Saturday, 3 October 2015

on The Circle and social media

I've been meaning to do a post on this for awhile now and finally I'm enjoying a quiet night alone with a cup of tea, dark chocolate and the diffuser spewing out Lavender scented air. ;) The perfect setup to hang out with my thoughts. 

The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is one of the best fiction books I've read in a long time. I read it over the course of a holiday last month and it was the perfect airplane book because it was so dang riveting.

It's basically a cautionary tale, set in a not-so-difficult-to-foresee future, where the world is influenced hugely but The Circle, a massive social media company which basically controls the internet and all platforms of social media (eerily similar to our Google/Facebook...just a step further), and is the most coveted place to work at with its own 'campus', housing state of the art facilities in beautifully designed buildings, boasting incredible employee benefits such as plush on campus lodgings, an endless variety of afterhours social activities/free lunchtime classes... the works(sound a lot like some companies we know about too?). The story follows the protagonist, Mae, who begins her job at The Circle and, as she ascends through the ranks, introduces us deeper to the increasingly tyrannical leanings of the company, whose founders' mission is to move society towards total transparency and for knowledge to be made freely available to everyone.

What was so unnerving for me, was how there were many forms of technology in the story that are freakily enough, entirely within the realms of possibility. For example, the company produced 'SeeChange', making use of small high resolution cameras that could be fixed anywhere by users to allow for a constant video stream on thousands of cameras. The benefit of course would be knowledge of the goings on almost everywhere in the world. But the obvious penalty? An increasingly complete lack of privacy especially to those who did not chose to be a part of it.

Plus, there was a huge bit on the obsession we have with social media; the need to have/curate an online presence along with the need for constant connectivity. In the Circle, employees are ranked socially based on their online interactions (e.g. how many discussion groups they are in, how many messages they reply to, events they RSVP to, comments they leave on other people's feed) and Mae works her way up the rank through frenziedly commenting, 'zing'-ing, joining communities, befriending others... Something which I thought was so eerily familiar.

I do remember a point in time in my life a couple of years back when I had just starting with blogging and was keen to get to know other bloggers and hoped that other bloggers would come by my site so that there would be a connection and exchange of comments and ideas. I can't remember how much time I spent commenting on page after page of blogs, sometimes even with really paltry comments such as 'wow, looking good!' or 'that's awesome!', which was something I could easily do even without having properly read through the person's blog post. In fact, it seemed to be the case with a lot of fashion blogs that I used to follow quite enthusiastically. It's so much easier to just leave a comment on text-sparse blog posts. A series of photos? Easy. Scroll through quickly, think of a positive comment to leave and type it in, hoping that the blogger would either reply or maybe even come back to your own blog, thereby increasing blog traffic. What about focusing on reading a post with more explanations/texts? Not so much, because it took more time. Only if it really caught my attention. Come to think of it, there wasn't very much meaning in that sort of digital footprint. It's only now when I think back that I see how superficial it all seems. And yet, it's probably what quite a number of people do, because at the end of the day, who doesn't feel emboldened by comments/likes/validation of any form, especially online?

Reading The Circle made me think about our relationship with technology (of course our near obsession with the use of social media being the most obvious phenomenon) but in a broader sense of the term. Ever go into a restaurant, look around while waiting for food and see a couple at a nearby table - guy and girl each looking at their phones in silence? Or maybe a family - parents and teenagers, all looking at their phones separately in silence? I've seen so many of them it's unsettling. The key components are - separate and in silence. What's the point of going out to a meal together if you're only going to be eating with your phone? Every time I go out nowadays I try my best to make it a point to put my phone away (taking it out only for the quick selected food shot, that one I will admit to doing sometimes ;p) so that I can give the other person my full attention. I would hate to be the one looked at from afar by someone thinking, man, that's a sad looking couple right there. Because that's the first thought that comes to mind. If a couple/friends/family members are unable to tear their eyes away from their phones for the short duration of a simple meal in order to properly look at each other and appreciate each other's company, it's a real shame.

This brings to mind an article I just read a few days ago which is also a reflection of our enmeshed our virtual lives have become with our everyday lives. It was an interesting title and I almost thought they were joking - "Why Fashion Bloggers' Lives Aren't As Charmed As You Think". Like many outsiders, immediately I thought, really? Aren't their lives pretty exciting and awesome? That's the idea I get from looking at all those glossy, picture perfect Instagram feeds. But wow, it's definitely a case of looks being deceiving. Turns out that famous bloggers with huge followings really need to be constantly present, coming up with new material that keep followers interested. The case in point was of Nicole Warne ( @garypeppergirl) who took a short break, causing loads of followers to start frantically asking questions such as what happened/where are you/are you ok!! Kinda stressful for someone who might just have wanted to unplug for a couple of days. There was an incredibly similar bit in The Circle when Mae had to 'go transparent' and wear a camera round her neck almost 24/7 so that people could see what she was doing at any one time of the day. And it was programmed to allow her about 3 minutes in the toilet, the camera facing the back of the door, and if she wasn't back 'on air' after 3 minutes, her viewers would start asking questions like, are you ok? Freaky how life imitates art. Or is it the other way round.

But that's the thing about success isn't it? It's such a hard balance to strike at times. On the one hand, you want to have followers and viewers but on the other hand, sometimes it might be nicer when things are at a manageable size when you can actually interact in a meaningful manner with them. At least that's what I would think. I always have the cafe analogy in my mind for scenarios like these. In the ideal world, if I were to run a cafe, it would be perfect if there were enough customers to allow me to make a decent profit, and yet at the same time, not too many such that it would become overly crowded. If it were packed with too many people, it would just ruin the quiet ambience that had been the plus point at the beginning attracting more customers. The success paradox, or whatever it's called. I'm sure it's something well theorized in economics.

That said, what is it about us nowadays and our need to be heard through multiple online platforms? With social media metrics such as 'likes', 'followers', 'shares' that are often used as the judge for success in the blogosphere, is it fair to dismiss people who don't appear to have as much of a widespread impact? I always used to think that well yes, the more people who are known to have read/viewed whatever you're sharing, the better because then obviously your sphere of influence is wider. But then does that mean, we ought to be sharing everything we do in life?

There was a particularly poignant bit in The Circle when Mae was on the receiving end of some approbation because she had not shared her experience of kayaking with friends/users online; not through their Facebook/Twitter/Blog equivalent...nada. And why was it a bad thing? Because their motto was that 'sharing is caring' and 'if you care about your fellow human beings, you share what you know with them'. I think that's true for most people who want to share information online. On the one hand, they usually genuinely hope to share their thoughts, experiences, knowledge and the likes with others and on the other hand, are hoping for recognition and validation of themselves. It's a two way street. Of course, in the book, they took it a step further and went on to talk about how if we don't share, it's akin to depriving another person of information or their right to know. Simply twisting that around and adding a moral dimension to that turned it from something voluntary, borne out of love, to something obligatory, borne out of fear.

