Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A Note About the MEXT Scholarship Allowance and Grocery Money

I met with a kouhai called Amber last Friday. By the way, I think she's gonna do great in Japan - she's very realistic about her expectations, and she's already fluent and familiar with the country. But a comment she made, and the few days of eating/fattening up that I've been experiencing after, got me thinking.

During my first year of MEXT, there was this period of time where I made several food posts. Like this and this and oh dear, I can't bear to look anymore. At that time, I thought I was being smart and frugal and all that, but well, the truth is, my eating habits were horrible. The food I was cooking was simply not enough, and actually affected my health negatively, prompting an emergency trip home.

And when I moved to Fukuoka, I simply forgot about this, until Amber mentioned it. Apparently, I had scared/made her think the allowance was so little that I had to restrict my food intake. So today's post is to share pictures and information of what I'm actually eating nowadays and reassure everyone that yes, the MEXT allowance is enough.

Eating/Cooking Habits
Since last year, I started cooking school. So nowadays, instead of cooking once a week and living of that, I cook about twice a week, and I cook a lot more. I also eat more vegetables and meat. Plus, there's a Hotto Motto near my station, so I don't have an excuse for skipping meals anymore. Oh, and for lunch times in school, I have a prepaid food card, so the hit to the wallet happens only about once a year. (Each school lunch costs about 340 plus to less than 500 yen, depending on what I choose, and if I add desserts/bottled drinks)

According to my Japanese friends, you should be able to cook healthily and eat enough (for a girl) for under 10,000 yen a month. Since I end up buying omiyage with my groceries, my bills are higher, but I think that's roughly correct. And if you buy rice from Rakuten, or share meat from Costco with friends, your bills will probably go down more.

So yes, please don't worry about food, and don't be as silly as me when it comes to eating habits. Health first guys! (And thanks Amber, for pointing that out)

Recent pictures of meals I cooked (So you know I'm telling the truth)

Nasu tomato spagetti 

Hamburg (with rice, not pictured)

If you need proof it was me who cooked

Mapo doufu

It's um, Green-tea salmon (my friend suggested the recipe), fried mushrooms underneath
and that tofu thing I like (forgot the name argh). With rice, of course. 
I hope this reassures some scholars who may have been worried about the allowance!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

River Hongbao Singapore (2015)

So, I actually have two ideas, but instead of combining them into one post and making things more confusing than usual, I'll just talk about River Hongbao today because today's the last day.

I actually wanted to see the lanterns light up, but I forgot that the sunset in Singapore is pretty late. So I got there, walked around, saw that the sun wasn't going to go down for half an hour or so, and so made my way back. Plus, I forgot my DSLR, so all I had was my iPhone, making the drive to wait even less.

I should just say, upfront, that all these photos are unedited because I took them about three hours ago.

So, River Hongbao is at the Float@Marina, which is basically where we had our National Day Parade for the last few years (not this year though). It's in the centre of the city, and it means that even if there wasn't a river hongbao, the view here is gorgeous, what with MBS (aka ship hotel) and the Esplanade (aka the Durian and source of pronunciation controversy) and THE CITY SKYLINE.

City skyline. 
I walked in from the Esplanade, towards the Singapore Flyer, and was met with these huge gates, and a lot of people. I didn't take any pictures, but Uncle Ringo, the carnival rides that you can hire (and my pri/sec school hires them for the school carnival every year) was there, making lots of little kids happy.

The lanterns, when viewed from a distance, is... a little underwhelming, to be honest. Either that, or there's not enough people there, so it's looks strange. I was probably more interested in the floor, because I've seen it during the parades so many times, but never got to stand on it.

Among the many lanterns, which included a wishing well, they had the twelve animals of the zodiac. That was actually pretty cool.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea why I made that face. Or why I look so awkward :p 

There was also a bridge, under which, I guess was Singapore in the olden days? It's SG50 this year (Singapore turns 50 years old, hence SG - Singapore 50), so we're basically celebrating for the whole year.

