Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mind-blowing events

Today, for the first time in my life, I ate natto.

It happened after I decided to attend Matsudo housechurch in Chiba prefecture. Usually, I don't go there, since my work here in Japan is centered mostly around the west side of Tokyo, that housechurch doesn't need me to go and help out (I really can't do a lot, but what little I can do is not really necessary), and it's really far.

Ok, so really far is not so much an issue as having to pay for the train fare, which can be pretty expensive. So I usually don't go that far. Of course, going there is also good, cos the people there are really warm and friendly.

So anyway, I was at Matsudo. And after the housechurch, some of us went to Ootoya to eat dinner. I had the good fortune of sitting with Flo (who's from Belgium), as well as Mr. and Mrs. Ichikawa. And the moment Mrs. Ichikawa heard that I had never eaten natto before, she made sure she ordered an extra bowl of the stuff so that I would have to get my baptism of fire.

Now, just a short background on natto, in case you do not know what it is. It is basically, fermented soy beans that is rich in nutrients and stuff. It's a really wonderful health food, just that the taste is polarizing: you either love it or hate it. It doesn't help that it doesn't really look very appealing either. Just for your info, here's the Wikipedia entry on it.

When it arrived, Mrs Ichikawa divided it into several portions. I think I got about a third the amount. And I ate one bean.

Honestly, if taken in small amounts, it probably wouldn't be too bad. Cos that one bean tasted slightly coffee-ish (a bit like barley tea, just not as strong), and didn't seem too bad.

So I thought to myself, perhaps this isn't quite as bad as Jan and JP make it out to be.

After several more beans, however, I started to realize I didn't quite like the taste of the stuff. So I started mixing it with various other foods I had in front of me. I ate it with the salad (the dressing helped to mask the taste for a bit), I ate it with some soy sauce I got with my fish (not quite so effective), I ate it with rice (not really a good idea, unless you like natto), and then, I found out that the miso soup pretty much washed the taste away, if you drank it after eating the natto.

That's when I made the mistake of thinking that eating it all in one shot and then drinking the soup would help me get rid of the natto.

I managed about two chews before my body tried to make me spit it out. Fortunately for me (and for Mr. Ichikawa, who was sitting opposite me), I managed to hold it down and use my soup to wash away the taste.

The taste of the thing is not terribly strong, like wasabi, and the smell is not terribly strong either, like smelly tofu. But I think I've discovered that I really am not a fan of natto.

Still, dinner with the Ichikawas is really fun, cos they may be about twice my age, but can relate to us like peers. And they are really good at keeping conversations going. Even with inarticulate gaijins like myself.

* * *

Yesterday, I also went to watch fireworks at Tachikawa. It was a combined outing between the Shinjuku, Shinagawa, and Matsudo housechurches, and our friends. I managed to get Shigeki, whom I last met in May with JP, and he was keen to join us that day. So most of us met at Shinjuku station, and then we all went to the Showa memorial gardens, where Karen had booked some space earlier in the afternoon.

It was really crowded over there. There were thousands of people gathering in the field, and this was just one part of the park. By the time I finally got out my camera, it was starting to get dark, so this was one of the few shots I got:

Told ya there were many people

Karen wanted to start by doing an icebreaker, but after only about 5 minutes or so, the fireworks display started, and so we all settled down and watched the show.

Happy firework!

Now, you probably can't see it from here, but some of the fireworks were really huge. They could easily have been several hundred meters in diameter.

This one was probably only about 100 m across, methinks, making it one of the average-sized ones.

In the midst of my trigger-happy mood, one of the things I noticed, is that if you go to a hanabi, and want to really enjoy a good show, you can't spend all your time taking photos, cos you'll miss out on the hanabi itself.

So pretty

The second thing I noticed is that all the pictures, and the videos I took of the event, did not do justice to what really happened there. The colours, though nice, are not as vibrant. And the atmosphere there creates a whole different sense of the event.

It's like my Japanese culture class teacher (can't remember if it was Prof Teow or Prof DuBois) used to say, part of the sense of the aesthetic, is that the beauty that you see is transient, the 'mono no aware' (物の哀れ). And I guess part of that beauty of the fireworks is that you can't really reproduce it. Or at least, not with my Canon Ixus.

Yeah. Really doesn't do justice.

