New Blog!

Hey there! I've decided to continue blogging at a different blog. The MEXT archives and some of my travel posts will remain here, but I'll be moving some stuff over. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Typical IB girl/Singaporean?

Today in class, we were discussing 女性の生き方(jyosei no ikikata - the lifestyle of women). So for part of the lesson, we had to go and research the average age of marriage for our respective country. Most students gave one statistic for men and one for women (maybe two, if they found two years), but look at what I did:

I gave four  average ages for men/women based on educational background (it's the section with a lot of numbers). I'm not sure if I should thank SingStat (but really, thanks for the statistics! They're very useful!) for all this detail, or me being Singapore (and hence kiasu and giving all the available statistics) or me being from IB (because I was so happy to find statistics that were segmented because that made the ages more realistic).

I'm not sure what kind of impression we Singaporean students give anymore....

Monday, 25 June 2012

Ah Si Yi Yi Visits (Sanri Puroland and Getting Gastric)

I know I normally post on Saturday and Sunday, but from Friday to Sunday morning, I was with my aunt and cousins in Shinjuku (well, I was sleeping at a hotel there). It feels so good to see my relatives!

Ok, so on Friday I came straight after school and was promptly asked to bring them to a shopping place. Since I don't know Shinjuku (or anywhere on the Yamanote Line) well, I decided to bring them to the place where I shop most often - Kichijioji. Thankfully, they really liked it, although by the time we finished dinner, almost all the shops were closed (thankfully, Seiyu was still open. ^^)

Saturday was much more eventful. For one thing, I ate two buffets (breakfast and lunch). I woke up about 5, changed the charge from my camera to my iPad (I loved the feeling of being able to use as much water and electricity as I want without having to worry about the bill) and fell back asleep. But I woke up again at 8.

Anyway, about breakfast. Keio Plaza Hotel has a few places to eat for breakfast and I got to eat a buffet! It totally reminded me of my ROCs 3 trip (I have so many fond memories of the trip~~). And unlike the trip, where we were forever going "I'll eat natto.... tomorrow", I actually tried the dish. The result? Well, I can eat it, but I don't like the texture much.....

But over-eating breakfast was mistake one. Luckily, the mistakes took a while to pile up.

After breakfast, we set of for Puroland (aka Hello Kitty World) where we spend the rest of the day. Isn't it great that Jie Xin and Ah Si Yi Yi both like Sanrio/Hello Kitty? Puroland had a grand total of one ride, but the shows were really great. They had things like the Hello Kitty version of Wizard of Oz (I was so tempted to start singing songs from Wicked during the show) and this huge event with a lot of acrobats and such. Oh yes, pictures~

Even the town map outside the station is Hello Kitty themed!

Outside Puroland. You can't see it, but my shoes also
had Hello Kitty on them :D The only thing missing was
my Hello Kitty Glasses which I forgot to bring....

The show. Lots of dancing involved.

Trying on Hello Kitty ears~

It says "yuuchan". How can I not buy it?
(I made a very noble attempt at resisting though)
Now on to my second mistake. You see, we have buffet for lunch. And after eating my fill, I saw Lychees. Fresh Lychees (ok, frozen. But the fruit was fresh and not canned) and melons. So while I had a bit of gastric even before lunch, I kinda ignored the signs and ate a lot of fruit.

Bad idea. My gastric got worse after lunch (I'm really not used to eating large quantities of good food now..... :/)

It got really bad by dinner, but luckily, we found a Chinese place to eat (Ah Si Yi Yi missed Chinese food). The tea and soup and rice helped and I was almost pain free when my dessert (ironically, it's a Japanese desert) came.
I thought the while thing was cream (since it said "curimu"
on the menu) but it's actually ice-cream.
In my defence, I didn't know gastric was agravated by dairy products. So I finished about half of my awesome desert and then stopped because my stomach was in too much pain. And annoyingly, all the drug stores were closed by then >.<

Thank goodness for the train station. They had a drugstore and I got there about 10 minutes before closing time. And Mister Donut has earned itself a new fan, since their staff there gave me hot water to drink with my medicine for free.

So lesson learnt: Most drugstores close by 8/830. Which means it's always a good idea to have medicine on hand. And the convenience stalls don't seem to carry medicine (I checked at Lawsons). Neither do supermarkets (I checked there too).

So, instead of coming back on Saturday night, I spend another night in Shinjuku and came home on Sunday morning with a lot of things to catch up.

