Saturday, 24 January 2015

Baby it's Cold Outside (Beppu Part 1)

After my cousin's guest post and enthusiastic recommendation of Beppu, I recommended to my family that we go there as well. While they were rather hesitant (since there's nothing but onsen there, apparently), well, I was the one making arrangements. Except for hotel bookings. My mom did those because if I booked the hotel (which I almost did), we would stay at a cheap place that was an onsen and had no attached toilet or heater.

Now, my dad and sis and bro really, really, really wanted to see snow, so we went to Mount Tsurumi. Google images showed snow, and despite the fact that there was no snow in Beppu whatsoever, we held out hope. Plus, by the time we got to Beppu, there was no way we could make it to the onsens before it closed, and this was one of those "feasible-to-do" things.

Despite the name, Mount Tsurumi is a volcano (makes sense, since Beppu is famous for its hot springs). Going there was a pain though. There's only one or two buses that leave from Beppu Station to Beppu Ropeway every hour, and we had to run to make it to the bus. I think it's one bus every hour, because I remember thinking something like "if we miss this, we have to wait an hour please no."

The bus ride to Beppu Ropeway is about 20 minutes (22 minutes according to the bus schedule) and from there, we have to buy tickets to take the cable car up.

Going up! So far no snow yet. But my brother saw a deer! 

First impressions were... lacking in snow. It was cold though, and it made me wish I brought my scarf along (I left it in the hotel because I was feeling warm).


But then, snow!

It started with a staircase (that got rather dangerous to walk on because snow turns into slush).


By the time we reached the top, there was enough snow to play with!


We even got to build a snowman. Well, a tiny snowman that my brother took great joy in building then stomping down.

I managed to get a pic before it was destroyed though. 
The top of Mount Tsurumi also has quite a few shrines, as this PDF leaflet will show (it's in English but you can also find Chinese and Korean versions here).

Obviously, my family was more interested in taking in the view than visiting the shrines. And my sister was interested in taking a back-to-the-camera photo. Since I'm not "swag", I have no idea why. But hey, my job is to take photos, not question why.



And if you're wondering what she's looking at, here's the view:


And to end, because I have two exams next week and I'm playing piano for Church tomorrow, here are some random pictures that I took to end this post. 

Why did I take a photo of a tree trunk? I have no idea. 
The way down. 

No idea what this is, but it's pretty! 
And the reason why "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the title of this post *drumroll*

I'm reminded of the song every time I see this picture :p

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Choosing my ゼミ (Part 1)

Since I attended the last ゼミ説明会 (seminar introduction session) that I wanted to, I thought it'd be good to muse about it on the blog. And MEXT scholars, listen up, this is one of the most important decisions you'll have to make in your MEXT life, and in your university, probably the most important decision.

About Tutorials/Seminars

Of course, this is if you have seminars. I think I'm just going to call them tutorials from now on, because that's what I'm used to calling them (I think they're still called "seminars" in America though, but then again, I don't use American English).

Anyway, before I went on that digression. I know that for Kyudai, the Engineering department has "lab" not tutorials. So if you're in the Science stream, you may not have this, but you'll have something similar. I know that Hitotsubashi has tutorials, and most universities should have them too.

In the Japanese university system, you spend your third and fourth years doing tutorials. You pick one teacher, and if he/she lets you into your class, that's where you'll spend a lot of time studying. And going on excursions. And nomikais. And other stuff (I know one tutorial in Kyudai likes to run marathons. Thanksbutnothanks). Basically, it's going to affect half of your university life, so if you don't pick wisely, you'll probably be miserable. Probably. I've not entered tutorials yet, so I can't say for certain.

For the economics department, we have ゼミ説明会 (zemi setsumeikai), which are basically introductory sessions. The teacher talks about the class, then he leaves the room and the students talk about the teacher. And after that, you can normally ask questions and see what it's really like. Some tutorials have have what they call "Open seminars", which is when us second years get to sit in. And on Saturday (10th of January), there was a combined tutorial speech event, where various students reported on their research topics. I went, but if there were any other second year students, I did not see them. Still, it was a good way to see what each tutorial specialises in, and I'd advise everyone to attend as much of all three as possible. Disclosure: I did not go for any "Open Seminars" because it clashed with classes.


