Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Japanese Food: The Yummiest Salad Dressing Ever

I have been very lazy in the last two weeks or so - just a general feeling of inertia which frightens me somewhat. I am even too lazy to blog religiously (although there are many things I have to write about), and do the most basic of housework. The lack of productivity is alarming since I don't understand why this is so.

Because I am not in the mood for a long post, I would just like to take a few minutes to rave about my new favourite salad dressing, a sesame-based sauce which I fell in love with after dining at Saboten, a wonderful tonkatsu place at Parco Millenia (I am supposed to review the restaurant first but oh well). At Saboten, as with most tonkatsu restaurants, we were given free flow of lovely cabbage and a choice of 2 dressings. Samurai T and I always go for the sesame dressing which is just about the most delicious thing on earth. Between the two of us, we can finish an entire bottle (the restaurant staff must always be horrified to see us "Here comes the sesame sauce-guzzlers!"). And because of the dressing, full of nutty sweet flavours, I can normally consume up to 4 bowls (!!!) of cabbage over one meal. Astounding no?

Kinnogomadare from NTUC

Thanks to my fellow contributor, Bee Furn, I soon realise I can actually buy the dressing off the shelves from the majority of supermarkets in Singapore. Based on her recommendation (she is also crazy about the sauce), I bought the Kinnogomadare brand as pictured above and have been using it on my lunch salads ever since. Accordingly, besides sesame and soybeans, ingredients included in the making of the sauce are almonds, cashew nuts, musturd extract and white pepper. No wonder it smells and tastes so heavenly!

Even the ants can smell it a mile away. Leave it open for a couple of minutes, and you will see an army of ants swarming inexorably towards it. So, approved by ants, and approved by me. :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nikko (Part 2): Of Cute Cats and Tokugawa Shoguns

I am not too sure why, but we do a lot of climbing everytime we are in Japan. Quite possibly because Japan is one of the most mountainous countries in the world and the highest erm, "slope" we have in Singapore is probably Bukit Timah Hill or Mount Faber. While watching an episode of "Japan Hour", I jokingly told Samurai that I wanted to climb to the summit of Mount Fuji to see the sunrise, but honestly, after all my climbing experience in Kyoto, my legs shudder at the very thought of climbing anything - period.

Unfortunately I was unable to avoid another knee numbing climb at Nikko. Really, what was wrong with all these shoguns who wanted to be buried at the summit of anything? To be closer to their gods? After waking up so damn early for our day trip and our Chuzenji sojourn, I was looking forward to an easy stroll amidst the World Heritage Tokugawa temples and shrines, not a 2 hour StepMaster exercise.

I should have been warned when, after an earthquake shaking lunch (literally), we had some difficulty finding the entrance of the cluster of temples and shrines which includes the most famous Toshogu Shrine (mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu), Taiyunbio (mausoleum of Ieyasu's grandson, Iemitsu), Rinnoji Temple (most important Buddhist temple in Nikko), and Futarasan Shrine (dedicated to Nikko's sacred mountains.) After about 20 minutes of mindless walking around, we finally realised that we have to get up a flight of stairs where an obscure stone tablet heralded the entrance of the World Heritage Sites, as below:

Looking for this stone tablet was difficult!

And a little bit more climbing brought us up to Rinnoji Temple and Toshogu Shrine. Samurai T, who was already quivering with excitement at finally visiting the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, strode immediately towards Toshogu (after we bought the combination tickets for 1,000 yen for entry to all four sites). And, what do you know? It was another uphill, albeit gentle, slope.

Entrance of Toshogu, notice the upward slope behind

Toshogu is remarkable in its architecture which some considered gaudy, but which I found to be one of the most intricately decorated shrines I have ever visited. The site of the Toshogu shrine complex spreads far and wide (and upwards too) amidst a cedar forest where the trees grow to amazing heights which only let flickers of daylight in. Hence it was surprisingly cool to walk around even in summer although it was an absolute pain to take good pictures under the low light conditions. The multitude of buildings includes an awesome looking pagoda too.

The pagoda and the cedar trees make a most mysterious setting at Toshogu

One of the "must see" things at the Toshogu complex are the lavish carvings on the buildings. One of the most famous carvings, where you will also encounter a large crowd of curious tourists are "The Three Monkeys" i.e. "Speak no evil, hear no evil, do no evil". So of course I had to squeeze my way to the front to take a picture.

The other national treasure within the shrine unfortunately is at the entrance of Tokugawa Ieyasu's mausoleum (Okusha Inner Shrine), where we had to pay an additional 500 yen (!!) per pax to enter (yes, this is on top of the general entrance fees). Since it would be absolutely stupid to come all the way here without paying our respects to the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, we dutifully contributed more money to the Japanese economy. This "national treasure" was surprise! not Tokugawa's grave but the carving of a "Sleeping Cat" at the entrance of the Inner Shrine. I have no freaking idea why it is a designated national treasure, but everyone who walked past the entrance will take a picture of it.

The expensive Nemuri Neko (Sleeping Cat) at the top of the doorway

Something about a sleeping cat meaning that it will not eat the sparrow hence signifying peace for the nation. But whatever it was, it was moderately cute although you only get one glance because there were a zillion other people behind you waiting to get in. So we moved forward to our next destination to FINALLY visit Tokugawa Ieyasu's resting place, and to my greatest dismay, I was greeted by an incredibly long flight of stairs to reach the bloody place. It was a 20 MINUTE climb!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I almost wanted to tell Samurai T to go ahead without me. Urgh. What urged me on was the fact that I paid 500 yen to get in, and that there were old Japanese ladies tottering up the stairs ahead of me. I could only thank my lucky stars that I did not have to contend with excruciating heat as I climbed.

Imagine my dismay when I saw this......

Gritting my teeth to the point of cutting my own tongue we finally arrived where his body lay. Ok, nothing spectacular. And I was too tired to feel awe at the fact that we were at the grave of one of Japan's greatest historical leaders.

Ta-dah! The final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu

The idiot man who made me climb like mad - Ieyasu

Thankfully, the march down was a zillion times easier than walking up. Next we stumbled our way to the Futarasan Shrine - by this time our jet lag had seriously started to kick in and I was crazy exhausted. A few pictures here and there to say "I've been here" but I honestly cannot remember most of the things I saw after Toshogu. My brain had already shut down.

