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Friday 4 April 2008

Sakura is Cherry Blossom

When I was on my way back from the bank, I passed by this courtyard of a building in the University by chance. It was full of cherry blossom trees in full bloom! I couldn't stay any longer because I was with a postgraduate student who brought me to the bank and helped me to communicate with the bank staff.

Apart from sakura, Japanese fancy martial arts as well. Perhaps some of the movements were derived from the sakura trees?

After witnessing the fire-fighting this morning, I went back to the courtyard again to admire the sakura trees. The scene was just spectacular.

I couldn't have enough of it but I had to get back to work. So, I took a few more glances before I left.

Japanese Fire-fighting

When I was having my breakfast in the convenient store this morning, I suddenly heard sirens coming and I saw a few fire engines passing by. I thought they were just passing by, but they stopped in front of the convenient store. Minutes later, I saw thick smoke coming out from across the road. Then I realised that one of the shops opposite the convenient store was on fire.

They fire department here is super efficient. The fire engines arrived before the fire became blazing flame. When I was out from the convenient, the fire-fighters had already put out the fire and thick white smoke was already sprawling out from the scene.

I thought that Japanese people are very safety-conscious but I saw a lot of them stopping by the road to witness the whole incidence. Well, they are only human, and as 'kay po' as Malaysians. Huh!

The shop on fire is in fact the place I had dinner two nights ago. The yaki-nikku was very nice. I'm gonna miss this place for a while.

Thursday 3 April 2008

Ramen Satisfaction

When Dr Asamoto drove by the ramen shop along Saidai-dori yesterday, he pointed to me his favourite place for ramen which is within walking distance from Saitama University. If a Japanese says something is good, it must be exceptionally good, so I couldn't wait to taste it and I rushed there after work. This shop is not possible to miss with such big signboard pointing the way.

As I got nearer, I was even more excited as I can speak Japanese. I was wondering how I was going to order.

I went around the shop searching for some display items that I could point to the waitress to order, but I was out of luck. I found another signboard with more Japanese writing. Luckily I can read Kanji (Chinese characters), and the big characters say: "No. 1 in Saitama," but it is of no help to me.

So, I could care too much anymore and just stepped in to take a seat. I was handed a menu that I couldn't understand with very abstract paintings of the food, so I couldn't identify what they were. When the waitress came to me, I said to her: "chasu ramen" because this is the type of ramen that I like. She responded with a sentence that I couldn't understand, but it roughly meant they don't have it. She pointed the picture of a bowl of ramen with the Kanji stating that it is the shop's popular item, so I nodded my head and said "arigato" to her.

When I was waiting eagerly for what would be served to me, the bowl of ramen had already arrived. Luckily it was not something alien to me.

This bowl of ramen was served with (starting from far right) a thin slice of pork with intermittent fat and lean meat, half a hard-boiled egg, a chunk of braised pork and some black fungi. All these were just too out of this world to me! I have tasted pork that melted in my mouth once only in a ramen shop in Singapore before this, and this really brought back the wonderful feeling of tasting pork! I have not tasted creamy egg yoke in a hard-boiled egg except for the one I had this evening!

The soup was so thick that I eventually licked the bowl dry. I shouldn't miss mentioning that the noodles are made in the shop itself, guaranteeing freshness everyday. They were just so tasty until I don't know how to describe. I can just say that they contain all the goodness found in noodles.

This bowl of ramen was not cheap though, but it is cheap according to the local Japanese. Any meal that costs less than 1,000 Yen is considered cheap. So, I'll go back to this shop again to try out their different types of ramen.

Saitama University

I went around the campus these two days just to familiarise myself with the environment here. It is not a very big campus, probably just around 60 acres of land area. The main entrance is just by the main street of Saitama City and travelling around using public transport is fairly easy.


The main campus road is the spine and all the faculty buildings are situated at the sides of this road.


The buildings here were designed more for function than form. So, they are all squarish. This is the library building just about three blocks away from the main entrance.



These are the buildings of the Environmental Science Department, but most of the faculty buildings look like these.


The cherry blossom trees are in full bloom right now. There are many of them along the roads in the campus.




It's time that I got back to work, so I walked back to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.


So, I'm now working from the tiny little desk of my work station, and this will be my work space for the next six months.


Wednesday 2 April 2008

The First Encounter of Japan

After a long journey starting at 7:00 p.m. from Kuching on 31st March 2008, I have finally touched down at Narita International Airport at 7:00 a.m. Japan local time on 1st April 2008. Just about half an hour before touching down, I spotted this snow-capped mountain from a distance. It looks like Mount Fuji but I am not sure whether it is.


