[Thursday, December 31, 2009]

Resolutions for 2010:
- Honestly, just get on with post-grad applications. If you don't make it, you don't make it--that's all.
- Stop procrastinating and get some pages of porn done. Or something.
- Be a good human to my cat.
- Be a better human to family, friends and colleagues.
- Try harder at most things. (Including signing up for that mini-marathon.)

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[Thursday, December 24, 2009]

Happy holidays!

Back from Japan. Got to clear internet backlog.

Still congested.

Edit: Almost screamed when I saw my phone bill. Next trip, Mom, I'm texting all the way.

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22/12/2009: Nagasaki/Fukuoka, Japan
Final day in Japan before flying off tomorrow.

We went south to Glover Gardens--a very pretty park with historic buildings in a very pretty neighbourhood. Given more time, we would have gone into the Storybook Museum. It really is the best view in the city.

The downer of the day was the Atomic Bomb Victims Memorial and the attached Museum. It's another confirmation that the human race will end itself one day and it will be the decision of some crazy person giving a single order. And we've got so much better at it since 1945 too.

As I have been to the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, I could anticipate what was in store--all the sad, terrifying remnants of lives cut short. A, Ed and Xian were thoroughly horrified and I got horrified a second time around.

We decompressed on the train ride back to Fukuoka--Xian was seriously bummed by how the whole thing was so cold-bloodedly planned and executed by so few people. Yeah, that's how it'll all end.

Why can't we just stop killing each other?

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[Monday, December 21, 2009]


21/12/2009: Kagoshima/Nagasaki, Japan

Got up and went to the Ferry Terminal downtown where the ferries are frequent and cheap. We decided to rent a car to go around the peninsula formerly known as an island from Sakurajima Renta Car. 4500yen for 2 hours. Not bad.

The view from the observatory was not too bad. We could see that the caldera was smoking and leaking into the low-lying clouds.

This is a shout-out to the nice people at Sakurajima Renta Car--they gave us slightly over-ripe mikan when we returned the car and offered to drive us up the road to the Rainbow Sakurajima Hotel for lunch! I love the extras people throw in every now and then.

Lunch at the Rainbow Sakurajima Hotel was decent--the fried chicken set was good--and a word of warning for tourists, there are limited food options in the area around the ferry terminal. Ditto the entire peninsula formerly known as an island. There's a cafe and a combi across the road from the Rainbow Sakurajima Hotel--and that's all I've seen. Even after going around the island and stopping here and there.

Took a late afternoon train to Nagasaki and arrived at 9pm. Found a late dinner of steak at the mall attached to the station before going back in the cold and heading to our beds.

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[Sunday, December 20, 2009]


19/12/2009: Beppu, Japan
Left Hakata for Beppu in the morning. In the hot-spring capital of Japan today for a lot of soaking. We hope.

Checked into the ryokan I booked and strolled back to the station to get to the buses. We decided to go see the jigoku for a short while before heading to Hyotan--an onsen that A got the brochure for and I had researched previously.

We got the bus pass and set out to Kanawa. Stopped at the Umi Jigoku bus-stop and decided to look into that one. Doing all eight were a little much, so we tried sampling one. The jigoku are basically really hot springs and this one happened ot be turquiose blue. Very touristy, with the jigoku-tamago (eggs boiled in the hotspring) and purin (custard pudding steamed in the hotspring).

We decided that one jigoku is enough as it was freezing brass monkeys out there and decided to go for a soak.

The buses at the Kanawa end come with long intervals in between. Had to walk to Hyotan from the Kanawa terminal with me as the guide as usual. After swearing and declaring that I hated them all for indecisiveness, we trooped off in search for Hyotan Onsen.

With a sketchy print-out from Google Map that I had printed out before the trip and the sketchy map from the Hyotan brochure, I managed to get us there in 10 minutes.