A final thought that occured to me was that this was probably the best wide-screen show I've ever had. Ok, yes I know, we've probably become so accustomed to all these 'modern' techonologies that we now need to compare nature to it, instead of the other way round.

Circles within circles....

But seriously, sometimes, we are so impressed by what we have made, that we forget to see what God has given to us already. And while we go chasing after that 43-inch plasma TV or give effusive praise to the iMax theater, we fail to notice that great wide-screen expanse known as the sky.

And I'm glad that at least for an hour and a half on a clear Saturday night, I am reminded that not only is my God the God of love, but also the God of all creation.

Could be a rock concert. But it isn't.

And do pray that for some of our non-Christian friends who went, that they would realize that there is a Creator. That the icebreaker that Karen did with postcards about how Jesus loves us would speak to them. And that this event would help us in getting to know them better as well.

Ok, that's about it for now.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The long-awaited food edition

So the temperature in Tokyo has started to get really rather warm... Sometimes, at 10am here, it's like Singapore at 1230. The only thing I can be thankful for is that it really isn't quite as humid as in Singapore. And also for aircon. I finally had to start using this wonderful invention this past week. Before that, I could get by on a fan and an open window. Now, when you open the window, it's too hot, and when you close it, it's too stuffy. Hooray for summer.

One good thing is that the chances for nice photos is greatly increased, thanks to the clear skies everyday. So I can find pictures like these:

Taken at Shinagawa.

Also at Shinagawa.

Shinagawa really is a pretty place.

But anyway, let's move on to what I have promised for so long. Having lived here for slightly longer than 2 months, I have more or less learned to take care of myself. And I shall show you what I have as a regular diet.

I usually try to make sure I eat a balanced meal, like this:

A balanced meal. It contains the three Cs of Cookies, Chips, and Chocolate.

Ok, ok just kidding. I only eat this for snacks.

Here is a standard sub-meal at your local fast food joint. It is merely a sub-meal, since it doesn't come with fries and a drink. Also because I was eating it for supper with JP when he wanted to use the wireless at MacDonald's. The wonderful thing about these two items is that they are both from the ¥100 menu.

Everytime I tell someone in Singapore that there is McPork here, they start laughing their heads off.

Usually however, when I go to MacDonald's, I only get the milkshakes, or a small drink, which are also from the ¥100 menu.

But, I'm sure you want to know what I eat at home.

Starter meal: Not including aspirin

Of course, the way I started off was with instant ramen. Which tastes very good, though if you don't rinse it after boiling it, you're eating a lot of wax, according to various health experts who have talked to me about food. As you can see, this is a real balanced meal, with vegetables and stuff.

But as fun as eating instant ramen is, you really can't eat it all the time. So I have found another form of nourishment from nearby convenience stores:

This is even better! It's rice, protein, and vegetables all *rolled* into one! haha! Get it? Get it?

The wonders of the onigiri are that they are cheap, there are many different varieties, they are 'mobile-foods', and I like 'em. JP likes 'em too. So on days we want to save money, we eat a couple of these for a meal and we're set.

There, of course, is also the wonder of frozen food:

Mmmm.... Just like in college...

This one is pretty nice to eat. Of course, it's probably chock full of preservatives, which is why the other option for pizza is to buy a bottle of sauce and put it on bread.

One thing I did try was to use spaghetti sauce on rice. I was hoping it would be like those baked rice sort of things:

Isn't really much to look at.

It was edible, but the taste of the spaghetti sauce was a tad too strong for my liking. Which is part of the reason why I have not done it again. (The other part is that I had only one packet).

I have done some real cooking of course. The first thing I really tried was to do simple stir fry vegetables and some stir fried chicken pieces. The vegetables came out ok. The chicken, on the other hand, was tasteless. That's when my mom and friends told me that I had to use soy sauce. Cooking 101: Soy sauce is important.
The next thing I tried a hand at was the Japanese style curry:

Was a bit too watery and the carrots were not cooked enough.

It tasted ok, and I think, if I remembered correctly, I had a pretty decent meal. What you can't see from that picture, was that I had made way too much, and I was resigning myself to eating curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next few days. Fortunately for me, Steve and Kathi, who have moved into Louis' place, invited me over for dinner, and I offered to bring the curry over.

I also tried making chicken soup:

If you think it looks familiar, yes, I did use the other half of the ingredients from the Japanese curry for the soup.

