The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The movie adapted from the book was released in November of 2013. I am glad to say I haven’t watched the movie, but it is finally in my laptop and I plan to watch it soon. I am sure I will not enjoy it as much as the book, same as The Fault in Our Stars book/movie. The girl did an awesome job, the boy in the movie, Augustus, didn’t quite live up to the boy in the book. Just my opinion!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Anyway, The Book Thief is set in Germany during the second world war. It is narrated by death. Death has its way around words, I can tell you that. The words are beautifully woven to create scenes and images that stick around long after the book is finished, like warmth in a hearth long after the cooking is finished. The story’s timeliness might be confusing, as it goes back and forth from present to future, to past and back to present again. The chapters can also be brief and at the beginning of the chapter, there is a little introduction and for the obsessive like me, you will spend quite some time trying to decipher what is ahead.

For all that, it was a well written book about a girl called Liesel. She loves reading, even if at first she is not quite good at it. War being the terrible time that it is, and she being a poor girl living in foster care, books are a precious commodity. She didn’t so much steal her first book as she neglected to give it back to the owner who had dropped it. The story starts with her being in a carriage headed to Munich, with her brother and her mother. Her brother never makes it, and she never sees her mother again (at least not in the scope of the book). That is shortly before the war breaks out.

We get to watch the war unfold and its effects on ordinary Germans, including Liesel who is at the center of this story. I don’t want to give away too much, but I would re-read this book in perhaps another year. And as I said before, if I can re-read a book, then that’s my definition of a good book.

The Noto Peninsula Trip

This post is long overdue!

I know Japan is a series of islands, but I only got to see the sea the Saturday before last. After landing in Osaka, I took the train to Kanazawa, my current city, and since then I have spent most of my time exploring it and its residents. There is always something interesting, from class parties to snow falling early in December (isn’t it beautiful), to meeting Kenyans and having my hair plaited, to cooking various gourmet meals (as the solo consumer, I can tell you they are delicious), to sampling various wines and finally learning the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Moscato, to going to church for the first time in 5 years (my mother would be so happy) to trips various places. Follow me on Instagram already!

It's cold but beautiful snow is the compensation. This is the path to school, formerly in autumn colours, now all white.
It’s cold but beautiful snow is the compensation. This is the path to school, formerly in autumn colours, now all white.

On Saturday 29th, the International House where I stay organized a trip to Noto Peninsula for its residents. Chartered tour bus with a guide, doesn’t matter the guided tour was in Japanese. We had a translator who did a pretty good job while we dozed in the heated bus. We were served coffee in the bus, and were welcomed into it with juice/water/tea/milk tea.. whatever you wanted. It took about 2 hours by bus from Kanazawa to Peninsula but the view of the ocean was worth it. It was like the last day of autumn, that Saturday. It was rainy in the morning but later in the afternoon, the sun shone and it was quite warm.

Noto peninsula
Noto peninsula

The first stop was Kiriko Lantern Museum. During summer festivals, they (the Japanese) will walk with these lamps through the streets. Inside the museum, the lights are low and the lamps are lit, and it was breath-taking. There were various lamps on display and their history was also explained, mostly in Japanese.

I captured a few bad pictures, so they cannot do the place justice!

Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum
Kiriko Lantern Museum

We then had an early lunch, and for the Japanese (and many other societies), a meal is not just about the taste but the presentation is also important. Observe. Wonder. Proceed to dig in. おいしい。 The beautiful container down-left contains the rice.

Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula
Lunch at Noto Peninsula

Lunch swiftly dealt with, we went to the rice fields of Noto where they still use traditional cultivation methods as the fields are too small for machine use.  The sea is always beautiful no matter where you look at it from, large, ominous, goes on forever..

The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever. The rice fields at Noto Peninsula
The sea goes on forever
The sea goes on forever

The last stop of the day was a traditional tie and dye workshop where we got to make our own handkerchiefs. Once white, now permanently coloured in various patterns.

The white is before, the blue and the rest is what we aspire to make
The white is before, the blue and the rest is what we aspire to make
Boiling the handkerchiefs in the dye
Boiling the handkerchiefs in the dye
Boiling the dye
Boiling the dye
The end result
The end result

As we made our way back, we stopped by Noto Airport, a small airport where we watched a plane land. I have watched planes take off but never the landing, it was exciting! After that, we waved at disembarking passengers, I am sure they were wondering if we were nuts! Well, in our defense we had seen some other Japanese waving too, but probably to their families!

