of Movies Watched and Things Done With Family

Hello guys, I don't really have any interesting story to share. So I just thought I would write 1 or 2 lines about the movies I had watched since I came back from Japan. Maybe I should start with the movies I watched on my flight back to Singapore. I started with an Indonesian movie, Test Pack: You're My Baby. ANA is most probably the only airline I had been so far which has an Indonesian movie in their selection. I thought the movie wasn't amazing. Kinda disappointed that ANA didn't choose a more meaningful movie than this lightweight one. Very typical Indonesian, which means there's over the top acting, unnecessary plot, and they tried to cram way too much drama and comedy. I was very surprised that Acha Septriasa got a best actress award in Indonesian Film Festival for her role in this movie. It made me feel that the rest of the nominees did really badly which I feel is unlikely. I'm sure there would be some who had meatier role than what she had. Then I watched the Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen comedy, The Guilt Trip. I thought Barbra Streisand was great in it. Then the documentary, Herb and Dorothy, about Herbert and Dorothy Vogel and I'm glad that I watched this. It's fascinating and it's great to get to know the story of one of perhaps the most important art collectors there are. There's a sequel to this and I do hope I'll get the chance to watch it too.

So now, let me begin with the list of the movies I watched since I came back. I watched all of them alone (anti social mode on high), except for 2 movies.

Iron Man 3 - Love Robert Downey Jr. as always. Didn't think the movie was exceptionally great. Smelled something fishy about Ben Kingsley's character even before the revelation.

The Great Gatsby - Didn't like the story. I found it to be rather stupid and I know I shouldn't say that for such an important literature. I'm just too skeptical with love. I thought the pictures in the movie were beautiful though. I guess I love the cinematography.

Furious 6 - Watched it with la Gioia. I'm never a fan of the Fast & Furious movies. I'm not sure if I have watched 1 in its entirety. This one made me roll my eyes many times. The only reason I chose to watch this was because there's an Indonesian actor, Joe Taslim, playing one of the bad guy. I'm darn nationalistic. He actually had quite a few lines, so good for him.

The Hangover Part III - This one is not even funny. It's more like a drama with some crazy things in it. So many people died that it's quite a shocker when you're expecting just full blown funny craziness.

After Earth - I don't think Jaden Smith did well here. Maybe also because of the story. There's inconsistency. His character was eager to make his father proud and yet when he really had to step it up, he was quick to whimper and showed fear. At the very least, his character should pretend to be tougher. Will Smith was great. He didn't have to move much in most parts of the movie, but he still commanded such a presence on the screen.

Now You See Me - I love this movie though I would have loved it if the movie had deal with the magicians more than the policeman. At the centre of it all, this movie does not actually tell the story of the magicians. Love the haircut of Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco's lil brother wasn't bad too. I'm glad his character didn't really die :P

Man of Steel - Watched this with some people. Wow, such a heavy movie. Borderline boring. I wasn't interested in it actually, but it was more of a group consensus. I have to say that they really picked handsome men to be Superman. Unfortunately that doesn't mean the movie is going to do well. Henry Cavill is perhaps rather too hairy, but he's really handsome and he has such perfect teeth :P

World War Z - I actually kinda like the movie but there's one bit that makes it so hard for me to really love the movie. It's the part where Brad Pitt's character didn't die in the plane crash. Seriously?!? Didn't the plane split into half in a big explosion. When the only survivors are the 2 important characters, that's just so annoying. At the very least, they shouldn't make the crash to look that bad and have some other survivors. The movie did give me some thrill when I could figure out key points of the movie before they actually happened.

So that's that. Last week was of course the terrible haze week. Been living here for 13 years and I never felt the haze to be that bad. I actually wore a mask a few times!!! As much as it was chokingly bad, I did think of the people who live in the villages or towns near the burning plantations. How on earth do they survive it all? How do they breathe? It's actually pretty sad for them. So anyway one of my aunt and cousin were here last week. Met them exactly last Saturday. The cousin was interested in the architecture of the National Museum of Singapore and wanted to visit it. I wasn't interested at all. Thank God, it's free admission for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. Otherwise it's S$10. The exhibition was about Singapore and I wasn't that interested. Then we went to Gardens by the Bay. I like taking people here, hmm perhaps because I can go in for free with my membership. I'm thinking if I should renew my membership. Anyway, there was the Flight of Fancy display. It wasn't that amazing. Sometime the flower dome can be so captivating, but sometime it can be so ordinary. Ordinary for me perhaps who've been there a few times. For my aunt and cousin, it was really awesome. They like it and I'm glad they did. I decided to just take my point and shoot camera and I realized how I cannot really work that camera at all. The results were not amazing. Here are some pictures. It seems that blogger now allows setting the size of the pictures, I'm not sure why that didn't happen earlier and they resized my pictures into smaller versions. So anyway, I'm putting the smaller versions as well to be consistent with the rest.

The blue balloon in the Cloud Forest Dome.


The red airplane in Flower Dome. Very cute.


The teddy bears pilots.


I love flower bed :)

So anyway, July is coming soon and that means Ramadhan is also coming soon and before you know it it's time for Lebaran in August when my parents are going to come. It's weird to talk about lebaran when people haven't even started fasting yet :P Mom actually texted to say that we should go to Legoland when they're here. I don't think we will because I don't want to brave the immigration queue which I foresee is going to be very long. I feel rather sad and guilty about turning her down. However they've done that to me thousands of times right, especially when I was little. So it's not a big deal? Anyway, hope all will be great when they're here. I told a few people about my parents coming. One particular one was so into herself that she didn't say oh it's great and so on. Sigh. Sometime I don't think people realize that I spend a lot of time in Singapore that I barely see my parents and when I do, people should just pause and realize what it really means for me and be glad about it. Well there will always be many self centered people out there. I'm gonna stop now. Hope you guys have marvelous days ahead! Buonanotte.