So tell me, truthfully, have you ever had these thoughts run through your mind:

Is my experience made more important because I shared it? 

If I didn't share it, was it less meaningful for me because I could have made it 'bigger'? 
If I didn't share it on social media...did I even do it?

This last one invokes such a feeling of existential crisis does it not? It reminds me of a thought experiment from somewhere... If you take an apple and put it inside a drawer and close the drawer, is it still there? If nobody sees it, is it there? Of course you would say, yes because when I open the drawer it's there. But is there a chance that when the drawer is closed, it might not be there?

In this day and age, it's interesting that if I did something such as go to eat a great meal over the weekend but didn't share it on Instagram... it would appear as if I didn't eat anywhere nice over the weekend because we almost expect everything in life to be transposed automatically to social media.

How I've come to grasp with the entire issue, is that at the end of the day, we are the ones who imbue our experiences with the meaning we choose. So I experience something. And whether I choose to share it with others or not should not in any way add to or diminish the meaning of that experience unless I so choose to let it do so. If I lived my life thinking, man I need to share a photo of this great meal of mine because more people need to know about it!, I could very well be adding an additional later of stress onto that whole experience from feeling the sheer obligation to share. (That said, I'm a huge proponent of the benefits of social media through the sharing of knowledge. For me, the best bit about Instagram? Finding out new food places. Very banal of course, but it's the truth! ;p)

And on a related note, if I have 15 likes versus someone who has 200 likes on a blog post/Facebook post/photo, does that mean that what I put out into the world was less worthy or meaningful? Sometimes we hinge our self esteem/self worth on some things as superficial as an icon or number on a webpage or app. Thinking about it rationally just shows us how it doesn't quite make sense. Some things that are inherently intangible such as influence or meaning can't be measured so simply with a number. If one post only garnered one like but changed the life for the 1 person who read it for the better... vs 2000 likes by people who only cursorily glanced at it without further thought? Can we extrapolate one person's experience to be the same for everyone else? So really, there isn't any good way to compare nor should there be any need to.

Of course, the tendency to compare is there. The desire to be different and special. And it was put in such an elegant passage in The Circle:

"... Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know - they'd trade it all to know they've been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know we die. We all know that the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment."

I thought it made such breathtakingly, crystal-clear sense.

So I've come to end of my long ramble. Long story short, read The Circle. It's at once chilling and cautionary, while also plausible and prescient. And the most ironic bit? The minute I finished the book I couldn't wait to share it with everyone on Facebook. But here I am blogging about it first. ;)


Ahh sobb Sunday tomorrow. The weekend flies by so darn quickly.
Have a great rest of the weekend. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Home-Cooked: Matcha Soy Latte V1.0

A few years back, I tried a life-changing drink. One which quickly became an all-time favorite of mine. That drink, was an Ochacha Silk, so named because the cafe serving it was called Ochacha. (I even did a blog post about it agesss ago and I'm sure you can see I loved it so much even then and was omggg so much younger) Definitely a twist on the word Matcha, because that cafe served all things Matcha related and with soy milk as well. There were iced drinks (Ochacha Silk On the Rocks was a great one to have on hot and humid day/any day of the week), warm drinks, little Matcha madeleines, healthy porridge sets that actually looked pretty decent, and a most amazing Matcha Azuki soft sponge cake (layer of yummy azuki interspersed with matcha sponge and cream cheese layers). Basically, it was my haven. My oasis. My sanctum sanctorum. I went there so many times in university especially during the exam period because it was such a treat. A beautiful, peaceful escape from everything in life. One of the things I loved most about it was the quiet. It was never really that crowded and I would be able to lounge there leisurely, sipping on a mug of warm Matcha Soy Latte while enjoying a book or writing in my journal. If I wanted to spend a little more time there, I'd just order another. Because one mug was often not quite enough.

But to my utter horror and shock, I walked by one day for my usual cuppa and it was closed. For good. All boarded up with a sign for a new up and coming fruit juice stall I did not recognize. Boy, was that a painful day. My heart's still on the mend.

For a long time after, I wondered how I could re-create that favorite drink of mine. It looked simple and I had watched the staff concoct it countless times. Of course, though you know it's do-able, sometimes you just want to have the pleasure of having it prepared for you in a cafe. It's the atmosphere, the pomp and pageantry. Finally, the time came when someone bought me a packet of Matcha powder and I thought, ok let's give it a try. Amazingly, it was much easier than I thought it would be, to achieve my own little OChacha.

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Matcha Soy Latte v1.0 (a.k.a my attempt at an Ochacha Silk)

Haven't quite progressed to other superior versions yet though there have been some attempts at latte art which have not materialised. One big reason is because the quality of soy milk makes it very difficult to get appropriate microfoam which is the basis of good latte art. A work in progress ;p.

But the taste is pretty much the same. And to achieve that, you only need one key ingredient. THIS Sobe milk (the blue one at the bottom of the page). It's the same one I saw them use in the cafe. It's a specific taste though but if you prefer yours sweeter or less sweet, you could go according to the brand of Soy milk/whole milk that you like.

This is basically the recipe for the most basic of Soy Lattes. ;) Beginner's level stuff.

Matcha Soy Latte (Basic Recipe) 


- Matcha powder, 1 teaspoon 

- Soy Milk of choice (I personally like the blue Sobe Trim Soy Milk brand), 3/4 cup 
- 1/4 cup of hot water 
- a mini electric whisk (as shown in this video) (mine was a good $2 buy from Daiso! :D)


1. Heat up your soy milk in a milk pan or in a microwave oven (usually for about 1 minute). Be sure to watch the milk because it burns much more easily than regular milk so once the edges are almost ready to break into tiny bubbles, it's good enough. You can stir it regularly to prevent it from burning as well.

2. To a cup, add in the Matcha powder (you can even sieve it if the powder you've got is a little stuck together in clumps because it's tough to mix Matcha well into your soy milk once it's formed tiny clumps), followed by the hot water (not boiling, just hot).

3. With a bamboo Matcha whisk, whisk the Matcha and hot water till evenly mixed and no clumps are seen.

4. Pour in the hot soy milk to your Matcha, stirring evenly, leaving about 1/8-1/4 cup of soy milk left in your pot (depending on how much foam you want eventually).

5. Use the electric whisk and give the remaining soy milk a good whirr for about 20-30seconds. Usually it creates a decent stiff foam.

6. Top your cup of Matcha Soy Latte with the foam. Decorate it in whatever style you'd like with some Matcha powder (I use a mini whisk for mine to get the powder out smoothly on the surface of the foam).

So far, that's one of the easiest designs I've been able to come up with. Just a straight line across. Not much I know, but the other one that's easy is just an even dusting to foam a circle. Of course you could also try to use stencils as my friend suggested but...I've been lazy to buy/make one. XD

Even though taste-wise it's pretty much an exact match to the Ochacha in my memory... of course it's not the same. I miss that cafe so badly. It was really one of the best cafes I loved going to which gives me such good warm fuzzies whenever I think back to times spent there. Whenever I walk by I secretly hope that I'll see the cafe back and re-opened like before. No luck yet.