Xian and I headed into our side and it was quite impressive. The water was mineral-rich and quite strong smelling. It had different pools and the trickling water that massages your back. I popped in and out of the sauna and realised that we have been swamped by Korean tourists.

We headed back to make it for dinner--the bus schedules are a bit spotty on weekends here. Back at Beppu Station, we settled down for late tea.

Dinner . . . could have been better in terms of the sashimi. It was the standard Japanese course with many small dishes--wish they did not leave the stuff on the table before you come in. (It can't beat my favourite ryokan in Hakone, that's all I'm saying)

Our private onsen session was very merry indeed as Xian and I had bought a can of Asahi 'Super Dry' beer and a tetrapack of umeshuu from the combi. We brought the beer and light plum wine into the private onsen, popped them on a stool beside the bath and drank while we soaked.

We got so merry that Xian told me about beer conditioner being sold at shops and I suggested that we dump the dregs of the can on my hair and leaving it for a minute before rinsing off. Yeah, it was that kind of day.

Did not sleep well at all despite the soaking. Weekends in Beppu . . . are noisy. The people exiting the bars and kareoke joints around the ryokan at 4am in the morning and the hostesses screaming "arigato-gozaimasu!" in the street made it a bit difficult to get back to sleep after being woken up by the freezing cold--unexpected cold front strikes again.

20/12/2009: Beppu/Kagoshima, Japan
We lazed about in the morning after breakfast and our scheduled soak until check-out time.

Managed to convince A to come along to Takagawara Onsen just down the road from our ryokan. The Hyotan sandbath experience was . . . not quite it.

The Takegaware Onsen has regular onsen and the sand bath. The sand bath involves stripping off, getting into a short yukata and getting buried up to the neck by vigourous obaasans wielding shovels. We had our pictures taken by said aunties and it's weird, really, your disembodied head perched on blackish sand.

Made it to Kagoshima after a long train ride, checked into the hotel and headed down to the main shopping drag for a bit of a look-see.

Drank the local favourite, imo-jouchu, with dinner at Watami--an izakaya chain that has also made its way here. Xian said it was like vodka, but I thought it went down more smoothly. (It's all root vegetables anyway.)

But the alcohol might not have been such a good idea. Almost lost my camera by leaving it at Watami. Thank goodness most Japanese restaurants are honest and very nice when you come back in muttering "Wasure-mono ga arimasu . . . kamera . . ." The dashing about was very warming and I rejoined them at Doutor Coffee.

I had been hankering for a milk crepe most of the trip. It's a cake at Doutor Coffee mad eof a lot of crepe layers sandwiched together with milk cream. Delicious with hot chocolate--with a marshmallow on top--on a cold night.

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[Friday, December 18, 2009]

18/12/2009: Fukuoka, Japan
It's snowing in Fukuoka--we looked out of the window during breakfast and saw it. Unexpected cold front has shifted winter a few weeks earlier--even the locals were surprised by how cold it was.

Lunch was at Yoshida at Yanagibashi Market. The Deluxe seafood don was excellent. For the first time in history, Xian actually had fish left in her bowl in the presence of other sashimi-lovers--the rest of us were too stuffed to eat anymore.

Did the shop 'til we drop thing and marched up Tenjin.

Ate dinner at a roadside yatai stall for the authentic Hakata experience. Hooray for experiences done while it's brass monkeys outside the flimsy tent shelter of the stall. The beer and umeshuu made it pretty cheer despite the cold outside--less cold than yesterday, actually.

Favourite phrase right now: brass monkeys (As in 'freezing the balls off brass monkeys')

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[Thursday, December 17, 2009]

17/12/2009: Fukuoka, Japan

Managed to get the rental car back in one piece. (But GPS-chan kept tipping over during sharp turns as usual.) Ed and I jokingly argued over it--'GPS-chan is a klutz!' 'You can't blame her for being clumsy!'