:) eKa @ 10:10:00 PM • 0 comments

Reflecting on the Trip to Japan

This post will be more about me rather than all the other observations I have about Japan. There were trivial things that I notice that perhaps wouldn't be interesting for you, like what's the deal with the 1 ply toilet paper, and the hard tissue in restaurants even though they do give wet tissues, and how I like the space that Japanese give each other when they queue for the subway (that's so perfect for the anti social me), and how I felt weird out when I saw Dewi Sukarno on some frivolous tv shows (it's so strange for me). So yeah, there are things like those that I notice but here I will write more about me.

I notice that I didn't feel alone or lonely at all. This is a big change from what I felt during my first trip alone. 4 years ago, there was loneliness and I ended up texting people back in Singapore or Indonesia. This time around, it's not like that at all. After 3 straight day tours from Tokyo, I was so ready and relieved to be on my own. It's very strange because it's not like I talked a lot with my tour mates or if they annoyed me really so. It's just I really wanted to get away and be on my own. On day 9, my so called last day when I was alone, I felt like even that time alone wasn't enough. It's like I'm always feeling how I want people to get off me and knowing that I had to go back to civilization, that was hard to deal with. It's actually worrying for me that I don't feel like I want to hang out with people. This thought was even more hammered into me when my mom commented how the pictures of me that I sent her show only me alone. Usually she would complain that there aren't many pictures of me and most of the pictures are of sceneries. This time she didn't even comment on the fact that there are still not many pictures of me, this time she commented on there's only me in the picture. She said it's not good to be that way. It's been like that these past few months if I can confess. I have been doing things on my own and I feel I am most relaxed and calm when I'm on my own. When I close the door of my room and know that the next day will be my day of solitude, I am most happy. This room has really been that fortress that protects me from the world and on the things that I do on my own, I feel most liberated. I do try though to have social interaction, but even like today when Gascoigne asked if I wanted to have brunch or something, I declined simply because we have hung out yesterday and man I just need my alone time. I didn't tell him that and the likelihood of him reading this is non-existent so yeah I don't think he'll get offended and he's also one of those rare people in my life who can disappear for months and yet when he resurfaces again, things don't get awkward, we can always talk.

Do you think there's something wrong with me? I think there could be. It worries me because I think it's unhealthy. However I just can't, I really can't force myself. I get real restless if I have to sit through such boring conversation. Is that a sign of selfishness? I just need people to be interesting and surprise me. For example, yesterday conversation with Gascoigne touched on Bradley Manning. I can tell you that perhaps only Gascoigne in my universe knows who he is and it's nice to be able to be surprised by such topic of conversation. Of course our conversation about this topic didn't progress well since we are always so strongly in opposing sides of the matter, but that's kinda what I look in people or conversation. Someone to bring interesting points to talk about rather than just the general things or if I happen to bring up something, the other party can respond to it and give interesting view. My universe is not filled with such people :( The sad part of this is, I usually just wish that someone interesting will drop from the heaven in front of me and stop me from being a hermit. That hasn't happened yet and meanwhile here I am withdrawing myself further away from the very few people I know. I've become more and more alone, but now without the loneliness that I used to feel and with instead a relieved feeling. I feel like an irreversible bad change may happen to me. Like how are you gonna have compassion if you don't surround yourself with people. Right now, I feel like I have very little attachment to people and so I feel like sometime I cannot relate on why people feel the way they do. However even though I would like to say I've become less sensitive, I still can point people in my universe who's less sensitive than me :P

I feel like I owe you more writing but I don't feel like saying anything so instead maybe I'll just try to write what my head is churning. Half of this year is almost gone, it's scary isn't it? I think I will not be able to match last year goal of reading more books :( I'm still in the first book of this year, Cloud Atlas. There's just a change in the way I have lunch this year and so I don't have the alone time to read :( I've been kinda keeping up with the movies. Been watching them alone except perhaps for 1. My parents are coming in the long weekend in August and I'm pretty nervous about it. I still feel like I want to leave, all the time. I had a pretty weird scary dream last night or perhaps early this morning. It was so strange. Singapore has been so hot that I told my mother that even the water that comes out of the tap feels hot, it's just warm actually. TV series are going on a break this summer and with Game of Thrones' current season ending this week, I pretty much have nothing to watch. I started to watch Community and Joel McHale is handsome. It's not amazingly funny for me and I think the reason I kept going is because he's very handsome :P I start to have difficulty in sleeping again. I guess my body just can't be fooled. I'm tense and have some many issues that even if I try not to think about them, they just manifest themselves in the way my body behaves. I'm contemplating if I should make myself a peanut butter sandwich, but it's late and I kinda promise myself to sleep early on weekends. Without classes, I end up waking up really really late on Saturday and Sunday and it's a waste of a morning. This post is not really reflective of the title so I should just stop now. May your days are more glorious wonderful people! Buonanotte!

:) eKa @ 11:41:00 PM • 0 comments

Japan - Tokyo

It was so called my last day in Japan because the next day I just had time to get myself to the airport and leave. It was also a day that I would spend on my own. I think I planned to start the day early but it wasn't really so. This happened a lot on this trip. Well, I was on a holiday so I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Last breakfast also saw me having to wait in the queue. Since I wasn't in a hurry, I wasn't feeling stressed out or anything. The manager bumped me ahead of the queue because I was alone, but then he kindly gave me a place for 2 persons, so that was nice. Had breakfast and made my way to the subway station. It was a slightly chilly morning but I was enjoying the cold air. First stop was Meiji Shrine. When I got out of the station, I was rather confused. Looking at the map, it seemed to be near enough but my head wasn't functioning properly that I stood pretty long in front of the map to understand what it meant and how I should go. Finally I understood the direction that I should take and thank God for a big torii to confirm that I was in the right direction. Learned something about Emperor Meiji in visiting this shrine. On the way to the shrine (which by the way is a pretty long walk under many trees from the torii to the shrine, pretty nice), there were barrels of sake on one side of the path, which is pretty common in a shrine in Japan. What is not common is on the other side, there were barrels of French wines. From the information written there, I learned that Emperor Meiji modernized Japan and set its way to becoming such an industrious country. So I get why he's highly revered.