Entrance to Futarasan Shrine

A spring pool at Futarasan which is supposed to make you wise after drinking. No we did not drink because I think I am intelligent enough - haha.

Thinking back I had a feeling that we might have skipped Rinnoji Temple because we were too tired to explore further, either that or I had amnesia. After Futarasan, we made our way to Taiyunbio, mausoleum of Ieyasu's grandson, Iemitsu. However, when I realised that we had to climb a gazillion stairs to reach his grave too, I told the Samurai to go ahead without me because I could not even crawl if threatened with death by torture. There was apparently a little seen portrait of Iemitsu displayed at the Inner Shrine at the top. Samurai T went up halfway, decided it was too bloody high a climb, and returned back to ground after shooting a couple of pics. For a historian to give up seeing another historical site and a special relic, well, that just about summed up how dead tired we were by then.

One of the buildings at Taiyunbio. The carvings are almost as ornate as the ones at Toshogu.

Entrance to Taiyunbio at the bottom - where I waited for Samurai. Many more flights of stairs behind that gate, mind you.

At LONG LAST, it was time to return to the Nikko train station. As there was still some time before our train departed, we rested our poor legs at a quaint little cafe opposite the station enjoying our tea and cheesecake - it was bliss. I did not think we were so tired even at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Samurai T snored his way back to Tokyo I think. I was too nauseous to sleep unfortunately. It was a very fruitful day trip, but we totally over-estimated our stamina, so the end of the day was something to forget (except for the delicious cheesecake). 

The Nikko train station was just across the road from the cafe! Lovely lovely place.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nikko (Part 1): Of Waterfalls and Caldera Lakes

(Samurai T should be the one posting this, but he has a lot of marking to do. Year end exams. Bah.)

One of the MUST-DO day trips out of Tokyo, besides Hakone and Kamakura, is Nikko, a small town north of Tokyo and in the Tochigi Prefecture. However, do be prepared to have an aching ass at the end of the day as it is a 4+ hour return journey along the Tobu Nikko Line, which DOES NOT include your journey to Asakusa-Tobu station from wherever you are based in Tokyo. (For us, it was another half hour metro ride from Shinjuku.)

Most people are only aware that Nikko is famous for the massive and meticulously decorated mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, including the grandfather of them all, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542 - 1616), which are, you guessed right, UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The mausoleums are situated within a magnificent forest of 13,000 cedar trees which gives one an out-of-this-world or lost in time atmosphere. There are also an abundance of maple trees in the area, and although we were unable to admire the autumn colours, I have seen gorgeous pictures of the trees in fiery colours.

Besides the Tokugawa mausoleums (which can only excite historians like Samurai T), Nikko also has plentiful natural attractions and is home to the Nikko National Park, where there is the fabulous caldera lake, Lake Chuzenji, Mount Nantai and numerous beautiful waterfalls. But if one is interested in doing everything, like us, consider yourselves warned: you MUST set off early (VERY EARLY) from Tokyo in view of the long travelling time. As we were still suffering from jet lag from our flight from New York, we scooted out of our hotel at an ungodly hour of 5.40am (but as it was in summer, it was already very bright). Unfortunately we were still unable to catch the first Tobu-Nikko train at 6.20am and had to take the 7.10am instead. We returned to Tokyo only about 12 hours later - and were almost like walking vampires. Samurai's eyebags were the size of, I don't know, giant pandas'? And I was about to throw up from motion sickness (and I usually DON'T get motion sickness.) Stupid jet lag.

At the train platform at Asakusa-Tobu Station.

The best way (and also the most economical) to explore Nikko (if you are not going with a day tour group) is to purchase passes by Tobu Railway from its office at Asakusa. Two of its most popular passes are 1) The World Heritage Pass which includes a round trip from Tobu-Asakasa station, admission tickets to the mausoleums and shrines, and free bus rides around central Nikko, not inclusive of the Chuzenji area (3,600 Yen per person); and 2) All Nikko Pass which included a round trip and unlimited travel around Nikko including Chuzenji but do not cover admission tickets to the World Heritage Sites at 4,400 Yen per pax. An additional 1,000 Yen per person would get you into all the shrines (apparently a discounted rate for pass holders). Since I was adamant in visiting the Chuzenji area, we took the All Nikko Pass and our final bill came up to a total of 5,400 Yen (SGD 85) per person.

Nikko town centre after emerging from the station.

Immediately after our arrival at Nikko, we took another 45 minute bus ride to the Chuzenji area (urgh yes, so much travelling), which entailed a dizzying ascent up the Irohazaka Pass with its numerous stomach churning twists and turns (hence do not have a full breakfast). We were gunning for Lake Chuzenji, the famous caldera lake at the foot of Mount Nantai, and one of Japan's top three waterfalls, the Kegon Waterfall located within minutes walk from each other, both of which are located about 1,200 metres above the sea level.

At Chuzenji with the looming mountains. The clouds look close enough to touch!

Our first stop was the Kegon Waterfall which was about a 10 minute walk from our bus station. The admission to the spectacular 100 metre waterfall was 500 yen, where we then had to take an old elevator DOWN an equivalent height and walk through freezing tunnels (and it was summer, mind you) before we were greeted by a most AWESOME sight from the observation deck located at the base of the falls. (P.S. If you are feeling cheapskate you can view the waterfall from the top, but the view is significantly less spectacular.)

This marvellous sight....

A geographical titbit: Kegon Waterfall is the only exit for waters from Lake Chuzenji, which also explains their close proximity to one another. I could have stood there for hours watching the waters dance hynoptically from the top and trickling down into the streams way below. From our position on the observation deck, we could feel the refreshing water spray, listen to the thunderous yet melodic roar and watch the unbelievably clear waters gushing down the valley. Like a spot of heaven on earth.