Will just have to enjoy home-made Ochacha for the time being.


on Time and Robin

Have you ever had an afternoon of free time and before even starting on anything, feel this slow creeping sense of...guilt? Even before embarking on any afternoon project. Sometimes I get this feeling. Because every before starting on any activity, I already instinctively make a quick mental calculation of its 'net worth' in my mind. Is it a productive use of my free time? Or is it something that I will probably regret doing because there were other things that I could've done using that block of precious free time?

It's such a strange way to live. On the one hand, when I'm at work I just crave so badly the weekend...or any free days that might serendipitously come my way, when I can do the things I've been meaning to do in a leisurely, guiltless manner. I suppose that's the thing about anticipation. It's often the most amazing when you're anticipating something great. But when the time comes to actually go through with the activity, it's often a little different than expected. I sometimes look at the list of things I want to do and think, which one is not so important? Which should I make my priority and which should can be relegated to another day? Sometimes I have trouble with that dichotomy and end up crawling straight back to bed into the lovely comforting cocoon of blankets and pillows, where I don't have to do anything but be still. I call it being lulled into inactivity. The paradoxical prison of choice. Where there are so many possibilities one faces that one can't help but freeze in inertia. It's happened on more than one occasion. After which I just go, what on earth am I doing?

I think sometimes we're simply not accustomed to doing nothing. We've been brought up to think that being productive is better/you've only got one life to live so sleep when you're dead!/stop wasting valuable time. But so much of that advice is geared towards us simply living the best life we can live since it's such a precious gift we've been given. If we spend so much time running around chasing a goal, we're bound to slow down in our tracks some time or another and go, what the heck am I chasing? Those roses actually look nice. Is it ok to slow down and smell them? Am I wasting my time? It seems like only when I'm on vacation do I really allow myself the luxury of just...not bothering with what I'm doing with my time. I don't need to be working on anything. I can just look around...people watch (a completely underrated hobby really, because people are probably still the most fascinating subjects in the world), be in the moment, wherever I am.

I think I've started becoming a lot more selective about things in the past few months. Or perhaps it's been a gradual shift towards self-preservation after starting work over 2 years ago. With limited energy and time after work, there came a point when I became very conscious of how my body and mind would feel if I overdid things. It used to be that post-call I would just head straight to town, get some shopping done, fit in a hearty meal, maybe get a massage/pedicure/anything pampering (all in a sort of artificial caffeine induced high) and then get home late only to crash in bed...wake up the next morning for work. And be ok at the start. But after awhile, I started to get tired more early...and would not be able to recover so well the next day. I remember a period of waking up, the main thought in my head being, oh man, can't wait to come back home after work for a nap. Thankfully, it's not so bad anymore. But it's also been a much more conscious decision of saying, I need at least XX number of hours in a day for full rest for myself, to not go out with friends or go out to town and wear myself out unnecessarily. It's true what they say that as you get older, your circle of friends grows smaller but stronger, because you only focus on the relationships you really want to strengthen. Life selects itself for you, in that sense. Sometimes subconsciously.

But after reading Marie Kondo's book on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it's definitely something I'm working on. Decluttering...pruning away the unnecessary elements of my life. So far I've only managed to declutter my wardrobe! And that was quite an exercise. ;p But that's only 1/10th of the way. I still need to move on to shoes, books, papers, random items etc.... Still a long way to go. No wonder she said her typical client can take an average of 6 months to go through everything. I wonder if I'll be able to do that by the New Year. Or maybe the Chinese New Year, if all else fails.

Back to the whole idea of how we should spend our time... I remember asking D once, how are we supposed to know whether what we're doing is something that's worth our time? It's so easy to worry if what I'm spending my time on is worthwhile and meaningful, or is it going to be something that doesn't amount to anything at the end of the day? Of course, he comes back with an answer that's reasonable and comforting, as he so often does. His answer was, that we just can't. We can't know for sure if what're doing right now will be the right way to spend our time and more importantly, we can't live like that. We'd go crazy.

It seems so simple when put that way. Sometimes we just need to have faith that whatever we choose to put our time and energy on right now, will amount to something in the future. That's life isn't it? Believing and hoping that all will turn out for the best. And at the end of the day, what happens in the end is not going to be as important as the journey of getting there. Because well, we may never get to our intended end point. We might end up at someplace different/better. And if we choose to believe that the way we spend our time now is right for us at this point in time, we're leading the life we've chosen. That's one of the most beautiful things I can think of that we should be grateful for.


This brings me to my other topic of interest actually, a most amazing woman, Robin Roberts.

It's funny because while she's most popularly known as one of the anchors on the tv show Good Morning America, I only discovered her a few months back through some Ellen Degeneres and Michelle Obama videos (oh those two are also great women I admire so much). I'd never actually seen a full episode of GMA before.

But wow, after finding out about her story, I've been a huge fan. From humble beginnings growing up in Mississippi to wonderfully supportive parents, she ended up first as a sports journalist on ESPN (after initially wanting to be a professional basketball player but always jokingly saying she lacked something called... ability!) then transitioned on to become a successful news anchor and reporter. She's had to battle two huge illnesses in her life, the first being Breast Cancer which she defeated in 2008, and then Myelodysplastic Syndrome which she overcame through a bone marrow transplant from her older sister in 2012. Since then, she's been in the clear, inspiring so many people with her story, myself included.

One of the things I love most about reading and watching her shows is all the wonderful quotes that she's shared. I've just finished reading her book, Everybody's Got Something, which is incredibly inspirational. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in finding out more about her, about her journey, or anyone who simply would like to get a renewed zest for life. She has so much zeal for living; it's palpable through her words. Reading it is almost like listening to her talk in a one-on-one conversation. It's hard not to feel blessed with what you have and grateful to be living after finishing her book.

Robin's Book:

Some videos that I really enjoyed watching: 

This one's the main one that's a short documentary on her journey. 


Another one (narrated by Tom Cruise! lol):

I really liked this interview because she talked about some more personal stuff that led her to becoming a journalist/TV anchor which I hadn't heard in other interviews:

Another great one:

Here are some of her quotes that I find so meaningful:

1. "When fear knocks, let faith answer the door."

I love this one. You don't need to be religious or have to believe in a particular God to let this quote work for you. You could be simply be more spiritual or just have faith in something larger than yourself. It's a very comforting notion, to be able to take a deep breath, park your worries somewhere else, in the hands of something/someone, and hope for the best.

2. "Your story is no more important that anybody else's story. When you strut, you stumble"

How true, isn't it? Whenever we start feeling like our issues are more important than someone else's or that the whole world revolves around us, we'll start making decisions that only serve to trip us up in the end. 'Our hubris will be our undoing', as Rick Castle wisely said ;p. And besides, if we only knew what someone else was going through, we wouldn't be so quick to judge. I like what she said about how if we all put our troubles into a common bowl and saw what else everyone was putting in, we'd pull ourselves back within a jiffy. The grass is always greener on the other side. Nothing is as it seems. Always good to keep in mind.