Since it was my last shrine to visit in Japan and also somewhat my last day there, I had already planned that I would say a prayer or two. Got teary eyes again. It was like when I prayed in Basilica San Marco in Venice on my first trip alone. Just like then, I shed some tears because I was touched and overwhelmed that I so called did it. The trip was coming to an end and I did it and all was alright. I was thankful, touched, and felt blessed at the same time. I couldn't pray long though because Meiji shrine being an important shrine, there was a security guard there watching the people who's praying and then there was a Japanese man next to me who was doing perfect clap and bow and I felt rather inadequate in my praying steps that I decided to wrap it up, also the tears were again something that I didn't want people to feel alarmed about. Anyways, the shrine itself wasn't that interesting. There were some really big old trees. The emas hung here were definitely more international, many were not written in Japanese. It's pretty interesting when I saw some which were definitely written by a christian or a muslim. It made me wonder if being there just really cloud their logic and emotion for awhile that they don't see that writing wishes on an ema is perhaps not in accordance to their religions? Anyway, there were a few tourist groups with guides who I believe could tell them interesting fact about the shrine. If I had had a guide at that time, I would definitely have asked what's the deal with the rope tied into these 2 trees? I think the trees might be sacred? Or the ground beneath it is sacred?

I didn't really stay long in the shrine since there's nothing much to explore. On the way out, I saw an entrance to Meiji Garden. This wasn't in the plan, but since I was there, I thought why not. Admission is 500 yen and I thought it was quite pricey considering the garden doesn't have anything interesting for me. Well I think it's because I was at the wrong time of the season. I found out about the stamp that places like this garden often have. So the Japanese will use the stamp to stamp maybe their book or the brochure of the place or whatever as a collection. The stamp is in red ink and it has the symbol or logo of the place and the date of the visit. I inspected the stamp for awhile to see how they change the date. Very interesting. Following the Japanese, I also stamped my garden's brochure. Moving on, the garden was green all around. There's this tea house that the Emperor asked to be built for the Empress. How nice of him!

It's overlooking a small lake. I think it might be good for bird watching because I saw a Japanese man waiting there with a big telephoto lens. The garden has a big iris section. It's the Empress' favorite flower. However, they bloom in June, so when I was there, the whole area was covered in nets :( and the gardeners were busy working on them. I saw one of the gardener showing earth worms to some of the visitors, I don't know why. There also seemed to be a picnic by one of the international school there. Little toddlers running around with their moms. Walking into the greenery which didn't interest me much, I stumbled into Kiyomasa well which is apparently famous in Japan for its positive energy or something like that. When I was there, there was a group of older Japanese tourists who were taking pictures in turns. The well wasn't like any well I know of so there was a slight disappointment in me. It was more like a small tub. When I read the sign, I remember reading it has an ingenious way of sinking. What does that mean??? When the Japanese tourists left, I went closer and I just put my hand in it. I didn't feel anything different. I wanted to drop a rock or something, surprisingly it's not filled with coins, but there was a couple coming from behind me and so I couldn't do my experiment :( I am really curious if things sink differently in the well, do they swirl? twirl? float then sink? Anyway, I googled and read that some people said their luck improve when they put pictures of the well as their phone's wallpaper. So here you go. If you need a bigger picture for your computer wallpaper, email me (link on the right) and I'll send it to you :D

After I thought I had explored all parts of the garden, I made my way to my next stop, Rikugien Garden. Found the general direction as I left the station. Actually found one of the entrance, but that entrance is not used and visitors were asked to go to the other entrance which is some walk to the left. I walked and walked and couldn't find the entrance still. Then I saw a sign that I couldn't understand and by that time I felt that I had walked too far :( Reached an intersection and I was thinking that it wouldn't be right if I crossed the street. Asked an older lady in a bicycle who obviously didn't speak Japanese. I just said Rikugien? She just shook her head :( Darn, I actually think Indonesian can pronounce Japanese word pretty well, so I was determined to make her understand me. I said Rikugien again and then she got it and then she tried to help me. She said 711 and again in Japanese she was giving me direction. The hand gestured pointed to the left. So that's the 2 things I got, 711 and left. I walked back to where I came from and saw a convenient store like 711 but it's not 711. It just has the same color scheme. Saw that I could turn left there and I did and then I saw the entrance. Problem solved. Thank God! Admission is 300 yen. There's a big cherry blossom tree by the entrance which was all green when I was there. Again it's kinda the wrong season for me, maybe it's more beautiful in sakura season or autumn. The garden is pretty fun and interesting. Of course, there's the little lake or pond.

Then there are paths that you can take which leads you to streams and some bridges. It's really fun walking on the bridges or stepping stones though I always had this fear in me that I would be clumsy enough to fall. Since it's all around green which make photo taking rather boring, I started to just take pictures of the reflection on the water. Something that I did quite a lot in this trip when I visited gardens with ponds or lakes.

Feeling rather hungry, I decided to stop by the tea house. I read about this. It cost more than the admission fee, but I think submitting to one of the tourist thing sometime is not that bad to do. I'm not one who take pictures of my food, so I just thought of taking this picture only after I drank some of tea, hence why the tea bowl wasn't that clean.