After taking God knew how many photos, we finally left and walk towards Lake Chuzenji. A fine mist was covering the lake which was still like glass, and reflecting the clouds and blue sky. It was so peaceful and quiet I would not be surprised if a female ghost floats across the lake - even in broad daylight!! Apparently, the lake looks even more beautiful in autumn where the forested mountains are in full bloom. There were obviously walking trails around the lake (note: research says the circumference of the lake is 25 kilometres!!!), but as we were pressed for time, we loitered around for barely half an hour before taking another barf inducing bus ride back to Nikko town and the Tokugawa mausoleums.

The majestic Lake Chuzenji

Going down the Irohazaka Pass - impressive but dizzying.

Next we alighted at the Shinkyo Bridge which was located near the entrance of the World Heritage Sites. A mystical bright red bridge ranked again as one of the top 3 in Japan (how do the Japanese rank them anyway??), it was also built more than 1,000 years ago by some unknown person, although the current construction dated to 1636. All said, it was indeed a beautiful bridge and made for a quaint picture together with the clear river (is the water blue? green??) and green forest.

We finally broke for lunch at a restaurant nearby the Shinkyo Bridge, and what do you know? Samurai T and I experienced our first ever earthquake. Thankfully mild, it nevertheless swayed the building we were in, but was over in 3 seconds. For a moment I thought I was still dizzy from the bus ride, but hey all in all it was an amazing experience, although I probably would not say so if it was any stronger.

Stay tuned for the next chapter on the Tokugawa Mausoleums.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Does Watching J-Dramas/Anime Improve My Japanese?

Answer in two words: No leh.

Samurai T asked the question after seeing me glued to the laptop screen for several days obsessively watching the anime "Itazura Na Kiss", which was in Japanese with English subtitles. Dejected, I answered in the negative. After 8 freaking lessons, I cannot even catch a single sentence, just the most basic of words that I ALREADY KNOW before taking Japanese lessons, and a handful of everyday terms which I had learnt in class.

The upside is that I can now say "Tadaima! (他だいま)" which means "I'm home!" and "Okaerinasai! (おかえりなさい)" i.e. "Welcome back!" with a true blue Japanese accent, and in a "kawaii" manner. Oh, and also "Arigato Gozaimasu", "Sayonara", "Gomenasai" and "Ittekimasu - I'm going off!". How very pathetic, I know. I could not even properly decipher what is "I Love You!" in Japanese despite the numerous declarations from Kotoko, the female lead, while I already know the Korean version - "Sarangheyo!!!!!" So I just googled and in 2 minutes found out it is "Ai shiteru" (あいしてる) - hmmm, I thought I did hear something like that. God I am such a baka バカ x 10000000! (Don't ask me to explain THAT term.)

And after a term break last week, I have already forgotten half of my hiragana alphabets. Obviously, watching the anime did absolutely NOTHING to refresh my memory. So much for "immersing" myself in a Japanese environment, no? Most discouraging. I wonder how long it will take for me to be even mildly proficient in the language. Then again, I studied German for FOUR years and I don't think I could sit through an entire German movie without subtitles. Bleh.

Loving languages is one thing. Mastering them is another. (And I still want to learn Korean too!). Is it a case of - gasp! An old dog cannot learn new tricks?!!? Oh well, wish me luck. Time to do my Japanese homework.

P.S. I have dug out more Korean drama serials from my dungeon and added to my "Lelong" list. If you are interested do go back and take another look.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

LELONG: Books for Sale!

Price: SGD5 for hardbacks and large books. SGD3 for paperbacks. Unless otherwise stated. COD.
Delivery: Personal delivery where possible
Condition of goods: Good, but may have a few yellowed spots. Those with more spots are marked down.
Added service: A one liner review of the books
To order: Please PM me via Facebook or under the comments page of this blog or email me at tehlimau@yahoo.com
Priority: First come first served basis

A) Hard covers/ large print

1. The Sacred Blood - Michael Brynes
Religious conspiracy set in Israel - exciting.

2. Lavender Morning - Jude Deveraux
Modern day romance.

3. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire - Yellow Spot Alert - SGD 2
Wicked retelling of the Cinderella story set in 17th century Holland.

4. The Reapers - John Connolly
Excellent and dark thriller of gay couple Louis and Angel, from the Charlie Parker series.

5. The Best Laid Plans - Sidney Sheldon
Usual revenge story - easy read.

6. Deadly Decisions - Kathy Reichs
CSI type mystery

7. Scapetta - Patricia Cornwell
CSI type mystery

8. Book of the Dead - Patricia Cornwell
CSI type mystery

B) Paperbacks

1. James Patterson - The Quickie [Sold]
Not Alex Cross, but a stand-alone thriller

2. Jeffery Deaver - Garden of Beasts [Sold]
Thriller set in 1936 Berlin

3. Atlantis - David Gibbins [Sold]
Archaeological thriller. Good book.

4. The Magdalene Cipher - Jim Hougan
Religious conspiracy.

5.A Romantic Getaway - Sarah Monk
A heart warming modern day romance. (British)

6. Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak - Julie Cohen
Romantic comedy - funny. (British)

7. Ghost Moon - Karen Robards - Yellow spot alert! SGD 2.
Romantic thriller.

8. Blasphemy - Douglas Preston
Excellent scientific thriller. Preston is one of my favourite thriller authors.

9. The Codex - Douglas Preston
Another good adventure from said man.

10. The Interpretation of Murder - Jed Rubenfeld - Yellow spot alert SGD 2.
Brainy mystery involving Sigmund Freud in NY. Very interesting.

11. Interview with a Vampire - Anne Rice - Yellow spot alert SGD 2.
Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (in the movie) - need I say more?

12. The Secret Supper - Javier Sierra - Yellow spot alert SGD 2.
Religious mystery.

13. The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
Rare children's fantasy by John Connolly - fascinating.

14. Set in Darkness - Ian Rankin - Yellow spot alert SGD 2
Another of my favourite authors with my favourite Scottish inspector, John Rebus.