Print out from a ゼミ説明会
Application

We were told to download a zip file from the school website, where they have the syllabus, ゼミ説明会 dates and times, and forms in there. You should definitely read the syllabus well, to make sure that you can take the tutorial you want (because there are required subjects for some tutorials - actually, check this as soon as you start taking start your 学部科目). Plus, at least for Kyudai, the teachers will mention if they want a handwritten application, a typed application, or if they don't mind either. This can be make or break, so read it well and don't mix it up.

And now, I'm torn

I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I knew which tutorial I wanted to enter. But, I went for the ゼミ説明会 today, and it threw me a curveball. Now, I have two tutorials that I want to take, equally badly. One of them is about Corporate Finance. The other is about the Economics of the Internet (Google, Amazon.com, and the like). Both teachers are really nice, and I like both subjects. Hence, me splitting into two right now. I'm actually polling family members with a business background for their opinion now.

If it's possible, I'd like to take both tutorials, one as my main, and the other as my sub. I'm not sure if it's possible, because I just looked at the requirements of the sub and it needs me to turn it in while I'm not in Japan. Gulp.

I'm just gonna go and pray real hard about what to do. I'll update everyone when there's more news (which would probably be after the first application period).

Monday, 12 January 2015

Liz Lisa Fukubukuro 2015

Well.... I'm (finally) entering exam mode. Unfortunately, it also coincides with hibernation mode, which means not only do I have no will to do anything, what little will I have is reserved for studying and writing.

But, I will come and distract myself by blogging about fun stuff, one of which is Fukubukuro! Fukubukuro (福袋), also called Happy Bag (in Japan) or Lucky Bag (in Singapore) are once-a-year sale promotions where you get bunch of items at a very great markdown. The only catch is that you can't pick what goes in your fukubukuro.

So December is when I start to look at the different bags. I've learnt that Apple is generally worth it (minimum sum is valued at 50 000 yen, with limited edition T-Shirts), but at 36000 yen way too expensive for me. And for some reason, I read that Coach has really lousy fukubukuro. Not sure though, since I don't buy that either.

If you can remember last year, I missed out on the one I wanted, and ended up getting two other ones. Which were actually quite good, because I'm still wearing most of the stuff. They were the more typical fukubukuro, in terms of the bag that the clothes came in.

Just to refresh your memory
This year, I was very focused and only bought Liz Lisa fukubukuro, because the bags they came in were too cute!

Ok, but before I even get to the shopping, I really really want to complain ahem, talk about January 1st 2015. Very, very unusually for Fukuoka, it snowed. And it snowed heavily.


I look quite happy in the photo right? Well, I was happy, for the first 10 minutes. Then I was just freezing because I left without a scarf or gloves. So yes, very very cold. And the bus was really late as well.

Do you see this? The roof isn't supposed to be white! 
Although my family was here with me, they were thankfully not caught in the start of the snowstorm (I actually called and woke them up. Or at least, I woke my sister up), because I learnt from my mistakes last year and went to Marinoa early this year. 

And to think I came half an hour early!
I still wasn't early enough. These people come early and stake out the most favourable entrance and queue there. Then when the doors finally opened (thankfully the staff there were handing out handwarmers, I stood there for a long time!), they ran to the stores. Understandable, since some stores had like, 30 fukubukuro (I know one sold out in 15 minutes), but some people went to queue at Starbucks. They must have something awesome going on there. Too bad I don't really drink coffee. 

Anyway, I rushed over to the newly opened Liz Lisa store and bought the bag I wanted! (On a sidenote, my wardrobe is going to be very very much girlier this year. Probably.) 

Isn't it adorable? This is my new carry on luggage! 
And in a stroke of luck (or not), the items I got were exactly the items advertised. I'm glad because I don't have a brown coat and I actually wanted one. 