X marks the spot where it will land. Well, not x exactly.
X marks the spot where it will land. Well, not x exactly.

It was a day well spent. I look forward to the lantern festival in the summer.

For now, the focus is on staying warm. And learning Japanese. So don’t worry if you don’t read a post from me in a week, a lot is happening in a relatively quiet city, but there is no time to put it all in writing.

じゃ、またね!

The Holidays are Here… and January Bills Will Be Here Soon Too!

December, the Christmas month, is finally here with us. I always look forward to December, being the holiday month that is. Signifying the end of what is sometimes a long year, sometimes a good year (which would feel short). This will be the first time I will be spending Christmas away from my family :-( (大変)

Anyway, I woke up this morning to the beginnings of snow and the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced. It wasn’t so bad, but of course this is only the beginning. By February the winter will be at its coldest so I should reserve my judgement until then. Still, the landscape is beautiful.

Snow at the Kanazawa University campus
Snow at the Kanazawa University campus

That being said, in December, you will indulge in all manner of excesses: shopping, eating and drinking. By January, almost everyone is broke. I am going to Tokyo for the Christmas break and Tokyo is quite expensive (perhaps the world’s most expensive city) and I am contemplating leaving my ATM card behind! Of course I must first set aside the money for January survival!

Anyway, if you are in Kenya, there is a way to clear your January bills early through OLX, bearing in mind you can sell everything and anything on that site. You can also raise money for December debauchery :D Start early, make an ad that stands out. Sell anything (except the illegal stuff) and everything. Go through your inventory for the year, find clothes and shoes you haven’t worn in 2014, books you might never read again, random electronics gathering dust on shelves, furniture crowding your apartment, quails that failed as a business.. the platform to sell everything is there, so use it. Create ads that stand out, here are some tips to do that. Good luck in raising the money! Let’s enjoy the holidays, but stay safe. Long live December!

The Kaga Tour

Japan is very welcoming to foreign students. Well, I have never been a foreign student elsewhere, but I am sure in Kenya, we don’t give free passes to our National Parks and Heritage Sites to the foreign students there (or do we?), nor do we offer free tours to visit said places. We currently have student passes to visit parks and museums around Kanazawa City so we don’t have to pay any entrance fee.

This past Saturday, I was among a group of about 30 foreign students from various universities invited by the Ishikawa Prefecture Tourism Strategy Department International Exchange Division (I am not kidding) to visit the Kaga area. The schedule was sent like 2 weeks in advance to our emails, and later a printed schedule was also sent to our mailboxes.

This past Saturday was a beautiful autumn day. The day was warm, the sun shone brightly, the clouds stayed away. Perfect weather.

Kutani Ceramics Center

Kutani ceramics center
At the Kutani ceramics center

After assembling and beginning the journey from the station, the first stop was the Kutani ceramics center. Here, ceramic dishes and other objects are beautifully decorated/painted, after which they are fired up in modern kilns (although we were shown a traditional wooden kilns where temperatures could reach as high as 900deg Celcius). You will remember in the previous post, the artwork engraved into the tea bowls? We were given our own dishes to decorate, some brushes and some water paints. Yours truly was gifted many things, but art was never one of them. Un-originally, I painted our Kenyan flag colours.

The back of my dish
On the back of the dish is my current university name (Kanazawa University) and my name in Katakana, and the date. They will send us the dishes when they have been fired.

Here is the front of the dishes. No marks for guessing which one is mine!

The painted dishes
The painted dishes. I can even see Sponge Bob somewhere there!

And some guys are real artists:

Given a chance, would you have been this good?
Given a chance, would you have been this good?

From the ceramics center, we headed for an early lunch and the menu had been sent to us beforehand. I had a set of udon, and rice with pork cutlets and what-else on top. Nevertheless, it was totally delicious and despite it being 11:30am, I did not have a problem finishing it all.

Lunch was delicious
Lunch was delicious

Natadera Temple

This is an ancient (Indian-Buddhist?) temple built long ago and currently restored. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and we had a chance to wander around. It was a beautiful day (I know I am repeating myself but it’s true) and although I couldn’t walk as much as I wanted (I injured my ankles exercising but that is a story for another day), I sat down on a park bench and enjoyed the autumn colours and the feel of the sun on my face. I was happy.