3. "A setback is a setup for a comeback." 

That comes from her background in sports, for sure. But so much of what happens on the court is applicable to life outside the court. Whenever we're facing an obstacle in life, be it something related to our job, a relationship, what have you not, instead of moping about it and letting it win, we could slowly but surely, try to position ourselves in a way that allows us to move forward in the direction that we want. Every setback is a time for reflection; an opportunity to examine your values, your priorities, and thereafter head towards something better and new.

4. "The tragedy is not so much the experience that you're having. The tragedy is that we don't take the time to understand the meaning and purpose behind what we're going through."

Wise words once again. Sometimes we go through rough patches and can't understand why we need to go through it. But it's similar to the previous quote. If we can, we should take time to retreat into someplace quiet, to be in touch with our 'inner pilot light' as Lissa Rankin would say. Might sound like a load of hippy hogwash to some but if you believe in such things, you'll know how it can work like magic.

5. "Everybody's got something, but it's also true that everybody, and I do mean everybody, also has something to give."

Instead of focusing always on our problems, sometimes focusing one how we can help others can be a quick solution to making us feel better. I always feel better when I'm taking care of someone I love. To me, that's always going to be a meaningful way to spend time. Nurturing relationships often has far greater positive effects on both parties than we realize.

So have I convinced you enough that she is an amazing woman? ;)

Two things that are apparent throughout the book are her great capacity for gratitude and her incredible zest for life. Both are truly infectious. Almost every page is a word of thanks from her to someone who helped her along the way in her journey. Living life with gratitude is a way of living life well. Her words are a constant reminder to be infinitely grateful for all that we have.

One bit that I really loved at the end was when she talked about her experience being able to fly the same fighter jet that her late father (a member of the famed Tsukegee Airmen) flew in his military days.

"As I stood on the tarmac, I felt like I was five years old again. There was no music, but I did a little swaying happy dance. The kind of dance that a kid might do if you announced that unexpectedly, there was no school."

It made me smile so much. How often do we let ourselves feel the sort of unadulterated happiness we used to feel as kids? Simple things that made us happy. For me, I remember things like catching the 7.30am Akazukin Chacha show on Cartoon Network every Sunday as being such a great Happy pill. X) Time to let ourselves feel that sort of joy more often when we have the chance.

So take a minute to check out these videos and if you're inspired as well, let me know and we can have a chat about love, life and all things Robin. ;)

Have a great week ahead.


Friday, 17 July 2015

while we can, when we can

I couldn't help but pick up the latest edition of Kinfolk magazine the other day, after a quick peek at the contents caught my eye. Its theme was about Essentialism. That which we can't live without. What are the things that are at the core of our lives such that they emerge, glistening, when everything else coarse and unnecessary, has been polished away?

My dearest grandfather, Ahkong, passed away recently. He had suffered from a very bad stroke at the beginning of the year, just after the New Year (something which I'm always grateful for in terms of timing because at least he managed to have those few wonderful nights of festive celebration with all of us leading up to the New Year before the stroke hit). Since then, I've felt something inside shift. They always say that your priorities change when someone around you passes away or falls gravely ill. Because then you're confronted with your own vulnerability; a harsh reminder that that could be you one day...any day in fact. Living with the shadow of death hovering certainly has the potential to be overly depressing if we aren't careful, but at the same time, only then can we truly be aware of what it means to live.

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(The roses we scattered into the sea at his sea burial.) 

After he became bedridden, it felt almost like a wild goose chase. Trying to chase whatever time remained, all the while feeling panicked at what might happen next in the foreseeable future. In the end, he managed to pass on in a way that I'm sure he would have wanted - with loved ones by his side, in his room at home, in the house he'd lived in for more than 30 years. Not everyone has the opportunity to pass on safely in the company of loved ones at home and I'm just so grateful that he was able to do so.

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Sometimes I find myself tearing up at the most unexpected moments. Watching elderly patients interact with their grown children in the clinics... (especially the relatively healthy ones who remind me of my Ahkong before his stroke), listening to a talk about dementia and watching this local short film called Recipe 
(回味), directed at Eric Khoo starring Zoe Tay about coping with dementia (aghh it was a real tear-jerker because they kept playing the song, Mo Li Hua (茉莉花). I'm a real sucker for these maudlin soundtracks), even looking at my Ahpo and watching her talk or go about her activities. All of a sudden I'll feel as if something has gripped my heart inside and with a surge of emotion, the tears will come. So many people have to deal with or have dealt with loss in their lives. I know that this is a stage I have to go through and eventually it'll be better. 

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(The colorful paper flowers in the center were made by my Ahpo for my Ahkong.) 

That said, I digress. What I've been thinking about over the past few months is a more focused version of the thoughts that occasionally flit through my mind. What do I want to focus on in my life? What are my priorities? Is what I'm doing now in line with my priorities and values in life? It's something that we all need to work out way through, more so as we grow older. I think for most people it starts out initially with being more selective about friends. As a child don't we all just want to have a ton of friends to hang out with and have fun? But as we grow older and have less energy after work to use on others, we have to grow more selective with who we want to focus our attention and efforts on. It's the same with all other aspects of life.

I really enjoyed reading the interview in Kinfolk with the author Greg McKeown who wrote the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, (definitely next on my reading list) because so much of it resonated with me. "The way of the Essentialist involves learning to tell the difference - learning to filter through all those options and selecting only those that are truly essential." It echoes with Marie Kondo's philosophy of selecting things that 'spark joy', keeping those and then discarding the others that don't mean enough to you.

I'm finding it harder and harder to stick it out there for things that don't mean enough to me now. Some people can say things like, "it's only two years of your life! Just continue on with it!", but to me, that's not how I want to live my life. In my mind, two years (or any amount of time, really) is a huge deal. Time is precious. How could we say, oh I'll just wait it out and in two years I'll move on to what I really want to do? Why would we want to do that to ourselves? Why should we shortchange ourselves in life?

Of course, it's never as simple as that. We can't all make such big changes in one fell swoop because it might not be feasible at this point in time. But I think taking a step back to evaluate where you are at in life and to remind yourself of what is important to you, will be helpful in getting you to wherever you want to go.