And they had a model of one of those old-school playground slides! These slides were everywhere in the past, and they were made of brick. These are softer (For the kiddies to play on without parents worrying, I guess), but it does remind me of the time playgrounds had sand, and not a rubber floor.

Another view of the lanterns, this time with the Singapore flyer inside. 
Apart from the lanterns, there was also a food street, which I guess is full of hawker food (the stores outside though, had okonomiyaki and takoyaki, made by Ramly burger (Ramly burger is really good though!!).
I want this in Japan, not Singapore! 
And, I thought this was cool, there was this Indian lady teaching people how to dance. I like this part of Singapore - all cultures can, and do, celebrate together.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

What to Pack When You're Going Home

Now that I'm back in Singapore, it seems like it's time for the long-planned "what to pack when visiting home" post. (I was actually reminded of this by Devangi, thank you!)

Ok, some of you might have seen this:

This is but a small part of the things I normally bring home. And no, my clothes and personal items are probably 10~20% of the total, so clearly, I buy a lot of things. And after all the trips home and 'testing' gifts on people, I'm ready to share what I think is the best thing to buy back. 

First, disclaimers and all that. My family does not have any food restrictions, religious or health otherwise. If your family doesn't eat meat, doesn't eat gluten, doesn't eat nuts, must have the meat killed a certain way, then please, check to make sure. Some of the things I recommend will probably be inappropriate for people with restrictions. 

Now, I basically group gifts into two groups: Supermarket Omiyage, and Airport Omiyage. 

Supermarket(/Konbini/Vending Machine) Omiyage

Not a very pretty sushi-candy.
This is the cheap things, and you should stock up on these. Think of how expensive Japanese snacks are in your country, then stock up at the supermarket. For Singapore, things like Green Tea Kit Kat, Kracie Poppin' Cookin' Candy (those things that make candy that looks like sushi and all that?). These things are relatively cheap, and you should totally buy these and bring it back. My family actually prefers this. 

I stock up on these, as every day snacks for the family and friends. 

Tip: Get the time-limited things if possible. And the Japan-limited ones. These rarely make it out of the country. 

Sample list:
  • Supermarket-brand Senbei (Inaka senbei, if you live near tourist attractions, are good too)
  • Pocky
  • Kit Kat
  • Cup Miso-Soup (my dad's latest fav)
  • Orange jelly (I'm normally asked to bring back at least two boxes at a go - this is probably why I go over the weight limit)
  • Lemon/Honey drink from the vending machines
  • Jagabee 
  • etc

Airport Omiyage
This is the expensive stuff, and the last things you will buy (just before you board the plane). It's also fairly expensive, so most of the time, I buy this for teachers and my parents co-workers and doctors and when you want to be fancy. 

Really awesome mochi

With sauce, so you may or may not be able to bring it on the plane
(I know if you transfer at Shanghai to Singapore, you can't bring it on)
The ultimate winner for this category has to be (for Singapore at least), 白い恋人 (shiroi koibito). It's a cookie sandwich, with chocolate in the middle, and everyone loves this. Recently, my mother loves Potato Farm, but it really reminds me of Jagabee. Both are from Hokkaido, but can be bought at most international airports. 

Tip: Buy things that are limited to your particular region, or anything that says 日本限定 (Japan-limited). 

Sample list:
  • Shiroi koibito
  • Royce (available in Singapore, but much cheaper in Japan)
  • Daifuku with seasonal fruits
  • The mochi with sauce (I forgot the name of it, but I included a picture above!) 
  • Fancy-smancy senbei/mochi
  • Huge, huge, hiyoko-flavoured Pocky
  • etc
And now you know why I always go over the weight limit. I hope the post gives you ideas on what to pack home! :D 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Happy Chinese New Year!

So, I'm back in Singapore for now! And because Chinese New Year (I'm just gonna call it CNY from now on) started later this year, I managed to participate for the first time in three years!!

Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, and since it's only day 4, I will just talk about the first few days.

