Day 3 – Oh, Otaru, how do I love thee

As I stood at the train platform waiting for the train to Otaru, I saw a man queuing up a few rows away (everyone forms a line to board the trains in Japan), and smiled at him. I thought he had the kindest face I’d seen in a while and also, he looked just like Jim Broadbent! If they ever need a double for Jim Broadbent, he’s the man.

I snapped a few pictures of the train parked across the platform. The Twilight Express is a thing of beauty. Coated in dark evergreen and gold typography, it looked beautiful outside and inside. It’s a sleeper train, and one day, I hope to travel in the Twilight Express – wherever it goes. (I just googled, and it’s the longest train ride in Japan from Osaka – Sapporo/22 hours – Woah nelly!) Think of a hotel that moves. I tried to snap a few shots of it before it started rolling away, and my JR Super Express screeched in the distance and appeared in front of me within seconds.

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Sorry for the bad quality, it was moving!

The ride to Otaru took us only about 30 minutes or so. I wasn’t paying attention to the time. Actually, the most beautiful part about a vacation is not having to keep track of the day/time (unless you’re rushing for the next train or something). I had honestly lost track of the days in Japan and for obscure reasons, I kept thinking everyday was either a Saturday or Monday in Japan.

I reached Otaru, and at this point had no idea of what I wanted to do, apart from visiting the Otaru Canal; and I didn’t know where exactly this canal was and what else to do. I had reasoned to myself that I could use the handy portable wi-fi to find my way around Otaru. I was walking across when a man asked me “And where are you from young lady”? and that fortuitous meeting is the highlight of my Japan trip. And although I’ve met superbly amazing people along the way, the meeting with Ray, Satoko-San and Ayana was a blessing. I spent the whole day with them, exploring charming Otaru and every little shop as we went by.

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Picturesque Otaru Canal

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A lone busker along Otaru Canal

Otaru is lined with shops boasting beautiful, delicate and pretty glassware from beer glass mugs to gorgeous plates and bowls. They come in all shapes and sizes, with intricate designs carved on them. 

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One of the biggest glassware shops

Another major tourist attraction is their music boxes. Dotted along the streets of Otaru are shops selling music boxes of all shapes, sizes and sounds. You’ll know you’re walking past the museum when you hear sweet tinkling sounds teasing your senses. 

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Otaru Music Box Museum

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Ancient gramophone (i think)

Ray’s from New Mexico, Arizona and his wife was originally from Sendai.  He’s the Chief of the Pharmaceutical department in Hillary Regional hospital in Silver City, but they come to Japan every year for a month to visit Satoko-san’s family, and to explore Japan as well. Ray’s a hilarious man, witty and full of jokes. He’d say something with a straight face, and I’d laugh out loud, whereas Ayana would look bewildered for a second before realising he was merely pulling a fast one on us!

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Looks a little like Jim Broadbent, doesn’t he? 🙂

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From left to right: Ayana, Satoko-san, Ray

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Us, just before sunset

Ray also made sure I never spent a single cent on food and kept saying “save your money for your trip”. I insisted that ice-cream was on me, and made sure everyone had an ice-cream! Apart from making me feel like one of them, he also had the warmest and kindest words to say. He said I had the most beautiful smile and that was one of the reasons why he even approached me! I really couldn’t think of what to say except thank you and told him the truth; that I smiled at him because he had the kindest face. Happy day, this 🙂  Every time I feel fugly or unworthy of anyone/anything, I’ll remember his kind words. I’m going to type this out, and will come back to read it whenever I need to. He had e-mailed me this.

“It was a wonderful day, better than I could expect when it started thanks to your beautiful mesmerizing smile, and charming personality. You are an absolutely exceptional gorgeous lady. One of the top 3 most beautiful and charming I have met in my life. I will send pictures and see you in New Mexico, and show you the time of your life.”

Yep, I am going to New Mexico next year to visit them. I can’t wait for summer ’14. His house is absolutely stunning; the view from his patio is picturesque and breath-taking. Saw pictures, just in case you’re wondering. Just thinking about it makes me happy!

 

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After sunset at Otaru before leaving this beautiful place

After we left Otaru, we headed back to Sapporo where they invited me over to their hotel room to check out the view of Sapporo – they live on one of the top floors with a ceiling to floor window – and it floored me. Ayana left as she had to work, but we went straight to the hotel bar on the topmost floor, chilled with a drink before I bade them goodbye with a mix of emotions. They’re really a wonderful couple; extremely kind and smart. I enjoyed talking to Ray about everything, ranging from U.S politics to camping and hiking. We’re keeping in touch through e-mails and it’s amazing to know I made a life-long friend on my solo adventure. 