Flew into Fukuoka via Skymark and took the subway into the city--fastest airport to city transfer ever. Met up with Xian in Canal City--a shopping mall to make the most hardcore shopaholic weep for joy. Which was why she did not meet us at the hotel. She was having too much of a good time. (Btw, we walked to Canal City from Hakata Station.)

The optometrist said the screws holding the lenses of my specs were sticking out too much. And they should have caps. I suppose they should, but they did not come with my specs. He tightened the screws for me, trimmed the screws and capped them. All this free of charge before he even got started on making my new pair of specs.

Dear Mr Optometrist, can I take you home with me?

We ate like kings at dinner time--shabu-shabu for dinner and fondue and pancakes to follow.

Walked through the city without looking at the map to get back to hotel. They jokingly upgraded me from homing pigeon to 'Hedwig the Snowy Owl'. (But do owls have good navigational instincts?)

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[Wednesday, December 16, 2009]

16/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

This morning, the weather not good for snorkelling. The wind was coming in so strong and the waves were pretty high. No surfers in sight.

(It's nice to see the ocean in the morning from your bed.) I will miss it.

Had a late breakfast after doing the laundry. Decided to go south to Okinawa Cave World and the WWII Naval H.Q. after returning the gear to our instructor.

BTW: This is a shout-out to Dave from Lone Star Diving--if you are in Okinawa and you need a dive instructor, Dave and his friend Dave (with the boat) will be happy to show you the ropes.

The limestone caves were magnificent. Apparently, it is one long limestone cave and the part that is open to the public is part of the Okinawa Cave World, itself a museum site due to the stuff found in it. But it's basically a theme park above ground and the hordes of tourists and school kids around us made it a bit difficult to enjoy the experience. The habu museum and park interest me not, but to get to the caves you have to buy the ticket for the cave and the traditional village tourist thoroughfare (with sugar cane dye products and the local black sugar).

Had our first taste of sea grapes at lunch--they were great, as was the rafute--Okinawan style pork that reminded all of us of kong bakh. Did not try the goya.

We got to the Naval H.Q. just in time to see the underground bunkers in 45 minutes. It's pretty depressing down there and we kept thinking of Letters from Iwo Jima.

Flying off for Fukuoka tomorrow. Got to pack.

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[Tuesday, December 15, 2009]

15/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

After loads of crap wether, we went diving at last. As the shore is choppy like a butcher's block, we went out on another instructor's boat to do the basics and then go down to this reef of soft corals. Forgot the basics for a moment there, but I got around that. The reef was so beautiful and the water was so clear (so bloody clear--there's less algae and plankton growth in winter), I thought I was watching the Discovery Channel. Not many sea urchins, so that is good sign of a healthy reef. A could be right--Okinawa could spoil me for any other dive trips. *le sigh*

As it was a guided dive, the instructor had a hold of my arm--in the light of the current buffeting us around, this was a good thing as we were on a sloping reef. I was so scared of breaking or killing something, I barely used my fins. The instructor let me touch the corals--so soft and velvety. I was mostly wondering if it was all right to touch them--if it breaks off, I'd be pissed at myself.

We had A&W for lunch--something we have not seen in a while. Humour on this trip comprises of Ed accidentally sitting on his takoyaki and saying, 'My balls are flattened' while A and I snigger like ten-year olds. And GPS-chan, who cannot stay on the dashboard to save it's life. 'Bad GPS-chan!'

We went to the onsen after lunch--A's favourite part of the trip. Ah, onsen . . . There were doctor fish at the Chula-U onsen. I finally did what my countrymen have been doing since last year and stuck my feet in. They doesn't half tickle, I'll tell you.

Our gloopy warm sense of well-being was further enhanced when we went for dinner at this Okinawa fish place we passed a few times--Sabani in Chatan-Cho. Sashimi, sake and a set with tempura, fried fish, soup, pickles and rice. We got mildly plastered on the local sake--but not that plastered because we had to drive back. A very short distance, to be sure, but drinking and driving is unadvisable and A had the least sake, so he drove us back.