Oh well, I guess I deserve the backlog.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Hachisu

I actually first posted this at my other blog, but I wanted to share it here too ^^

Now that I have to find my own meals, I realised that cooking isn't as easy as it seems. But it's also quite fun. So, when I saw this book on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to find a way to cook more Japanese food.

And wow, I would really buy this book. Next year. When I have a better kitchen (maybe with an oven?) and the ability to get a part-time job because ingredients are expensive (ever since I started buying meat to cook, my grocery bills have shot up).

But nonetheless, I took a lot of notes. I can't afford a lot of the ingredients (I can't even afford good quality basics!), but I'll probably try substituting my own (cheaper) ingredients inside.

This is a very comprehensive book. I'll actually say that with regards  to Japanese farm food, this is probably the only book you'll need for a while if you're a beginner. There is a glossary, and introduction (a very helpful introduction to the ingredients) and lots and lots of recipes. The book is divided into ten chapters, with the first chapter about the Japanese Farmhouse Kitchen and nine chapters about the different foods (like "Pickles and Soups", "Fish and Seafood", "Desserts and Sweets" etc). Each section contains quite a fair bit of recipes.

Even if you're not planning to cook many of the recipes, it's still a lot of fun reading this book. She adds in a lot of her personal experience between the chapters, and before each recipe. It sounds as though she's just sharing her experiences instead of writing a cookbook.

But this book does tend to be starry-eyed about organic farm food. And tradition. This is really good, but not very applicable to a student with only one stove (and only an electric stove at that!). I do all my shopping at the local supermarket and I have only seen one "specialty store" (the tofu shop, although I haven't bought from there yet). Basically, there aren't many recipes that I can carry out from the book. I think this book is more applicable to someone with a well-equipped kitchen and the money (and time) to buy good quality ingredients.

In conclusion, if you want to start cooking seriously, this is the book for you. But if you're looking for food on a budget, you'll still want to read this book, but the recipes may be out of your price range... (unless you live very near a farm).

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My Room (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies International Hall 1)

I realised that even though I moved here in April, I haven't posted anything about the living conditions. And I would think that all those that want to come here under MEXT would be pretty curious about this topic (well, I was very curious anyway). So, to calm your worries - the living conditions at TUFS are really great.

The basics: I'm in Hall 1 (there are two halls, although they're building a third hall now). What this means is that I have a toilet in my room, while those in Hall 2 have to share a communal toilet. At least, that's what I heard from the students in Hall 2 (there was something about how that's very uncomfortable during winter).

The rooms themselves are quite small. Including my toilet, I have 15m squared of space. On each floor, the first room is occupied by a Japanese tutor, who is available for advice and support. There is a common laundry area (floor 6 and if I'm right, floor 2 as well) and two common rooms (floor 5 and floor 7). On the first floor, there is a small music room (there's a piano!), a exercise place (you can play ping pong there), a kitchen, a Japanese-style room (occasionally, there are classes like Tea Ceremony there), a TV room (with a very nice TV inside). I think there's also a study room, although most people study in the common room.

So those are the shared facilities. And now, onto to the rooms (basically, my room). So, here are the photos (Warning! A lot of photos ahead!):

 This is my room from the door

 The clothes rack is right next to the door. It's really really small. (Tip: bring as many hangers as you need when you're coming)

 And right below the clothes rack is the shoe rack. As a side note, don't you love Magic Mop? It makes cleaning so much easier!

 We have individual heaters and individual heating bills (remember to always turn off your heater when you're not using it. This is especially since electricity bills are going to go up!). While I've heard of a senpai who (apparently) never turned on his heater for the whole year, I definitely can't do that. I have another senpai that bathed in cold water during winter (with very low electricity bills as a result. If you want to try, his advice was to "try and remain conscious when the cold water first hits you."

 My mini-kitchenette! It's an electric stove (so if you get a kettle, get an electric kettle), but it's adequate for all cooking needs. Or at least, I haven't had to use the kitchen on the first floor yet.

 I use the space below the stove to store all food-related items. In the right corner is my beloved blender. Right now, I go by "which dish uses the least ingredients" method of selecting things to cook because I don't have the space to store a lot of ingredients.

 My bed. There's a board next to it, so I'm trying to fill it up before I leave. All those notes are either prayers or verses.

We have a balcony on which I can hang clothes! Can you see my name on the yellow towel? Well, you can't really see my name on my dogi (simply put, it's the kendo top) though...

 The view from my balcony during sunset! (after a bit of editing)

 The real, unedited view. This is the school track. I wake up to the soccer/baseball team practicing (I wonder how they find time to go to classes since I always see some people practicing....)