Day 2 – The wanders of Sapporo and Hokkaido University

I reached Sapporo the next day in high spirits. After all, I had done everything correctly so far and nothing could go wrong. I got there around 2pm, walked around the block a couple of times (you understand I was just inspecting my area of potential threats right?), and I found Hokkaido University before I found my apartment, hooray!

I blended in – I did look like a vagabond, with a backpack and all. Students are usually poor and I had no problem looking the part – I am considered poor in Japan. I made a beeline for the Students Information Centre and asked where the South entrance of Hokkaido University was. Conveniently it was just around the bend, 5 minutes away and I thank every single atom for that, because Hokkaido University is MASSIVE okay? If I had to walk with 16 kgs (I checked) of stuff on me for 20 more minutes, I would’ve just slept on the road. I graciously thanked the girl who spoke good English and made my way to the South entrance and walked for about 5 minutes. My home for the next 3 days was wedged in between a few other buildings, so I know why I missed it while I was inspecting the area for possible threats (yep, I’m sticking to this explanation).

I’m glad I found this apartment through airbnb.com. It’s really close to the JR Sapporo station, I had shopping and food just a stone’s throw away and I couldn’t wait to explore Hokkaido University – which is famous for its lovely parks, ponds and roads littered with autumn-kissed koyo leaves. The landlady of the apartment who lives in Tokyo, also provided me with a portable wi-fi device, which explains why I was uploading pictures on Instagram and twitter.  I dumped my stuff, made some green tea, took some pictures of the cosy place and stepped out to explore Hokkaido University.

 

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Cosy and lovely

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It’s considered one of the top research and most prestigious universities in Japan, and the largest in Hokkaido itself. It prides itself on being the one of the most beautiful universities as well, with pretty rivulets, preserved buildings and beautiful pathways that lead to gardens, mini parks, and ponds.

It was around 4pm when I left my apartment. A crisp sun-smitten blue sky greeted me as I entered Hokkaido University, and you could see people walking their dogs, mothers with laughing children and their friends picnicking, couples getting lost hand-in-hand, and huge scary crows. I’m not joking about the crows. They are massive. And they’re everywhere.

I walked along Ginkgo Avenue – one of their tourist attracts (if I were a student here, I’d be totally smug: “yeah yeah, I study here, uh huh, nothing to see, this is my playground people, go home.” Kidding. Anyway, it’s beautiful but I think I came too early during autumn, the leaves were just beginning to turn red, though some over-achieving trees did look fabulous.

 

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I found the Ono Pond while I was wandering in the park.

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I also found their museum and went in for a look-see. It’s dim, quiet and has a musty smell about it that truly alludes to how old the university really is. I loved every second I spent inside the museum, though some rooms scared the living daylights out of me. 

As you walk into the museum, there’s a section of the museum on the ground level dedicated to the history of the school and its founder. The wall mural reads “Boys, be ambitious”. Famous words of the founding father of the university, Dr William S. Clark. 

They also had a pre-historic exhibition going on! I mean dinosaurs and I have a love affair, so lucky me 🙂 Mostly everything was in Japanese, but it’s ok. I was having a trippy time just looking at the exhibits. 

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I also saw a bust of  Inazo Nitobe when I was walking around aimlessly. He’s one of Hokkaido University’s famous graduates. Two of his his most prestigious roles were as an undersecretary General of the League of Nations from 1920 and as a founding director of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (the forerunner of UNESCO). His famous words are engraved on his statue.  

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“I wish to be a bridge across the Pacific” is carved on his statue

After a few hours of exploring, people watching and day dreaming (also pinching myself because it was all still too surreal), I had to say goodbye and find food. I hadn’t had anything to eat, and it was time to pay Daimaru a visit. 

This sprawling university needs a few days to explore thoroughly, but I exceeded all expectations of myself by getting lost in the ancient and beautiful place that is a treasure trove of knowledge. If you go to Sapporo, allow yourself a few hours or maybe even half a day to get acquainted with this spectacular place full of wonders, and let it surprise you. I’ll come back to Hokkaido University, that’s for sure. 

 

Day 1 in Japan. Sometimes, I impress myself.

I’m a few days behind time because honestly I’ve been having too much fun! I’m at Osaka right now, but I’ve been scribbling away in my diary during my long bullet train rides (when I’m not too distracted by the beautiful views outside). Very looong entry coming up. Below is mostly rambles of my experience and of what I’ve observed thus far. And my writing isn’t linear. Too many randomness. 

