#29 My daily commutes in 3 very different cities

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KL, Tokyo, and Grenoble.
The three cities I call home ❤

This post starts off sentimentally but it’s actually going to be a factual and technical one lol. This is how I express my love for these three places: I’m going to compare the sizes of these three cities and the experiences of my commute! YEASSSSS HOW EXCITING!!

When people ask me exactly how big Grenoble is and is it a town or a city or just a French rural countryside, I always have difficulty explaining it because although I know exactly how small big Grenoble is, I never really tried to grasp exactly how big Tokyo or KL are, and how they compare. In fact, to be honest, I’ve never looked closely at a Klang Valley map until a couple of years ago.

Note: The pic of Tokyo and the featured pics of KLCC and Grenoble are mine. Maps and Google Earth are from Google of course
Source: Wikipedia and personal experience

First, let’s take a look at the total surface area of each city. They are all zoomed in on Google maps at the 1 : 10km scale.

Kuala Lumpur (City): 243 km
Klang Valley (or Greater KL): 2,243.27 km2

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See the yellow squiggly lines? Those are highways. This shows that most of Greater KL is quite accessible by car and I’m grateful for that but apparently there are plans to build MORE highways to accommodate the increasing number of cars… That sucks, isn’t it high time we all realised that building more highways will not solve the congestion problem and is in the long term a very unsustainable and UGLY solution??? I’ll get back to that later. Next,

Tokyo: 2,187.66 km2
Greater Tokyo: 13,572 km2

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HOLY SHOOTS lol what is considered Tokyo’s city area is the same size as Greater KL.

But then again, towards the West side of what is labelled as Tokyo (within the red boundary on the left) are mostly forests, mountains, and villages, even though they are still considered part of Tokyo prefecture.

And the vast area of Greater Tokyo (>13,000km2) is quite believable. Greater Tokyo is considered to include parts of its neighbouring prefectures like Yokohama and Kawasaki in Kanagawa prefecture as well as some parts of Chiba and Saitama prefecture. It is the largest and most populous metropolitan area in the world after all. Although it is so big, it’s easy to get around thanks to its comprehensive transportation network and helpful transportation apps providing real-time information.Tokyo, like most European cities and Singapore are one of the cities that did it right in the 1960s: instead of deploying a car-centric development plan they focused on investing in safe, extensive, and reliable mass transit.

And how does that compare to my current city?

Grenoble City: 18.13 km2
Grenoble-Alpes-Metropole: 541.17 km2

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Teehee, that’s TINY!! So, the whole of Grenoble-Alpes-Metropole is the same size as my tiny town of Selayang back home (surface area of 549km2, north of Kuala Lumpur)↓ Now I know.

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Source of this pic

In terms of transportation in Grenoble, the best part about it is that it is multi-modal, i.e. users have a wide variety of choices on how they want to get around. There’s a great tram and bus network, as well as a city-run bike rental service that I love called the Metrovelo. The city is planning to expand the total length of the bike lanes and I’m constantly seeing posters or plans pasted around the city notifying its citizens of plans to redesign the city to be more pedestrian friendly or measures like removing some parking lots for more efficient use of public space. I think I chose the right place to study urban planning ! ❤

Next, to compare my school commuting experiences:

KL Commute Distance: Around 17km
Commute Time: 30-40 minutes back in mid 2000s, but probably 50minutes – 1 hour in present day.
Mode: Private Car

KL, as with any developing countries and as you can see in the map above, is full of highways. I used this highway called Jalan Kuching from my house in suburban Selayang to get to my primary school / secondary school in KL. For ELEVEN YEARS. I was driven to and from school every day. And whoever drove me would have to come back to Selayang after dropping me, and then the other way round when picking me up.

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So, the total distance driven in a month
= 17km x 2 x 2 x 5 days x 4 weeks = 1360km.

An efficient car can cover 100km with 8 litres of petrol so
13.6 x 8 = 108.8 litres of gasoline / week.

Using this calculator, I calculated that the car emits roughly 184g of CO2 / km, so
184g/km x 1360km = 250.62kg

Multiply by roughly 10 school months
250.62kg x 10 = 2506.2 kg

In conclusion, just the action of me going to school emits 2506.2 kg of CO2 annually. And according to Wikipedia, Malaysia’s CO2 emission per capita is 7500 kg, which means that I am definitely pulling my weight in contributing to the per capita CO2 emission with 1/3 of it caused by transportation only.