15. The Bridal Season - Connie Brockway - Yellow spot alert SGD 2
Very readable historical romance.

16. The Testament - John Grisham - Yellow spot alert SGD 2
Interesting premise and page turner

17. Bag of Bones - Stephen King - Yellow spot alert SGD 2
Something sinister is lurking.....

Osaka See: Umeda Sky Building - The Aliens Have Landed

Besides its delicious food and wonderful shopping, Osaka is only famous for Osaka Castle, and Universal Studios (bleh). Since we are 100% NOT into amusement parks, I had to find another touristy place to visit. It finally boiled down to a choice between the Osaka Aquarium and the Umeda Sky Building, and since fish only appealed to us when it is to be eaten, we decided on the Umeda Sky Building where we could also admire the city skyline of Osaka.

A shot below to the "Floating Garden Observatory" 173 metres above.

Take a subway to Umeda Station. Get out of the station to above ground. It will be a 10 - 15 minute walk to the Umeda Sky Building.
Admission: 700 Yen to Observatory

The Umeda Sky Building is a spectacular piece of architecture located in Kita-ku of Osaka. As the 7th tallest building in Osaka, the building consisted of two 40-storey towers connected at the top by a series of escalator "bridges" criss-crossing over empty air. It was quite a hair-raising experience taking those escalators to the observatory and I frantically prayed they would not somehow crack (how earthquake proof is this building??) and send me toppling into the abyss. Although once I got over the erratic fear, I could enjoy the space-like atmosphere of the ride to the top.

Inside the escalator bridge looking down. Looks like an alien tunnel, ya?

A peek of the Osaka city below inside the tunnel!

View of those scary bridges from the top. Amazing engineering.

We visited the building in the afternoon, and as it was quite a hot day in autumn, there were barely any other tourists. The rooftop indeed offered unobstructed 360 degree views of Osaka city. Thankfully it was a clear day and we could even see the mountains beyond, planes taking off and landing at the distant Kansai airport, multiple railway tracks and even the famous HEP Ferris Wheel. I am quite certain the view would look even lovelier in the evening with the city lights. Nevertheless, in spite of the glaring sun, we quite enjoyed ourselves up there admiring the city in silence. Each time we go to a new city, we try to visit an observation deck to check out the city layout. From the Empire State Building in New York to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, no two city views are the same. And there is always the cheap thrill of feeling you are on top of the world.

Osaka City at our feet

The Umeda area is also well-known for its super long and massive network of underground shopping centres once you track back to the Umeda Station. You would probably get lost in the maze, but hey, that's part of the fun! Now, my underlying motive for visiting the Umeda area has been exposed - and guilty as charged.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Itazura Na Kiss (Manga/Anime/Drama) *Spoilers*

I know I am supposed to be busy de-cluttering. Or at the very least continue to blog more about my Japan experiences.

But now, I am stuck in a little bubble which descends over me whenever I chance upon a really good story, whether told in a book, manga, anime, live drama series or film. It is a bit hard to explain. It is almost like being in a limbo, which will see me withdraw into my mind that will think about nothing else for days but that story, pondering over its multiple layers of meaning, its impact on me and the rest of the world, etc. I will research obsessively on everything concerning it (from the background of authors to soundtracks) till I could write a thesis about it; I may pretend I am one of the characters and lose touch with reality for awhile. This limbo state was worse when I was a dreamy teenager - I would be "zombi-fied" for a long time (just ask my best friend). Only until I have explored every angle and relived every emotion to death do I resurface again to the Land of the Living. Adulthood, it seems, did not really rid me of this malaise. I guess, once a dreamer, always a dreamer, no matter how old.

Not surprisingly, it is romantic stories that often send me into a frenzied tizzy (strange, even after marriage), although I can get emotionally involved with fantasical (or even childish) stories like Harry Potter or complicated plot thrillers like Steig Larsson's Millenium series. It has always been my deepest darkest wish to be a storyteller - to affect millions of others the way these stories affect me, and along the way, hopefully earn a billion dollars like J.K. Rowling. But that is another topic for another day.

First "playful kiss" between Irie Naoki and Aihara Kotoko

The culprit for my hibernation this time is "Itazura Na Kiss" or "Playful Kiss", a chick-lit manga written by Kaoru Tada and published almost two decades ago in 1991. I first encountered this story when I watched Taiwan's live drama remake "It Started With a Kiss" and the sequel "They Kiss Again". OMG - I was so totally addicted it was ridiculous. The male lead, Irie Naoki (江直树)as played by Joe Cheng was so HAWT he burned me up (apologies to my Samurai) !! Suffice to say I was in dreamland for quite a long time after completing the series.

Recently, it came to my knowledge the Koreans are also remaking the show, titled "Mischievous Kiss" and at this very moment they are showing it in South Korea every Wednesday and Thursday (and that is when I appreciate the beauty of illegal downloads). As I was trawling the Net for the latest episodes, I came across a 2008 anime of the same name, and started watching  it as well. And what do you know? I became engrossed again hook, line, sinker.

As a fellow fan and netizen of the story remarked, watching the same story for the third time around (albeit in a different medium), one would expect to get sick of it no? But the reverse is true. We get more and more emotionally invested in the characters, and the story appeals like fine wine, which gets better with each retelling. And then it struck me that Kaoru Tada struck gold coming up with a timeless storyline, one that speaks to the little girl with the inferiority complex in us, one that says "Hey, if you try hard enough, you can land the perfect man, the Man of your Dreams. It doesn't matter if you are not pretty enough, if you are not smart enough, if you are not elegant enough. Just stay true to your heart."

At this point some of you will stand up and point out the fact that I am a grown-up, thirty-something married woman, who is way past the age of silly fantasies and a businesswoman with some achievements to boot! I suppose feminists would baulk at this story about a silly klutzy girl (Aihara Kotoko/原湘琴)who chased desperately after the perfect man Irie Naoki for five years before landing him. They (and probably I) should be appalled that Kotoko revolved her entire life around this one man (no matter how GREAT he is) and has no ambition in life other than being his wife and supporting him in everything he does. And that is after Naoki has been so mean and cold to her for so many years.

Indeed, my independent and intelligent side recoiled at her desperate and many times brainless antics to have him notice her and fall in love with her. But another side of me admired her resilience, her persistence and boldness. My intelligence and independence certainly would not allow me to make a fool of myself when I was in a similar situation in the past but I have got to wonder if I had missed out a great payoff when Naoki, against all his common sense, fell head over heels in love with Kotoko.