Narita International Airport is not as nicely designed as the Kansai International Airport, me thinks. While my flight was taxiing to the aero-bridge, I spotted another Malaysia Airlines aircraft. I think this airline fly to Narita twice daily.


Due to the tighter immigration check where every person's portrait and finger prints are taken, there was a very long queue for immigration clearance. My turn was half an hour later since I first queued up, the longest ever besides the other time in Beijing.


There was a representative from the Matsumae International Foundation. waiting for me at the arrival hall. I was so sorry to keep him waiting for me for one hour and forty minutes. He waited for me to guide me to the Narita Express counter to buy the train ticket and showed me the way to the train platform, so, I managed to catch the train at exactly 8:54 a.m.


The trains in Japan are punctual to the minute. There's nothing here called Malaysian time. It stated that the train would arrive at 9:52 a.m., and I stepped out of the train exactly at that minute! Well, I didn't understand a word of the train stewardess but her politeness and softness really put a lot Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia air stewardesses to shame.


I was instructed to go to the Sapia Tower just beside the Tokyo Station for a briefing. I thought I have to look for the place myself, but I heard a very soft voice addressing my name from behind. I turned around and saw a very petite Ms. Kimura holding a copy of document with my photo on it. She's another representative from the Foundation to receive me at Tokyo Station, and to lead me to the briefing place at the Recross room.


After going through the contract details and information on health care insurance with Mr. Nakajima, I was handed the first month stipend and some settlement allowance. Ms. Kimura had headed back to Tokyo Station to receive three other research fellows from Romania, Latvia and Vietnam.

After my briefing, the research fellow from Bangladesh who had his briefing before my turn needed Mr. Nakajima to help him get a trolley for his heavy luggage, but there was no one to care of the briefing room. So, I was handed the duty and played host to the three other research fellows when they arrived with Ms. Kimura.

By the time Mr. Nakajima and the Bangladesh research fellow was back, it was time for me to head back to Tokyo Station again to take another train to Saitama, so Ms. Kimura walked back to Tokyo Station again with me to guide me through. Her job for that day was just walking to and fro the Tokyo Station and Sapia Tower.


I took the Keihin-Tohoku line and boarded the train at 11:28 a.m. It arrived at the Kita-Urawa Station at 12:10 p.m., 7 minutes ahead of schedule. Dr Asamoto from Saitama University spotted me as I was looking for a public phone to ring him, and he sent me by his car to the University.


I am very indebted to Dr Asamoto as he drove me around for the whole afternoon settling accommodation matters and buying the necessary groceries for living. Without him, I wouldn't have any idea on how to bring all the blankets and pillow back to my dormitory!

It was really a hectic but a fruitful day. I can finally live in the dormitory with less worries now.

Monday 31 March 2008

CK is Going Places – Japan

I will be leaving for Japan tonight for my longest ever trip for six months. I'm not there purely for holiday, but for a research attachment at Saitama University.

My research attachment is fully sponsored by the Matsumae International Foundation. The Matsumae International Foundation Research Fellowship is granted to young researchers in the field of pure sciences, engineering and medicine to pursue their research in Japan, and to have a greater understanding of Japan and a lasting world peace.

I am really honoured to be granted this research fellowship as the success rate from the records of the past two years were only 12% and 15%, respectively.

I'll definitely make full use of this opportunity to beef up my research portfolio, and indulge myself in the Japanese scenery and culture at the same time.

So, for the next six months, I'll dedicate this blog to my experience in Japan.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Last Day in Macao

Our AirAsia Flight No. AK 489 leaving Macao was in the evening, so we had the whole day to explore the tourists attraction and shop for souvenirs around there. Our walking tour started at Largo de Senado, the most beautiful square in Macao.

The floor is covered with two-tone cobble stones to form a wavy pattern.

There are many historical buildings at this square, dating back to the Portuguese Colonisation.

Although Starbucks is an American culture, it is turned Portuguese in Macao.

There is never lacking of shops along this walking tour from Largo de Senado to the Ruins of St. Paul's.

It was just a short walking tour and the Ruins of St. Paul's was already in sight.

There are many ways of taking good photos of the tourist attraction. It all depends on what position you are comfortable with.

The Ruins of St. Paul's is what was left of the St. Paul's Church after the fire in 1835.

This is the angle where most of the souvenirs on Ruins of St. Paul's are crafted.

On our way back, we stopped by some shops to spend what was left in our wallets before returning home.

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