I’m not entirely bashing transport by private car, there are definitely perks to driving. For example, one can go anywhere at anytime they wish, being able to sing karaoke in the car and not be judged, road trips, transporting bulky things, transporting less active people like older people and the disabled, etc. Driving makes sense in some contexts.

And you don’t really need to be ON in your car, sometimes I only put on my shoes or comb my hair after I have reached my destination. In fact, I have a theory that people who commute by driving are more “emotionally ready” when they emerge from their “safe haven car” once they have reached their destination, because they didn’t need to interact with the other annoying passengers or depressed-looking passengers with their glassy stares in the train or bus before reaching work.

But driving also has its downsides outside of its adverse effects to the environment. Take a look at the pictures of the highways below, which I often take when I lived / now go back for holidays in KL (Beware, the highways are usually not this empty DUH, at peak hours they are jam-packed with cars and it’s horrible):

Federal Highway. Six lanes (per direction?) working at more than full capacity during rush hours. An ostrich was spotted running on this highway once.

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This is also part of the Federal Highway, and you can see Mid Valley Megamall, one of the most popular malls in KL, on the left.

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This is the LDP, going towards One Utama, another ultra-big mall in KL. It’s apparently the biggest mall in Malaysia and the sixth largest mall in the world.

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What do you notice about these pictures? Besides the fact that they look unusually empty as opposed to how they look on a normal day, i.e. full of cars?

The answer is: There isn’t a single visible human face on these highways. Not unless you were stuck at a jam and you looked over to your sides to see someone else, who is also alone but ironically driving a four-seater car just to get to work.

Unlike walking, cycling, taking the bus or any kind of other transit system, when we drive, we are each enclosed in our little, movable personal space with none or minimal human interactions with the people around us. Yeah, interactions may occur sometimes, but they are usually in the form of occasional glares, giving the finger, road-raging back at someone who road-raged at you first, etc.

I’m exaggerating a little but the bottom line is, nobody gives a damn about the other cars on the road because of one psychological cause -the fact that they don’t look like humans. One interesting theory I’ve read is that people tend to get angry more easily when they’re driving because what you’re seeing is not people per say, but rather bulky metal boxes trying to cut into your lane or tailgating you rudely or just being there in the middle of the road, causing the traffic jam that ironically, YOU yourself are contributing to as well.

Another thing that I noticed since becoming an adult is that, all of my life of being chauffeured around (no, we didn’t have a real chauffeur, I was mostly driven around by family), all I knew of KL are the areas around my home, areas around the school, and areas where I’d hang out with friends, usually malls. Also, watching “Radiant City” the documentary mocking suburbia in the US which I highly recommend really struck a chord with me. One of the commentaries goes, “Kids need connection to civil, commercial, and social amenities, and they don’t get them in car-dependent societies.” In my specific upbringing, I didn’t get to experience anything that was beyond my world because I was in the car, probably sleeping, most of the time, whereas a teenager commuting to school using public transit on his own has to plan his own trip and manage his schedule, gets to see other people in the community who are different from him either from a different class or background or wtv, perhaps even connect his observations with the socio-economic policies of the community and be more practical or critical in his way of thinking. I guess this is what people call street smart, as opposed to book smart people like me who just knew how to get good results in school and make my parents proud. Book smart people are cool but the world needs more street smart people, and making our STREETS nice is definitely the right starting point.

Oh gosh, maybe I am car bashing after all. Please excuse moi, this is part of the identity crisis problem I was experiencing in summer in KL because while I hated driving, it was the only way I could get around. I was just there driving my Perodua Myvi like a stupid little hypocrite.

Anyway, let’s move on to Tokyo.

Tokyo Commute Distance: Around 17km
Commute Time: 50 minutes
Mode: Walking + Train

I had about the same amount of commuting distance from my home in the suburbs of Tokyo to Waseda University in Shinjuku, the centre of Tokyo. Although my commute time is longer than in KL, my CO2 footprint is a fraction of that in KL, AND I got to stay active because I walked 20 minutes one way, so 40 minutes in total every day.