Below are some pictures from Natadera Temple and gardens.

We stand and stare in awe at the temple
We stand and stare in awe at the temple
The gardens surrounding the temple. Breathtaking.
The gardens surrounding the temple. Breathtaking.
Can you see the caves? I couldn't make my way up there due to the pain in both ankles but I was content with the view!
Can you see the caves? I couldn’t make my way up there due to the pain in both ankles but I was content with the view!
Serenity
Serenity

After about an hour at Natadera, we again got into the bus and drove to Yamanaka-bushi. This area is famed for its onsen but unfortunately we did not have time for even a quick dip. Which reminds, I recently went to an onsen (less of the hotspring variety, more of a public bath) and that is also a tale for another day.

Yamanaka-bushi and Kakusenkei Gorge

We walked the length of the beautiful gorge, about 800 meters, crossed it and walked along the other side until we could cross another bridge and complete the loop. The colours were so brilliant. The gorge, was gorgeous.

Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
Tall trees with colour foliage dominated the landscape, and a beautiful river ran at the bottom of the gorge
The beautiful river
The beautiful river
A beautiful street
A beautiful street
The beautiful bridge that signified the end of the walk
The beautiful bridge that signified the end of the walk
The view from the bridge down to the gorge below.
The view from the bridge down to the gorge below.

Back to Yamanaka-bushi. There was a folk dance and we were given free tickets to by performances by Yamanaka geishas.

Japanese dancing is not in the least like African dancing, I can surely confirm that. While we move to the rhythm of the drums, the Geisha dancing was more to the rhythm of the shamisen. The thumping of a West African drum would induce me to jump in and shake my body, the melancholic tune from the shamisen, coupled with a long day of walking, soothed me into an uncomfortable nap while upright in my chair. The graceful hand movements of the geishas and careful shuffling of feet added to this effect. The lights in the hall were of course, turned down low. Who can resist? The fight went out of me, and my eyelids drooped.

A geisha plays the shamisen
A geisha plays the shamisen. Image from wikipedia

The last act, was that of a mask dance. There was a tiger’s head and body, and this time I was awake throughout as it went through the motions of the dance. When it was done, I was surprised to find the masked ladies doing all the acrobatics were not as young as I thought. I am truly impressed and hope to be as flexible and fit when I am their age!

We couldn’t take photos during the performances, but we did take photos with the performers after. A beautiful evening and a good time was had by all.

The geishas take photos with the international students
The geishas take photos with the international students

At around 5:30 p.m., it was dusk and we got into the bus to start the short ride back to Kanazawa City.  I had a wonderful time.

There are many more pictures that I took, and other people took, but no time to share them all. There are a few more or less on my Instagram account.

This coming Saturday, I have yet another trip to make. Don’t miss out on the next post :) Watch this space

Posting an Ad That Stands Out

It takes a leap of faith to buy something online from a buyer you do not know. On OLX, there is no system yet to rate the sellers or for people to post public feedback about a seller (seller profile with ratings and such).. come to think of it, that is a suggestion for product improvement!

Anyway, if you are browsing for a product, what kind of information will help you determine if the seller is genuine or not, and if the product is genuine or not?

When I bought a laptop earlier this year using OLX, I first browsed through the posts on computers looking for the laptop that fit the specifications I was looking for. Obviously, if a laptop has no specifications listed, there was no point in further giving the ad a second glance. So if you are a seller, put as much information as you can in the description field. If you can’t describe your item in as many words, then many pictures from many different angles will do.

A laptop search on OLX
A laptop search on OLX

I just did the search above and here are tips for the buyer and seller alike:

  • At least one picture is a must if anyone is going to take you seriously! If you are a buyer, don’t give any product without a pic a second glance. If the seller cannot take their time to show you even a single picture of their item, why would you take them seriously?
  • Put as much information as you can into the title. At first glance, there are some ads I can just look at and get the specifications for the laptop I need from the title.
  • If it is too cheap, think twice! How about that laptop for 7,500? Maybe the owner should have specified that it is 10 years old and runs on Windows 2000 and it would then make sense!

So someone can have all the pictures and a beautiful description, and leave their contact which you can easily reach them. But what else can you use to determine if a seller is to be trusted?

I have just noticed that you can check out a seller’s history once you have opened a specific ad. There is an option to see what else they are selling or have already sold. So you can’t see their rating (yet), but at least you get a glimpse into their history.