Image take from the Liz Lisa site

Apart from queueing up to freeze and buy stuff (I didn't spend any other money that day, I'm proud of that haha), I also ordered one bag online. It wasn't sold in that Liz Lisa outlet store, and I'm not rushing from Marinoa to Tenjin just for one more bag. Especially since I need to go rush to Kumamoto after that with my family too.

The good thing about ordering online is that you don't have to rush with everyone. And if you order early enough, you don't have to worry about running out of stock. But, not all stores sell this online, so if your favourite store isn't on Rakuten, you're out of luck. And, for Liz Lisa at least, you can't decide on what day your things come. Mine actually came this week at school, and I had to call the delivery guy and re-arrange a time.

But, for 5000 yen, the second bag was also really worth it!

I would probably pay that much for the handbag alone. 
There were only two items inside, a white cardigan and a really sweet dress. I'm totally wearing this back to Singapore!


Did anyone buy fukubukuro? If you bought Apple or you know of something that's really worth it, please do share with me :D

Ok, now back to studying. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Bright Lights in Huis Ten Bosch (2014 Illuminations)

... too bad Huis Ten Bosch isn't a big city.

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your new year has been fun. I've been travelling a lot, so I have a lot of things to share with you guys. Unfortunately, I'm really busy now, with lots of reports and meetings and such, so I may not be able to blog as much.

Oh, and before I start, congrats to all of you who got the MEXT scholarship! I'm really happy for you, and I hope we get to meet someday! :D

Ok, now back to the Huis Ten Bosch illuminations 2014. I didn't actually plan to go, but my mom decided to book tickets at the last minute. But it was soooo worth it, because the illuminations are probably even better than last year.

And you'll probably notice, so I'll tell you now, but all the photos are taken with my iPhone. I forgot to bring my camera, and to be honest, I didn't even notice it until I got home.

Like always, before I even get to the illumination, here are some other photos.

playing around with a new app. 
The adventure-land, which we went to because DINOSAUR ESCAPE GAME,  had roasted pork, roasted chips (thin-cut potatoes), ROASTED MARSHMALLOWS, roasted sweet potato.


I found the escape game much harder. Neither my brother, mom or I could even finish the first stage. But the guy in charge was super nice and let us continue to the second stage. He said it was because I was helping translate his instructions, but to be honest, there were English versions of the videos, the only thing I had to translate were the things said in person. But anyway, it made my brother really happy!

Even the dinosaurs are in the Christmas spirit. 
We also caught a street performance. I wish I managed to catch the performer's name, because he was really amusing. I was laughing like crazy, and my family really enjoyed it too. It was really a lesson in how to ask for money, because if you can make people laugh, they will give you money. It wasn't a "man, now I'm obligated and have to give", it was like "this guy is funny, how much should we be giving?" (And he was nice to my little brother, which counts for everything)

Anyone know his name?
By the way, I've downloaded this new app called Brushstroke and it's my app of the moment. For some reason, I really love it!

Here's an example
 Ok, now is the part you've been waiting for. Illumination photos!

Using the brushstroke app haha
By the way, this year, Huis Ten Bosch had a glowing river. A GLOWING RIVER. Are you prepared for the picture spam?

It looks fake right? 
When I first saw the poster, I was like, is this for real? So after our dinner (really good BBQ by the way, the oysters were awesome!), we went to go watch. Every few minutes, a boat passes by and a whole song and light show starts.

But it's real! 
It's sooooooo pretty. I love it! I hope they have this every year.


And of course, I have videos! Here's a time-lapse: 


And a normal video, with music attached. I didn't get to take the whole thing, because I was also snapping photos.


Ok, we can like, finish the blog post. But I still have a few photos, so here's the rest of Huis Ten Bosch, which is pretty, even though it's not a glowing river.

A small village. Do you see the reindeer? 
 The 3D projection mapping was as awesome as ever.