One thing that's hitting me hard now is the missed opportunities that I had over the past few years. With my Ahkong gone, now I'm trying my best to be there for my Ahpo and spend as much time with her as I can. Of course, I'm slowly building it into my schedule to make it a manageable, long-term habit of visiting and spending time with her, but I can't help but think about all those months and years that I could've spent with her on a more regular basis. It feels like in university I was pretty much in my own world; studying, university friends, junior college friends, exams, exams, exams, traveling whenever I could... I remember my mum telling me, Ahkong and Ahpo aren't getting any younger; you should really visit them more often. At the time, I distinctly remember myself making a conscious choice to not visit them so much. I was thinking to myself that it's time to take a step back. Who knows how much longer I will have with them? If I retreat now, I won't get so sad when I lose them eventually. Can you believe that? Sounds like a classic cheesy rom-com plotline in which the girl never manages to fall in love because she's always too afraid to get close to anyone. Can't believe I fell for that too. Not wanting to deepen my relationship with them was my way of shielding myself from the sadness that I would eventually experience at not having that relationship anymore. But with that sort of mindset, it's akin to saying, let's live a few years less, because the more we live, the more chances we have of experiencing such great happiness that when we die, it'll be an even greater shame to lose everything. Isn't that crazy? Might as well not live at all! Looking back, I just feel so much regret at that silly decision. All that time that I could have spent with both my grandparents...especially my Ahpo, who was so much sharper mentally then... It's something I will always regret. But then again, that's what it means to grow up doesn't it? We become a littler wiser (hopefully) and we do things better each day.

This was a slightly longer and more emotional post than usual, but it's something I thought I would want to share with you. Learn from my mistake, my young Padawan. There's no better time than now to think about your priorities in life; what's essential to your being. And once you come to a conclusion, time to think about what you can and need to do to in order to reach that stage.

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(My dearest Ahkong and Ahpo, in 1945. 
This was the first time I'd seen this little slide photo. Now it's just my Ahpo left. I love her so much.) 

Time is so precious. There is such a thing as too much work but no one on their deathbed ever regretted spending too much time with their loved ones. Love while we can, when we can.

My next step? Figuring out when to do a 'life-changing' bout of decluttering. ;p Marie Kondo's words have convinced me. It's very plausible, how the physical act of decluttering will translate to us streamlining our lives on so many levels, not just our physical spaces. (Do read her book,
, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising Just need to figure out when would be a good time to do it. ;p Maybe one of the public holidays soon. 

Have a great Hari Raya holiday everyone and a wonderful restful weekend ahead.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Home-Cooked: Blueberry + Lemon Almond Cake

This is simply the perfect cake to bake for a gathering of family and friends. 
And it has to be eating straight from the oven while it’s still hot on the outside, crispy on the side, with the gorgeous fragrance of toasted coconut still wafting around the house.

I discovered the incredible Green Kitchen Stories blog through instagram and boyyyy oh boyyy am I so in love with it!! First of all – vegetarian dishes. Second of all, uhhhmazingly beautiful photos! Seriously. This is something I aspire towards. Delicious, nutritious food that’s good for the mind and body. And picture perfect at that. (I think the incredible Swedish daylight and wealth of rustic homeware props plays a part too.)

After sifting through their incredible recipe archive, I decided upon a blueberry, lemon and almond cake because the combination of lemon + blueberry is one of my favorites. Plus, blueberries and lemons are much more readily available in supermarkets here at a more reasonable price than say… strawberries? Rhubarb? Blackberries? What I would give to be in a place which allowed me to pick those berries fresh or purchase them fresh from a farmer’s market. Ahhh.

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(I just love the looks of fresh blueberries :D)

Yup, so instead of napping/studying in the afternoon before my shift (as the ideal worker in me would have done), I decided it was the perfect time to bake. This was actually a really easy recipe. I love it when you just have the simple equation of dry ingredients + wet ingredients = batter to be baked. Nothing too complicated that needs to be prepared. I did make one or two alterations to this recipe but by and large, I think it’s wonderful as it is. :D

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(only very minimally adapted - from Green Kitchen Stories)

So the main changes I made were:
-         coconut oil instead of rapeseed oil

MAN oh man I definitely think it makes a huge difference! I’ve never been able to find rapeseed oil in the supermarkets before so I’m not too sure what it smells/tastes like but I expect it to be a rather neutral oil. Coconut oil is anything but neutral but is absolutely perfect for this cake! The fragrant nutty smell of the coconut oil baking in the batter…reminded me of toasted desiccated coconut. It goes so perfectly with the thicker, coarser texture of the almond cake. So I would definitely recommend using coconut oil in this cake.

-         adding the lemon zest to the yoghurt glaze

You know what? This was a total accident on my part. After the cake had been in the oven for a good 20 minutes, I turned back and discovered the box of lemon zest sitting on the kitchen counter. SIGH. All that zesting really makes your arm muscles ache. No way was I gonna waste that effort. So into the yoghurt it went. And I must say I love how the yoghurt was turned into a yummy, not-overly-sweet tasting glaze with the simple addition of maple syrup, vanilla and lemon juice. I think the lemon juice somehow made the yoghurt congeal a little bit so don’t worry if it looks watery initially. After some thorough mixing and refrigeration for a bit, it actually thickens up quite nicely.

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Just my two cents of advice – I think it’s a good idea to keep the blueberries inside the cake to just about 1 cupful. I was all like, the more the merrier!! And added in about 1.5 cups of blueberries (maybe even close to 2 cups?) thinking it would be great with more blueberries inside. Yes it tasted nice but then it also made for a much softer, mushier base. After awhile when the berries burst and release their juices, the bottom of the cake ends up a little soggy which messes the cutting of the cake a little. So… less is more in this case. You can definitely go crazy with the blueberries on TOP of the cake.

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I served it with the yoghurt glaze and blueberry topping on the side in a more DIY sort of fashion but it definitely looks prettier if the entire cake is dolled up with the glaze and blueberries from the start.

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Perfect for nice big gatherings of say…10 people? :) It’s a cake that should be demolished right away.


Can't believe it's Sunday night already. The weekend always flies by in such a jiffy. This was a great one though. After a decent session of work on Saturday morning, the afternoon was a wonderful curry puff baking session at my grand-aunty's place - lots of mixing, kneading, rolling, filling, learning from the masters and best of all, lots of laughter and smiles. :) It's originally my grandma's recipe but my grandaunt is an equally skilled baker so they were both trading tips and commenting to each other about the curry puffs they were making. "You shouldn't roll those out too big; smaller ones look nicer!" (Spoken in secret Hainanese code).

Can't wait for another baking session with my Ahpo hopefully this weekend. But first to get through another work week.

Have a great week ahead everyone~.


Friday, 5 June 2015

Home-Cooked: Udon Noodle Soup (Hoto-Noodle Inspired)

Hi there. Wow. Yet another few months have passed by just like that! I'm just in a semi-tired happy state now after being up all night last night on a relatively decent night shift. My body just is not made for shift work. But at least it's just a temporary 6 week rotation that I am going through. After that, back to comparatively regular programming hours.

The one thing that I don't mind about shift work though is the free time during unexpected hours. For example, yesterday my shift only started at 10pm so I had pretty much the entire day before the trepidation and dread set in around 7pm/dinner time. ;p Still quite decent because the morning and afternoon I was able to do a whole bunch of things. For example, cooking this Hoto-Noodle Inspired dish.

I was totally inspired to cook this after watching an episode of the awesome Cooking With Dog, a fantastic youtube channel to learn how to cook Japanese cuisine, hosted by this really cute poodle and 'his assistant' who looks like a typical Japanese homemaker with rad cooking skills! :D The explanations are very easy to follow and he/it explains it in such a step-by-step manner you can totally cook while playing this video.