Days 1-15: FOOD

Top layer: Bak-kwa. On the plates: Mandarin Oranges

Chinese New Year is the time for fattening, delicious food. There's Bak Kwa (think of sweet pork jerky/sweet bacon), oranges (which in Cantonese is a homonym for gold), peanuts (I'm sure there's some significance) and lots of sweets. Most foods, and in fact most Chinese New Year related goods/activities, are tied to a saying about good luck or wealth or something like that. 

Another of my favourite foods is Popiah, which is really a year round food. But we seem to eat it a lot in new year. I'm suddenly at a loss for how to describe it, but it has vegetables, sweet sauce, chilli, garlic, lettuce - you basically pick and mix your ingredients.

Day 0/除夕(chu xi):
Home-made Yusheng
 The day before CNY is chu xi. The main event is the family reunion dinner, and since most people have two sets of parents from two different families, it's pretty much a day of eating. Lunch will be a reunion lunch, and dinner a reunion dinner.

Before dinner (and lunch), we toss the yusheng. Yusheng seems to be a CNY food local to South East Asia, and there's quite a lot of dispute as to who created it. Malaysia wants to claim it, but according to one of my grand-uncles, he knows the chef who created the first dish and it was definitely made in Singapore. The dish has all the ingredients separately, and we mix it with long chopsticks, yelling lucky phrases. Students like me tend to yell things like "学业进步" (xue ye jin bu - Studies improve), but things like "工作顺利" (gong zuo shun li - work goes smoothly) and other sayings are also popular. And when you have a family like mine, things get very specific like "A GPA above 3.5!" and "Pass all modules" and "Let the boy learn to speak Chinese!"

After Yusheng, it's time for Steamboat (also the same menu as lunch). We use an old-fashion charcoal steamboat, and I think that gives the best taste. Steamboat is really like the Japanese shabu-shabu, but with different stock.

Day 1/初一 (chu yi):

The first day of CNY is when we go bainian (拜年 - visiting). We actually cut down on the number of houses, but we still went to um, I think 10? Maybe 11? (If you include Church we have to +1) houses this year. Basically, the younger generation goes to pay their respects to the older generation. And because I have a bad memory and haven't seen most people for many years, I have to be reminded who is who. Basic rule of thumb is to add one generation to whatever title my mom and dad used.

It's marvellous because I get to see so many people in one day! Sure, it's tiring, but this is family. Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind. Ok, Stitch moment over.

For some reason, all TV screens were showing Stephen Chow movies. Not just one, many, many Stephen Chow movies. They all have roughly the same story though (just different settings) - playboy gets into trouble, somehow makes everything right.

Also, my aunti-poh's house has an awesome toy-train!

This is just one corner! 

Day 2/初二 (chu er):

Normally, we finish up visiting on Chu-er, but we managed to finish all the visiting on Day 1, so we could relax! Most of the time, we stay at my grandma's house, because that's where visitors would go.

This year, I brought back my kimono, and managed to put it on myself! Somehow.

The length is quite off, but I'm just relieved I managed to put it on!

And later, I managed to put it on my cousin, and it looked even better on her!

Day 3 was like I mentioned in a previous Google+ post, spent mostly in Malaysia. It was fun, and I don't think much will happen until Day 15. We have another friend's reunion dinner planned, but that's about it. But I will be meeting lots of people this week! 

And from my cousin who rocks the kimono, have a happy CNY!

You can see more of her awesome works at Ellustrate.net

Friday, 6 February 2015

ゼミ results (Part 2)

A while back, I talked about how I was torn between two tutorials. Well, today, I got the results for the first tutorial application (we have to application periods - the second one is if you failed the first one).

But first, which ゼミ did I choose in the end? 

As I said before, I really like both tutorials, but in the end, I applied for the Corporate Finance tutorial, and will try to get into the Economics of the Internet tutorial as my sub-tutorial. The reason was that after talking with my family, it seems like Corporate Finance will make me more employable than Economics of the Internet (it doesn't teach programming, it's really just analysing internet companies).