It's powdered green tea and I didn't like it much. I didn't fancy the powder feel to it. The little flower cake has a bean paste inside it and the skin is pretty much like the snow skin mooncake. So I sat there, looking at the lake in front of me. It's all so green and peaceful and yes I can just sit there for a long time. There were some other Japanese tourists in the tea house. They're mostly senior citizens. I think they and Japanese babies and toddlers are the cutest Japanese there are :P I like how the senior citizens are so active and spend their days enjoying gardens with their friends. After sitting for sometime, I decided to explore the garden more. There's a small hill in the garden. From down where I was, I saw a Japanese lady sitting there alone. Curious, I decided to see if I can find my way there. I made it and that lady kindly left seeing me there. I felt bad because perhaps she needed some peace and quiet and I was invading her space :( I then proceeded to sit on the bench she sat on. I was alone. Had some really personal thoughts there looking at the garden below. Kinda spoke to God, like really talking to God. I wish I could say I hear him responding to me back. All I had was the wind blowing and I wish I could tell you I find answer in that. I didn't. It wasn't one of those Elizabeth Gilbert moment. Either way, I know he heard me. I just couldn't hear him back. Maybe one day I'll understand. After that, I made my way down and proceeded to explore the rest of the garden.

On my way out, I saw a Japanese man sitting on one of the benches under a tree, opening his bento box and getting ready to eat. I love it so much! Maybe he works nearby and I think it's wonderfully awesome that he got to take some time off to have lunch in a beautiful place. It perhaps makes lunch more expensive that he had to pay for admission price, but it's one of those thing that I'm quite jealous about. Not many cities give this kind of chances for its residents.

Next stop was Sensō-ji temple. As I got out the correct station, I was rather confused on where I should head out. It turned out to be easy enough to find because there were so many people and tourists. Seeing such a crowded atmosphere, my headache began :( It could be because I hadn't really had lunch or it could be because I spent the whole morning pretty much in quiet solitude and green space and then I went to such a crowded place with many shops around. The shops selling food looked pretty interesting, but since there were so many people, I didn't feel like exploring them in more details. There's a praying bowl before the gate to the courtyard and I decided to pray. The joss stick here were bundled and again it was short without the stick. It's weird seeing people trying to get as much smoke blowing into their direction. Then I made my way to the main hall. I don't recall there's any statue in the main hall. It's interesting to see the Japanese pray here like when they do in a Shinto Shrine. I pretty much cried when I prayed here, sigh. I just got very emotional with everything and rather than worried about how people would notice me, I just closed my eyes and let the tears flow. I wonder if anyone did notice me. Still I didn't really take a long time to pray, I think just enough to say my grace. Then I saw that they have the fortune telling thing in English, so I decided to try them out. It's rather different from the usual Chinese temple that I'm accustomed to. Like anything in Japan temples and shrines, you put in some offering first into the box. Then unlike in Chinese temples, there's no 2 wood pieces shaped like a crescent moon. Also the container for the fortune sticks is totally closed except for one small hole where the stick can fall. This is unlike in Chinese temple where the container is like a tube with one side totally open and the challenge was to get only 1 stick to fall. This Japanese one is reminiscence of the container Indonesian will make for arisan. Anyway, because the container was this way, I actually had a hard time to get a stick out that I was thinking I couldn't believe that I couldn't get this to work. A thought did came that I should just give up. I gave it one more try, totally putting the container up side down vertically and shaking it hard and finally a stick came out. I was so happy, you cannot believe it! One moment you wanted to give up, the next moment you make it work, that's real happiness right there. The stick has what I believe is the Japanese characters for numbers and you have to match the symbols with the drawers. I took me some time to make sure that I got the correct drawer. Go here to see the container and the drawers.

It turned out my number was 47. The reading said "REGULAR FORTUNE" however the explanation was really good. It's written "Though you always desire to make up your request immediately, even if it takes too long, don't worry about that." It kinda rang true to how I almost gave up in getting the stick out because I wanted it to come out immediately, so I do feel that I was being told to be patient. It's also written "Just like step over many mountains, after so many hard work, your request will come out fine. Treasures and wealth will be in your hand without any trouble" :) How great! It really made me feel so good inside :D Since it's such a good reading, I also kept the paper instead of tying it. From having tears coming out to having this good thing told to me, I felt at peace. So I stood awhile in the hall, absorbing the atmosphere with the so many people inside it.

Then I explored the compound. There are some Buddha statues, some little houses like bird houses for prayer as well, I assume. There's a pond with running stream and like all other ponds and lakes in Japanese Garden and such, there are big koi fish. There are also smaller rooms in the side of the compound with Buddha statues inside them, where you can pray and meditate I think. You have to take off your shoes when you want to enter them and no photography allowed. I entered one of them, there's a Buddha statue inside it and noone was around and I got to pray more and cried more. I myself cannot explain why I was being so emotional.

Sensoji temple is located in Asakusa, not so far away from Tokyo Sky tree. I was actually thinking of visiting it after though I had no intention of going up. However, with my growing headache and since I can already see it from Sensoji, I thought I would just skip it. Here you can see it on the left there and yeah there's also a pagoda too in Sensoji temple compound.

So then I decided to call it the day. By the way I also had the intention of visiting Tokyo tower although again I had no intention of going up there. In the end, I decided it's not important. I saw it a few times from the bus and I didn't think it's remarkably pretty being orange. It's inspired by the Eiffel Tower and since I'd been to the Eiffel Tower, I had no big urges to see Tokyo Tower. In fact, I have kinda lost any interest to go up somewhere high to see the view, unless it's a mountain. Hmm, I felt like I had typed that before. Sorry for repeating myself. Anyway so there you go, my so called last day in Tokyo. I went back to Shinjuku and straight away went for an early dinner. I thought my headache was because I was running low on sugar. Settled on Tonkatsu because I wanted to complete the trifecta :P Had one in Kyoto and Sapporo and we must complete the journey in Tokyo. When I put my spoon filled with chawanmushi into my mouth, it was a piece of heaven. I got all warm and fuzzy. I just love eggs so very much :P