I love how this dish is totally vegetarian and you can pretty much use this technique to make an easy soup stock to go with noodles if you're hungry at night. There was one time after a late night shift at 1am when I just wanted some noodles but didn't know quite how to make a decent noodle broth. Of course, it would be much faster and easier if you actually had dashi stock on hand in the fridge which seems like something Japanese families might do if they cook Japanese dishes on a daily basis. Something to consider! :)

Just a bit of background to this Hoto-Noodle dish:

- it's basically Hoto noodles + vegetables + miso soup
- the noodles don't need to be parboiled; they are boiled raw along with the other ingredients
- according to Wiki (our best friend after Google), the best taste is thought to be brought out by boiling pumpkin in the miso soup! So this would be a key ingredient
- Hoto is like a variant of your typical Udon (flatter and wider it seems, almost like the Chinese Ban Mian).

Ok, so here goes:

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Udon Soup Noodles (Hoto noodles-inspired)

(I would say this is good enough for 2 really hungry Asian peeps who want to use the dish as the main course for the meal. Or good for 3 moderately hungry Asian peeps who want to use the dish more as a side dish to accompany their main course)

Ingredients: (the amount of the vegetables is really up to you! I just sort of put in whatever I thought I would eat :))

For the noodles and broth:

- 6 oz of udon noodles
- 40 g of Niboshi (dried baby sardines)(i bought mine from Meidiya) (I took this to be the net weight after de-gutting/beheading them)
- 4g of Kombu Seaweed
- 1 tbsp of Miso (or to taste)
- 900ml or 3.8 cups of water

For the vegetables:

- 1 carrot
- 150 g of Kabocha squash (or any type of sweet squash)
- 1 oz of leafy green vegetable (I ended up using Malaysian spinach because it happened to be much cheaper than the Japanese air-flown Komatsuna spinach) ;p
- 1 oz of mushrooms - Shimeji/Maitake recommended but I just used sliced button mushrooms
- 50g of cabbage
- 1 stalk of leek
- 1/2 a block of Atsu-age (fried tofu)

If you want to be more faithful to the dish, here are the ingredients they had recommended:
- 1 daikon radish
- 2 oz of Komastuna Spinach
- 1/2 Abura-age (thin deep fried tofu)


To prepare the broth:

1. Remove the head and stomach of the Niboshi. This helps to reduce the bitterness that you get from boiling it in the soup.

I just sort of approximated the amount of head/gut to remove by watching the video. I might not have removed enough of the head/gut because immediately after boiling, my stock did have a definite bitterness to it. But at the end with all the vegetables and the addition of miso, I couldn't taste it at all. So it's worth to wait till the end too for the final flavour. :)

2. Pour the water into a cooking pot and put in the Niboshi and your kombu seaweed. Leave the niboshi and kombu seaweed in to soak for about 30min.

3. Heat the water till a boil on medium low heat. When it begins to boil, remove the foam that appears on the surface with a mesh strainer.

4. Simmer dashi stock for 4-5minutes

5. Remove the kombu seaweed (cut it up into tiny strips to be used later as one of the veggie ingredients)

6. Strain the stock into another cooking pot with a mesh strainer to remove the sardines.

To prepare the veggies:

1. Slice your carrots into quarter-moons (they do look prettier!)

2. Remove excess oil from the Atsuage with a paper towel. Slice into 1-2cm strips.

3. Remove the extreme end of stem of your spinach/whatever green leafy veggie you have. Cut into 1.5 inch pieces.

4. Slice the leeks diagonally into 1-2cm thick slices.

5. Slice your kabocha pumkin into 1.5 inch pieces (this always requires an insane amount of energy and a really sharp knife)

6. Cut the cabbge into 1.5 inch pieces.

To cook the dish:

Add the carrots, atsuage, mushrooms, and kombu into the stock.

Heat up the soup to a boil. Remove any foam that forms.

Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Add in the kabocha. Submerge it into the soup. Bring to a boil.
Then reduce heat to low and simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Add in the leek, and the rest of the vegetables.

Simmer for 2 more minutes.

Ladle the dashi stock into a bowl to loosen up your miso. Then put the miso into the soup and distribute evenly.

If you do actually have Hoto noodles, you're supposed to cook them along with the veggies so refer to the video to know when to put it in.

Cook udon noodles as instructed on your udon noodle package (mine was 6 minutes in 1 L of boiling water for one helping).

For my udon noodles, I actually cooked them separately then put the noodles into the hot veggie soup at the end.



Seriously, it's actually an easy dish at the end of the day. I love how you can be creative with what you throw inside so that solves leftovers to a large extent. Plus, you definitely feel healthier after that. :) Cos it was all the good stuff.

Have been doing the occasional cooking whenever I have the morning/afternoon off due to weird work hours and there are so many recipes to share! :) Moaarrr soon. Promise.


Friday, 20 February 2015

Autumn in Japan #8

Day 8 + 9

Remember I said in the previous post about how I REALLY wanted to try the fried mackerel? Well, I was SO CLOSE to getting it. Only thing was... my Japanese wasn't good enough. :'(( The next day we had to return our rental car by 12 noon back in Fukuoka which would be about a 3-4 hour drive. So if we wanted to get our fried Aji we needed to wake up early. AND WAKE UP EARLY WE DID. I'm usually not an early bird at all but for food...

So we actually got up at 6am and were in the restaurant close to 7am. The waitress was obviously surprised because we were the only non-locals in at such an early hour. When the time came to take our order, I said something to the equivalent of "AJI! PLEASE!" in Japanese, grinning like an idiot, thinking that that was the ONLY WAY an Aji could be cooked. We waited a while... but then Donald noticed that the fryer wasn't switched on. In my naivety I was all like, ohh maybe they are grilling the fish first THEN deep frying it! Still thinking my crispy fried Aji was along the way... Until the old lady chef presented our dishes and staring up at me was not the glistening golden pieces of deep fried Aji that I had sacrificed sleep for, but a whole mackerel simply... grilled. :( I was so sad I wanted to cry! But the old lady was smiling away and asking, "so how is it?" What else could I say but "delicious!", my heart bleeding away deep inside. LOL. Pretty hilarious come to think of it right? It was still a really delicious piece of grilled mackerel, I'll give you that. BUT. STILL.

Donald said that perhaps they don't actually sell fried stuff so early in the morning so maybe even if I had asked for it correctly it might not have been served anyway. ;/ You think?? SOBBB. I'd like to think so. But we'll never know until we go back there again. That said, I highly recommend you trying out this restaurant and opting for fried Aji the way the old fogies do. It has to be sublime.

So in conclusion, if you REALLY want something in a foreign land, you should present it in three forms - written, pictorial (I could've screen captured a photo of fried Aji and showed it to her), spoken (in its proper form). The things we learn through travel.