More about the Application Process

For all tutorials, you have to submit a form (printed correctly), either nicely typed out or handwritten. The form asks for your reasons for wanting to enter the tutorial, but different teachers have different requirements. The Corporate Finance teacher wanted us to add the things that we can contribute to the class (mine was basically "I CAN DO FOREIGN STUDENT OPINIONS AND BRING YOU TO SINGAPORE. PLEASE TAKE ME IN").

For the Economics of the Internet tutorial, there was an added 面談 (mendan - interview) which I did because I want to take it as my sub-tutorial. Now that some of my friends are considering whether to take a sub, this requirement is a bit of a turn-off.

In the interview, which took place during a lesson -gulp, I MISSED CLASS-, the teacher asked me about why I wanted to join the class (insert story about ebook revolution and my interest in how it unfolds), and why I didn't want to take it as my main tutorial, and then, he brought out my result sheets and asked me why I only got a C for Microeconomics and Statistics. That last part was a shock. But I managed to explain why, and assuming that there's space in the class, I should be able to take it as my sub-tutorial. YAY!

Announcement of Results (結果発表)

 The results were announced at noon today. Of course, I didn't know the time, just the date, so I went there in the morning and was puzzled at the lack of results. But since we have our 政治経済学 (um, Political Economics?) final exam part 2 from 1pm, I went to study.

Oh yes, Kyudai decided to announce the results one hour before a final exam. And since there was one teacher who had 40 students apply, there are at least 30 students who will be disappointed before they have to take a compulsory exam (This subject is compulsory for us).

The results were stuck on the board. I tried to blur out all the student numbers, but I think you can still get a feeling of what it's like, to be pushing your way through the crowd to look for your number.

My future teacher is all the way on the left.

Thankfully, I got in!

For the exam season, this is probably one of the best ways to end my week.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

To Hell and Back (Beppu Part 2)

One week ago, I talked about seeing snow in Beppu even though it's more well-known for its onsens (aka, there's a lot of heat). During the week, I had about 3 tests, and didn't really have time to blog. Now that my excuse is out of the way, on to part two!

In Beppu, one thing that you can do is called 地獄めぐり(jigoku meguri) or "hell tours". Basically, the family and I went around to see really hot pools of water (and mud). To save money, and if you don't have a car, but the one day bus ticket at Beppu station. There are student prices, so if you're studying, make sure you bring your student ID with you. (Oh, and there are English-speaking workers there, so there's nothing to worry about). The bus pass will give you discounts and stuff, so don't lose it!

There are 8 hells, and they are grouped into 6-2. If you only have enough time to go to one area, go to the one with 6 hells. You can buy the all-access ticket and it'll still be worth it.

Tickets, including a stamp-collecting sheet. I got all of them! 
I know my cousin already talked about most of them, but I wanted to share more photos!

First up is Oniishibozu Jigoku, which means shaven monk's head hell. Don't you just love the name? It's called this because the bubbles supposedly look like a monk's head. But uh, we were more interested in the fact that sometimes, these bubbles look like a hidden Mickey (I'm totally showing my age - I remember when these were on TV)

This one, like most of the others, has a foot bath that you can sit in! My siblings and dad, who wore socks, could go in almost immediately. My mom and I were in tights, so we had to go to the toilet to change.

The yellow things are fruit. I think pomelo? Not sure...
I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but we took the bus all the way to the top, getting off at the 海地獄前 (umijigokumae) bus stop, then making our way down to the 鉄輪 (tetsurin) bus stop. It's quite convenient, especially if you want to change bus to get to 血の池地獄前 (chinoike jigokumae) bus stop to see the remaining 2 hells.

Anyway, the second stop was the Umijigoku (aka Sea Hell), which is why the previous paragraph is a directions digression.

They have this little moving Kappa that you try to throw coins at. 

Before you see the actual onsen, there's a giant lake that apparently, has giant lotus leaves that little kids can stand on in the summer. At least, I think the lotus leaves are supposed to be real. They could be fake, and that would make so much more sense.

The actual onsen is a pretty blue, but there's so much steam that it's hard to see the colour.