They had a tunnel as well, which reminded me of the one in Space World (I didn't get to go this year though)

I had to wait so long for people to leave. 
The rose garden became a light-up place! Sorry, I just realised I didn't get to edit it ><


I hope that you enjoyed the photos! If you are ever in Kyushu at the end of the year, get over to Huis Ten Bosch! Sure, it doesn't look like Japan, but the illuminations. They are pretty!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Aso by Train Part 3: To Shirakawa Spring, Kumamoto Castle and Back to Hakata

Ok, last post of the year, let's see if I can finish my Aso by Train series. If you didn't see the earlier posts, I talked about getting from Hakata to Aso Farmland, and from Aso Farmland to Mount Aso earlier. Today, I'm going to talk about getting from Aso Farmland to Shirakawa Spring, from the spring to Kumamoto Castle, and then back to Hakata.

When I first asked my friend from Kumamoto about getting to Shirakawa spring, she told me we had to use a taxi. Thankfully, there's a nearby train (I think the train isn't very well known). So after we checked out of Aso Farmland, we grabbed out bags and made our way to Akamizu station.

Train to Shirakawa
From Akamizu station, take to Tateno station. From there, transfer to Minamiasoshirakawasuigen (南阿蘇白川水源). There are signs from the station, so you should be able to walk there. It's about a five minute walk.

If, like us, you're traveling with baggage, you could ask the first shop on the road to Shirakawa spring if you can place your bags there. They took care of our bags for free (of course, do not leave your valuables in there).


There is a small fee to enter the spring, but it's really worth it. Remember to bring a bottle of water along because you can bottle the water and bring it back. If you don't have a bottle, the shops on the way to the spring do sell empty bottles.
 
Bottling water
 Now, because the stream does flow down, you may be tempted to just take the water in the "free" area. DO NOT TAKE THE WATER THERE. It's not drinkable water, and while it may be safe, you may also come down with food poisoning or something. Don't risk it.



The station is beautiful! 
 I think there's a train between the station and Tateno every hour, so if you don't want to spend loads of time waiting around, take a photo of the train schedule.

Now, for the more complicated part, Shirakawa to Kumamoto Castle. It's also possible to go from Aso Farm Village to Kumamoto castle using these directions, just follow them from Tateno Station.

From Minamiasoshirakawasuigen (南阿蘇白川水源), take the train to Tateno station. Change at Tateno to the JR line towards Kumamoto (熊本行き) and take train to Shinsuizenjieki (新水前寺駅). From Shinsuizenjiekimae (新水前寺駅), go to Shinsuizenjiekimae (新水前寺駅前) and take the train to Kumamotojyou Shiyakusho mae (熊本城・市役所前). You can walk to Kumamoto castle from there.
We're there!
There are huge lockers at the information center if you need to place your baggage somewhere. There are smaller lockers at all the entrances. But go to the information center - there's this market there, so yes, FOOD. FOOOOOOD. FOOOOOOOD.
This is not food. 
The castle is a reconstructed one (it was burnt down),  but it's really big and pretty and worth it! You can spend a whole day there, and be prepared to walk a lot. There are also a lot of really steep steps there, so if you can't climb, you may not to visit the whole castle.

ACTORS.
There are also actors in costume there. Most of them were pretty nice, although we ran into the one grumpy guy. Then again, I did tell him I didn't understand Japanese (actually, it was just his Japanese, I thought it was a dialect of sort) in Japanese. Oh well.

From the castle, go back to the same station and take the tram all the way to Kumamoto station. From there, you can take the Shinkansen back to Hakata.


And there you have it, a quick trip in Kumamoto by train :D

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Boxing Day 2014

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14)
My next story about my brother has to start with a confession from me. When it was first proposed that we spend the later part of Boxing Day cooking and feeding the homeless, I was reluctant to go. It's not so much because of Boxing Day (remember, I have no presents to unbox), but because I hate staying out late in the winter. Like, when the sun goes down, my desire to go home intensifies. But, my little brother was so excited that I couldn't voice my objections. What sort of selfish person would I be to tell my brother not to help others?