It was pretty ok too. Unfortunately though, it was apparent after cooking that I had not learnt my lesson from Japanese curry, and I made too much again. Unlike last time however, Steve and Kathi couldn't bail me out this time.

I did make some real curry though. As in, like, Singaporean style curry. This was when Steve and Kathi hosted a short term team from America, and they were gonna have a curry dinner. So I volunteered to help out by making a pot, and fortunately, no one got stomachaches. Or at least, if they did, they didn't tell me.

The 'Singapore' curry.

Of course, what I feel was my best self-cooked thing is this:

Brother's favourite food!

And the funny thing was, I was using dad's recipe. Haha. The last time he cooked fried rice was somewhere in 2003 or something, and it only had egg. And rice. But he passed me his recipe (not sure where he got it from), and well, it works pretty well.

Ok, that's a really long post. And I'm starting to feel hungry again.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Taking a walk

Today, after Tokorozawa Housechurch, I decided to take it upon myself to go to the Uniqlo around the Tokorozawa - Kokukoen area. There's one which Louis and Chris go to regularly, and I wanted to go, cos I was thinking of buying some t-shirts and stuff, and they tend to have discounts on weekends.

Usually they drive, since it is not exactly nearby. I, however, was feeling bored, and the weather was rather nice today, additionally, I haven't exercised in quite a long time, so I decided to walk. Of course, there was also the fact that I don't have a car, so I wouldn't have been able to drive anyway.

And so I set off, at about 3.00 in the afternoon, and started walking towards Uniqlo.

2 hours and 2 backtracks later, I still hadn't found the place.

Perhaps, it was because I have not done a proper navigation for a long time. Perhaps, it was because I miscalculated how long it would take for me to walk. Perhaps, it was because I did not do my pacing properly.

But most likely, it was because I did what could be described as the most stupid thing anyone intending to walk to some place he is unfamiliar with could have done: I went without a map. And not only did I go without a map, I went without even taking a look on the internet to have a rough idea of where I should be going.

And also, it was because I realized that minor miscalculation only after I had walked about 10 mins out from my place. And I did not feel like going back, trusting my own 'abilities' to get me there.

Of course, as I found out, my own abilities are far from proficient, which is something I've come to realize time and time again in life. Whether it's with regard to language proficiency, exams, or even just living my Christian life, I have come to realize that I really can't do it by myself. Even though all too often, I have such a strong, misguided belief in my own strength that I fail to turn to God.

What is good though, is that no matter what I've done, God is always there with me. Whether I'm walking closely with Him as I should, or when I have turned from Him and started to trust in myself, He's always with me. Sometimes, He'll pull me out of the jam I got myself into, but sometimes, He'll let me go my own way, and then after I realized what a fool I've been, He'll help me back to where I'm supposed to be.

It's good to know that there is a God who does care for me, that He's there all the time, and to know that He knows everything that has happened, and everything that will happen. Takes away a lot of the stress about the future.

Now, I just need to go and take a look at that map so that I can walk there next weekend...

* * *

Went to Ueno Zoo on Friday, saw lots of animals, but there was one in particular that caught my eye...

AHHHH! Rabbids! (on the left)

* * *

Ok, quick prayer note, just this past week, I was at Waseda University with Mai-chan (who does outreach at Waseda too with Yoshitaka), and Greg (who's part of a short term team from Massachusetts and South Carolina). This small group of us seemed a bit odd, since Mai-chan doesn't really speak English, Greg doesn't really speak Japanese, and I'm somewhere in the middle, though definitely more on the English side.

Then we met this girl called Nami, who's a Zen Buddhist. And she can speak a bit of English. And so the four of us had this conversation, where Greg (who used to be interested in Zen before he became Christian), would talk a bit with her, I would try to translate, and Mai-chan would translate my broken Japanese into proper Japanese.

To cut a long story short, at the end, Greg asked if he could pray for her, and asked if she had any specific prayer requests. She was unsure how to go about this, but in the end, she asked that if there is a God who really loves her, that He will let her feel/show that He does love her.

So please pray that God will answer her request.

Ok, that's about all for now. Sorry, still nothing about the food yet, but now's not really the time to be talking about food, since I am starting to feel hungry already, and I know my good friend Fuzzy wants to eat prata/fish head curry/laksa/Taiwanese Instant beef noodles.