Olx-user history
Olx-user history

Sometimes the people using the site are individuals with no previous sales, others are companies selling products and may have lots of previous ads. This is better because the companies/shops probably have an address which you can visit and check out the products. The laptop I bought on OLX was being sold by some young guys who owned a shop where they refurbished imported (used) laptops. So get as much information as you can about a seller, and if you are a seller, provide as much information as you can about your product(s) and I bet you will sell more and faster.

What ads have stood out for you in your online shopping experiences in Kenya?

My Japanese Tea Ceremony Experience

At the international house where I stay, they often organize various activities such as Japanese dancing , flower arrangement,  Kanji calligraphy and Tea Ceremonies. They are always on Friday evenings and it is the day we eat out with friends, so I hadn’t attended any of the activities until last week on Friday.

First, allow me to say that the tea served at the ceremonies is just so delicious. It is thick and smooth, it is not the green tea served with meals or the extremely watered down one in the school cafeteria (hey I am not complaining, that particular tea is usually free even in restaurants).

Before the actual event, we received some notes in our mailboxes about the tea ceremonies.. Why the ceremonies? Here’s a whole website dedicated to teaching you about the ceremony.

Everything about the tea ceremony is elaborate. Since it is often held in a tatami (Japanese style floor mat) carpeted room, then no shoes allowed. In fact, in an actual tea ceremony room, you don’t stand at any time. You enter the room on all your knees. Ideally you are dressed up in a kimono (or the other lighter one worn in summer I think, yukata). You open the door elaborately, as we were being shown. You bow to the guest. You enter the room on your knees, slide over to the a particular picture usually placed there for your admiring view, admire the picture, then slide on your knees to your position. Once there, you sit in seiza for the entire ceremony.  It can be very long.

Practicing tea ceremony etiquette at our International House
Practicing tea ceremony etiquette at our International House

Luckily for us, this was a training ceremony. We could stand and stretch and sit in any position once your turn is over.

The host usually prepares the tea, which is the served with okashi, Japanese-style sweets.

Admiring the artwork of the bowl of tea

Admiring the artwork of the bowl of tea

Maintaining seiza throughout the tea ceremony was not easy!
Maintaining seiza throughout the tea ceremony was not easy!

Preparing the tea is something that I would need a year’s practice, everything is so elaborate. We watched in silence as the sensei prepared the tea, and once it is served to you, before you drink it, you say thanks to the host, you turn to the next person and apologize for going before them and finally put the bowl of tea in your hand. You then turn the bowl’s (decorated) face away from you and sip from the un-decorated side. Afterwards, you turn the bowl round and round to admire its pattern before putting it in front of you so you can keep admiring the artwork.

The sensei prepares the tea for us
The sensei prepares the tea for us

The Japanese style sweets were very yummy and they were of different colours and I was told each colour meant something.

Okashi- Japanese sweets
Okashi- Japanese sweets. とてもおいしいですよ!

The sweets:

The sweets in our tea ceremony
The sweets in our tea ceremony

The sweets are given because sometimes the taste of the tea is bitter but in our case, it was not bitter at all. I loved it! I am glad I got a glimpse into a tea ceremony, however until I can maintain seiza for long and gain an appreciation for small, precise movements, I shall not be accepting any invitations soon!

See more pictures on redfoxjapan.com. Some of the images in this post were borrowed from the site.

Of JAIST

It’s been almost two weeks since I blogged and I have no excuse! Not that there is nothing to write about, on the contrary there have been some awesome recent experiences but these days I filter what  I tell the readers unlike in the past when  I would spill it all.

Anyway, back to the post at hand. My undergraduate university has a long name: Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, which we simply shortened to JKUAT. It rarely fit into form fields whenever I had to write it. Next year, I shall be enrolling for PhD at Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), the curse of the long name is back. Anyway, it is more of a research center really, so there are no undergraduate courses and it only specializes in 3 areas: knowledge science, information science and materials science. It probably has the highest ratio of foreign students and teachers in this area and English is one of the main languages there. So to learn Japanese, I had to enroll at a sister university, Kanazawa University, where I am currently.