For pictures of Tokyo, you can go here. The next day, I used the airport limousine bus service to get me to the airport. Had breakfast at Soup Stock Tokyo which I was quite curious about since from days before. Chose the one with green peas and an egg. Love it! Love this place too. I think because I just love soup :P This is kinda the last post about the trip. I'm thinking if I should write a reflection about the trip, about what I notice about me and about Japan. Maybe I'll do that if I'm not so lazy. Thank you for reading this far :D

:) eKa @ 9:57:00 PM • 0 comments

Japan - Nikko

Last day tour of the trip was to Nikko, which I chose because of the promise of seeing a waterfall. By this time, I was already so tired, was getting migraine often, and I was just ready to finish the whole routine and do things on my own. It sounds like I wasn't having any fun. Well tired Eka is a cranky Eka and so I just wanted to be quiet and alone. Started the day as usual. Had breakfast in which I told the manager, can I just have only 1 sausage and eggs? I said something like that twice. The plate came and it came with the salad, fries, and ham and yes there were 1 sausage and eggs (usually there are 2 sausages). I looked at it confused and asked the waitress if it's for me and she didn't really speak english and I think she said yes and nodded. She left. I still looked at the plate. She noticed I was looking at the plate all confused and she came and took the plate away while expressing that she's sorry and went to the chef to confirm everything. Yep, everything was correct it seemed because she brought the plate back without any changes. At this point, I said it's okay, fine. Decided to not pursue the matter any further because it would just take too much work and I think the Japanese take their work seriously and personally and to say something is wrong with it would be like a personal attack to them and I just didn't want to put that much stress to them. Tokyo is bidding for 2020 Olympic and seriously I think they should put English skill as one of their priority.

After breakfast, I went to the meeting place as usual. Saw the om and tante from Surabaya from 2 days before and I greeted them. They were going to Mt. Fuji that day. On the bus to the bus station, the tante decided to sit with me and told the husband to sit with another Indonesian boy who was alone. I didn't get to introduce myself to him. Anyway, chatted with the tante during the ride. Being the polite Javanese, she addressed me with the term "mbak" and that straightaway made me feel like I'm so impolite. The tante's daughter backpacked to Japan alone once and that's admirable especially since she was younger than me and doesn't really speak Japanese much. I was tempted to ask how they deal with the food situation being muslims, however I didn't ask that. I think it's kinda hard to find halal food for muslims in Japan. So om and tante travel quite a lot, in fact this June or July, the tante and her daughter are going to travel to New Zealand. The thought that came to my head was that what do they do, how can they afford all this? The daughter works in a bank, but I highly doubt she has astronomical salary. They are so many of this kind of Indonesian. Perhaps hidden from the big cities (though Surabaya is not actually small) with massive spending power. There are a lot of potential that can be mined from these people. Unfortunately traveling oversea for Indonesians are not that easy. If only those countries can try to be more lenient to us :(

As usual we're sorted into our tours and I said my goodbye to the tante and om and didn't see them anymore after that. Got my seat and I thought I was supposed to sit by the window, but there was already a girl there so I grudgingly took the seat at the aisle. The girl was typing long emails in her ipad and of course the spy me glanced more than once at her screen and found out she's french and found out her name is Mylène. A rather nice name, I think. We didn't really talk during the trip. I was getting headache :( The seat felt squeezy :( It's a long ride to Nikko and we stopped once for toilet break. Maybe Mylène captured my vibe of being uncomfortable and cranky that she offered the window seat for me. I wish I did say, no you take it, etc instead I just asked are you sure and then took the seat. Yay! Window seat is much better for me. We spoke a bit in french to ask each other's name. By this time, I was too tired and my brain wasn't working really well to speak in other languages (when has it ever worked well?).

We arrived at our first stop, Nikko Toshogu Shrine, which is where you can see the carving of the three wise monkeys. It's located at the stable. My brain made the connection of how interesting that this wise carving is located at the stable and the famous painting, The Last Supper, was located in a room which was also once used as a stable. Anyway, there are actually 8 panels of the monkey carving. The one we're most familiar with is in panel 2. I took the picture of the all the panels and there's actually a story about the panels as a whole which I couldn't remember now. To see the panels, go here to start at panel 1 and click the right arrow to proceed to the next. The shrine itself has a really big compound. I kinda forget most of the information. There's a pagoda whose structure was studied for the construction of Tokyo Sky Tree. Very interesting. I didn't enter that Pagoda though. I reckoned it would involve stairs. Looking at my pictures, I realized that this shrine is very unique. It's the only shrine I've visited with a lot of detailed carving everywhere. They're pretty beautiful. Unfortunately I wasn't that amused when I was there (too tired!).

There were some areas in which we had to take off our shoes and we couldn't take any picture. Unfortunately, the only one which I can remember is Yakushido temple, where there's a dragon painting on the ceiling. It's called the weeping dragon or the crying dragon. The staff would strike clappers under the dragon and after that there'll be a hissing sound (I think it's more like hissing) which makes it seem like the dragon is crying.

After that, we were given quite a substantial time to explore the area on our own. I actually heard some Indonesian in my tour group, so I was trying to find those people, but I couldn't find them. I ended up at another shrine nearby the main compound. It's much smaller. Nothing really interesting to report there.

I also made it to the nearby Rinnoji Temple which was unfortunately under massive renovation. There's some big Buddha statues there, including one with a mustache. That was weird, never saw one like that before and it made me want to laugh and I was thinking how bad I was for wanting to do that. Even though it's under renovation, we still cannot take pictures inside it.