I have no space. Which is why all my clothes must be foldable (only formal wear is the exception). And yes, it's over my refrigerator) 

 My bookshelf ^^ Because of this, my room is known as a mini-library (and I lend books out too!)

This is how I decorate my library shelves - with toys from Kinder Surprise (I love Kinder Surprise. Kinder Joy? Not as much) 

I really have no room, which is why my rice cooker is next to my bed....

Just know that the toilet is small but contains a (deep) bathtub, a sink and a toilet bowl. There aren't any full-length mirrors, but there's one small-medium sized mirror hanging over the sink.

So, here's my room. It's small, but really cozy ^^

ETA1: 24/7/2014: If you need to see more of my room, +InasWH did an excellent vlog about it! Click here to go to the video

ETA2: 14/6/2015: If you're looking for information on the Osaka U-Program (the Osaka version of TUFS), +Devangi Yadav made an excellent and detailed post here

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Cooking Time #7

It's Sunday again, so it's time to share what I've cooked the past week. After taking recipes from Just Bento for the past two weeks, I decided that it's time to use one of the cookbooks that I brought with me. So, the first dish that I made was Soboro (the pork part of the soboro bento anyway):

It was surprisingly easy to make and it's nice to eat :D

And now, for the part that will probably shock my family and friends - I bought and cooked (and obviously ate) a vegetable. Specifically, eggplant.

And I cooked quite a lot! Two boxes full!
I actually have to thank Stella for this. She got me to try hers, and I liked it so much I asked her to teach me how to buy and cook it. It's basically eggplant friend with soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and sugar. But it kinda reminds me of mushrooms and there's no vegetable flavour at all! (^_^)v

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Kindness from an Unexpected Source

I was going to post about my blender, but really, this doesn't need to become more of a food blog than it already is. And anyway, something even better happened today.

You see, Rena has been feeling ill (tired + sore throat) the past few weeks, and today, she couldn't make it to Kendo. But anyway, after practice, we went to Beni's (Chinese food) for lunch. And while I was eating, I could hear what I thought was Chinese from the kitchen (but I couldn't catch it....). And while eating my friend rice, I started thinking that if I could, I should just buy some soup for Rena. Not miso soup, but the 补身 (Chinese - bu sheng: literally, repair the body) kind full of herbs and chicken.

So after eating (and making sure the meal has been paid for, in case they charge the soup to everyone), I went up to the the lady who looked in charge. After chatting for a few minutes (on things like what are we doing, and then about kendo), I mustered up my courage to ask:

"中国語ができますか" (chuugokugo ga dekimasu ka - can you speak Chinese?)

Well, she couldn't, but the waitress and the cook came. So after explaining what was going with Rena to them, they agreed that I shouldn't give her 补身 food because she's already too heaty, and so I should give her something cooling. They didn't have soup, but they went the extra mile and gave me medicine. One that makes a sort of tea and one that's Chinese medicine:

The packet on the left, that looks like some kind of nut, is apparently sea cucumber
(according to my mom, who is way better at Chinese than me)

I was really incredibly touched. Not only did they refuse to accept my money (they said that it's ok because we're all Chinese), what they gave me was from their personal medicine stash. And after that, the chef (he and his wife gave me the medicines) came out and explained how to take the medicines.

And I don't think I ever missed carrying a conversation in Chinese until today. The chef has also been to Singapore once (about 20 years ago), so there was quite a lot of things to chat about.

Rena (I told her what happened as soon as I got back) and I agreed we have to visit Beni's soon (to say thank you and to eat the -slightly expensive for a student- food).

Thursday, 14 June 2012

An Introduction to Japanese Society (Third Edition) by Yoshio Sugimoto

I don't actually have a reason why I'm reading this book. I picked it up in the school library because it looked interesting, not because of lessons or anything (although I suppose it has some application w.r.t PEST analysis). But apart from my suspicions that Rena and I are secretly nerds (well, one of us is from ACS(I) and the other from Hwa Chong), it's probably because we want to learn more about the country we're living in (If you're curious, Rena borrowed a book on the Ainu and one of the religious practices of Japan).

Anyway, this book really is a brief introduction to Japanese society. So here, in brief, are the names 10 chapters and what I think of them.

1. The Japan Phenomenon and the Social Sciences -  Basically, the introduction where it tells you what the author doesn't like about how most people view Japan and how he intends to find a middle ground.