Kanazawa City is more like Nakuru in Kenya, not too big, not too small, vibrant but not loud, moderate population, very clean. Kanazawa University is like 30 minutes from the city center, and it’s a relatively lively place to be. JAIST on the other hand, is built on the mountains and is surrounded by almost nothing. The nearest town where the train makes the last stop looks like one of those small towns in movies where everyone knows everyone else, and where a stranger arrives and a horror movie follows!

 

Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

My colleague is depressed when he thinks we will be heading there next year, there is not much to do there expect, well, research! But I am actually excited and I am looking forward to it, even as I enjoy my time here. Learning Japanese is fun, and I do like Kanji, even if it is difficult to read and write it.

Interlude: Japanese 101

Japanese uses 3 ‘alphabet’ sets for writing: Hiragana, Katakana and the Chinese characters, Kanji. Sometimes even Roman characters will be contained in the sentence. Generally, Kanji will be used for nouns and verbs, hiragana will be used to conjugate the verbs  to show past tense, for example. And Katakana is used to write foreign/loan words, like ‘computer’ which is pronounced almost similar in Japanese.

However, writing in Kanji makes the sentences shorter (as opposed to writing everything in the Hiragana alphabet – think something similar to the Roman alphabet) and believe me, easier to read (because Kanji conveys meaning as well as sounds). For example, Kanazawa University in Hiragana is かなざわだいがく。In Kanji, just 4 characters. 金沢大学.

Miura-sensei explaining the name of the university in Japanese
Miura-sensei explaining the name of the university in Japanese

Which brings me back to JAIST. There is just no shortening this name, even in Kanji, the name is long. The name of Japan  Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Japanese is Hokuriku (this region in Japan) Sentan (advanced) Kagaku (science) Gijutsu  (technology) Daigakuin (graduate school) Daigaku (university).

In Hiragana, that would be ほくりくせんたんかがくぎじゅつだいがくいんだいがく。Fun note: there are no spaces between Japanese words, reading Hiragana only would be a headache inducing affair!

And in Kanji: 北陸先端科学技術大学院大学。

Let’s just stick to JAIST, shall we?

On the way to Shirakawago Village. Photo courtsey.

Japan’s Traditional Villages: Shirakawago and Takayama

Last week, we had a class trip to see the UNESCO Heritage Site of Shirakawago Villages. On the way there, we stopped at Takayama (I hope I remember this correctly) for a taste of what was ahead. Takayama is a smaller village of fewer houses, but no less magnificent.

The journey from Kanazawa to Shirakawago took about 3 hours by bus. The journey itself was quite interesting. Driving through the Japanese countryside in autumn is really breathtaking. The trees in the mountain forests are in an array of colours, the mountains themselves are magnificent even on a cloudy day, and we drove through on roads that seemed on the very edge of the mountains, imagine looking out of the window only to see a deep valley below! If you have driven through the Mai Mahiu range on the way to Naivasha or Narok, you know what I am talking about. And that drive lasts about 30 minutes to an hour, but picture it lasting 3 hours. The beauty of the landscape would be every photographer’s dream, Mutua Matheka, are you reading this? I cannot do it justice in my photos.

The magnificent village of Shirakawago in Japan
The magnificent village of Shirakawago in Japan

What is more, the changing seasons means that you can photograph the place all year round. In winter when everything is covered in white (snow); in the spring as the cherry blossoms bloom all over Japan; in the summer as the sun shines bright and in autumn, the current season, when trees are in golden colours. I would love to visit these traditional villages in winter and if my budget allows it, maybe stay for the night.

The river at Shirakawage Village
The river at Shirakawage Village

One thing about Japan is its strictness when it comes to garbage. At the villages, if you have plastic garbage, you have to go back with it. They can take recyclable garbage like cans or bottles, and combustible garbage like paper, but if you have plastic and metal junk, you have to carry it back with you. The whole of Japan is anal about garbage disposal anyway, consequently, it is a very clean country.

The air in the villages is refreshingly cool, clean and crisp. There are some people still living in these villages and you can only envy their simple life, save for the hordes of visitors poking their vehicles into their village every day.

One of the houses in Takayama Village on the way there..
One of the houses in Takayama Village on the way there..

So I have a few pictures of the trip to show to you. My current class consists of fellow foreign students who are also studying Japanese. The pictures are in no way touched up, I have no time or patience to edit pictures, the only thing I did was reduce their size (MB) because they were like 5MB. This greatly reduced their quality, but hope you will still enjoy. View the slide show by clicking on one image.