Day 1 Ohayo, Japan

If anything can be said about the Japanese people, it’s just how precise they are with everything. Their trains are never late. Never. I learnt that on the first day. How? I missed my first train out of Narita to Tokyo. It had said Ikebukuro. I didn’t know that it was still bound for Tokyo. Plus, it had arrived early. I was expecting it to be on time. Not earlier. So lesson learnt. Because of that, I’ve also learnt how to read the train displays at the station. The Narita Express and Shinkansen trains are very sleek and comfortable with more leg space than the flight I took to Tokyo – which is saying a lot. I’m looking at ya, Scoot.

The train passed by many sleepy towns on the way to the city. Every small town in Japan has its quirks. They also looked exactly like the ones stacked beside one another.  Cookie cutter, except perhaps of a different roof colour. A lot can be said about uniformity here. It’s a conformed society. But I can’t say Singapore’s any different. Some houses have a dedicated tiny plot of land blooming with flowers right in front of the main door. Really pretty. The weather wasn’t as sunny as I expected in Tokyo. It was a pale grey, a little gloomy and the houses seem to blend in with the sad sky. I’ve noticed that most houses here look sad. Not a sad state, but a sad colour. Nothing ostentatious or loud. Beige or grey, and I think the rebels paint their houses a light blue,  but still hoping to blend in with the sky, being as inconspicuous as possible. Another thing I noticed – their cemeteries are always on a very very small plot of land normally beside a few homes. 

As I was jotting down notes in my diary, an European couple were in each other’s embrace. And then they were held by lovers gaze. Finally, they kissed. I couldn’t look at them without feeling a tinge of envy, and a slight pang of melancholy. I decided that only Mumford and Sons could make this weary, sad feeling go away (which was of course totally rubbish), I ended up with tears in my eyes. What was I thinking…going on a trip by myself. But this fleeting thought only lasted a few minutes. I’m on my fourth day in Japan, and I have to say, I love my company. 

I had my concerns about getting to Hakodate in one piece. I mean let’s face it. I get lost in Mustafa shopping centre. At 1.06pm, the train announcement advised passengers to be ready with their luggage and belongings. I jumped out the train as soon as it stopped – which can only be said as the stupidest thing to do when one is carrying a backpack that weights approximately 10kgs with a bad right knee. Anyway, I arrowed right for the intended platform, half surprising myself that I managed to figure it out without losing my way at all. Japan has certainly improved – the main stations have English information now. I’ve actually realised  that when you’re traveling alone, you’re so much more self-reliant, and observant, therefore, I impressed myself at not getting lost too often. I had 30 minutes to spare before boarding the much anticipated Shinkansen (this has been a childhood dream!), so I explored the underground shopping mall which is a sprawling underground complex. I trawled the food section, because I hadn’t had anything much to eat from the flight from Singapore itself. Got myself a riceball, a chicken stick and made my way to the platform. When my Shinkansen screeched in, with it’s hornet-green shark face zooming right past me, I was in awe. I tried snapping a few pictures, but because it ninja-ed by, the pictures have blurry effects; pretty neat. 

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The Shinkansen to Shin-Aomori

The Japanese are extremely prepared – they come in with food mostly bought from the stations, and as soon as the train moves off, they begin eating. In Singapore, you’ll be fined $5,00 for eating. Ridiculous government we have. But then again, the Japanese are extremely clean and conscientious. They carry their rubbish out and separate them, too. Plastic, paper, cans and others. I can’t say the same for most Singaporeans. I was dying for a cup of coffee and even contemplated stepping out quickly to get one from the vending machine but dismissed that dumb notion as soon as it popped into my mind. How on earth am I to catch a bullet train if it speeds by me as I’m deciding coffee with milk or without milk. But luckily, they have train attendants who push trolleys filled with food and drinks, so I bought coffee from her. Very Harry Potter-ish! This is all still very surreal for me…traveling in a Shinkansen. Never thought I’d do it! 

And halloooo Hakodate!

After a long, bone-weary journey, I made it to Hakodate in one, albeit, tired-piece. My host (and also the owner of the inn!) Susumu-San, upon hearing that I was only staying the one night at Hakodate, quickly said that he’ll drive me around Hakodate to show me some of its beautiful sights. As tired as I was (also had a migraine), I didn’t have the heart to say no. Two reasons. It would’ve looked very rude, the man was offering to drive me around at no costs, purely out of the kindness of his heart, and 2nd, I wanted to see Hakodate- had intended on seeing it until I realised the journey took 8-flipping-hours. So I happily agreed. Plus, the cold breeze helped a lot and I needed to stretch my legs, too. He drove me to Mount Hakodate, something I would’ve had to pay to get up, and apart from that, take a bus to the ropeway. Susumu-san also drove me to a spot where the Sea of Japan could be heard (too dark at night) crashing against the shoreline. He told me that the bright spots far away at sea were ships/vessels catching squid. The lights attract plankton, the plankton attract squids, and that’s how we get our calamari 😀  I also learnt that Hakodate’s official logo is a squid. We drove back at around 12.30am where I crashed immediately. 