Then it was lunch. As usual, the tables were organized based on the number of people in the group. So that meant I was sitting with Mylène. This whole sitting situation kinda confused many people. Eventually another solo traveler found his way to our table and he happened to be french american, named Patrick from Pittsburg. Mylène was like, cool, Eka can speak french too, so conversation on that table was in french. It felt surreal. It slightly reminded me of french classes but because it's such a real life situation, it really felt surreal to me. There's actually a time when I had to speak french. Although when I said french, it meant they talked more and I spoke very little and was mixed in english. Patrick kindly said it's alright to not speak in french. Got to know more about them. Patrick is working in some sort of nuclear engineering company in Japan. I forget the name of the company, I guess because it's unknown to me. He commented nuclear related stuff is not very popular in Japan currently :D His family is in the states still, so it's kinda a long distance relationship for him. His kids seem to be really smart as well, I think one of them is studying neurology. It was Sunday and since he's never been to Nikko, he decided to take the tour. Mylène went on a Mt. Fuji tour the day before and since it was raining, it's rather sad that even though she was at the 5th station, she couldn't see anything. So in retrospect, I had to say my Kamakura and Yokohama trip went much better despite of the rain. I kinda forget where Patrick comes from in France but Mylène comes from Bordeaux or a little village near Bordeaux. She has a brother who married a Japanese and they live in Sapporo currently. They also have a little baby, I think it's a boy. I remember that conversation somehow turned to Marseille and Mylène was commenting that she was quite taken aback when she saw the armed policemen there. I commented that it's good for tourists like me and I told them the Basilique is beautiful. It surprised them that I've been there since Patrick has never been there and Mylène only visited it for the first time this January. I also commented that such armed security can be seen sometime in Singapore too because of terrorists concern.

I finished lunch and I wanted to dismiss myself, but I think I didn't do it well and I'm afraid I was seen as rude for just leaving like that :( They were still talking when I left and at that time I was actually very curious to hunt down the Indonesian party. There's something about this Indonesian group which made me rather unsure earlier in the day. It was because they weren't speaking fully in Indonesian and before lunch I realized that they were speaking in Bangkanese too. Well I was 99% sure because I had to admit that I did have a slight doubt that perhaps they're from Belitung instead. Bangka is the island where my parents come from. So I was pretty excited about this. I found them at the souvenir shop and straight away addressed the older lady as, A-i. It's the Indonesian chinese way of addressing a "tante". I suppose I could use a more Bangkanese word but I thought A-i was good enough. She was travelling with her husband and daughter, Nike (pronounced knee-ke). The daughter lives in Jakarta now because she was studying in Jakarta, but in Bangka they live in the same city as my mom and they do have relatives from where my dad comes from. Unfortunately my knowledge of the family back there is rather limited, so I can't really explain where my aunts and cousins live, though I'm fairly certain they would have known my family too. It's pretty exciting meeting them since this marked the first time I have met anyone with the same root as me in any of my trips. The daughter is younger than me, I think just graduated from University last year with a degree in Information Technology and she's departing for Australia this June or perhaps July to study pastry making for a year. Cue jaw drop. Another classic example of how Indonesian parents really don't mind spending lots of money for their kids. What is adulthood for middle class Indonesian? Your age can classify you as an adult but dear parents will still pay for everything. Also another example of how the high spending power of Indonesians can be hidden away from the big cities. I wonder how the uncle can afford all these. I wonder if he's the owner of some illegal tin mines or he's very successful in the bird nest business. Anyway, it's pretty good talking to them. Turns out meeting Indonesians is great, meeting someone from Bangka is better. Either way, I'm just always happy to meet nice Indonesians :D

Next stop was Tamozawa Imperial Villa. I think it used to be used as some sort of holiday residence for the imperial family, but they're not using it anymore. The guide was telling us it's dreadfully cold during winter. It was a rather nice place and we can take pictures everywhere, so I did. After following the route, I have to admit I was losing interest. I guess because the view of the garden outside was more interesting. The design of the villa is quite wonderful. There's an inner garden, so from any of the room, you can kinda look in and see some nice plants, though these gardens can be rather small.

Then there's the outer garden, which you can also see from inside the villa. They make for really really nice view and I was more interested in looking at them from different parts of the villa.

When I finished exploring the villa, I thought that was it and I was wondering what I should do with the rest of the time. As I was putting my shoes (we have to take off our shoes to explore the villa), the guard was pointing to the garden. I was a bit unsure if I can just go and explore it or it needs a separate ticket. The guard of course didn't speak english. It turned out we could explore the outer garden, yay! I was pretty happy. I think I was the first person in the group to explore it since I think the rest wasn't sure as well if we could explore it. It was really great. There were flowering trees, a pond and running stream, and enough little path to get you away and hidden from view. The stream had really nice plants in it. It's not a really big garden, but it's just as beautiful and wonderful to explore.

I was really happy when I explored this garden :D It's like the best thing of this whole trip. Before I went back to the bus, I got myself an ice cream cone just because I saw Patrick got one and he seemed to be enjoying it so much :P Last stop was Kirifuri waterfall and this was quite a disappointment. I thought we would be quite near to the waterfall and would be able to touch the water like when I went to see a waterfall in Puncak 2 years ago. It turned out we were given the option to go to the observation point where we kinda could get a glimpse of the waterfall. It was disappointing for me. The waterfall was still pretty far and the view were kinda obstructed by trees. The waterfall itself seems to be rather cool because it seems there are several levels of the waterfall. It's not just a one straight drop down.

After that, it was the ride home. Pretty long ride. There was traffic. It wasn't a traffic jam but we're not moving as fast as I would have liked. When the guide was telling us that we would be making a stop for toilet break, an Australian lady just said that we should go on without the break. She said why don't we take a vote. One person said it's a good idea to skip the break and that darn Australian lady just said we all decided to go on. Hello, shouldn't everyone be consulted before you say something on our behalf?!? I thought she was just being too aggressive, not that I wanted the break, in fact I didn't even get down. The guide having to stick to her job checklist said we really had to take a break and of course the Australian lady and her family all went down too. Of course they may argue might as well, but I think if you think strongly that it's not necessary to have that break, you should be committed to your cause.

