Category Archives: Blog

Regular posts as you know them

Got a Petrol Engine? Try the Total Quartz Engine Oil

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!

 

 

Okonomiyaki – My Favorite Japanese Dish

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.

Japanese food for New Years's Day
Japanese food for New Years’s Day

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:

Okonomiyaki.. delicious
Okonomiyaki.. delicious

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.

Ingredients for okonomiyaki
Ingredients for okonomiyaki
Friends mixing up the ingredients before the cooking begins
Friends mixing up the ingredients before the cooking begins
Pour everything onto the hot plate, already oiled, and watch it cook
Pour everything onto the hot plate, already oiled, and watch it cook
Flip it over and decorate
Flip it over and decorate

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!

The end result
The end result

Washed down with a beer, it’s the perfect Friday night meal with friends!

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 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?

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?

My Kigali – CMUR Experience

This is a guest post by Aggie Nyambura, who graduated with a first class in computer science from JKUAT this year, just like I did over 3 years ago. She said I motivated her to graduate sumna cum laude (I am glad that my vanity may have some positive impact on society!). She’s now pursuing her master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, Rwanda. Yes, the American university has a campus in Kigali for 4 years now, I think. Aggie chatted me up on facebook and wanted me to write about the university so the (relvant) Kenyans can be aware of it. However, I know nothing about the campus so I persuaded her that she ought to write her experience and send me the guest post.

I really enjoyed reading it, she should start her own blog! Anyway, here is the story, straight from the horse’s mouth:

I graduated in June 2014, from (Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology) JKUAT University with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Enrolling for a Master’s program was next in my agenda and during my search for Universities offering the Master’s program I had in mind I came across Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda (CMU-R). I first heard about Rwanda CMUR last year during my final year at JKUAT.

If you do a Google search on CMU you will probably get hits on its notable word wide ranking in Computer Science and Technology. What you may also find is the fact that in 2012, CMU opened a new campus in Kigali, Rwanda in addition to the Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley, Australia and Qatar campuses. Up until last year, the Rwandan campus only offered Graduate Programs in IT & Engineering which is what I was looking for.

But there are many questions that cross your mind when you hear that the campus is set up in Africa, more so in Rwanda. Such as; is the quality of education the same? Is the tuition cheaper? Why study in Africa if you can go to the US and so on. And so I did my research.

The Kenyan student enrolled in the Inaugural class of 2012 was a great source of insight, as well as direct communication with the University staff. I got particularly interested in the Masters in Information Technology (MSIT) program; the other program, Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE) did not exactly fit into what I had in mind and the application process began.

The process was rather involving and took me about 3 months to complete. Being an American University, I was required to sit for a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language or TOEFL) test and the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The entire process was done online; from submitting application details, recommendation letters, interviews (via Skype) and receiving the admission decision. I got my admission for the MSIT program in May 2014, just one month before my undergraduate graduation. I was expected to report for a one month orientation program that would start on July 29th and thereafter classes would officially begin.

As the days went by, I went through a cycle of mixed feelings; excitement to undertake this new journey and sadness that I would be so far away from home. But this didn’t stop me from going. I remember tearing up at the airport as I bid my family and friends good bye; this was on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. When I landed in Kigali, there were some things that struck me. The nicely lit roads, the smooth traffic, the cleanliness, it was definitely a new experience for me.

I came to learn that orientation here is quite different from what we know. In my first year in JKUAT, orientation involved being given campus tours, meeting department heads and the Vice Chancellor’s welcoming speech ceremony. Orientation spanned for an entire week! However, on my first day at CMUR after we had a brief introductory ceremony and a short tour of the University we sat for our first class in the afternoon.

Students from the CMUR Inauguration class on their graduation in July 2014
Students from the CMUR Inauguration class on their graduation in July 2014

The orientation is structured to bring all students at par in terms of computer programming, language skills and other fundamental concepts in computer science. Many of us had come from different Universities with different backgrounds and this made the orientation vital for all of us. From the second day onwards, classes began at 8:30 in the morning and ended at 5:30 pm in the evening every day of the week. The school provided us with lunch so we practically spent all our time in school. We also had fun activities to do such as a day trip to Gashora, a remote town about 2 hours from Kigali, bowling and movie nights.

This became my routine for the one month before classes began officially on August 25th. The American system on which CMUR is based is quite different from what we have come to know. Each of us was assigned an academic advisor who would be one of our professors. This person would be your go to person to consult on academic issues, for career advice and generally to ensure that you are faring well in the program.

Classes start at 9 am every day. One is free to select whichever courses they may want to take and so student’s schedules differ. The quality of education offered is the same as that offered in the other campuses. The professors were previously teaching at the main campus in Pittsburgh. It is also possible to take classes in other campuses like Silicon Valley by having the sessions streamed live to Rwanda and even then, one is expected to put in as much effort as if they were in the campus offering the course. The major advantage of studying here in Rwanda is the 50% scholarship offered to all East African citizens on the tuition fee. Because the teaching is the same as those of other CMUR campuses, the tuition fee is the same; so having 50% paid for reduces the financial load significantly.