You can kinda see it here. I guess.

Next to the onsen is a series of torii, so if this sort of thing interests you, you should totally go check it out.

There's also a greenhouse where the plants are nourished with the onsen water. Pretty, but stuffy. I would show pictures, but we're moving on because there are 6 more hells for me to show pictures off.

The third hell we went to was Yamajigoku (mountain hell), which is full of animals. Yup, animals enjoy hot baths too.

Like this hippo, who WOULD NOT TURN AROUND.

Well, we are invading his privacy, so fair enough I guess. 
 And to really hammer in the fact that we're walking around pools of hot water that come from the ground, part of the pavement was closed off because of the steam coming out.

You can even feed the animals. Like the capybaras, rabbits (really, really huge rabbits), and turtles. I think? Wait, was the turtle huge, or was that the rabbit? Or both? Probably both.

The siblings feeding the capybara. 

This flamingo will never suffer from cold feet. 
The fourth hell was Kamado Jigoku, or cooking pot hell. By this time, it was drizzling, so I don't have that many pictures to show you guys.

Since it was raining, we stopped for a bite here. There was the onsen tamago thing that my cousin talked about, and that I wanted to try. So we got that, some buns, and some chicken.

There is salt for the eggs, or yuzu-shoyu.

So not natural. 
And no one liked it. Thankfully, we didn't get one per person, or I'll be eating five eggs at one go. I'm actually ok with it, but I think we established in the first part that I'm weird and willing to sleep in rooms with no attached toilets if it means I stay in a mud onsen (that, spoiler alert, we never got to go to).

Everyone liked the chicken though. It is truly awesome. We ordered a second helping.

the portions are tiny, so the second time, we ordered a few portions. 

The fifth hell was the Oniyama Jigoku, which for some reason had replicas of traditional Malay houses. That was...weird. And not what we wanted to see (I can drive to see the actual ones in Singapore, so....). 

But there was a friendly dude who spoke English, so we ended up buying a lot of snacks. 

Oniyama jigoku is famous for the crocodiles that live there, but the water must be too comfortable, because they were all so sedentary. Then again, I remember having dirty, smelly water being splashed on me by crocodiles at a crocodile farm so... CARRY ON SLEEPING. 

The 6th hell, and the one next to the next bus stop, was Shiraikejigoku, which means white lake hell. It's basically a paler version of Umijigoku. There are some pretty fishes here though.

Not pictured: fish. Those are in tanks near the entrance. 
It's a very serene place though, and a good time for you to catch your breath.

From here to the bus stop, there are bunch of stores selling steamed food (which to be honest, is everywhere). I totally recommend the steamed sweet potato. It is soooooo sweet and really good! I may have finished it before I could take a photo :p 

From the bus stop (where it was raining so boooo), we took a short ride to 血の池地獄前 (chinoike jigokumae) bus stop, where the last two hells are. One tip which I read online was that the 竜巻地獄 (tatsumaki jigoku - spout hell) erupts every half an hour, so when you get off, you should first go check when the next eruption is, then decide which hell to visit first. For us, the timing was such that we went to Chinoike Jigoku, or Bloody Lake of Hell (I love this translation for some reason) first. 

It may have a really cool name, but the water was... orangey. They sell stuff that's supposed to be good for your skin though. 

But, if you're the type that wants bragging rights that come from visiting this, photo editing is your friend. My instagram photo looked so much cooler.

See? So much cooler. 
You'll have to wait for a time where the wind blows the steam away though. I think maybe the reason why there was so much steam was because we went during winter.

The last hell was Tatsumaki Jigoku (aka spout hell), which was underwhelming. It's basically a really regular geyser, but they built walls to contain it, so it looks... weird.

Before anything happens

I honestly thought the wall was a backdrop. Didn't know better until the intercom started giving us information.

The geyser, looking constrained and unimpressive. 
Most of the hells are actually pretty cool. I think, if you don't have enough time, you can probably skip the last two. Here's a pretty sunset photo to end the post.