2. Class and Stratification: An Overview - Japan likes to think it's egalitarian, but it's not.

3. Geographical and Generational Variations - A quick look at how different parts of Japan differ from each other in terms of culture, language, business, etc as well as how each generation (post-war, global generation, etc) differ and it's implications.

4. Forms of Work in Cultural Capitalism - probably the second most interesting chapter and the most relevant one for me. But I think that the look into Japanese Business Management wasn't deep enough, but then again, this isn't a Business Administration textbook.

5. Diversity and Unity in Education - So apparently, the "exam hell" we hear about isn't that bad. But university as a four-year-break? Um... well, I see a lot of my friends/senpai's working really hard here. So maybe it's no longer the case?

6. Gender Stratification and the Family System - It's very unfair to the ladies. Although I'm not sure what to make of the point about the women taking the guy's family name after marraige. I thought that was normal....

7. 'Japanese', Ethnicity, and Minority Groups - in a very ToK fashion, the author first askes the question "who are the Japanese" and kinda proves that this question cannot be answered. And then, we go on to look at the different minority groups like Rena's favourite Ainu, the Koreans and the Burakumin.

8. Collusion and Competition in the Establishment - Politics in Japan. It's a nice introduction, but if you want an in depth look, you should go and read Japanese Politics Today (from Karaoke to Kabuki Democracy).

9. Popular Culture and Everyday Life - Quite naturally, my favourite chapter, especially as it covers things like popular culture, folk culture and alternative culture.

10. Civil Society and Friendly Authoritarianism - Trying to make the case that life in Japan is 'authoritarian', Although I think that if you compare it to Singapore, Singapore might be considered stricter (at least, that's what a lot of Japanese say, especially when they hear about the stance towards gum and littering). But I wonder, is it wrong for everyone to act in a way that promotes harmony? And when does harmony lead to conformity?

All in all, an interesting book, especially if you're looking to a brief introduction. You won't become and expert on Japanese society after reading this book, but you'll definitely have learnt something. It's a bit dry at times though, so be warned!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Cooking Time #6

This is how my meals look like now. Rice and about 3 side dishes :D
I mentioned last week that I made tofu-meat burgers. Well, they're gone now and it was delicious! In the end, I found my favourite was of eating was to heat it up in the microwave with some miso and teriyaki sauce.

So this post, I'll share another two recipes from Just Bento:

The first is okara salad. Okara is what you get when you've finished making tofu. It's sweet and apparently very healthy. The recipe is actually Okara and Crab salad, but I think the only common point is the okara.

I can't afford crab.

And the kind of vegetables I eat is very limited.

But, here it is:

It looks a lot like fried rice like? Rena thought it was....

Amazingly, I don't need to add mayo to it, I quite like the sweet flavour of Okara.

The second is Miso Egg. It's actually my favourite dish that I've cooked so far. And ironically, I haven't used the miso I bought to make miso soup. I use it for other stuff, like this recipe.

You're actually supposed to wrap the eggs in the miso paste, but I am lazy.
It may look a bit disgusting in this picture, but it really is delicious! Here's how it looks inside:

I have a feeling the miso paste didn't seep into the
egg thoroughly enough. But I love the colour and
taste of the yolk!

I'm going to have a quiet week ahead (which means I can finally get some studying done), but I do have a book I wanna share, and I guess I've finally be able to blog about my room (I'm not taking pictures of it now, it's way too messy :p) And uh, more recipes (because I love my blender so much).


I've made the miso eggs a second time, and they were a resounding success!

I'm not sure if you can see it, but the eggs turned brown all the way through, and even the yolk had a lovely miso taste(: What I did differently was that I boiled the eggs in miso-water (I'm not sure if this even worked), and I probably used more miso and honey paste than recommended (I figured I should use as much as I thought was needed). And I crammed the eggs in, so they really were just surrounded by the miso paste.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Day Out with Nihon-no-Okaasan

I'm not sure if I've told you, but I've received a Nihon-no-Okaasan (Japanese mother)! It's part of a program by the YWCA Japan to help overseas students form emotional support networks. This year, there were so many applicants that only half were chosen. I'm really blessed to have received an okaasan and as proof that God is good, my okaasan works as an associate pastor!

So today, I made my way to Ginza Church to meet her (our second meeting). I think it's a measure of how far I've come since my first days here when the journey there didn't faze me. When I first arrived, anything that required more than one transfer made me quake with fear. Now, I can handle three, four transfers, no problem!