CO2 produced on my commute in Tokyo, using a handy calculation sheet downloaded from this Tokyo Metropolitan City website (Japanese) =

16 km of rail travel produces 0.304 kg of CO2. So,

0.304g x 2 x 5 days a week x 4 weeks = 12.16kg / month
Ten months = 12.16kg x 10 = 121.16kg

This is 5% of what I produce if I were to drive in KL. Here is a pic of one of the roads I used to walk (12 minutes) from my dorm to the closest train station, Tanashi.

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After alighting at Takadanobaba (20 minutes on the express train from Tanashi), I head out of the station to a nice, bustling, student town station square in front of Big Box the shopping mall which houses Vie De France where I used to buy melon-pans to binge eat on every spring. Vie De France means Life of France, and now that I am literally living a life in France I don’t see myself eating any melon-pans. How strange.

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The last leg of my 10-minute walk from the Takadanobaba station to my uni (Nishi Waseda campus) consists of a stroll through Toyama Park, which looks like this ↓ in the summer but full of blooming cheery blossoms in the spring. As you can see in these three pics, the whole urban environment is designed to give priority to the pedestrian / cyclist.

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I guess I can praise the walkability of Tokyo and criticise KL all day long, but one important thing is that we also need to remember is that not everything that works in Tokyo will work in KL. E.g., although Japan has blistering summers, weather for most parts of the year is temperate and conducive for walking. Plus the low crime rate and relatively small income gap in Japan are also HUGE factors contributing to a safe and pleasant walking environment.

One bad thing about this commute though, was that let’s say if I left something at home, I would have to spend 2 frigging hours just to go home and come back to school again. While Tokyo city is as dense as it gets, land prices are just too high in the city centre for mediocre people like me so like most capital cities with a strong centre, people have to live far away from their workplaces and suffer the long commutes. This is why it’s completely acceptable to sleep on the trains in Japan, and the person nodding off next to you had most probably woken up at 4:30am in the morning just to travel 2 hours to school / work.

Next up, La France.

Grenoble Commute Distance: About 4~5km
Commute Time: 20 minutes
Mode: Walking + Biking

So I spent a semester from Jan-May earlier this year learning French at CUEF, Stendhal University in Grenoble. Like I said above, Grenoble is just bursting with transportation options because of its modest size and governance by a pro-environment political party, Les Verts, or The Greens.

Here is 5 minutes in to my commute to school by bike. SO GREEN. And full of insects in the summer. Exclusive bike / pedestrian paths on the right of the pic.

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Then I cycle uphill for 20 seconds onto a flyover. Exclusive bike / pedestrian lane still continues here, albeit a little narrower.

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Then I arrive on campus after 15-20 minutes of pedalling. This is the tram stop closest to my school. MOUNTAINS! Beautiful mountains. And beautiful SUPER PLANNED, efficient looking urban environment. It looks a bit bare here in the pic but it’s usually nicer with local and international students getting their baguette sandwiches and frolicking on the benches / patches of grass on their 2-hour lunch breaks.

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Oh, and you know what? The CO2 emission calculation is easy for Grenoble, its ZERO. Nothing. I’m not releasing anything into the wild except my own calories, which partly explains my slimmer figure since I came to France. And another thing about cycling and walking is that I control my own speed. When I’m running late I just run or pedal faster and STILL get there in time, with just slightly redder cheeks. And probably more calories burnt in the process.

To sum it up!:

City Size (km2) Commute Distance Commute Time Commute Mode CO2 output
KL 243 (2243) 17km 30-40 minutes Private Car 2500 kg / year
Tokyo 2187 (13572) 17km 50 minutes Walk + Train 121.6kg / year
Grenoble 18 (541) 4.5km 20 minutes Walk + Bike 0

In conclusion, (TL;DR):

I’m just one of those people who grew up in an urban sprawl environment who went overseas and discovered that there are people who have very different and better lifestyles that are less dependent on cars.

So much of lives and our productivity are affected by the decisions of our politicians or policy makers from one or two generations ago. Now that they’re developing the MRT system in KL I’m quite optimistic that maybe we’re heading in the right direction, hopefully!!

Speaking of urban planning, my course starts tomorrow!! Très nerveuse!

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#27 Thoughts on Climbing Mt. Fuji 3 Times

Like everyone else (maybe), I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics on TV lately and I caught a second of a Japanese supporter wearing the Fuji-san hat (see below) that I remember so well for tickling all the tourists I’ve brought around in Tokyo. If you’re wondering, you can easily find them in the ubiquitous Don Quixote shops around Japan and I don’t think it’s that pricey. Makes for a good souvenir / Halloween costume if you have space in your suitcase on your next Nippon vacation!