Anyway, back to our trip. Along the way from Kagoshima back to Fukuoka, we stopped by a really beautiful temple called Kiyomizu Temple in Miyama City (in Fukuoka). The most famous Kiyomizu Temple would have to be the one in Kyoto and I'm sure few have heard of this same-named one but this was really quite beautiful too.

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Isn't the view amazing? This was the view from a special viewing room in the temple and apparently the entire garden had been specially manicured to allow the viewer the optimal view from the vantage point.

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It was pretty funny because when everyone made their way into the room, it was all a flurry of 'ahhhh!! ohhhh!', followed by the snapping of photos, from regular digital cameras to more professional ones held by older people. It's amazing how many older Japanese people are really into photography; complete with all the hard core gear (tripods etc) + floppy sun hat to boot.

After awhile, a nun came in and started giving us an explanation of the temple and its grounds. She begin with something akin to, 'Settle down please! Let your hearts be calm as you enjoy the beauty of the scenery...' and after a brief introduction, she just had to end it of with, 'and NOW you may all take your photos!' which was followed by a ripple of sheepish laughter through the crowd. Heh. All tourists are the same throughout the world, even Japanese tourists.

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After the next group of tourists entered, a venerable looking monk came in to give the introduction.

Kiyomizu 3

Then we made it back to Fukuoka in the nick of time!

I'll mix it up a bit and just go by general places that I would highly recommend checking out.


Tempura - Tempura Teishoku Senmon Daruma

We had been hoping for a nice tempura/soba place (ok, I had been craving for it and Donald was nice enough to go along for the headless search) so we decided to try our luck in searching for one. It had to be legit. Ideally, hole in the wall style with master chef quietly churning out his tempura and soba to ravenously slurping customers. I thought, shouldn't be too hard to find right? After all, in Tokyo, tempura/udon/soba shops are like a dime a dozen in any neighbourhood along with ramen shops. But NO. They aren't that common in Fukuoka. Or at least in Tenjin which was where we were at. But as luck would have it, when we almost reaching that delirious state from extreme hunger, we managed to spot the words Tempura on a sign across the street. So in we walked into a real cool old school Tempura shop with rows and rows of strips of paper taped onto the walls showing the items available. That was their menu. Was as legit as one could hope for. It wasn't too crowded and though it was old, the energy from the owners was palpable, right from the enthused, 'Irrashaimase!"

It was a little hard to find a proper page on google because I don't think they have a proper website but I did find something on foursquare .


It was the first time I'd seen tempura served on plastic dishes. Just seemed very old school and kind cute too. ;p That lurid green.



I love these family businesses. I keep assuming they all belong to the same family but... they probably do right? When there's a middle aged lady/gentleman and a younger looking daughter... that's the most logical conclusion right? :D These guys were incredibly friendly and we so good about me taking photos.

Inside the restaurant

Tempura master

As we were leaving, the chef allowed me to take a photo of him and even gave me his name card with an even cooler picture of him posing with a vat of deep fried tempura. I promised him I'd post it on Facebook which I already have but here's hoping it reaches more people so that you can all go pay him a visit when you go to Fukuoka. ;) Deal?


Coffee - Coffee Bimi

Coffee Bimi 2

Coffee Bimi. A real haven for coffee lovers. Gods, I must have taken 10 + shots of this place and numerous repeated ones of the owner because I wanted to make sure I got at least one that was in focus. ;p It's a real gem of a cafe, with a quiet, cozy atmosphere, the heady scent of coffee from in-house roasted beans, and sturdy mid century furniture. It specializes in flannel filtered coffee which the owner churns out with such focus. Watching him was like watching a performance.

Coffee Bimi 2

Coffee Bimi

Best part of all? His really adorable uniform. I suspect the people there comprise of him, his wife (who chisels off ice from whole ice blocks for his iced drinks and helps him put out drinks) and his daughter (who mans the register and does the serving of drinks). And they all have matching, coordinated linen uniforms in quaint, muted colors with the occasional pop of color provided by a neck tie. Seriously, who came up with their awesome uniforms? I can't imagine any average middle aged person coming up with such great designs.

Iced Coffee

I had the iced coffee which was delicious (and I don't even drink coffee very much) while Donald had the classic black coffee. He said it was 'the best coffee' he had ever tasted. And this guy really likes his coffee. 'Nuff said.

Bookstore - Books Kubrick

Books Kubrick

Books Kubrick

Lovely bookstore we popped into along the same stretch of road as Coffee Bimi and a bunch of very unique stores (e.g. antique wares, local ceramics/handicraft stores).

Oden - Yasube

We went to a restaurant called Yasube, for our first taste of Oden (a type of Japanese hot pot/stew dish that is traditionally served in winter time). It's a little bit of a challenge to find because it's along a quiet alley so I'd recommend maybe Google-mapping it first to get a rough idea of its location. Miraculously we managed to find it despite its unassuming facade. The way some of these restaurants are built, you'd think they're purposely discouraging customers from finding it. ;p

It was such a great experience. Initially when we opened the door they apologized and politely turned us away because they said the restaurant was too full. I think to them they want enough customers to have enough room to enjoy themselves rather than be packed in like sardines even though they could definitely make more money that way. Isn't that incredible? Because we definitely saw a couple of seats available at some corners of the restaurant. But it speaks volumes of an establishment when they would rather compromise their profits than compromise of customer service and satisfaction. Luckily for us, two customers left the place not 10 minutes after so we managed to get a seat. It was a warm, cozy restaurant, yet another a family establishment with the dad as the chef, mum as sous chef and son as head server. :D We'd never eaten Oden before so I just asked the mum to give us a standard platter; whatever she could recommend, and she did.

I think the taste of Oden is meant to be light yet filling. The broth was good but extremely light. I think my taste buds are more used to the strong flavors of laksa/yong tau foo in SG but there's definitely something about the subtly of flavor that I could get used to in Oden.

Side dish of daikon.

The head chef in action.

On a side note, I find that certain chefs take on a particular posture when they reach master chef level. A case in point would be the Mee Pok Uncle (stall owner) at my secondary school. He definitely had some kind of arthritis/bad back going on because he was always sort of bent forward and his fingers were a little gnarled but you know what? They were perfectly suited to slicing meat. Left hand on a slab of meat, right hand holding on to the knife that would swiftly, even gracefully, slice through the meat, creating incredibly thin, uniform slices which he would toss into boiling water before adding it to his mee pok noodles. MMM. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. That was a bit of a digression but you get my point. After awhile, their bodies take the form most suited to their craft. This chef had a bit of a hunch that seemed all the more fitting as he bent over to check on the pieces of oden in the huge vat of broth, stirring occasionally, adding to it, removing pieces with his ginormous pair of chopsticks to be arranged artfully on a ceramic plate. It's a joy watching these chefs in action.