And while I'm measuring my progress, I'm very happy to report to you that I managed to understand about 80% of today's sermon. Which was entirely in Japanese (without any English translation). But then again, it was a special day (Flower's Day and Children's Day) and the children were also in the service so I guess it could have been much easier than normal. But still, it's progress!

The sermon was on The Lord's Prayer - and the pink things are the notes I made

We went to Hageten (a famous tempura shop) and had a really delicious tempura-don lunch :D

After that, we went to Roppongi to attend a classical music concert (the YWCA was invited).

I really loved the Debussy pieces! Debussy is so hard for me to play since my hands can't stretch more than an octave, but the pianist (and she was really young) made it flow like water! And she placed so much emotion into it. And I don't know if it's normal, but she explained the pieces before she played it (I didn't get a lot of it since she was talking to fast though).

Today's program~

After that, the okaasan's and their 'children' went for tea together! I got home around 7 but still, it's been a really fun day(: Now, time for a tough week of studying! (I have a speaking test on Tuesday :/)

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Happy Birthday Simone and Audrey!

I think this is the season of birthdays (and 梅雨[tsuyu] - rainy season). Rena's birthday was last week, Simone and Audrey's birthday was today and Tomomi senpai's birthday is next week (I think!). Plus, there were a few other senpai's birthdays in these two weeks too.

We decided to celebrate Simone and Audrey's birthday with overnight Karaoke. At first, I was very 困っている(komatteiru - troubled) because I wanted to study. And I had kendo and Ghibli museum the next days. But I'm glad Rena talked me into going.

The Birthday Girls!

Because of various reasons, we started karaoke a bit later than expected - 1130 pm instead of 1030. But, at least it was before midnight because at 12, we brought in a surprise cake for the two birthday girls.

Making their Wishes

And despite my intention not to sing (I can't sing), I ended up singing. Well, I can't resist Avirl Lavigne, Tik Tok (the IB song!) and Arashi.

I actually don't know who took this photo.

I gave up around 230 am with Nicholas and Stella, so we left first. Today we went to the Studio Ghibli museum! This is definitely a must see if you come to Japan. But remember, if you want to get tickets, it's a good idea to reserve them about a month in advance or you may not get them. Of course, I shouldn't need to say that this is for fans of Ghibli (or anime).

The view from the entrance.

The museum is really adorable! And apart from the various exhibits, there's also a mini-cinema (included in the ticket price) where they show an original short film (one screening per person). And the Japanese is simple enough that I understood all of it. :D

I love the details like this!

Believe it or not, the pump works! Although
the caption says that you can't drink the water....

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Random: Studio Ghibli Movies Imagined as Book Covers

Guess what? I'm going to the Studio Ghibli Museum on Saturday! I'm so excited, and then I came across this post: Japanese Movies Imagined as Penguin Book Covers. It's combining my two favourite things - Ghibli and Books! So basically, this really talented Etsy person called Jason K from 4/5 Studio created a series of images. So here are the "covers" from my three favourite movies (the rest are in the link)

The song "totoro totoro~" should automatically play
when you see this adorable cover.
Although personally, I'd prefer to see Haku or Chihiro on the
cover. I'm not that big a fan of No-Face

Calcifer is so cute! And funny!
And in case you didn't catch my earlier disclaimer: None of these images are mine. They belong to a talented person called  Jason K.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Cooking Time #5

This is a huge milestone for me! I actually started with uncooked meat (and no, I did not get food poisoning from what I cooked). It was also why my grocery bill was the highest of everyone, but, since I cooked enough for two weeks.... Well, you can do the maths. So, I made two dishes, both taken from JustBento (At this rate, I didn't need to bring cookbooks) - Green Beans and Aburaage and Meat and Tofu Burgers. The recipes (as well as how it's supposed to look) are in the links~

So anyway, since I don't eat much vegetables, I didn't use green beans but ended up using the frozen veggie mix (the kind you put in instant noodles).

But um, aren't you glad that I'm eating some form of vegetable? (Oh, and I added edamame~).

The more complicated recipe was the burgers. It actually called for (apart from the mince meat and tofu), two slices worth of breadcrumbs:
Which, I'm very proud to say I made.

I really think buying my blender is the best 100yen that I've ever spent (especially when I have no idea if you can even buy breadcrumbs.

And after making the mixture and frying it (note to self: apparently, you have to drain the water in the tofu as well), here's the final result:

It may be just me being biased but it's really really tasty. And filling. But for some reason, the smell of it reminds me of MacDonald's.... I think it may be the breadcrumbs.