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Shameless tourists october 2014

Of course, if you fancy food stuffs, there are also ONIGIRI, TAIYAKI, CRAB, MAGURO. And there is also a Japanese castle one if you’re more into architecture or history.

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Shameless tourists july 2013

★★★

And yes, as per the title of this post, I HAVE CLIMBED MOUNT FUJI THREE TIMES. Contrary to my build and my seemingly lack of fitness, I have actually achieved some commendable feats in the hiking world. Ok, strictly speaking, perhaps it’s the amateur hiking world. My other accomplishments include: Climbing Mt. Kinabalu when I was 13 on a high school trip (with porters HAH), Broga and Tabur, Mt. Takao, Fort de St. Eynard, Chamchaude, Jungfraujoch, Machu Picchu, … hmm, maybe I’m not that great after all lol but hey, I can assure you that I have definitely been ON TOP of many many bukits (hills) and gunungs (mountains) around the world, regardless of HOW I got up there hehe.

AND I WAS ON TOP OF MT FUJI THREE TIMES!! Although I also have to shamelessly admit that I started all three times on the 5th station (2305m altitude). And I’ve taken the Yoshida Route, aka the easiest route, all three times.

Maybe I ought to change the post title to:

★★★

Thoughts on Climbing Mt. Fuji Three Times On the Easiest, Most Amateur Yoshida Route, Not Even Consecutively but Over a Span of Four Years + from 2011 ~ 2015

 

①The first part (about 5 minutes in ~ 30 minutes in) is the most difficult but don’t be disheartened

When you start at the 5th Station, you will first encounter some terrain that looks like this that stretches out for about 15 minutes. You’re all pumped up to start scaling the famous mountain and maybe you’ve been training for the past weeks to get in shape. But when you start climbing, you find yourself huffing and puffing and getting short of breath, and you look around to see your mates still with their excited faces on albeit with a bit of strain. You want to rest but you’re too afraid to speak out to your group, because we are just beginning, how can I be struggling already?? Holy shoots can I even make it to the top?? Gosh I’m so unfit… shit I don’t want to drag my friends down but maybe I’m just not cut out for this, maybe it’s not too late to pull out now… etc. etc.

Hold it! (Phoenix Wright voice)

The truth is, EVERYONE IS FEELING THE SAME. I can vouch for it, unless you’re some super fit, crazy mountaineering genius with the right gear and engineered climbing shoes, everyone struggles at this part. So you can come clean and laugh about it with your friends, because rest assured, I don’t remember the exact timeframe but it gets a whole lot better (but more repetitive) after about 15-20 minutes.

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Or you can be like me the first time I climbed it (summer 2011), and stop to take a picture when I just wanted badly to take a short pause. Btw, this stretch also overlooks the 樹海 (jyukai, literally the Sea of Trees or more commonly, the Suicide Forest), notoriously known for its popularity as a suicide spot for Japanese people… brr.. But I also personally know a friend who does orienteering in the forest so maybe there are more haunted areas and less haunted ones.DSCF6056.JPG

②Wear light shoes you feel comfortable in

So the first trip, I was so inexperienced and nervous about the climb that I asked my friend who was in a mountaineering club in uni at that time to lend me all her climbing gear. I love her for being so nice about it but I honestly don’t understand why she would lend me those killer shoes. Check out my look below. I am channeling Doraemon. And you can see that the weather was total shit the first time around.

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But really, THOSE SHOES. Super PROFESSIONAL, Super EXPENSIVE, but it was the cause of my stress throughout the whole trip. Perhaps because they weren’t mine, and perhaps they were slightly too big for me, I don’t know. They were heavy and clunky and whatever extra grip they gave me, I did not appreciate it one bit. All I remember was missing my comfy Nike running shoes back home 😦

Which is why for the next two trips, I wore my comfy trusty purple Nikes which have served me loyally for many many years until I had to move on to black Nikes 😦

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Yeah, great silhouette of my shoes here. july 2013

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Tada! told you they’re purple! july 2015. Stole from Yi Ming’s fb. Hello YM if you’re reading this!