Anyway, found out that Mylène was staying in the same hotel as mine. So I asked an embarrassing question if I could follow her on our way back since I wasn't that sure. She said of course then asked me how long I had been staying in the hotel. I told her that I'd been lost twice and yesterday I saw a lot of homeless people very near our hotel that got me quite scared. I may appear pretty dumb :( Anyway we arrived in Shinjuku and I don't recall we said goodbye to Patrick, but anyways Mylène led the way. It was quite a walk and she got us safe and sound, yay! I wonder if she thought I was such a strange Asian girl who couldn't find her own way back to the hotel though she's been staying there for some days. Whatever it is, I am truly thankful to have her around. It's like Godsend and I feel sorry that I wasn't exceptionally friendly to her :( We said our goodnight and wished each other a good trip and I was happy to be finishing my last day tour which meant it was the start of me exploring things on my own, on my last day in Tokyo the next day. That story is coming up. For pictures from the Nikko trip, you can go here.

:) eKa @ 10:44:00 PM • 0 comments

Japan - Kamakura & Yokohama

My next day tour was to Kamakura and Yokohama. Chose this because I know of the existence of the great Buddha in Kamakura. I think I knew it since some time ago, but it could also be because President Obama visited it a few years ago and it made the news and I was so captivated by it. The drill was the same, wait for pick up in the hotel and then go to the bus station where we would be sorted out into our tours. I managed to get breakfast easily that day since I woke up earlier. As I was waiting to be picked, an Indonesian voice greeted me. It was the husband of the young couple who were talking to the 2 Indonesian girls the day before. We chatted a bit. I thought they're newlywed on their honeymoon, but it turned out they already have 3 kids! The wife is just one of those hot mama. We also found out that we live nearby in Jakarta, them in Roxy and me in Tomang. Unfortunately they weren't going for the same tour as me that day. It was pretty nice talking to them. Perhaps also because we're from Jakarta so there's just this some sort of way of speaking that connect us straight away :P I talked a bit about what I had been seeing in Japan. I asked if they're Buddhist, which they are. So I was telling them about the nice temples I've been seeing and my trip for the day. Unfortunately, they didn't have plan to explore much. They're just staying in Tokyo and I think they're leaving a day before me. We parted ways when we had to go to our actual buses and I didn't see them again.

The day was rather cloudy that morning and by the time the bus left Tokyo, it was drizzling. Apparently the forecast said it was to rain the whole day. What a bummer :( The weather really screwed us up that day. I got a second to last seat at the back. When I found out, I didn't like it much, but I got window seat and noone was sitting next to me, yay! Also for some reason, I had really big leg space, double yay! Behind me was this french family with a 4-year boy. On our first stop, I decided to ask the boy what his name was and he didn't respond and just looked at me. Aarrgghh, that made me real self conscious :( I think my french is bad but I think I can pronounce "comment tu t-appelles?" correctly. I have to admit that I had to google how to spell that and darn I forget my conjugation!!! The dad then asked him to respond. So the dad understood me and the rather talkative boy just went all shy when I asked him. His name is Clément and he's really cute, curly blondie hair. I tried to talk to him again before we finished the tour. By then I was already too tired and didn't really get what he's saying. I just asked, "tu n'es pas fatigué?" (you're not tired? He was pretty noisy in the last hour when everyone was dead tired) and he said, non, in a very mignon (cute) way. I said, "incroyable" (incredible) and that got his parents laughing. I really wish I can speak French better :( Italian too. By the way Clément is a rather nice name if you pronounce it in french :D

Back to the trip. So we had rain. First stop was Kōtoku-in in Kamakura, where the great Buddha is. Well actually first stop was to get everyone umbrella. Initially I was rather apprehensive if I should get an umbrella but everyone got one and so I got one too, a cute transparent one which I managed to bring back to Singapore (ANA handled it really nicely for me, gotta love the Japanese). It was a very good buy since the rain never stops :( I felt so blessed being able to see the great Buddha. Although I couldn't help thinking that when President Obama visited it, it wasn't raining and there weren't any tourists. It's so different when you're the president. The rain was really a bummer. You can go inside the Buddha, but I didn't. There's nothing much in the temple, except for the Buddha. There's a giant sandals which may give you a scale on how big the Buddha is. I do want to visit it again, under a different situation where the sun is shining and the sky is blue.

Next stop was Hase-dera temple which is perhaps my favorite temple visited in Japan. There are many beautiful ones, especially in Kyoto, which is the city I love the most from my trip. However Hase-dera in Kamakura is like an all-in-one greatness. Beautiful gardens with pond, check. The picture below shows one part of the garden and do you notice the bamboos they use to funnel the water into the pond? Ingenious and beautiful!

Continuing with the check list, amazing and big Buddha statues, check, although people cannot take photograph of them, so I cannot show you anything. I just remember them being golden. Being able to pray in the temple, check. I picked up a purple joss stick even though I was thinking I would choose a different colours. My hand just chose purple. I wonder if the colours have meaning. Cute little Buddha statues, check, check, check, you can see this, this, and this. A little cave to explore with more Buddha statues, check, although I didn't go all the way in because I didn't have time :( It's really truly a wonderful place and it's unfortunate that I couldn't spend more time there as my heart's content. Hope one day I get to come back again.

Next stop was the shrine Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū. The rain was getting heavier that I didn't feel like exploring much. I did take the stairs up, but I decided I should just go down before the steps got more slippery. It turned out there's a wedding at the platform below and so I spent some time watching the ceremony. It's pretty low key. There were only immediate family at the ceremony. Interesting. By the way, it turns out the Japanese usually go to a Shinto shrine for weddings and then a Buddhist temple for funeral. I like how they don't feel conflicted with so called 2 different religions. It makes me feel better about my mix take on religions as well. Here's a picture of the ceremony, you can see the heavy rain. The bride is on the left with the white hood and the groom is on the right.