And Naoki, ass that he is, is as close to my idea of a perfect man. Nothing gets me as hot under the collar as an intelligent man, and he is about as intelligent as they can come, with an IQ of 200 (!!! - is that even possible?!). And he is drop dead gorgeous to boot, athletic and an excellent cook! Like hallo, what more can I ask for???? Yes, he is cold, he is mean to Kotoko, and is unable to express his feelings well, but that makes him all the more human. With an insane and over-exuberant mother who dresses him up as a girl when he was young, and tries to dictate his life according to her ways, I guess we can thank the gods Naoki did not turn out more psychotic than he did. And when the Ice King thaws, he thaws beautifully, in the most romantic of ways. Excuse me while I wipe off my drool.

The unique thing about this manga though is that the story does not end with their happy marriage but stretches way beyond into their marital relationship, their riotous family life and their subsequent careers. Tragically, Kaoru Tada passed away in a freak accident which left the manga unfinished, which also left the Taiwan drama series hanging as well where Kotoko discovered she was pregnant at the same time she developed dire eyesight problems. Based on revelations by Tada's husband, the anime had a proper conclusion with the birth of Naoki's and Kotoko's daughter, Kotomi. And yet, one could not but hope for more, as I still want to know what happens next in their lives, not just the two central characters but the rest of their family and close friends who form so many intriguing sub plots. I sound a bit insane, ne? But I am comforted when I read the fan forums and find many others who are crazier than I am. (Thank God.)

If I were to discuss everything here, this blog will indeed turn into a never-ending thesis, and I have barely started on what this story personally means to me. Nevertheless, if you are an "Itazura Na Kiss" virgin, get to know it in some way or another, whether you read the manga or watch the Taiwan/Korean dramas, or the anime (which is superb). Even if you don't get emotionally affected the way I do, I can guarantee you will have one heck of a good entertainment.

4.5 stars of 5 (Taiwan's "It Started With a Kiss")
4.5 stars of 5 (Taiwan's "They Kissed Again")
4.99 stars of 5 (Anime Version - which carried the story beyond the original manga and it is short and to the point but some storylines are cut. 25 episodes with each episode at 25 minutes long. Can finish in a day!)
4 stars of 5 (Manga - because Naoki is not very good looking here - yes I am very shallow I know! But everything else stemmed from this wonderful story so kudos to the author!)
??? stars of 5 (Japan's "Itazura Na Kiss". The oldest drama from the 1990s, and the leads look terrible and there are only 9 episodes. So not bothering to watch.)
4.25 stars of 5 (Korea's "Mischievious Kiss" - from the episodes shown so far. Rating may change as plot gets juicier.)

Watch the complete anime here. Highly, highly recommended!!!
And the soundtrack, "Jikan yo Tomare" (じかんょとまれ) rocks! Watch the excellent fan-made MV below:

Ok, now that I have gotten it out of my system, back to real life. (Until the next manga.....hmmm Fruit Basket.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

LELONG: Drama Serials for Sale!

Price: SGD5 unless otherwise stated. COD
Delivery: Personal delivery where possible
Condition of goods: Excellent and all Original!!! (no fake stuff)
Added Service: A one liner review of the dramas
To order: Please PM me via Facebook or under the comments page of this blog or email me at tehlimau@yahoo.com
Priority: First come first served basis

1. Spring Waltz (20 episodes): Daniel Henney
Romance, beautiful setting in Austria, Daniel Henney is hot but still cannot speak Korean
2. Summer Scent (20 episodes): Song Seung Heun and Son Ye Jin
Part of the Winter Sonata, Autumn in my Heart series. Typical lovey dovey romance.
3. Lucifer (20 episodes): Joo Ji Hoon, Shin Min Ah
Dark thriller, unusual and engaging.
4. East of Eden (DVD - 56 episodes) - Song Seung Heun
Drama mama! My mum cried buckets.
5. Sassy Girl Chun-Hyung (17 episodes) - Han Chae Young
Romantic high school comedy. Fun.
6. One Fine Day (16 episodes) - Gong Yoo
Romance with scenes in Australia. Watch for Gong Yoo's body.
7. Tree in Heaven (12 episodes) - Park Shin Hye and Lee Wan
Teen romance set in Japan. Very short, very sweet, very sad!!!!!!!!
8. Green Rose (22 episodes) - Lee Dae Hee and Go Soo
Romantic drama, lots of ups and downs, and of course crying.
9. Fashion 70s (28 episodes) - Lee Yo Wan and Joo Jin Mo
Unusual drama set in the 1970s. Not the usual romantic drama. Engaging.
10. The Man of the Vineyard (16 episodes) - Yoon Eun Hye
Romantic comedy. Hero is not good looking but is damn funny.
11. The Great Expectations (17 episodes) - Kim Tae Heun
Comedy with lots of cute children. Set in a kindergarten.
12. All In (24 episodes) - Song Hye Gyo, Lee Byung Hun
Korea's "Unbeatables".
13. Save the Last Dance for Me (20 episodes) - Eu Jin, Jin Seong
A very watchable romantic drama.
14. To Marry A Millionaire (16 episodes) - Go Soo and Kim Young Hoon
Like Joe's Millionaire. Interesting premise for romantic drama.
15. Fireworks (17 episodes) - Han Chae Young
Modern romance, minimal crying. No strenuous over the top plot developments.
16. Mr Duke (16 episodes) - Choi Ji Woo
One of Choi Ji Woo's earlier dramas. It is very funny!
17. Sang Doo, Let's Go to School! (16 episodes) - Rain, Lee Dong Gun
Watch for the men only!
18. Popcorn (16 episodes) - Song Seung Heun
Old romantic drama featuring Song Seung Heun. (Mother is a fan.)
19. Lovers in Prague (18 episodes) - Jeon Do Yeon [Sold]
Setting in duh (!) Prague. Beautiful, beautiful place. Not very hot leads but good acting and unbeatable scenery.

20. Memories of Bali (20 episodes) - Ha Ji Won, So Ji Sub
Set in duh (!) Bali. Very drama mama, over the top. But really who cares?

21. Sad Love Story (20 episodes) - Kwon Sang Woo, Kim Hee Sun
You have been warned. It is a SAD.LOVE.STORY. But very nice drama lah, and good lookers galore.

