it was all in Japanese but it is at the back of Aqua Garden Hotel.
The Russian Orthodox Church

At the romantic waterfront area, with former warehouses dotting the landscape.

Hakodate was once a treaty port but right now it is more of a fishing town but a romantic place, especially the waterfront area. The icons of the town were the imposing Russian Orthodox Church and the Goryokaku Park, famous for its 1500 cherry trees.

Next, my lavender experience.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A poem for Barisan Nasional

As I browse through my collections of Tang Dynasty poems, I came across this poem that I think suits BN very well, it can be used to represent the feelings of young and urban voters, myself included.

弹琴 by 刘长卿





This poem was written by Liu Changqing. It talks about a seven string zither that people like to play and listen. He particularly like to listen to one ancient tune called “wind and pine tree” but while quietly listen to it, he felt very uneasy. It is because although he loves the tune very much, these days, people do not like it anymore.

So, BN leaders, can you guys please change the tune? The same old tricks don’t work anymore. We, the people do not feel the benefit of your policies and we do not see any chance in reality, although in our heart, we still have sentiments for BN.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Election and Erection and cows

 “Government, to be effective, must at least give the impression of enduring and a government which is open to the vagaries of the ballot box is a government which is already weakened before it starts to govern.” – Lee Kuan Yew

I absolutely agree with Lee Kuan Yew that the government must at least give the impression of enduring and it must not be open the vagaries of the ballot box. However, in today’s Malaysia, we are now witnessing the weaken government even before the people goes to the ballot box. Elections are serious matters to politicians and the voters because it decides the fate of the nation. It is not a joking thing. Alas, in Malaysia, it has become a joke now because our Prime Minister is so afraid of what the voters will cross at the ballot box.

This morning, while having my tea with some friends, a friend asked me: “Jadryn, when is Jib Jib going to announce the dissolution of parliament?” while browsing through today’s newspaper.

Honestly, I am so tired with this question that it seems like a stress now. “We can try to email Malacanang Palace to ask the Sultan of Sulu’s secretary to ask his boss regarding when Malaysians can vote”, I replied jokingly to the laughter of everyone.

Another friend sitting with us who is very well known for his participation in Pakatan Rakyat activities suddenly said “ Apa Sulu Sulu, election will be called when someone's erection problem is solved. Not need to email Malacanang Palace, we should call Pfizer!  From their office in Glenmarie to Putrajaya is not far. Can do same day delivery. You see, in Australia, Julia Gillard doesn't have erection problem so she can announce the date of election 9 months ahead.”
" sure it is the 100mg tablets. 50mg not potent enough", another friend quipped.
"Are you all implying it is better for woman to be Prime Minister of a country?" I asked.
"Cannot too....else we will have a lot of issues with cows in condos."
Luckily there aren’t any foods or drinks in everyone’s mouth or the person sitting opposite will get a taste of it. We just can’t stop laughing out loud for the next few minutes. Malaysia…..O….Malaysia… this your fate after the British gone for good for 55 years and half?

Monday, 11 March 2013

When smart people overdo… (当聪明人一时糊涂)

I always like to joke that catching up with the latest gossips is always a “must have” to add on to the itinerary in any wedding, funeral or other social events, regardless of ethnicity or geographical location. Even among strangers, gossips about politics and certain personalities can get very lively that by the end of the event; add on with few glasses of drinks, the few people who were strangers just a few hours ago behaved as if they have known each other for dozen of years.
At last Saturday night’s wedding dinner; the romantic classical pieces produced by the orchestra team on stage with its lively conductor still can’t steal the attention of the guests away from talking and predicting the outcome of the 13th General Election. All that I can gather was doomsday coming soon for BN. I was about to suggest another topic instead of Rosmah’s diamonds and Ong Tee Keat’s fate when someone wondered aloud: “Don’t you all think Najib, Rosmah, Chua Soi Lek, Ong Tee Keat and the BN team should go to the famous temple in Chinatown to pray to the Tiger God and do the “hit the valiant (打小人)” ritual?” Another friend echoed: “Absolutely agree, they should but make sure the foreign workers there gave the right instruction, else….”
“Else what?” another friend asked.
“Else they might do the wrong thing like what our two colleagues did some years back.”
Well, this real story happened 3 years ago when two smart chaps who were sworn enemies and contenders in office went to this famous temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur (this temple is now infested by foreign caretakers) on the day that is supposed to be auspicious day to pray to the Tiger God. At the temple, after telling the caretaker about one’s intention to打小人, the caretaker will give a package of praying materials that consists of joss sticks and some paper cuts that are meant as replica for bad people and also a set that represents nobleman.
The paper replicas. The one in green and yellow represents nobleman while the other two are valiant.

It was somehow in the folklore that if you have a targeted person that you deemed as bad people and you want this person to have some hardships or mishaps, you can write his name on the replica for bad people. Colleague A reached the temple about half an hour earlier than his nemesis and so he started his ritual and happily writing on the replica of the bad people the name of nemesis, colleague B. By the way, the replica for the bad people are meant to be burn after the whole ritual to indicate that they have been send to hell while the replica for the nobleman will be pasted on a corner of the temple near the Tiger God to indicate protection from the Tiger God.

Pasted replicas of nobleman on the temple wall. The smart one went all the way to have his name and his nemesis's written on it.

