Oct 29, 2008

Thank you and Sayonara, our family friends

During all periods of my stay in Japan, I have always been blessed with warm-hearted Japanese friends. And many of them are at the age of my parents.

When I first came to Japan in 1996, I was welcomed by a Japanese lady, Mrs. Chie Miyamoto, who was a volunteer with the Fukuoka-Malaysia Friendship Association. She was close to a senior Malaysian student who taught the members of the association Malay language at that time. Miyamoto-san was a friendly but strict when it came to Japanese language and culture. Usually, Japanese people whom we met will just allow us speak Japanese our way, even if it was wrong. because they thought that we were still new, and we are not Japanese to get it all right. But not Miyamoto-san, she will comment on the smallest thing on my Japanese grammar, how I use the words and even on how I act on some occasions. I can still remember her scolding me for not finishing my meal. "Mottainai", she said, which means "what a waste". She told me in Japan, it is disgraceful to leave even a grain of rice in the bowl-disgraceful to the person who prepared the meal, and also disgraceful to the god's blessings.

Miyamoto-san was also the one who tipped me on the celebrities/VIPs who were coming to Fukuoka. With her efforts, I was selected as a translator for Erma Fatima & Eizlan Yusof team who came for Asian Film Festival in Fukuoka, I got to meet and guided Zaki Sadri, Watson Nyambek and other national athletes around town who were attending a trek competition, and talked to Anwar Ibrahim on the phone who stayed at a hotel in Fukuoka for an international conference.

However, when she moved to Tokyo, following her husband, I only got to meet her once after losing contact because I graduated and returned to Malaysia. I still do not know where she lives now, or her contact number, but I suppose she is still active assisting foreign students in Tokyo.

My second friend is Kaneko-san. I met him in Fukuoka too, just about the same timing I met Miyamoto-san. He used to live in Malaysia for about 2 years nearly 20years back, teaching in Miri, under JICA program. His love for Malaysia never changed since then, and until now he still assist Malaysia homestay program promotions in Japan. He was among the first persons I searched for when I returned to Japan for masters degree. What I like about him is that he understands the way we Malaysians think. One day, I got a phone call from him (he was in Malaysia on holidays) asking if he could stay a night at my mom's house in Melaka. Japanese would never do that, what's more if he/she is not a family member. Everybody home liked him, because he made sure his stay was not troublesome for the family by washing his own clothes, and mingle around well with everyone, including my grandfather.

Kaneko-san is also the first person who called me to ask my condition when the Iwate-Miyagi earthquake happened several months ago. He did not forget to wish me Hari Raya (which I myself nearly forgotten to do the same to my family..).

I do missed my family friends when I moved to Miyagi. However, here we were fortunate enough to get another family friend. He is Sato-san, the person I always mention in my previous postings. He is also about the same age as my mother, and he initially was my husband's co-worker. Now he has already retired from the company and established his own. He is so caring to all of us, and I think he regarded my children as his own grandchildren. He recommended Nani origamis instead of computer games, by buying her origami books and papers. He guided us to Zao, Yamagata and Soma on our holidays trip. And when I asked him about how much he bought his 210mm lense, the next day he gave me his 250mm lense for free. Other things he have given us, especially food are too many to be listed here. Even when I haven't moved here, he sent me 2 boxes of Japanese pears. He also the only person who helped us with house cleaning before moving out.

When I assure him our assistance in Malaysia, he said he will look after Nani when she comes again to Japan for further study. I once asked my husband why he treated us so well and he said that Sato-san told him when he was posted to Malaysia years back, someone kindly helped him when he was injured. That's why when he heard a Malaysian was posted to the company (my husband), he quickly approached and be good friends.

These people are only a part of the endless list of my Japanese friends. Befriending them is a blessing and something that would make my relations with the country inseparable.

Hope chances are there for me to come again and visit my friends of the country in the future. Till then, I will be waiting for them in Malaysia.

Oct 24, 2008

Moving out

I have been very busy the past few weeks because we are going to leave Japan end of this month. Packing is the hardest thing to do and I am bad at organizing the miscellaneous little things. Felt as if wanting to throw away things like that, but each and every one of them is money so I have to consider that before eliminating them. The picture is only a part of our many boxes, which will be sent by air and sea.