22. Wonderful Life (16 episodes) - Eu Jin, Kim Tae Heun
Romantic comedy - fun to watch. And a very cute little girl.

23. My Girl (DVD, 16 episodes) - Lee Dae Hee, Lee Joon Ki
Another romantic comedy. Was one of the top hits in Korea the year it was released.

24.Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy (16 episodes) - Gong Yoo and Gong Hyo Jin
Romantic comedy about a teacher/student relationship. A very very good show!!! May change my mind and keep this later.

25. Sweet Love (16 episodes) - Lee Wan, Yeong Joon Hoon
Male eye candy

26. Princess Lulu (20 episodes) - Kim Jung Eun
Romantic fantasy/comedy.

27. Hallo, Miss (DVD, 16 episodes) - Lee Dae Hee
YET another romantic comedy.

28. Hwang Jin Yee (DVD, 24 episodes) - Ha Ji Won [Sold]
Historical drama about a Korean geisha. Very engaging.

29. Beautiful Days (24 episodes) - Choi Ji Woo, Lee Byung Hun
Older romantic drama, but most absorbing. Mother LOVES Choi Ji Woo because she cries very well.

30. Prince Diaries (DVD, 16 episodes) - Se7en, Park Shin Hye
Romance and royalty

31. A Love to Kill (DVD, 16 episodes) - Rain
Drama mama with Rain

32. Jumong (DVD, 81 episodes) - Song I Gook [Sold]

33. Beautiful Lies (DVD, 16 episodes) - Choi Ji Woo
Drama mama about 2 fre-nemies.

34. Love Letter (16 episodes) - Cho Hyeon Jae
Romantic drama mama with terminal illness.

35. Air City (DVD, 16 episodes) - Choi Ji Woo
Action romance. Choi Ji Woo as tough action lady. Fast paced.

36. Glass Shoes (40 episodes) - So Ji Sub
Ups and downs of two separated sisters. Yes, very drama again.

37. Summer Beach or Let's go to the Beach (DVD, 14 episodes) - Lee Wan
Romantic comedy for relaxation

NEWLY ADDED on 17 September 2010

38. First Love of Prince (18 episodes) - Sung Yuri, Cha Tae Hyun
Romantic comedy, quite funny and club med settings

39. My 19 Year Old Sister in Law (16 episodes) - Kim Jaw Won
Family drama

40. Stairway to Heaven (20 episodes) - Kwon Sung Woo, Choi Ji Woo
One of my all time favourite K-dramas. May regret selling it.

OMG, I think I can open a specialised shop with all my Korean dramas. And still not done yet, AND I am now suffering from red eyes as a result of all the dust I have disturbed while trying to clear and identify my loot. Time to take a break! More later.

LELONG: VCDs/DVDs (Movies) for Sale!

Price: SGD2 unless otherwise stated. COD
Delivery: Personal delivery where possible
Condition of goods: Excellent and all Original!!! (no fake stuff)
Added Service: A one liner review of the movies
To order: Please PM me via Facebook or under the comments page of this blog or email me at tehlimau@yahoo.com
Priority: First come first served basis

A) English Language

1. Lost In Translation (VCD) - Bill Murray, Scarlett Johannon
Set in Tokyo. Quirky and Scarlett looks hot.

2. The Animal (VCD) - Rob Schneider
Brainless comedy with lots of animals. I love Rob Schneider!

3. Wedding Crashers (VCD) - Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn
Comedy. No good looking men, but funny.

4. The X-Files: I Want to Believe (VCD) - David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson
For X-Files fans, like me.

5. Robots (Cartoon) (VCD)
A fun cartoon with surprisingly good storyline.

6. Alexander (VCD) - Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie
Farrell's hair looks terrible, Angelina is hot as usual.

7. Love Actually (VCD) - Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson
Lots of big names for a romantic comedy. I like Hugh, though he is a bastard in real life.

8. Cast Away (VCD) - Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks talking to a basketball (or rugby ball??) is hilarious.

9. The Perfect Storm (VCD) - George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg
Yummy men, and oh, effects are good too.

10. Ever After (VCD) - Drew Berrymore
A sweet romantic film. For chicks.

11. Epic Movie (VCD) - No one famous
Leave your brain at the door.

12. 10 Things I hate about You - Julia Stiles
For chicks too

13. Out of Sight - J Lo and George Clooney
For fans of the above

14. Shanghai Noon (VCD) - Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson
Typical Jackie Chan Hollywood fare. No Fann Wong and bad English.

15. Rush Hour (VCD) - Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
I like this much more than Shanghai Noon. Better chemistry.

16. Corpse Bride (VCD) NEW AND UNWRAPPED SGD 3 - Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Very, very good movie!!!!

17. The Polar Express (VCD) NEW AND UNWRAPPED SGD 3  - Tom Hanks
Great 3D effects

18. Evan Almighty (VCD) NEW AND UNWRAPPED SGD 3 - Steve Carrell, Morgan Freeman
Anything with Steve Carrell is funny.

19. You Don't Mess with the ZOHAN (VCD) - Adam Sandler
Damn funny.

20. Marley and Me (DVD) - Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson
Cried like hell.

21. Chocolat (VCD) - Johnny Depp, Juliette Binoche
Makes you hungry. Lovely french setting.

22. Ramses (DVD) - Discovery Documentary
For history buffs

B) Other Languages

1. Tale of Two Sisters (Korean, VCD)
Very Scary!

2. My Tutor Friend ( Korean, VCD) - Kwon Sang Woo
Funny, and Kwon Sang Woo is hot as usual.

3. Infernal Affairs II (Chinese, VCD) - Edison Chen, Shawn Yue
The younger times of Tony Leung and Andy Lau

4.Infernal Affairs III (Chinese, VCD) - Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Leon Lai
Leon Lai is good evil.