③Bring lots of energy bars

Well, this is quite obvious. You are climbing a mountain, so you need ENERGY. No time to worry about calories now. Fancy hipster granola bars or generic industrially manufactured ones, I DON’T CARE. You are using energy and you NEED to replenish it. Some of my favourites: CHOCOLATE!, Disgusting and dry Caloriemate but it will really be your mate atop that mountain, Fresh bananas (but it’s a drag to carry your rotting banana peel because NO LITTERING! so make sure you bring enough plastic bags to seal that baby up).

You can also buy these along the way to the peak but of course they are all premium priced:

DSCF6067.JPGOne banana for ¥200 or RM8 or US$2

④Bring enough warm clothes 

THIS IS VERY VERY IMPORTANT. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. It gets REAL COLD up there at 3776m in altitude and you have to also take into consideration that you will be standing in the DARK because you’re waiting for the sun to rise so duh there will be no sunlight to keep you warm. I am talking thick gloves, thick winter jackets, beanies, at least two layers of pants (stockings and thick pants). Trust me on this. Just tie it around your waist or hang it around your neck on the way up when it’s still warm and you will be grateful to your past self when its 0 to 2 degrees celcius up there.

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Unprepared noob in lousy weather, July 2011

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All snug and ready to go! July 2013

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Headgear CHECK, Thick down jackets CHECK, gloves CHECK. July 2015.

⑤Enjoy a hot bowl of ramen or udon at the top, you deserve it!

At the top, at around 4 something, small restaurants will open to welcome tired and hungry climbers with free warmth and some food / hot drinks for sale. Prices of the meals vary, but are of course generally 200% more expensive than the usual prices you see in the city. HOWEVER, the warmth and umami (tastiness) of the bowl of noodles or rice that you will enjoy is beyond words can describe. So sit back, relax, and grab a bowl of very simple ramen or udon for around ¥800! Oh, but be alert for the time of the sunrise, you wouldn’t want to miss the egg yolk come up just because you’re eating an actual egg yolk in your bowl.

⑥After the sunrise, take a look around and explore the highest point of Japan

Once you’re done enjoying the magnificent sunrise (well, sometimes when it’s foggy / rainy it won’t be as magnificent but you still see some great clouds lol), don’t just surrender to the cold and go back into one of those mountain huts or start your descent right away, there are so many things to check out at the top! The first time I climbed it, I was one of those noobs who were just hating my life because it was just so frigging cold and rainy I just ducked into a hut until the group was ready to go down.

There are actually several things you can do, first: souvenirs!! If you’re not into that kinda thing, take a postcard and get it stamped with the original Fuji-san CHOP (or stamp) from the souvenir shops for free! There’s also a special Mt. Fuji post office you can send it from right there on the peak. Other than that, there are some picturesque Torii gates and the crater of the volcano itself.

⑦The descent could be HELL

After your euphoria of scaling the mountain itself comes the, in my opinion, most challenging leg of the experience. The descent generally takes around 3 hours but it is a repetitive series of turns that continues for that whole duration of 3 hours with slippery stones and sand. Any wrong move and you might slip off the cliff. JUST KIDDING, you won’t slip off, I’m almost sure, but you feel like you do. And if, like me, you have a fear of heights AND a fear of slipping and breaking your neck, then prepare to suffer. But hey, in my experience tests and makes friendships stronger (lol, true story) and hardens your mental strength.

But half of the people I know are completely fine with the slipperiness though, so maybe I’m just exaggerating. All in all, regardless of whether it’s difficult for you or not, it will lead to the next sweet part of the trip, which is –

⑧To the hot springs!

There’s a number of hot springs in the area but the truth is, without a car, it’s pretty tricky but not impossible to get to one. We went to the Fujiyama Onsen which is adjacent to the highly recommended FujiQ EXTREME THEME PARK WITH AWESOME THRILL RIDES. I think there were shuttle buses but you really gotta check the schedule and time your descent beforehand. On our trip we took a taxi, it was about 20 minutes and cost around, I want to say, 10000 yen or slightly less??? Entry to the onsen is 1250 per person and it’s just great with indoor and outdoor baths, and even one with ice water to shock your system and jack up your blood circulation.