So far every Japanese has been extremely helpful and polite. In my diary, I had written down “I hope my lucky streak continues” and I can only say so far I’ve been super lucky, blessed and happy. Sapporo has been the highlight of my trip so far, though my one night stopover in Tokyo was crazzyyyyyy! Heard of Kagaya, anyone? Yeah…that crazy awesome izakaya. More on that later! Also, I met an amazing couple at Sapporo and next year, I’ll be visiting them at New Mexico for a camping trip! More on that soon.. I’m off to bed. I plan on going to Nara tomorrow! But I have so much to say – so much I really want to continue typing…oh..heard there was a typhoon in Osaka, a few hours before I arrived >.< 

Lost in translation takes a new meaning

There are many words in foreign languages that are lacking in English. For instance, Pelinti (Buli, Ghana).
when you bite into a piece of piping hot apple pie and right before you realise that that was a huuuuuge mistake, and you end up looking like a blowfish because you’re trying to cool and move around the molten hot lava in your mouth? That’s called Pelinti, a word the Ghanaians created for twits like myself. It literally means “to move hot food around in your mouth.”

I wonder if there’s a word that will aptly describe the jumble of emotions that courses through a traveler’s first solo trip. Mine is nothing short of trepidation and excitement. My brain has also decided to shut down because of the tumultuous emotions; too much conflict for one brain to handle. In a fortuitous change of events, I am so much closer to fulfilling one of my bucket list goals, but I definitely did not see it coming this quick. I’m not exactly prepared. I feel much better typing this out. I know no one reads this, but if you’re out there, and you’re reading this, I hope you won’t judge me too much. I’m excited, scared, anxious and slightly unprepared. I get lost in Mustafa, ok? (it’s a shopping centre…)

This is all quite surreal, and guano is about to hit the ceiling when I reach Narita and happily board the Shinkansen for Kyoto instead of Hokkaido. Ohshitwrongtimetopanic.  What’s the worst that can happen right? Breathe, Jaisree Jessica, breathe. I may find myself by getting lost. I just hope I don’t get so lost that I miss the train. 

3 more days

In keeping with the tradition of every holiday, my biggest fear will be realised after the vacation; the battle of the bulge. I went to Gold Coast last year, and came back with more than just chocolates and grain waves. This time I’m determined not to make the same mistakes. Already my jeans are tight from lack of exercise (bloody patellar tendonitis). Ouch. As I’m typing this, my right knee just protested vehemently by sending waves of mind-numbing and stinging pain. I miss BodyPump. So, no drinking cheap wine by the bottle (oh yes…sacrilegious, I know), stuffing one’s face with Domino pizza (Gold Coast had this awesome Tuesday Domino promotion), and chocolates. I mean this is Japan. Land of the healthy, tofu-eating, seaweed nation right? I’ll just have to religiously avoid places that sell Hokkaido Ice cream by the tubs (did I mention that I’m going to Hokkaido?), Royce Chocolates and every other yummy pastries that the Japanese are so fond at perfecting. I’m not sure all the loss of sleep will be worth it.  Yes, I think about what I’ve eaten for the day at night and make feeble promises to not repeat the same gluttonous mistakes the next day. Naturally I forget and the cycle goes on.

I need to keep gluttony under lock and key. Preferably locked with no key in sight. 

These 45 Shockingly Sexist Vintage Ads Will Make You Glad To Live In 2013

Wow. As a copywriter, I can only say some of the headlines here are atrocious. I mean, the misogynistic idea apart, some of the headlines are trite and honestly, vanilla. Keep her where she belongs and do you still beat your wife? Hmm..no, just no.

Thought Catalog

There are times when I feel pretty good about living in today’s society, and this is one of them. While doing research on racist ads last week, I found just as many vintage advertisements that were shockingly sexist, in a way it would be a lot harder to get away with today. (Just ask Belvedere Vodka.) From beating (#14, #28, #34) and murdering (#6) your wife to sexual assault overtones (#37), all’s fair in the ad game.