5. Guns and Talks (Korean, VCD) - Won Bin
Hot men and guns

6. Phantom (Korean, VCD)
Korean military thriller - engaging!

7. Bodyguards and Assassins (Chinese, VCD) - Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, Nicholas Tse
Exciting patriotic adventure

8. Sinking of Japan (Japanese, VCD) - Ko Shibasaki
Remake of 1973 blockbuster novel

9. Confucius (Chinese, DVD) - Chow Yun Fatt
Great effects, but very wordy. Chinese history buffs.

10. Secret (Chinese, DVD) - Jay Chou
Jay Chou fans only. Great music though.

11. A Bite of Love (Thai, VCD)
For animal lovers. Cute dogs and a little girl. Prepare your hankies.

Those interested in drama serials (Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and even Chinese!), watch out for next post!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Miscellaneous Rant: Need to hold a garage sale

Suddenly we realised that our new house will be ready in 6 to 9 months time. I was expecting it to complete soonest at the end of 2011, but God (and the property developer) obviously has other plans. Now I am faced with having to read up about interior designs and planning the theme for the new house (no I don't think it is going to be Japanese but who knows?), and also the prospect of packing and moving. (Ugh!)

Amazingly, 10 years in a tiny 4-room flat has generated quite a lot of junk, despite my best efforts. I am normally not a sentimental person when it comes to holding on to things unless they are very special. However, Samurai T and I being homebodies - we are not the party nor clubbing people - prefer to stay at home to read a book, watch movies/dramas and surf the Internet. So now I have SHELVES and SHELVES of DVDs/VCDs and books. Not to mention the tons of knick knacks we have accumulated over the years, things that had caught our fancy before but we have long since changed our minds.  As my new house is not going to be much bigger than the current one, I need to find some way to get rid of the uneccessary stuff, and save ourselves the pain of packing when the time comes.

It would be silly and wasteful to throw the stuff away since most are still in good condition - some of my DVDs are brand new and unwrapped! Whereas we would donate things like old clothes and shoes, I don't think my Korean dramas are appropriate for charity. Unlike in America where garage sales are a dime a dozen, I doubt I can hold a "Lelong Fair" at my HDB void deck - LOL. It does not make sense to sell my stuff over Ebay as well, since I am not intending to sell them for a zillion dollars. How then?!!!!!!!!

I believe for a start I would do a proper stocktake and then use this blog as a platform to "lelong" some of my stuff like the DVDs and books to interested parties. If all else fails we will see if I can get a license to hold that "Lelong Fair" to attract HDB aunties. :) Now the tedious work begins to sort through everything - gulp.......

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kyoto See: Fushimi Inari Shrine - An Unexpected 4 Kilometre Trek

Kyoto is like one gigantic outdoor museum with reportedly about 20% of Japan's national treasures and 14% of Important Cultural Properties in the city itself. As the Japanese capital from 794AD to 1868, it has a mind-boggling 2000+ shrines and temples and numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not surprisingly, it was an absolute PAIN for me to plan what we were going to see and do during our 4 pathetic days in Kyoto. I spent a lot of time poring over the Internet to read up on the so-called "Top Sights" - and there were still TOO MANY to choose from and I had to decide which places we had to forego. Again, I repeat, an absolute pain. (Of course, my friend said this gives me an excuse to revisit Kyoto again in the future - but STILL!!)

The main shrine building - and first warning signs of an uphill climb

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is usually not among the TOP TIER sights (like Ginkakuji aka Golden Pavilion or Njo Castle or Kiyomizudera) recommended by travel guide books or travel sites but for me it ranks as one of the "Must Visit" places. Situated at the southern part of Kyoto city, Fushimi Inari (founded in AD711) is one of the oldest and most revered Shinto shrines in the country. Besides being the headquarters of over 40,000 (!!!) Inari-dedicated shinto shrines in Japan, Fushimi Inari is famous for its 10,000 orange Torii gates built across the shrine's enormous compound stretching all the way up the Inari mountain. These shrines are actually built from donations by individuals and corporations thanking the Inari god for its blessings over the year and the pillars of the gates are all carefully inscribed with the name of the donor, year, nature of blessing, etc.

At the start of the Torii gates, and an exhausting 4 km walk - on an incline!!

I realise I did not have a "human-less" pic of the "interior" of the gates so this is taken from WikiTravel.

Just how far does 10,000 Torii go? Samurai T and I went in blind and ended up treking over 4 kilometres via an uphill slope in a space of 2 hours. The only place I did not research in detail, thinking it was JUST LIKE ANY OTHER SHRINE and we paid a heavy price with aching legs and perspiration (in AUTUMN!!). And I finally understood why the site is not as highly recommended by travel guides - if you have only a limited time in Kyoto, you cannot really afford to spend more than 2 hours in one place. The shrine is also slightly out of the way and not really close to other sights except Tokufuji (which is considered "near" but is actually a 30 - 45 minute WALK away). The upside of being out of the way, and not a so-called "Top Kyoto Sight"? Significantly less tourists!!

The fastest way to reach the shrine is to take a train from Kyoto Station via the JR Nara Line (one way: 140 yen) to the Fushimi Inari Station, from which it is apparently only a 3 minute walk to the shrine. However, we had already purchased full day bus passes (a more common way of travelling around) and being the cheapskates we are, we took a much longer bus ride from the Kyoto Station bus terminal and ended up walking about 15 minutes from the bus stop to the shrine (yes, we really, REALLY walked a lot on this trip).

Besides the torii gates, the main temple grounds are also peppered with many fox statues. Inari, being a god of rice, was believed to have foxes as his messengers. In the beginning I kept calling it a "fox shrine" because of the numerous fox statues, but Samurai T corrected me. On the day of our visit the shrine was relatively peaceful and quiet except for a group of young female devotees in traditional wear. It was nice to observe local religious rites taking place without jostling for space with a zillion other tourists.

One of the many fox statues standing guard

Teenage girls in kimono praying for ??

In all fairness, the trek along the torii trail was like a lovely nature walk, with lots of greenery and THANK GOD a cool weather. While on an incline, it was not very steep and we were able to enjoy our trek until the last quarter when we had to stagger up a steep section. Only until we ascended to the top and saw Kyoto City laid out in all its glory did we finally realise how far and how high we had climbed. Of course by now, we had both taken off our coats and were panting like mad. The funny thing was, it was not until we descended back down and were on our way out that we saw a huge board with a map of the trail stating that the whole course was 4 kilometres. Like - duh!!