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Alright bye!! Happy hiking ★★

#20 Bokete

Today we will take a look at some of my favourite pictures and captions from Bokete, a Japanese app where users propose some random pictures and invite other users to caption them into, in my opinion, the most ridiculous and funniest things. It showcases my favourite sides of Japanese humour, the シュールness (shu-ru, meaning surreal) and the バカ ness (baka, meaning stupid). In Japanese, there’s a word called 吹く (fuku) which refers to something like “to burst out laughing when drinking, so spraying your mouthful of drink everywhere.” Below are the Bokete pics that made me do just that.

Translation: “Hmm, I wonder if the cement has dried?♪”

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Translation: “WHY DIDN’T YOU TURN OFF THE BURGLAR ALARM!!!”

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Translation: “You asleep~?” “Nah, still awake.”

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Translation:
Question: What’s a useless feature that comes with the newest model of Roomba?
Answer: Making an annoyed “tsk” sound every time it hits something.

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Translation:
Pilot: “ARGHHHH!! My Chupa Chups!!!”

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Translation:
Doctor: We’re going one more round!
Nurse: Yes, doctor!

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Title of a book: “My father is a _______. (Fill in the blank)”
→ “My father is a just too tired.” with an illustration of him standing in front of a train…. lol sorry not sorry for laughing

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Translation: What do you mean by “Hot Dog”?

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Translation: Hahahahaha hahahaha

#10 ヾ(@⌒ー⌒@)ノThe wonder of the Japanese IME (input method editor)

I don’t know if many of you reading this type Japanese, but if you don’t, allow me to take you on a journey to know the wonderful world of typing Japanese on a computer keyboard, something I’ve always thought was so amazing, useful, and convenient since I first started typing Japanese.

So,  typing Japanese is a lot like typing Mandarin pin-yin and then letting the predictive system, or more properly known as the input method editor, predict what you are intending to type. For example, for the word “媽媽” (mama, mother in Chinese), when you type M-A on your keyboard a little drop down box will appear, showing you the list of chinese characters with the same “ma” sound, e.g. 嗎, 嘛, 馬, 罵, 碼, 嬤, … … and the list goes on and on… I counted, the list in the drop down box had 60 characters but I have an inkling that there are even more.

Unlike Mandarin, ‘Chinese characters’ or ‘kanji’ in Japanese script does not correspond to one single pronunciation. For example, 隣 (beside) is pronounced and typed as T-O-N-A-R-I.  Or, 丸 (round or circle) , typed ‘M-A-R-U’. But, here comes the interesting part. When you input M-A-R-U, the drop down menu comes up:

And I can type things like ○ or 🔴 or ● or ◎ by just typing in ’round’ in Japanese!

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Next, let me try typing ‘triangle’

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Or ‘arrow’

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And I can get the Japanese post office symbol ‘〒’ by typing ‘Post’, ♨︎ when I type ‘onsen’, and ※ when I type ‘rice’ because this asterisk symbol looks like the character for rice ‘米’. ★ when I type ‘star’, ♥︎ when I type ‘heart’.

Isn’t it cool!? I mean, I for one think it’s such a pain to go to the ‘symbols’ option just to input the α, β, ε, or Ω symbols when I can just type アルファ (arufa), べーた (be-ta) and オメガ (omega), etc.

And if you like very Japanese kawaii emoticons, try installing the Japanese keyboard on your phone. You get access to many interesting old school emoticons that one may even say expresses the culture of young Japanese people. And you can do this just by clicking on the “^_^”button on the bottom right of your keyboard!!

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Here are some of my favourites:

ヾ(@⌒ー⌒@)ノ drunken dancing guy

*\(^o^)/* cheerleader

(・ω・)ノ  a waving bear (?)

ヽ( ̄д ̄;)ノ=3=3=3 running away frantically

。・゜・(ノД`)・゜・。crybaby

((((;゚Д゚))))))) shocked face

Try it out!

 

#3 Things I Don’t Miss and Things I Surprisingly Miss about Japan

Welcome to my second post about Japan! ‘Things I don’t miss about Japan’ in other words could be expressed as ‘Things I disliked about Japan’ so please be forewarned about the whininess of the first part.

★★★

Things I Don’t Miss about Japan

1. Travel times between Point A ⇔ Point B

Yes, this may seem a little contradictory to my previous post about loving the ease of moving about in Tokyo. However, you have to know that Tokyo is a massive urban sprawl with an intense center, which means that a large population of people living in Greater Tokyo travel from their homes in the suburban areas to the centers like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo station areas for work during the day and leave home after office hours. For example, when I was working, my door-to-door traveling time to my office smack in the middle of Shinjuku is exactly 1 hour. Even when I was in university, it takes about 50 minutes from the moment I lock my door until I step into my classroom.