So, to make it short, today we have sent all our things through a moving company and moved out to a nearby hotel. We will stay there until the 30th, before heading to Narita for the flight the next day.

In Japan, moving in and out is troublesome and consumes a lot of money. Deposit, key money and the first (if not few) months rent are the whole thing you have to pay before moving in. Don't expect you can get the whole deposit when you move out, because the house owner/agent will charge you almost all (if not all) from the deposit for all the damage that has been done to the apartment. If there is a tatami room, the chances are that you won't be getting a yen because the tatami must be changed for the next occupant.

What I hate most is that during these busy times there are so many invitations to dinner/lunch. Can't they consider us being so packed with our schedule managing this and that before leaving? After a long day sending off our things and doing some cleaning today, we will have to attend a BBQ tomorrow, and then my husband will have to attend a farewell party the night. We will have to return the key to the house owner on Sunday, so everything must be perfectly clean until then, so that we can get as much money returned as possible.

Btw, it was a sad day for my daughter as she had to say goodbye to her kindergarten friends. They have been exchanging letters the past couple of weeks, and what they wrote was only a few words, like "Nani, I will be missing you", "I like you" and such, with some cute drawings of princess or anime character in between. So sweet..Even today when we visited the school to say thanks to the teachers, her friends asked us if Nani could stay until the end and not follow us home earlier. This kindergarten is much better than the one in Fukuoka, because it gives more freedom for the kids to develop their skills. Nani is much better now in communicating, drawing, playing the melodion and origami (just invented a camera using her own method, which really surprised me). She can also read and write hiragana and katakana well now.

Ok, so much more to write but I am too tired. Will try my best to tell more stories on our activities before leaving Japan. Till then, I am going to get some zzzzs now.

Oct 23, 2008

Cosmos Garden, Naruse River, BBQ with Msians

What do you think of this photo?

This picture was taken during our short trip to Cosmos Garden in Matsuyama town, Osaki, about 20mins drive from our house. This is my favorite photo taken using Canon Kiss F, 55mm lense.

Btw, it was a sunny day and the view from the hilltop was magnificient. See some of other pictures taken at the garden. Sorry, no human photos here, just an appreciation to the wonderful view.

On the way back, we passed by Naruse River. The river is so clean and the surrounding is so peaceful, it made us wanted to stop by . The way to the riverside was quite tricky, though, because it was bushy alongside. It was like a mini adventure, we just drove through the narrow, winding road to get to the nearest area to the river. The riverside is so wide, I am not sure whether that was natural or man-made.

On the way, we came across some motocross riders practising their skills. To my suprise, they were only primary~secondary schoolers!. And they flied great!

The short trip was really nice, but it dampened our packing plan. We were too tired to pack even a box after returning home..

The very next day, we went to Sendai to join the Msian students BBQ. We were late for about an hour, but they were still busy grilling seafood when we arrived. The BBQ was done at a river (I forgot the name)situated just behind one of the student's apartment. I was touched again by the surrounding. The river flows in the city, but the cleanliness of the river is like one flowing in the mountains!

The river is quite strange though, because the other bank is a tall cliff and with houses built very near to it. The side where we had BBQ is a flat bank. I wonder if the river was initially really, really deep.

They grilled a lot of fish, about 100 sanmas (brevoorts), calamaries, salmons etc. To my surprise, the fish was really cheap, 100 sanmas for only 2500yen! One menu that was really good was the chan-chan yaki, which is salmon and a combination of vegetables steam-grilled in aluminum foil.

The BBQ started at 12 noon but they were as hungry as bears everytime something grilled is ready.

Oh yea, the picture below was taken when I accompanied Shakir who wanted to play at the riverbank. Met this cute girl who were playing bubbles with her mom .

Know what she did when I was taking her picture? She stopped moving, grinned at me and played mannequin! All of us couldn't stop laughing!
We dismissed ourselves at about 5 because Sato-san was coming to our house at 7pm and we need to settle some things before returning home.
A long weekend, tiring but filled with good memories.