Maybe it was a good thing we did not realise the length of the trail because we might have decided to walk halfway and not be rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. Tired as I was, I chalked it up to a good weight loss regime, because I definitely lost A LOT of calories!! (And then put them ALL back on eating those delicious Japanese food. Sigh.)

Smaller shrines at the halfway point of the trek

A beautiful neko to distract us for awhile. There were many cats on the grounds.

Our reward - a Kyoto City view from the top

Monday, September 6, 2010

Samurai T is on holiday, hence, so am I

Samurai T is having school holidays this week, although unfortunately we are not travelling out of the country (too short). Nevertheless he is going to take up quite a fair bit of my time, so I will not be blogging as much this week.

We do aim to explore a few new Japanese eateries, so hopefully there will be more reviews coming up here very soon.

And yippee, no Japanese language lessons this week too! Brilliant. Although more shukudai (homework) than usual, but that can wait!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Singapore Eat: Heavenly Compote Waffle by Marvelous Cream

I have stopped losing weight. Probably a result of sitting on my ass blogging away non-stop. And the fact that my bloody metabolic rate is screwed. I tried LIGHT exercises two days ago, and now I have an aching lower back, which makes me want to swear in a variety of languages. Thus I have no choice but to continue my starvation tactics, which would also mean that I would be writing more furiously on food-related posts. I cannot eat, but I can THINK about them right???

I have always, ALWAYS loved the sweets shops in Japan, whether they are the traditional おかし (okashi - sweets) or the western type desserts. The shops are always so well designed and the sweets/desserts always look unbearably delicious. If there were no other equally oiishi food around, I would be more than happy to stuff myself silly with Japanese desserts all day. (I know, how to lose weight like that, right?)

I was at 313@Sommerset last week and I chanced upon this Japanese desserts shop called Marvelous (one "L" only) Cream. Apparently they have been in Singapore for 2 years (!!) with their first outlet at Citylink. I was attracted by their display of colourful desserts known as "Heavenly Compote Waffle", which is apparently stuffed with yummy cream made from Hokkaido milk. It is SGD 3 per piece and you would get a free ice pack if you buy 5 pieces. Knowing Samurai T has a mean sweet tooth like I have, I bought 5 different flavours from the more than 10 flavours available.

Caramel, chocolate, tiramisu, green tea, raspberry.

Small slices - done in 3 bites.

Verdict? Yes they look really nice, but I was disappointed. While the cream filling was flavourful and thick and probably VERY sinful, the waffle was way too dry, which spoils the overall taste. In fact, the colourful bread from the local ice cream vendors (at only SGD 1 each) taste much better. It may be that the need for refrigeration has sucked the moisture out of the waffle, but if that was the case, then the whole concept of "Heavenly Compote Waffle" has failed. And at SGD 3 for such a small slice, it is not very cheap when taken into account the various alternative desserts around town.

I would save my money for something else, like Beard Papa. Sorry!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Osaka Eat: Kinryu Ramen - The Dragon's Ramen

I am hungry again, so here's another food post.

Readers should know by now how obsessed Samurai T is over ramen and noodles of any kind. If he has nothing else to eat BUT ramen 3 meals a day for the rest of his life, he would not be complaining. Actually, I can understand where he is coming from, because thus far in Japan, we have eaten a lot of ramen from both small, unassuming eateries to larger chain restaurants and I have yet to taste bad ramen, just GOOD and SUPER GOOD ramen.

Kinryu Ramen - You can see the dragon a mile away
1-7-13 Namba
Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
(06) 213-6825
(Just walk down Dotonbori Street - you cannot miss it.)

Although we have eaten quite a lot of ramen, because I wasn't expecting to start this blog, I did not pay much attention to the shop names nor the locations of these places - afterall they are EVERYWHERE and we are always game to try new places. Thankfully, a couple of restaurants did register sufficiently in my consciousness, and one of them is Kinryu Ramen in Osaka.

During our first night of exploration of Dotonbori, Samurai T was immediately attracted to the packed eatery with its bright red, open concept structure housing a gigantic green dragon on its roof. Kinryu, which stands for "Golden Dragon" supposedly serves Kyushu-style tonkatsu (pork) broth ramen and is another well-known landmark along Dotonbori. "We have got to eat here," he proclaimed, but since we were supposed to eat kani (crab) that night, Kinryu was slated for another day.

Open concept eatery - only one cook at 9am in the morning

In the end, we had it for breakfast on the third morning of our Osaka stay. Shockingly, Kinryu is open 24hours a day, and while Dotonbori was surprisingly quiet and peaceful at 9am in the morning, we could smell the delicious broth in the air as we approach the eatery with growling stomachs. Only one lady staff was manning the stall that morning, but since there was hardly any customers and it was self-service anyway one staff seemed sufficient.

Like a number of economical restaurants, we had to pay for our ramen via a vending machine right in front of the eatery. There were only 2 choices - standard ramen (600 Yen), and another with more pork slices (700 - 900 Yen I think). I am sure you can guess that my darling Samurai ordered a more substantial portion for himself.  Then we handed our order tickets to the staff and clambered onto their signature tatami-mat platforms surrounding the open air kitchen and waited for our ramen.

Samurai T and his piping hot bowl of delicious ramen (with added pork of course)

The brilliant thing about Kinryu was the UNLIMITED kimchi (yep!) and garlic that you can add on to your bowl of ramen (self-service of course), and you can help yourself to ice water, which is free too. Nonetheless, the highlight was the out-of-this-world broth which was so thick and savoury and fragrant. Samurai T slurped his bowl dry, I believe. The ramen was springy and the pork, though not the most tender and melt-in-your-mouth I have eaten, was more than good enough. The house kimchi was delicious and added a special taste to the ramen.

It was also a marvellous experience eating while sitting outdoor on tatami mats. Bear in mind it was autumn and there was a chill wind in the morning (which might have explained the lack of customers). But even against the biting cold, the hot broth brought such a warmth to our bellies that we felt entirely happy and satisfied. In fact, I think the cold made the ramen taste even better.

Even with so many untried ramen options, in view of its superb food and affordability I would most certainly patronise Kinryu Ramen again.