Here are 45 vintage ads that may make you want to rage quit the internet today. Prepare your brain. [tc-mark]

1. Leggs

2. U.S. Navy

3. Subaru

4. F.S.C.

5. Parker

6. Pitney Bowes

7. Captain Morgan

8. Kellogg’s

9. Kenwood

10. Dorothy Gray Salon

11. Tipalet

12. Panasonic

13. Lux

14. Chase and Sanborn

15. Hardee’s

16. Warner’s

17. Palmolive

18. Chemstrand Nylon

19. Brown

20. Datacomp

21. VanHeusen

22. Volkswagen

23…

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Link

Scientists Discover One Of The Greatest Contributing Factors To Happiness

Scientists Discover One Of The Greatest Contributing Factors To Happiness

Don’t believe this? Try it for yourself. Put aside everything else, think of the one person who has made a huge difference in your life. Pull the words from your head, pen it down, pick up the phone and give them a call 🙂 Best part? You bring them over the rainbow, too. 

The Cancer-Test Kid

Something’s are worth sharing. Like a 15-year old teenager who invented an inexpensive but accurate diagnosis strip that can detect diseases in its early stages at John Hopkins University.

When most 15-year olds had their noses glued to GTA, Skyrim (ok, I love Skyrim) and World of Warcraft (is this even still popular?), Jack Andraka was toiling away at John Hopkins University to create a better and more affordable cancer-detecting test. This young protégé may only be starting out, but imagine the things he could accomplish in the next few years. Awesome and inspiring. I wish I had been more interested in Science when I was in secondary school, but clearly, I had a passion for chocolates, books and words. 

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34759/title/The-Cancer-Test-Kid/ 

Aside

7 days to my solo Japan trip

Life has a way of always keeping us on our toes. Just like the ever capricious weather, and if you’re not prepared, let me quote Game of Throne: a storm is coming. What initially started out as two girls venturing out to Japan has now turned to 1 girl’s solo trip to Japan. I would be lying if I said I’m not worried, but I’m more excited about it now than I was about the trip earlier. My friend backing out last minute means I get travel alone. I was looking for an adventure, but I guess it found me first. Well played, Adventure, well played.

These few nights my thoughts have been mutinously terrorised by vivid images taken right out of a Japanese thriller; Japanese police finding my cold, lifeless body on the freakishly clean road, turning into a Japbo (like hobo) because of frivolous stationery shopping, or losing my way in their massive labyrinth of a subway that is actually the Arena of the Hunger Games, and because I’m handicapped (keyword: suck at map-reading) with maps, I’ll never be able to find the Cornucopia, and finally my emaciated body will be collected by a Hovercraft. Every night brings new and exciting scenarios, my heart rate fires up and I can only hope that I’m at least burning some calories while I hyperventilate.

Apart from all the dramatic endings of my abridged existence, I’m really excited about my trip now than I was before. My friend backing out last minute means I get travel alone, and may I just say this “OMG I’M GOING TO JAPAN AND I’M FLYING SOLO THIS TIME!!!!!” Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off my pulsating (that sounds wrong) chest, I shall try to maintain some composure.

Initially, the plan was to travel further up north to Kamikawa from Sapporo, but because I’ll be traveling alone now I decided to drop that plan. I mean if someone had to find my body, I rather not have it decomposed beyond recognition and Kamikawa gives the impression that lost things will remain…lost. Honestly, I was looking towards a bit of trekking, but I’ve never been to Sapporo before this, and 4 days will allow me to explore the biggest city in Hokkaido. After that it’s back to Tokyo and Osaka, cities created for peregrination.

Any country that you’ve visited before in the company of people becomes an unchartered territory full of mysteries when you brave it alone. When you travel alone, you’re free from distractions presented by your company. You pay scant attention to the country’s personality when you’re with a group. The quirks of its people and its stray animals, the graffiti on the walls, the roads and the cars and everything else that is imbued within the country is lost when you’re busy discoursing on a cultural hype you walked by. I was going to say Gangnam Style. I stopped to berate myself. Something as shitty as that in Japan? The Japanese will sooner choke on kimchi! Wait… hmm. This is something I’m definitely looking forward to. I cannot wait to stumble upon hidden cafes, old curio shops and meandering alleyways.

As one of the leaders and pioneers in Innovation and Technology, Japan is undoubtedly a powerhouse of R&D. It is the only country in the world that relies heavily on industrial robot workers. But I’ll be remiss if I did not mention that what drives them to this prestigious rank is steeped in tradition. The Shinto followers believe that any object, animate or inanimate possesses a living soul or spirit. Tradition, culture, heritage, religion permeate everything we see in Japan. I love how philosophical this is as well. One cannot co-exist without another. I’ll stop this drivel before I digress into my love of science and belief in God!

So 7 more days into the land of the rising sun, the heart of Ghibli (which I’m desperately trying to get tickets now), yummy ramen and calorie-laden desserts.