 

I Cooked!

I landed in Japan on 1st of October and on 1st of November I was having a late lunch with my new friends at the nearby AEON foodcourt when we realized a month had passed already! In that one month, I have become so tired of the school cafeteria meals. So I went shopping for utensils and food to cook.

Generally, I am not a fan of cooking, although I love eating very much. I cook out of necessity and not the mere pleasure in the art of preparing the meal, but for this one time, I was totally excited and couldn’t wait to make my first meal in Japan. I got all my food (rice, fish, onions, tomatoes, etc..) from AEON (very big supermarket), as the fresh fish (food) market is 20 minutes by bus away.

How to prepare the fish? I wondered. I Googled some recipes but some were suggesting I broil it. I had to Google broiling but unfortunately I have neither an oven nor a broiler. That was when I remembered LeoTunapika run by my good friend, at least I could understand the ingredients and methods she uses, and could ask her for clarification if need be. So I decided to stew it, it looked quite simple, stewing fish in coconut milk. However, I did not have coconut milk but you will see how I solved this problem (and ended up ruining the stew) later. As for vegetables, my plan was to sprinkle some of them into the stew so they cook together, save energy, time and at the same time enhancing the stew flavour. Genius! So here is my recipe.

Recipe: Fish in No-Coconot Milk (Serves 2)

Ingredients: fish cut into pieces, onions, tomatoes, carrots, assorted veges, any other thing you want to include.

Ingredients for Fish Stew
Ingredients for Fish Stew

Method

Defrost the fish, and while it is defrosting..

Cut up the onions, tomatoes, etc..

First, fry the onions in low (or is it medium, do whatever feels right) heat

Frying onions
Frying onions in low heat

Next, cut up the tomatoes and carrots and add them when the onions have cooked.

Tomatoes and carrots on a chopping board
Tomatoes and carrots on a chopping board
Trying to do this like a pro.. so here is a close up of chopped carrots haha
Trying to do this like a pro.. so here is a close up of chopped carrots haha

Detour: Do you guys know how hard it is to take pictures while cooking? I nearly dropped my phone into the stew, into the sink or onto the electric cooking pan!

Next, add the chopped stuff into the onions and let them cook for a few minutes.

Cooking
Looks nice, huh?

Do you remember the assorted vegetables? So I got this pack of already chopped veges.. cabbages, carrots, mushrooms and some sea weed that’s a popular vegetable here. I picked a few and added to the pot.

Vegetables
Vegetables

Time to add them in:

Vegetable stew
Vegetable stew

Now, the next step is very critical.

Whatever you do, DO NOT substitute cow milk for coconut milk! I got this idea from home, because from time to time we add milk to fish stew and it is delicious. However, when I added the milk, it went sour immediately, sticking to the sides of the pot. I had come too far so I wanted to know how the end result will taste like.

Salt the fish lightly, then add the pieces into the stew. Let it simmer for a while.

Letting the whole mixture stew
Letting the whole mixture stew for a while until the fish is cooked

Next, cook the rice. No recipe here! Just boil the rice, add some salt and a little oil.

I cannot multitask, generally speaking. I am the exception that proves the rule that all women can multitask. So I prepared the fish first, then the rice. However, it’s better to start with the rice, then as it requires no intervention while cooking, stew the fish so it all cooks around the same time.

After I set the rice to boil, I remembered then that I had some pilau masala I ought to have added to the stew. I added it to the rice instead to add some flavour: Japanese rice is sticky and tasteless, I miss pishori rice.

Pilau masala
Pilau masala

Now it was time to wait for the rice to be ready. I decided to set the table with my new crockery and cutlery. The wine can also be sipped as you wait for the rice to cook.

Fruits are really expensive in Japan. One apple costs like 250 Ksh. The cheapest are bananas at Ksh 150 for 3 bananas! This is bananas!

Setting the table
Setting the table. I included the chopsticks, they are quite an art in themselves.

Finally, bring in the food for that final picture. Serve half, if you are alone, and save the rest for lunch/dinner the following day. Don’t forget to say the grace. In Japan, they say, itadakimas(u). Also, don’t forget to post on Instagram.

Dinner is served
Dinner is served

Verdict: It was average. The milk ruined the sauce, but the fish was tasty. The rice with some masala was OK. All washed down with wine, it was the perfect first meal!