Nuaaa . . .

It is cold and wet outside. Glad to be warm and dry.

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[Sunday, December 13, 2009]

13/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

Started on the discover scuba diving course. Instructor is one of those jolly American ex-marine types who settled on Okinawa. Went through the basics, then headed out for equipment. That was where we ran into a snag or two. The first suit fitted me, but the guys could not get suits to fit them. We went to another place at a naval base to get the suits, but ran into red tape. Apparently, we are on a list of countries-not-allowed-on-this-base. Fancy that.

So the instructor had to get the suits. Alas, the suits did not fit Ed and me. We went snorkelling instead while the instructor went to loan more fitting suits. Weirdly enough, I was fine without a dive suit. There was a warm current going past, I'm sure. Corals and fish were pretty--water was very clear. I love snorkelling and looks like A does too. Ed looks like he needs to get used to the snorkel.

Went down to Kokusai Dori in the evening. Parked illegally--whoops, but we are poor and cheap to boot. Walking the entire stretch like the tourists were were. After ducking into Heiwa Dori Arcade, I found a pharmacy and A found a shop selling school uniforms. It hurt me in the special places when he said he wanted a high-school boy's winter uniform top to wear to work. Dude . . .

But as his birthday had been recent, Ed and I passed him some cash for the uniform tunic.

After walking down Kokusai Dori, we found a place that sold imo tarts. Red sweet potatoes are a specialty around here it seems. We decided to come back for dessert. After going to Animate and to Ootoya for dinner. Animate need more goods according to A. Went to the Ootoya on Kokusai-dori for dinner--without having to queue for over an hour!

It hurts my brain in all the special places, but it's nice to chat with a guy about BL. Seriously. Weird, but refreshing.

14/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

Weather looks cold and rainy.

Cannot go for diving lesson as it looks really choppy. If it were just me, I'd chance it, but it's not.

Drove up to Churaumi Aquarium in the afternoon. Or Ed and A drove and I navigated. Road trips (70km one way and 70km back) . . . are kind of tiring. We waited until we got to the aquarium for lunch, which was a mistake because the tropical curry they had at the food place was not that great. Filling, but not that great.

The aquarium was well worth the trip though. I am of two minds about trained dolphin/any trained animal shows. On one hand, trained animals--on the other, how else would people know how clever dolphins are?

Went to Emerald Beach for a quick look at the place before going back to see manatees and sea turtles. The manatee is a relative of the dugong, the local equivalent back from where we're from. They used to be mistaken for mermaids. We figured that the sailors were really desperate by that time if they thought manatees were mermaids.

The aquarium with the thickest glass panel and largest panel in the world was amazing. You could watch the manta rays and the whale sharks all day long. We almost did that at the Blue Manta cafe--only closing time reminded us that we had to go.

We made it all the way back to Chatan-Cho by 8pm and hunted up some dinner before going back to the hotel.

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[Saturday, December 12, 2009]

12/12/2009: Okinawa, Japan

In Chatan-Cho, at a shabby hotel with a view of the sea. The free internet and view of the sea make up for the tiny single room.

First driving holiday ever. More accurately, Adrian and Ed are driving. But I am navigating. With a GPS that I don't know how to use. In surroundings that are alien to me.

Somehow, we survived the trip from the rental shop to the hotel. Then from the hotel to Sunset Beach and the Justco for a very late lunch at 3pm. We walked down to Araha Beach and saw the flea market down at Hambly--mainly to soak up the atmosphere. The sunsets along the seawall are gorgeous. Weather is very nice indeed--like walking in an air-conditioned room.

We were too tired to do much after dinner, which meant heading back to the hotel in the dark with me navigating by the GPS that will no stick to the dashboard.

Saw lots of stray kitties. Reminds me of Sweetie back at home. *sniffle*

Tomorrow will bring a diving course.

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