Oct 9, 2008

Hari Raya in Japan + Boat ride in Matsushima

It has been a week since Hari Raya (Eid).

I was not busy on hari raya at all, because my husband was working, and my daughter was at school.

Just a little bit busy on the last day of Ramadan because I cooked a few traditional dishes for iftar. Some nasi himpit, beef rendang, sambal ikan bilis and lodeh. It was the most special iftar we had.

On Saturday night, we went to Sendai, about 40km from Furukawa to attend the Malaysian students' open house. It was my first time meeting most of them because I only met a family and a Phd student during hanami last april. We were supposed to reach there earlier but my daughter claimed she had stomach ache so we brought her to the hospital before departing for Sendai. 2 hours at the hospital with people staring at us, especially my husband who wore a daring pink baju melayu, that was really funny.

At 8 we reached Sendai and gosh..there were so many of them. About 25 students, most of them are studying mechanical engineering. They go to Tohoku Univ. My genius math teacher in JMC was a graduate of this university. Lots of food; nasi himpit, rendang ayam, lemang, bihun, chocolate cake, kuih raya (from malaysia I suppose), roti sardin gulung..and the list went on. I brought an apple cake and agar2 pengat labu. The fruit cocktail was really good.

I took a lot of pictures with my new Canon Kiss F hoping to get good hari raya shots. Later, I realized that I forgot to insert an SD card but I thought that the pictures taken were stored in the camera's internal memory. I was totally wrong!! When I returned home and check the manual, there is no such thing as internal memory for this camera...betul ke? Penat je amek gambar banyak2....

The next day, Sunday we went to a friend's house. He is the company chief cook where my husband works in, and we fondly call him "pakcik canteen". The last time we went to his house was a few months ago, and his parents have been waiting for our next visit for quite some time.

We reached his house at about 1.40pm, and the first thing we did after greeting the family was a boat ride around Matsushima. Matsushima is a popular tourist spot in Miyagi prefecture- declared one of the three grand views in Japan. The name Matsushima came from the 260 tiny islands ("shima" in Japanese) covered with pine trees ("matsu"). Pakcik canteen brought us around the islands on his boat. This was my second time after the first ride on my grandfather's boat around Pulau Besar nearly a quarter century ago.

Although it was cloudy that day, the view of Matsushima was magnificient. The tiny islands were like sculptures; one looks like a person wearing a hat, some look like sea waves, and some has holes resembling doors...As it was a Sunday, many people, men and women were fishing on the islands. We were also shown the place where they culture oysters, laver seaweed and kelp.

Returning to pakcik canteen's house, we were served with edamame (green soybean), japanese tea and biscuits. The edamame was sweet and delicious. They gave us some home, in exchange to our rendang and nasi himpit. Nani was very talkative, she made origamis , sang songs to entertain the grandparents.

A moment later, a friend of pakcik canteen came to guide us to his fish shop. The shop was only about 2 minutes by car from pakcik canteen's house. Man, so many fresh seafood, it was hard for me to decide which to buy.

We bought some oysters, tuna, mackerels, crabs..and the shopkeeper was kind enough to add cuttlefish, some small fish, more oysters, crabs, ikan bilis...bla..bla..They also gave us crab miso soup for tasting and grilled scallops for free. Sedapnyee....

We returned to the house and had some tea and edamame again. We then said goodbye at around 4. The family gave us osenbetsu (a parting gift--because we are leaving for Malaysia end of this month for good)..and it was 10000yen! Alhamdulillah, rezeki.

We went home and the first thing we did was cooking dinner...a seafood nabe(hotpot)! It is easy to make one, just put the seafood with little water and soy sauce (or dressing) , heat it to boil and add vegetables. I wanted it hot, so I took it with some kimchi. With all the giant oysters, crabs, cuttlefish and some vegetables, the hotpot was really good!

Oh yes, if you visit Matsushima around this time, you can also enjoy eat-all-you-want grilled fresh oysters for only 1000yen per person.

Sep 28, 2008

A short trip to Soma, Fukushima

Just a short break from the nostalgic stories in QBS..