Some people consider this a decent commuting time. In fact, I think a 1 hour commuting time is very close to the average commuting time of most people in Tokyo. I have friends who travel from outside of Tokyo, some even on the Shinkansen (yes, the bullet train) every single day to school / work. My colleague used to joke that his commuting time of 4 hours daily (round trip) is equivalent to watching 2 movies daily.

Another bad effect is the extended time needed to travel to a friend’s house or other places of interests. As I said before, traveling one hour to school is average. So let’s say my closest friend also lives one hour from school. But more often than not it is on the opposite side of the city, so 1 + 1 = 2 frigging hours of train time just to go visit a friend. When I was in Tokyo, most of my friends lived 1 ~ 1.5 hours away, and my boyfriend also lived about an hour away. If we go to a dinner party, some people have to leave at about 9:30pm just to get home at a decent hour.

2. The Plastic

In Japan, disposable plastic is used everywhere. When you buy a pack of Pocky from the convenience store, of course you need a plastic bag just for its handles to carry 100g of chocolate biscuit. When you buy croissants from the bakery, of course you need the staff to wrap it in individual plastic bags, and then put them together into another shopping bag. When you eat your bento, of course you need that piece of plastic grass to ironically remind you of ‘nature’. Even a family-sized bag of cookies come individually wrapped. I know Japan separates its trash and the recycling technology is top-notch, but it’s time to rethink the ubiquity of plastic in the country.

3. The Prices of Fruits and Vegetables

As I recall, these were the prices of fruits and vege from the Santoku supermarket near my home:

Bananas: 5 (average sized) for ¥198 or approx. RM7

Apples: 5 (Fuji, big sized) for ¥498 or approx RM17.50

Pineapple: 1 (average sized) for ¥298 or approx. RM10.50

Grapes: 1 small bunch for ¥398 or approx. RM14.00

2 bunches of bok-choy: ¥128 or approx. RM4.50

1 avocado: ¥158 or approx. RM5.20

1 cabbage: ¥150 or approx. RM5.20

1 pack of beansprouts: ¥28 or approx. RM1.20

Actually, I think because of the GST, the prices of fruits and vegetables have also gotten more expensive in Malaysia since the last time I came back. You can probably get cheaper fruits and vegetables at the morning market but my last shopping trip to the fruit store cost:

Grapes: 1 big bag (probably double the size of what you typically get in Japan): RM 26 or approx. ¥750

Apples: 10 small ones for RM10 or ¥285 yen

Bananas: Big bunch of mini bananas for RM6.40 or approx. 182 yen

Oh, and there are no wet markets in Tokyo. Everyone buys everything from the supermarket, where sometimes each broccoli, or even each banana is wrapped in pristine plastic.

4. The Prices of Transportation

This correlates to the massive size of Tokyo as described in No.1 but domestic travel in Japan is really expensive. Just within Greater Tokyo, for me to go to the furthest possible cool part of town like Yokohama, it would cost me about ¥1600 or approx. RM56. A round trip from Tokyo to Osaka on the bullet train is ¥27,240 or a little over RM900. Sometimes it’s cheaper to purchase a flight ticket to Korea from Tokyo than to go to Osaka. You do have alternatives like taking the night bus which costs as cheap as ¥6000 or RM210 both ways if booked early.

5. Smartphone Zombies

Globally and in Japan, the number of smartphone zombies are increasing. On a regular day in the train, if you took a brief break and looked up from your own smartphone, you will see that about 70~80% of the people in the car have their eyes glued to their devices too. So much so that a railway company and a phone company in Japan have collaborated to curb this problem with a funny and embarrassing interactive PSA campaign (link leads to a Japanese Youtube video). They would observe the platform to see which people were using their smartphones while walking and use the PA system to issue warnings by describing their outfits, eg ‘Girl in the pink jacket and beige skirt, walking while using a smartphone is very dangerous. Thank you.’

You can also check out a funny and brilliant simulation of what would happen if 1,500 pedestrians used their smartphones while passing the Shibuya crossing here.