As we were leaving, the son, who probably could tell we were foreigners the minute we walked through the door, spent a bit of time kindly chatting with us to find out more about our travels. One thing I love about Fukuoka-ians is how they tend to be a very warm, curious and sincere bunch. He enquired about next stop and when we told him we were hoping to check out some Yatai (street food stalls) for supper, not only did he give us his analysis on the better areas for Yatai ("The Yatai over here is really expensive! Better to go to the other side to not get cheated"), he even gave us a map of Fukuoka city that was in Korean and might have been left behind by Korean tourists but suited us perfectly well because there were English translations as well.

2-17 Nishinakasu, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka 

Do go here! Another highly recommended place.


Ya tai

Walking along the canal at night, basking in the warmth of the street food stalls or Yatai.
  Peek a boo

Peek at the back of the stall.

Sigh, the last day we were there was basically just a mad rush of eating, shopping, walking around, trying to get as much more of Japan in as possible.

Cafe - Rokuyoutei 

(taken with iPhone) 

We did manage to find this amazing place for tea! While waking along Tenjin, we happened to spot a signboard which showed a bunch of really yummy looking Western dishes including french toast. This place was a few floors above ground and while pretty small, was VERY cozy and kid friendly. Lots of young couples with their kiddos taking their time for Sunday lunch. The food looked really tasty (kept eyeing the dishes that were being served to other customers) but too bad we'd discovered the place after lunch. So we decided on dessert which was French toast, Japanese style, with mochi and red bean toppings. Took forever to come, really, but when it did come, it was a sight to behold. Layers of crispy french toast literally soaked in BUBBLING HOT BUTTER in a hot pot, sizzling and crackling away. SO good with the generous scoop of ice cream on top. I would definitely go back there again for lunch and a relaxing afternoon.


General Recommendations

Coffee. Fukuoka

When in Fukuoka, you must must go to the awesome neighbourhood of Tenjin. It's good a great vibe with lots of shopping (complete with your variety of department stores/malls and also the unique boutiques/shops which are so to explore)(apparently the biggest shopping area in Kyushu), cafes, and eateries. We stayed at Hakata which was convenient as it's one of the nearest stops from the airport by subway but Tenjin would only have been 2-3 mores stops down.



One place to check out would definitely be D and Department Kagoshima in Maruya Gardens. OOooooOo I could spend hours in there browsing through the beautifully crafted items. D-Department is an incredible company that focuses on Japanese design and has a whole series of travel guidebooks with a design edge. We referred a lot to the Fukuoka book while exploring and there were so many awesome places we didn't manage to check out yet! I'm sure they have D and Department stores in Tokyo, Fukuoka and other places which I would highly recommend checking out. ;)

Sigh. Ok I think that's about it for now. All in all, it was a really really great trip. :) I'm so thankful for every wonderful trip I get to experience. There were some definite post-travel blues upon coming back and returning home but then I always go back to this quote:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” 

-- A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Isn't that statement plain genius? Whenever something wonderful happens and we feel sad that it's over, isn't it always better/easier to instead, feel grateful that we had the privilege of experiencing it in the first place? :) I go back to that every time. Plus, we can also do the next best thing - plan and look forward to the next trip!

Btw, Happy CNY everyone! Hope everyone's having a wonderful, restful time with family and friends. I just had one of the best naps this afternoon in a loooooong time. OH yeah. 


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Autumn in Japan #7

Day 7

While Kagoshima city is the capital city of the prefecture, it still gave me a small-town, peaceful, quiet sort of feel. There's a fish market by the port which is very close to the city center; just about a 10 minute drive by car. It's nothing like Tsukiji Fish Market of Tokyo of course, but it has its small town charms.

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We decided to check out a sashimi restaurant located at the fish market called Shinko Shokudo which opens really early at 5am (!) till 3pm. Of course, we had to have the sashimi platter.

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The fish was so lean subtly rich in taste; you knew it had to have been fish off the boat.

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The restaurant was really crowded and teemed with locals, including elderly people who ordered non-fish dishes such as tempura and deep fried mackerel. I know we shouldn't be staring at everyone else's food but when I saw those huge fried mackerel go by.... I knew I wanted to try it out the next day. Especially since even the Japanese grandpas and grandmas were eating them! But that's a story for the next post heh.

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By the Kagoshima Port. It was really quiet but there were some people sitting on the breakwaters fishing. The weather was mild and perfect for lounging. I could imagine just bringing a book, hot thermos flask, blanket to sit on and wrap myself in and that would be the ingredients for a perfect afternoon by the sea. :D

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(Taken with iPhone)

Best part about climbing onto the breakwater? The incredible unfettered view of Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes! You could literally see the plumes emerging from the peak. There's the option of taking a ferry to Sakurajima to explore the island but then you wouldn't get to enjoy the view. So here's a less expensive alternative.

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After our breakfast, we headed off to Ibusuki, about a 2 hour drive from Kagoshima to try out its famed hot black sand baths (known as Sunamushi Onsen).

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I'd seen this video/report by Bee Rowlatt and thought it looked incredibly fun. Definitely check it out to get an overview of what to expect. But I think years of living in 100% humidity Singapore has warped my sweat glands into being ultra efficient at only pouring out sweat when the temperature is really high. I actually found it pretty tolerable. There is a definite feeling resembling that of a baby elephant resting on your belly but after awhile you start to enjoy the soft pressure exerted by the mounds of black sand heaped on top of you. And there's the clock right in front so that you don't overbake yourself. Because then the attendants run off somewhere else leaving you to your own devices. But it's no sweat. ;) After 15 minutes or so you just have to muster up as much strength as you can, give a little roar, and break free from the black sand cocoon.

We actually managed to get pretty good photos of ourselves (though of course, they are a little too embarrassing so they ain't going up here) taken by our nice Japanese shovel attendant using my film camera. I was really impressed! After all, most random passersby have difficulties focusing even with a regular digital point and shoot. But this guy really got down into a photographer's pose and focused his shots well. Either he does this way too many times for tourists or he really is some part time freelance photographer.
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Then after that you get to go for a dip in the indoor onsen facilities. They have a number of small pools to choose from.

Beware the smallest pool of water. I saw an old Japanese lady steeped in the water up to her chest, sitting very calmly on the seated area in the pool. I thought, oh, must be a nice lukewarm pool, so I promptly stepped in without a second thought. IT WAS THE COLDEST THING EVERRRRR. And there she was UP TO HER CHEST, almost in a meditative state. After about 1 min, she proceeded to sit in the sauna room for another few minutes. I decided to follow her lead. Basically what she did was soak for about a minute in the cold pool, pop into the sauna for another few minutes then hop back into the cold pool....about 10 times. Not easy at all. I tried but would always give up and move on to the cold pool from the sauna a lot faster than she did. But it definitely helps because you can endure the heat from the sauna a lot better after freezing your ass off. I think this cycle of hot and cold is supposed to help to increase the elasticity of your skin and maintain its youthfulness. At least, that's what a Korean tour guide told me years ago because that's what the Korean women do as well. Give it a go!

Ibusuki is a reaaaally tiny city and it's main business is probably catering to the tourists who use the hot sand baths. I would recommend taking a day trip there because the drive from Kagoshima takes you along the coast and is really beautiful and relaxing.