Yesterday we went for a short trip to Fukushima ..to buy pears. Oh well, since the pear farm is located in Soma, where the HQ for communication device is located, I was also meeting an ex-coworker who was an expat in Malaysia a few years ago.

Soma is located about 90 km from Furukawa, the place where I live in. We departed at about 8am, along with Sato-san and Kono-san (both were also assigned to Malaysia years ago) in separate cars. The journey was quite long, we went on highway at first, but on small streets around some mountains later.

Finally at about 11 am, we reached the pear farm of Odawara's. The pear was soooo big. Sato-san, as usual bought boxes of pears. I think around 20boxes and each of the boxes has at least 10 pears. Odawara-san peeled one for the kids, and I am sure it was sweet and juicy (we were fasting so we could not eat).

Odawara-san invited inside for some hot tea, as it was a little bit cold outside. Odawara-san was also an expat to Malaysia when he worked with the same company so he can understand Malay a little. I then ordered one box, grade 1 pears 10kg to be sent to Prof Shutto in Fukuoka. The pears was 4000yen, and the packaging and shipping cost another 2000yen. Oh well, Prof Shutto told me once that he likes pears very much, so grade 1 pears should be good enough for a present for him.

The Odawaras were very friendly, we talked about Malaysia, about how he started his pear farm after quitting his job etc.. He told us that it was difficult to raise pears, especially when it comes to the fertilizer things. He learnt pear farming from a veteran farmer, but since he was unsatisfied with the fertilizer because it was 100% chemical, he experimented new fertilizer ingredients. It took him hard work,and to his surprise, he managed to raise much better pears than others. Before leaving the Odawaras gave us a box of pears for free (rezeki, alhamdulillah).

Then we went to somewhere near Soma port, to buy some fresh fish. While the non-Muslims and the kids were having lunch, I bought some fish and seafood products at a market beside the restaurant. The fish was a little bit pricey, but they were really fresh.

Next was the meeting with my ex-coworker, Toita-san. He was the youngest expat in the company, so he was quite popular among the girls (even the operators) back then. Baby-faced and fun to mingle around with, too bad he was too busy for a girlfriend. Perhaps he should slow down a little bit to find one :)

We didn't have much time because he was going to attend a wedding ceremony at 2pm. I met him last year, when I came to Furukawa to visit my husband during the summer holidays, so it was exactly one year since then. It was fun to get to see him and update with the recent news on both Japan and Malaysia sides. He said he is coming to Malaysia end of this year, so if his schedule permits maybe we can meet again later.

At 2, we said goodbye to each other and we departed for Furukawa. We took a different route this time without taking the highways. That was really slow because of traffic jam , we finally reached Furukawa at about 4.50pm ( I dropped by at a vegetable shop run by a local farmer on the way). We were all tired and sleepy (didnt sleep since sahur at 3am) so we just had iftar with some octopus sashimi, home-made onigiri (riceballs), a slice of cake (or half because we shared) , milk and a cup of coffee. Will save the sweet and juicy pears for tomorrow's iftar.
Everyone, especially Papa, otsukaresamadeshita...

* Nice blue autumn skies in the middle of the traffic jam in Sendai

Sep 14, 2008

QBS life : ICABE in Nanjing, China 2008

ICABE (International Consortium of Asian Business Education) is a consortium run by Kyushu Univ. Business School to promote networking, share substance and know-how for Asian business education, which many educational institutions have separately developed. And one of the activities of ICABE is student exchange with universities in China. For the first and the last time, I participated in this program held at Nanjing University, China, sponsored by Toshiba International Foundation in Feb, 2008, just before graduation.
Nanjing is located about in the middle between Beijing and Shanghai. This was my 2nd trip to China, the first one was to Shanghai, about 10 years ago. I definitely expected a huge difference as China now is fast growing country after joining WTO.
There were 10 students with 2 proffesors and 1 asst. prof in the trip. We disembarked at Pudong International Airport, Shanghai before taking a chartered bus ride to Nanjing. Actually we were divided into groups and were expected to give presentation on a given topic at Nanjing Univ. Unfortunately, our group was still unprepared so my friends and I took the opportunity to make discussion on the bus.