6. The Crowd

At stations and trains: At rush hour, some trains run on on 200% capacity, meaning about 300 people can fit into a train car at one time. I was one of these sardines in a can back in uni when I would finish class at 7.15pm, the rush hour time of the train going towards Saitama on the Seibu Shinjuku line. At times, I didn’t even need to stand on my own, I could just lean on someone else beside me to support body weight. But of course I hated doing that, so I would twist and turn my body and limbs just to minimise skin contact with anyone and I always end up with a muscle ache in a weird part of my body after the 20 minute train ride.

Everywhere else: There is literally no solitary place outside of homes in Tokyo. There is always someone around, even in the alleys, at some random ‘deserted’ park (or so you thought), etc.

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My graduation. March 2014. ^.^;;

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Fuji Rock 2015. People mountain people sea.
But everyone is more chill here.

Things I Surprisingly Miss about Japan

1. Dressing up for no reason at all

Something that I couldn’t fathom when I first went to Japan was how my female Japanese friends could be dressed up and have perfect, on point make up every day. I use to think that they it must take a lot of time to look like that and I could never do what they did. In Malaysia, you can wear a big tshirt, shorts and flip-flops to literally anywhere! But in Japan, looking presentable is expected, and not putting on any make up is even considered rude. I even had a few friends who would don a mask (those used when you have a cold) when they woke up late and didn’t have time to put on makeup, or when they had a pimple near the mouth area. I remember thinking it was ingenious and so stressful at the same time. All the pressures just to look good in public! According to a survey, almost 70% of girls are unconfident with their すっぴん (pronounced ‘suppin’, meaning a person’s all natural, un-made up face)

It’s not just women who are expected to look nice all the time. The men generally also care a lot about their appearances. Eyebrow plucking and shaping for men is common and the girls actually like it. I once overheard a male student who said he could not take off his sweater even though it was right in the middle of summer and the heat was sweltering because if he took it off, he would ‘just be wearing a tshirt’.

On the other hand, what about in Malaysia? I have to say, Malaysians, especially the young people are getting more fashionable than ever nowadays, but a lot of us still like to dress cincai (Manglish for doing something without putting much thought into it, use ‘cincai bocai’ for even more effect). It’s totally acceptable to wear an oversized pyjama tshirt outside of the house as long as you’re not going anywhere fancy. I love that about Malaysia, but sometimes I wish I didn’t have to feel self conscious when I actually do dress up.

2. The ease of living as a Yellow Gaijin who speaks Japanese and English

I guess this has been replaced by the ease of living in Malaysia as a local who speaks the three main languages. Although sometimes I get weird looks now because of my apparently more proper English. Aiyo, go overseas must change my English a bit ma, if not the ang-mos how to understand me?? Wait for a while la I change back soon.

But really, I’ll be honest and tell you, life is easy as a yellow gaijin (Asian foreigner) with a good command of English living in Japan. One, because you can blend in with the locals inconspicuously. I’ve heard of some subtle or even outright racist behaviour against people who are foreigners or just look like foreigners. Two, Japanese people are just ridiculously impressed with people who can speak English. Every time I say something in English to my Japanese friends, they would exclaim ‘Sugoi! or ‘Kakkoii’ (Wow! or So cool!), followed with a ‘I wish I could speak English fluently’ with what would appear to be embarrassed expression but I never think they mean it. Lastly, you can easily earn some pocket money on the side literally just by chit-chatting with the locals at casual ‘English conversation lessons’. And trust me, the pay could be pretty lucrative.

3. Living alone

This is probably something that people who have lived overseas for a period of time will understand. It’s like reverse homesickness. I live with my family here so I have some family responsibilities, errands to run, less personal space for my own mess, etc. I also must listen to mum’s nagging and family members bickering, sometimes participating as well, of course.  Living alone was easy. I could do whatever I liked or go wherever I wanted to at my own pace.

But I shudder when I recall the sporadic lonely days binging on cookies in my Tokyo apartment. Maybe I don’t actually miss this thing after all lol. Just sometimes.

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Family visiting laughing at my first humble abode, Excel Toritsukasei #104. February 2013.

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Best friends (and +1 hehe) playing a very serious round of Monopoly Deal at the same #104. July 2013.

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This was my humble abode when I started working, Leonext Shakujiidai #204. Some other fun things happened here.

★★★