During our CMU welcoming dinner with the faculty and staff
During our CMU welcoming dinner with the faculty and staff

The programs offered at CMUR are very intensive; you learn by doing so at any one point you will have several projects or assignments you are working on. There is a wide pool of resources available to help you succeed, from the experienced professors, the Teaching Assistants (TAs as we like to call them) and the students from the preceding class. The school literally provides us with everything we need, from laptops to free gym membership; we have it all. One interesting fact is that for the first time ever since the inaugural class, I happen to be the only girl admitted to the program from a class of 28 students. I hope that next year’s intake will have a better representation of both genders.

I am still adjusting to living in Kigali and how different it is from life in Nairobi. Take for instance the public buses used to move around the city. Bus fares are relatively cheap within Kigali with the furthest bus ride costing between 200-250 Rwandan Francs, about Ksh.30. Motos, boda bodas as we know them, are also quite common here but with the requirement that both the driver and passenger wear helmets.

One interesting observation was the absence of big shopping stores and supermarkets like we have back in Nairobi. Shopping for things can be daunting as their stock supplies are limited in addition to the high prices for Kenyan brands. However, there are a few Nakumatt outlets in the CBD. Kigali is a very secure city. Policemen patrol the areas at all hours of the day. I have walked back to my house as late as 1 am with no fear at all.

All in all, CMUR is like one small community of people who share big dreams and want to transform the world. I have seen myself grow in so many ways since I came here and I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Every day I learn something new about myself and push myself to new heights I never thought I’d ever reach; all thanks to CMU.

Our visit to Gashora
Our visit to Gashora

For more photos click here.

Transacting Online Safely

There has been and will continue to be an increase in online trade in Kenya.  Sites I have used or my friends use include OLX (good deals among the online classifieds), Mimi (Julie Gichuru’s dress shop), and jumia.  There are many other shops online, I think there was even one where you could do supermarket (Naivas, Tuskys or Nakumatt) shopping and have it delivered to your location. While some sites sell goods directly to the customer, others like olx are not involved in the actual sale of items. Thus some people have used this opportunity to perpetuate fraud.

Keep calm and Stay Safe online
Keep calm and Stay Safe online

 

It’s to this end that OLX partnered with COFEK (Consumer Federation of Kenya) and the ICT Authority in Kenya to launch a one month awareness campaign for the general public to learn about online safety.

The campaign is named, “Kaa Ridhoo”! I don’t know who came up with that slogan surely, but the importance of the message should not be lost.

I have blogged before about staying safe online, OLX has guidelines for using its site, including a page for reporting suspicious ads or sellers. Just click on the Contact Us page to file a report. They then work with the local police to investigate and arrest any of those suspicious individuals, especially dealing with cars and electronics.

Have you had any experience of fraud when shopping online locally, and how did you deal with it?

 

Flying to Japan

I am in the Kanazawa University library typing this. There is something familiar about all libraries.. the silent shuffle of feet, the queitness broken by the turning of pages of paper, the rows upon rows of beautifully arranged books, the students at the tables all trying to absorb the knowledge. It is a long way from home, and yet it is home for me. I think back to Tuesday afternoon, when I began the actual journey.

The steps to the Kanazawa University Library. Click for larger image
The steps to the Kanazawa University Library

My father wouldn’t let me be late; by 1pm he was revving the car and hooting for us to get out of house. I arrived at the airport at 1:30 for a flight that was departing at 4:40pm. My luggage passed through the safety scan, I had been afraid they wouldn’t let my lotions and hair stuff through(relaxer, treatment – there are no salons for black hair in Japan, I was told). I thought I might have carried stuff over the luggage limit for Emirates Economy class, but fortunately this too was a breeze. My luggage was checked in, and I would get it at the airport in Japan. I wasn’t going to have access to checked-in luggage at Dubai, the stopover.

I said goodbye to my family. My dad, mum, brother and my son, and my friends Veeh & Njeri had come to see me off. I managed not to cry. But later, on the flight to Osaka from Dubai, I let them fall and I pretended I was watching The Fault in Our Stars. Anyway, the flight to Dubai was not long, but it wore me out. It was 5 hours to Dubai. The Captain was American, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… this is your captain blah blah” The hostesses were fair and graceful. The meals were okay but the cramped space in Economy makes you understand why people with money opt for Business class or First Class. I could not catch any sleep and my neighbour was chatty. He was giving me advice about taking care of my hand luggage. Don’t let it leave your sight. He was going to Dubai to manage some warehouses. I wished him the best. He gave me some pens as a gift. (I have become a pen collector.) His wife works at a pen company.

Dubai. Nothing is done in half; no expense is spared. From the air, it gives off an aura of organization. Rows and rows of lights, illuminating shiny highways and complicated road designs. From where we landed at the airport, we took a shuttle for almost 30 minutes to arrive at the terminal. Dubai is grand. No, wait, Dubai is grandiose. Towering terminals. There are 3 terminals, A, B & C, and you take a train between the terminals. The terminals are on 3 floors, and you can ride the elevator or escalators. We had about 4 hours to spend at the airport. After marking our gate for the next flight, we went round checking out the terminal.