At last we reached Nanjing and that took us 5 hours from Shanghai! The first activity was a factory tour to Phoenix Ltd, a German company making connectors. Many people at the crust of this company pursued MBA at Nanjing Univ.

Then we moved to a hotel for dinner. Today was the 60th birthday of my supervisor, Prof Shutto. In Japan, 60th birthday is special (called "kanreki") where people celebrate it as the sexagenary cycle completed and restarts at the 60ths year. Simply said, it is like "Life starts at 60".heheh.. Prof Zhan treated him with a birthday cake and I also gave him a small present. Prof. Shutto made sure my food is halal, and I was very thankful for that. One thing I learnt from the dinner is that how drinking is very important in building relationship (ie business) with the chinese. It is not only the drinking thing but also how they do it, the protocol and rules is what matters. Of course I don't drink because I am a Muslim but I feel that this experience is valuable to understand the Chinese.

After dinner, we went to the hotel we were staying. I shared the room with Cho-san (the Chinese girl)from the 5th batch. As we haven't finished doing the presentation material, we went to the boys room for discussion. And that was not really a discussion, the boys were so funny! Lalalalai!!

But we managed to complete the task, at last, late that night. Before returning to our room, the boys promised to accompany me for breakfast the next morning, because of my Muslim diet.

The next morning, we walked the streets around the hotel to find something I could eat. It was the moment when I saw something written in Arabic opposite the side we were walking. We all approached the shop and walla! it was a halal noodles shop! I knew it was halal because the shop had "清真" written on its signboard. A chinese classmate once told me that 清真 means "halal" in Chinese, and I could understand it from the word. To make sure, I asked the cook if he is a Muslim, and he said yes. So..I was so excited to be able to taste the Chinese noodles, in China for the first time ever. I ordered a beef noodles and an extra fried noodles for all to taste. It was so yummy! We took a picture with the shy, young cook before returning to the hotel.

At about 8 we departed for Nanjing University. I was excited to meet friends from Nanjing Univ. who were on exchange program to QBS the previous year. We always meet in QBS study room because I usually stayed up late writing my thesis so most of them know me, at least. After listening to the lectures of prof. from both universities, it was the students' turn to present. We presented on "Where would China go after the Olympics" (that was not the exact title but what we presented) and we made the Tokyo Olympics as the scenario to compare. Well, at the end we brought the discussion to "ECO" issues...ok. to much about that.

After the lecture hall activities, we were brought on a tour to Nanjing Univ Business School. Guess what, the school operates hotel rooms on one of its floors! The rooms are managed by Mandarin Oriental..and it was damn like a hotel. So next time when we come to Nanjing we can stay for a reasonable price, if the rooms are available.

The night we were treated with dinner in the university. Again I was surprised that the Univ has a high class restaurant, and I mean it! Round tables, chinese ala carte menu...we nearly forgotten that we were in campus area.

After dinner, the asst prof asked if we wanted to join her for a massage. I have never been to one except at my cousin's who runs a salon at her house, so I joined the group. To "protect" us, Prof Shutto joined our all-girls group, and there we were, all of us enjoying the foot massage.

The next day, we checked out the hotel and went for a trip to a world heritage site in Nanjing. It was a an ancient castle ruin of Tang Dynasty. From there, we went to Nanjing Station and took a bullet train to Shanghai. All along the way I could see the large gap between the rich and poor in China, and I was a little bit sad about that.

In Shanghai, Hanada-san, Suthep-san and I said goodbye to the others because we were heading home first. The others stay for another night in Shanghai. My classmate, An-san brought us around the busiest streets of Shanghai and somewhere near Shanghai Tower. There were so many people they walk on the bus lane! However, the air was smoky I already felt a sore throat. Anyway, the view of the surrounding (minus the sky) was great.

Later we took a ride on the fastest train on earth (I think) , the linear motorcar. It took only 8 minutes to Pudong International Airport from the city center. See how fast its maximum speed is.. 431km/h!

We finally reached Fukuoka at around 7pm. Thanks to ECO group for all the fun and Prof. Shutto for making sure of my diet.