After that, we headed to Yokohama. First stop was lunch in a Chinese restaurant simply because Yokohama has the biggest Chinatown in Japan. Lunch wasn't good and for something Chinese, it's weird that we didn't get rice. Again I was seated at the single table. Sat next to a lady from America whose name I didn't even bother to ask. I am so bad and I regretted myself fully. When we were in Hase-dera, we took turns taking each other picture and she said we could partner up and do that for each other since we're alone. However I kinda didn't bother to do things with her. I am so bad, I know. After lunch, I found out a bit more of her story. She used to travel with her husband, but then her husband died of cancer. After that she decided to just continue on with the traveling and when she arrives somewhere and see something wonderful, she'll go, "Jay, I'm here". Yeah I didn't know her name and yet I know her husband's name. It was a moving story for me and thank goodness I didn't cry. I was rather speechless hearing her talk about his husband getting cancer, but maybe it's been sometime that she appeared really strong about it. Really nice lady and I'm really sorry I wasn't nicer to her :( Aside from her, I also talked a bit to the Singaporean guy who was alone too. I guess having to release some of my singlish did feel rather good.

After lunch, the rain was getting heavier. The guide made a decision that we should go to Sankei-en Garden first before it closed. We arrived and the rain was pouring. Some of the the people made the decision that they would just stay in the bus. I have to give it to the guide. She went down and was ready for us. I think if she didn't go down and just let us explore on our own, not many of us would go down. Seeing her going down, I felt like we should also go down to show our appreciation. I get it though if people would rather stay in the bus. Clément and his dad stayed in the bus and only his mom went down. It was rather crazy, being a tourist in the middle of the rain. I was glad to have my so-called comrades. It made me feel good that I wasn't alone in that craziness :P The whole thing was walking fast and taking pictures at the same time. I actually managed to take some not so bad pictures with only 1 hand, since my other hand was holding the umbrella. Some of the pictures that didn't have water drop on them looked not so bad. The rain gave them a really soft look. The garden was beautiful and I wonder if I thought it's beautiful because of the rain, now that I think about it. The rain gave it a really different feel. This is a picture of the boat in the pond. At the end of the boat, the little white thing, is a crane statue. It didn't appear as cheesy as it may seem :P Again maybe because of the rain.

After that was a small stop to Yokohama's Chinatown. I contemplated if I should go down. In the end I did because I wanted to get some drink. Due to the rain, I didn't walk far and seeing how everything was so Chinese, I was feeling it was all too ordinary. I mean, this is one of the picture I took, just because I ran out of interesting things to take picture of, and this is pretty much easy to find in Singapore.

It's perhaps more interesting without the rain, because we may actually get to explore more things. It seems there might be a temple nearby. Anyways, after that it was the ride home. It felt like a really log day. Clément was pretty noisy during the ride home and I was tired :( Was glad to reached Tokyo. Stupid me decided to take a different way from what I took the day before to reach my hotel and again I was lost. It got really scary. It was a Saturday night and the area where I was is the office buildings area of Shinjuku and it was quiet on a Saturday night. The streets were empty and it was dark and there's not many people and I found an exit which should bring me to my hotel but it was closed, so I was bouncing here and there trying to find my way and find whatever map I could find, and it was rather dark! At one point I found an open area under a building, like a parking lot with many homeless people and I got really scared. I tried to find a safer way. Found a security guard of a building who confirmed I had to cross that area to reach my hotel. It was so scary. I don't know in what kind of situation I would be okay in dealing with many homeless people. I do think the Singapore influence in me kinda makes me mentally unprepared about this whole thing. You can hardly find a homeless person in Singapore. Perhaps they exist. Perhaps they're like unicorn, I don't know. There are homeless people in Jakarta which I often see but even then, seeing a whole parking lot filled with these people was overwhelming for me. They do seem harmless and they were so organized. The Japanese culture is still visible in them. They "parked" themselves like cars. It was so orderly, there was equal space one among the others. I even saw someone reading, like it's a normal bedtime reading time. Maybe people will not believe me if I tell this story, like they can't believe it's happening in a really developed, rich, and strong country like Japan and I was too scared to take any picture as evidence. I don't think it's right to do so anyway. I just walked as fast as I could and tried my best to not make any eye contact and kept on repeating, "please God help me". Seriously, in all of my trips, this was the scariest experience I had. Although there was no imminent danger, I was really scared and I was praying hard for God to help me. Thank God it was just a straight walk from that "homeless lot" all the way to my hotel. I was so relieved and I was so thankful and I'm still really thankful to God. I don't know why, Shinjuku just beats my ass each time, each time! I will tell you a sillier story of how I got back the next day from my last day tour.

The homeless situation got me googling about it. It turns out, though they're homeless, they are at their cores real Japanese. So these people would clear themselves out on day break and just become invisible. Although I did see 1 or 2 on the streets during the day. It's like they understand that they shouldn't make people feel uncomfortable with their presence during the day. I find it rather amazing. Another reason why I should see more of the world. It's surprising for me to see so many homeless people in a city like Tokyo. Singapore is perhaps one of those rare city where it can be so developed and also managed to remove all traces of poverty. Another reason why I also feel like Singapore is such a bubble who shelters its inhabitants from unpleasing things which weaken its people sometime. It's like living in such a sterile environment that when you encounter a little germ, your body doesn't know how to deal with it. How I wish I was not that scared in seeing so many homeless people, how I wish I was stronger mentally :(

I'll end this story here. To see the picture from Kamakura, please go here and for pictures from Yokohama, please go here.

:) eKa @ 10:54:00 PM • 0 comments

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