Book Reviews: Hong Kong, The Devil and Miss Pryn, & The Man Who Would Be King

Hong Kong by Stephen Coonts

It has been a long time since I read an action novel. I think it was before Jack Bauer in 24, and the last action novel I read was Robert Ludlum. I read the Bourne books one after another and after that, Sidney Sheldons seemed like child’s play. The complexity of the plots couldn’t match up and I got lost in the plots from time to time, to be honest. When I picked up Hong Kong, I had no expectations so the book didn’t disappoint so much.

Hong Kong by Stephen Koonts
Hong Kong by Stephen Koonts

There is a crisis in Hong Kong in the book, just like it is happening right now in Hong Kong. Protesters swarm into the central business district on the island, after the bank collapses. They want better leadership, they want democracy. And they will take it by force.

In all this one man, Jake Grafton, travels to Hong Kong to investigate the US Ambassador’s involvement in the rebel movement. He goes there with his wife, who is kidnapped by some bad guys. Working with CIA bad boy Tommy Carmellini, Jake Grafton is our Jack Bauer. He blows up bad guys left, right and center, and rescues his wife. The US Government is covertly involved in the rebels’ mission, supplying them with money, weapons and would you guess it, intelligent robots that learn from the environment and kill only the bad, aggressive guys. However, there is a traitor in the rebel movement, but who is it? The traitor reprograms one of the York robot soldiers, which then runs after Jake Grafton in the dying pages of the book, determined to exterminate him. Jack must use brains, brawn and macho bad assery to save himself and set everything alright.

Do the rebels take over Hong Kong? And even if they do, there is still a huge China with resources in terms of a huge military and weapons. What then? Read and find out.

It started out slow but I really enjoyed it towards the end. Wouldn’t mind a part two for those long train journeys, flights or boring Sunday afternoons.

The Devil and Miss Pryn by Paulo Coelho

This is the second book by Paulo Coelho that I am reading, after the Alchemist which I read back in high school. As I am now in my mid-twenties, that was 10 years ago! Coelho has an entire movement behind him now, including one of my best friends, Beautiful Rumi. (She is also into Rumi FYI, just Google, the search for spirituality should not end with Jesus Christ.)

The Devil and Miss Pryn
The Devil and Miss Pryn

Miss Pryn lives in a quiet village town and one day, the Devil arrives in the form of a lonely , middle aged male stranger. He has come to find answers about suffering, answers he will find by performing an experiment on the villagers themselves. He sets the experiment up, and only Miss Pryn knows what it’s all about. It’s a novel about discovering the true nature about ourselves, we are all cowards. We want change, but we are too afraid to get it. We are stuck in inertia etc etc.. you know there is an ambiguous lesson that every Coelho book tries to teach, and for everyone, it will be different. I could totally relate to the cowardice of leaving, I read this book in my last week in Kenya, when I thought that maybe I should never leave. But I had already handed in my resignation, and being jobless in Nairobi is not attractive. For every single day I live here though, I miss my son. Next year, he comes to join me here and maybe then life will be perfect? How do other mothers do this?

This book is a short read and worth the few hours you will spend on it. You might find yourself adding it to your library for future reference, even when you don’t agree with everything the author says. He’s not a god people. Or he is?

The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

It is a free e-book that comes with the Moon+ Reader app. It is available on desktop/Android, I don’t know about the Apple Store. #teamAndroidForLife

The Man Who Would Be King Movie adapted from the book
The Man Who Would Be King Movie adapted from the book

I read this short story really, a while ago and realized I forgot to write a review. It is a book about two men who left India on an adventure journey to become Kings. You come to understand why Rudyard Kipling is famous for his storytelling ability, for it is not only about the story itself but also how the story is told. If you ever watched Mowgli, the boy in the Jungle, he wrote the book. He was an Englishman born in India and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

Two men who are friends decide to leave India to become kings in distant lands, which at first seem like fabled lands. However, after many dangerous travels, they come to the lands they first dreamed about and conquer, and become kings (sorry to give away the plot!). But first, how did they manage to make the dangerous journey? Their story is nothing short of amazing.. they were the men who would be kings alright. But like any top position, getting there might be hard but manageable, remaining there is near impossible. Things start going downhill sooner than later.

Highly recommended.

P.S.

I read both ebooks and hard copies. I seem to have discovered a middle ground where my love for printed books is balanced by my love for technology.