I still don’t know much about cars, in spite of owning one for over a year now. There are a few things you must know though, like what important liquids it needs: engine oil, ATF, fuel and wiper fluid. You should check them every day, but I never did. Sometimes I’d go for a week or two, and all I did was top up my fuel weekly (I’d fill my tank). Which is why when my engine oil was leaking, I never noticed and had to push my car off the road when it stalled. Embarrassing? No. I look at it like an adventure.
This is why I want an electric car. No fluids, period. No hood full of sputtering liquids and complicated wiring. But that is a wish for another day.
In a quest to find the perfect engine oil (which is important for lubrication of the moving engine parts as well as keeping it clean). You can get oil which you change after every 10,000Kms or every 20,000Kms. If you cover long distances daily, then you should choose the 20,000 Kms one.
Regularly servicing your car will improve your engine efficiency so you burn less fuel per kilometer. Before, I was quite indiscriminate on where I serviced the car, but after that embarrassing episode, I serviced it at a reliable mechanic’s and also got Total Quartz Engine Oil. There’s a smoother feel afterwards, but I don’t know about fuel consumption, I didn’t measure it.
So today I am checking out what others say about this engine oil, is it any different from what they used previously? All the reviews on Amazon are good, 4 or 5 stars (17 out of 22 reviewers gave it 5 stars). Here’s another review from a motorhead. The engine is an integral part of your car, and every day, scientists are trying to create the best products for it. If you want more out of your car, you have to take good care of it!
So have you tried the Total Quartz Engine Oil? If you have, please share your experience!
Every time I do a post on Japan, I will find a way to talk about food! Yep, I love food. The eating part, the cooking not so much. I have tried many Japanese dishes, although I am yet to try the seafood delicacies that are served on special occasions like New Years Eve/Day (Christmas is not that big of deal in Japan, but it is somewhat celebrated). They include delicacies like Octopus and crab. Someday I shall try them.
For now, my favorite dish is okonomiyaki. In Japanese, that is お好み焼き. And there is this restaurant where I have been to twice, they let you make your own. Fear not, it takes about 10 minutes to cook once they bring you the ingredients. It is a dish that’s pan-cake/pizza-like. It has various meats and veges inside, and then it’s cooked on a special pan.
The end result is then decorated by a soy-like sauce, fish-dressing (can’t remember the name), sometimes mayonnaise and it should look like this:
The restaurant we went to is just 2 minutes walk from where I stay. It’s called 古川, which means Old River. They give you a menu and you get to choose what ingredients you want in your okonomiyaki.
The end result? Does it look like anything in the first picture? Hmm.. close enough.
Was it delicious? Totally. おいしいですよ！
Washed down with a beer, it’s the perfect Friday night meal with friends!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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!
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
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.
Here is the front of the dishes. No marks for guessing which one is mine!
And some guys are real artists:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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 Japanese style sweets were very yummy and they were of different colours and I was told each colour meant something.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.