Instead of just stopping there, A went on further to write on the replica for the nobleman his name as nobleman and also the name of B as the bad one. After that he happily pasted the replica on the wall and laughing all his way out of the temple with his friends, feeling good that he had hit and split on his nemesis’s paper effigy. When B arrived, I was there too. While waiting for our turn to do the ritual, B suddenly found his name on the wall with some bad characters attached to it. B did exactly what A did to him at the temple and he wrote A’s name as big as the space allowed him. Hanging up there, that effigy certainly catches attention, what else right? 
What happened next when B returned to office was disastrous. Instantly, both of them became laughing stock because of their stupidity and till today, when someone mentions the Tiger God, naturally their story will surface. So, the moral of the story is, it is okay to be smart but do not overdo things, it may backfire. The end, it just made you looked so stupid when you are actually a smart person like the Chinese idiom: 画蛇添足。

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The politician that invited the Sulu invaders, who is it? Is it Tan Sri Harris Salleh?

The nation is in crisis now. What started as an intrusion by the self-claimed heirs of Sultan of Sulu into our sovereign territory in Lahat Datu, Sabah has now escalated into an invasion and bloodshed in various places in Sabah’s east coast with no end in sight, at least for now. Will it escalate into more places, no one knows! But one thing all Malaysians from all walks of life know for now is that this intrusion is organized by our politicians with both sides being roped in by supporters from the other side. BN claimed it is opposition’s job, PR claimed it is government’s conspiracy.

Then the PM calls for probe over the instigation claim because a Philippines military officer said that a Malaysian opposition politician invited the armed men over to discuss land issues. However, the PM did not disclose how soon will soon will be the announcement of outcome of the investigation. The sooner the people of Malaysia know who this politician is, the better it is for us, for it will end unnecessary rumors that will further divide Malaysians.

So far, the only politician that came out with a so called solution that sounds fishy to this crisis is former Sabah Chief Minister, Tan Sri Harris Salleh. He has has proposed that the Malaysian Government permanently settle the long-standing issue of ownership of Sabah raised by the Sultan of Sulu by way of a lump-sum compensation payment of RM200 million. Who is the real Sultan of Sulu is a question, so pay to which claimant ? Why RM200 million? Because he said that the suggested amount of RM200 million was merely equivalent to the monthly expenses for the armed forces to control Sabah’s coastline. Can our Defense Minister please confirm this or this amount is just what Harris Salleh claimed?

Harris Salleh also said that he had written to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein that RM50 million is to be allocated from the RM200 million direct to the Sulu Sultan’s descendants while the balance for the development of a Felda-style settlement scheme in Mindanao. Is this so called Felda-style settlement scheme in Mindanao is the land issues the Philippines military officer referred to? Is that also the reason they choose to camp at villages in the Felda Sahabat 17 scheme?

When all these add up together, my mind can’t help guessing is this so called opposition politician is Tan Sri Harris Salleh or someone linked to him or he knew who is the real opposition politician implied by the military officer? Would Tan Sri Harris Salleh please come out to clear the air?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Riots are bound to happen in Malaysia

It was exactly a year ago when I wrote that Penang Malay Congress claimed that Perkasa was behind the anti Lynas fracas in Penang that almost turned into clash between races when I urged for Ibrahim Ali and those responsible to face the law. Not only was Ibrahim Ali not being questioned at all by police, Perkasa and Ibrahim Ali became more daring in their actions and in what they said that clearly put race and religion relations in Malaysia at crossroads. As they say, one leads to another…..the more when no action is taken against the culprit.

Then, throughout 2012, we read about these so called UMNO-linked thugs that sabotage countless Pakatan Rakyat ceramahs, threw red paints at PR’s bus, and did butt exercise infront of Datuk Ambiga’s house, attack students who asked for the abolishment of PTPTN loans, and a long list more barbaric acts with the mother of all was the ugly ending of Bersih 3.0 demonstration in downtown Kuala Lumpur. To be fair, we do read about the Prime Minister being humiliated in Penang, Ng Yen Yen's Jonker Street shame,Gerakan's office being splashed with coffee and eggs, Hew Kuan Yau's outbursts, bottles thrown at Wee Ka Siong and etc. Both side have their own share of untoward events.

At wee hour this morning, I am moved to give my piece of mind that I have been thinking after observing barbaric and uncivilized acts of supporters of political parties for over a year now because a big fight between the supporters of BN and PR was almost taking place a few hours ago at the Dataran Menara Condong in my hometown Teluk Intan. My friends and some relatives (they were my live source) was there for a ceramah organized by Pakatan Rakyat  that started at 7pm but halfway through, a group of BN supporters and thugs turned up to sabotage it by waving BN flags and signing patriotic songs. The ceramah was halted and anger was clearly seen on both sides. If not for the announcement from the stage asking for calm and for refrain of use of violence by PR supporters, I am sure both side will surely fight. The police was there too but failed to ask the BN gang to leave. 

Throughout the year, my mind have not been far away from thinking that if barbaric and uncivilised actions by supporters of political parties do not come to a stop in this deeply politically divided nation, riots are bound to happen. No, it is not going to be like May 13 race riots but this time it will be riots between supporters of BN and PR. All races will be roped in. It is either you are with BN or with PR regardless of race. Even among people from the same race, they have scores to settle among each other and I believe this drove them to be uber hardcore supporters of either BN or PR. Not only are Malays divided, the Chinese who had always observe refrain from trouble want to settle scores too because their rice bowls are affected. The same are happening between the have and have-nots Indians.

Bizarre it may sound to you now. When will it happen? Well, most will think it will happen after the announcement of the elections results by reasoning that either side can’t accept the result. I think it may happen as soon as tomorrow when the tide of anger cannot be contained anymore. Ah Jib kor, what will be your solution to this problem, as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, besides you have just signed the election integrity pledge? Will you do the leadership by example honour by asking your BN/UMNO supporters/thugs to observe civility or will you just blame it on PR? Just wait and see.