The trip did not start well. We were late, and I got carsick on the way there. But, it was endearing to see my brother so enthusiastic. He did a lot of chores that he normally would go out of his way to avoid. That's not to say his attitude was the best - he came very close to trouble because he was upset he couldn't help enough. He wanted to mix and stir in the miso, but he could only mix it because the stirring was done while we were part of an assembly line to create bags of food and hand warmers.

One of the bags - it contains onigiri, a boiled egg,
sweets, hand warmers and a handout talking about
this organisation and giving pertinent information
like weather forecasts. 
All throughout this, I was slowly warming up to the fact that I wasn't going to go home early. By the time we finished cooking (which was about three hours later), I was looking forward to the trip. We were split into groups, and my family and I were supposed to tag along with the group going to Tenjin.

It was cold, but that just emphasised how important this was. After a few instructions, my brother was happily handing out soup with both hands. I'm not sure how to describe it, but this is really a side of Japan that I've never seen before. I've always thought of Japan as a prosperous country, but there is still poverty and suffering here.

One man in particular stuck out. He was the last person we visited, and he was lying, head towards the river, on some pieces of cardboard. Unlike the others, he didn't even sit up when we greeted him. We tried to pass him some soup, but he didn't want it. After talking further, we found that he was in pain. Apparently, he had been hit. Next to his belongings was a wheelchair from a hospital. His blankets were new and he had a neatly packed bag with him (the ID in the bag was of a lady though). All this was very worrying. We wanted to call an ambulance, but he didn't want us too.

My poor brother was so worried. He desperately wanted to know what was going on, but the language barrier meant that he didn't understand what was said, and no one was translating. There was nothing we could do, except wait. We tried to cover him up, the social worker promised to send someone in the morning, and we stood at one side to pray for him. On the way home, my brother asked if we could visit him the next day, but to be honest, my mom and I don't know if he'll even be there. The social workers might bring him to a hospital, he might decide to move, a lot of things can happen. And I worry about the conclusions my brother might jump to if he doesn't see that man.

So please, pray for this man and all others like him. If you're not the praying type, send some good thoughts or something. And more importantly, if you can, go out and do something to help. We who have plenty should share with those who have none.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Encouragement

Tis the season to hear from Kouhai's. I've been so so happy (and flattered) that some of you new MEXT scholars have emailed me to tell me you got in! Every time I get the email, it makes my day. And since we're well into Christmas season, I thought it was time for a more reflective post.

Here's a pretty but completely unrelated painting to start. 
Recently, I got a comment from +Zahratul Amanah my Post-Exam Wrap-Up post. If you don't remember the post, basically, I was sad because my results were not as good as I wanted them to be, and I was feeling a lot of pressure about what to choose for my university.

Of course, two years down the road, you all can see that I'm absolutely happy with my choice of Kyudai, because I have awesome classes (Studio Ghibli class anyone?), good class, and loads of chances to travel. And wear pretty kimonos.

I'm not saying this to rub salt in anyone's wound, but I'm trying to encourage you guys. It might seem like a big deal, but it's really not the end of the world. Tani-sensei has said this before, that we foreign students come here thinking only of Todai. We think the only good university is Todai (and maybe Kyodai). But actually, it's this gradually sliding scale. There are loads of good universities. Hokkaido University, Kyushu University, Osaka University, Hitotsubashi University... there is more to life than Tokyo University. Plus, move out of Tokyo and your living costs go way down - that means more money for things like fun and traveling.

And remember, MEXT chose you to get the scholarship for a reason. You may not understand why, in fact, I still don't understand why I got the scholarship. Especially when it seems that everyone else are much smarter than you. But the fact is, there's something special about you that stood out. Don't you ever forget that.

So yes, study hard, don't even think about cheating and choose your university wisely. But please please please, don't stress about it too much. And if you guys ever need to talk about university applications or stress or whatever, feel free to comment/email me. I'm always here to support you guys. 一緒に頑張ろう!

Here's a pretty picture from Mount Aso - PLEASE CONSIDER KYUDAI!