Inside the elevator at Dubai Airport. Can you see the water flowing down the black wall? This stuff is better seen not told!
Inside the elevator at Dubai Airport. Can you see the water flowing down the black wall? This stuff is better seen not told!

There were so many shops, mostly selling designer perfume. I was sprayed liberally by a salesman; Givenchy I believe. Smelled heavenly but I couldn’t afford it at the time. The few dollars I had with me were for surviving the first month in Japan. Givenchy will have to wait. But it was definitely cheaper there than if you had to buy it in a shop in Nairobi. I bought some water, and a Starbucks coffee. Not as tasty as Java’s latte.

Starbucks Coffee at Terminal B of Dubai airport
Starbucks Coffee at Terminal B of Dubai airport

So I was hanging out with two Zambian dudes who spoke Kiswahili; they were also headed to Osaka with us, they’re in the vehicle importation business. There was another guy who was Kenyan, but lives in Washington DC, and he was also connecting via Dubai. And 3 of us scholars, heading to Osaka. We left the importers with our hand luggage (except for passports & money, duh) and escorted the Washington Guy to his terminal. That was when we took the train to terminal A and back. And thus, the 4 hours at the airport passed away.

Oscar, fellow MEXT scholar on the left, with the Washington guy on the right as we said bye to him
Oscar, fellow MEXT scholar on the left, with the Washington guy on the right as we said bye to him

Finally, we boarded a Boeing 777 Emirates plane to Osaka. That was one grandiose plane. I had never flown international before, so the jambojet, KQ & Jetlink small planes had left me with a bad impression of take off, landing, changing direction and turbulence. In a huge plane, you don’t feel any of this stuff, at least not on the same level as on a smaller plane. It was 9 hours from Dubai to Osaka. I slept half of the time, watched 2 movies (About a Boy starring Hugh Grant), ate two full meals and enjoyed the flight somewhat. We landed in Osaka at around 6pm local time, finally touchdown in Japan! (Cue for this song)

From Kanazawa airport, it took a while to clear from immigration. Fortunately we are Japanese government scholars, so not many questions were asked. They printed for us residence cards at the airport, we went and claimed our luggage, and went our separate ways. After changing my money into the local currency, yen, I asked for the JR Train ticketing office. It was around 8:10pm when I finally got a ticket to Kanazawa, changing trains at a place called Maibara. The train was departing at 8:16pm so it was a mad dash there. The Japanese are very friendly people, so far everyone I had met on the way had been very helpful.The train ride was very comfortable, and I dozed on and off. The signs were in Japanese as well as English, and the train announced every oncoming stop. Maibara was like the last stop, and it was just me and two Japanese girls who were also going to Kanazawa.

The countryside fly past us, with not much to see in the dark. At every station, we’d meet other trains and you would see students in uniform getting on or off, working class people boarding the train, weary shoulders drooping, and the people got fewer and fewer as it got later and later. We arrived at Kanazawa at 12:39am! I tried to get a taxi to Kanazawa Castle Inn, where I was to spend the night. I was willing to pay as much as it took, but no one would take me, they just pointed the direction. Turns out, it was just 3 minutes away from Kanazawa Station and no one was going to take advantage of me. If it were in a Kenya, I am sure someone would have drove me round in circles and charged me like 2,000 Kenyan shillings for it!

At the hotel, I finally got free wifi (which I couldn’t get at Dubai or Kansai) and let my family know I had arrived safely. After a warm soak in the tub, I asked for an adapter (they use narrow sockets) from the hotel reception using gestures & pointing. The man at the desk just opened a drawer full of adapters and I picked one that fit, with a promise to return (in gestures). At the airport, most Japanese speak fairly good English. However, Kanazawa is a bit farther in, so there are fewer speakers with less fluency. (Except at the universities, lots of people speak English here). I charged my phone and fell asleep.

On Thursday morning, I took a taxi to Morinosato Kaikan (Kanazawa International House) where I was going to spend 6 months. It’s a 20 minutes scenic walk to the university. There was the opening ceremony to attend after that, and later orientation and an introduction lesson to Japanese on Friday. There will be many other tales to tell.

The food in Japan
The food in Japan
More Japanese food
More Japanese food
Even more Japanese food
Even more Japanese food
Some pizza too
Some pizza too
Tamar from Georgia, ken from Malaysia, myself and Akiko, who's Japanese
Tamar from Georgia, ken from Malaysia, myself and Akiko, who’s Japanese

In the meantime, I am getting used to the local food. Sushi. Sashimi. Miso soup. Rice (hehe, yeah also needs getting used to, trust me) And others I can’t pronounce well.

Yesterday evening, being a Friday, we went to a local restaurant with a Japanese student who’s very nice and is helping us around. Below is what we had.. beer, sake, pizza, sushi, sashimi, dessert, and many other local dishes. By us, I mean myself with other foreign students. There are many other foreign students around. They come from Malaysia, Georgia, Solomon Islands, Argentina, Tanzania, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia .. over 25 countries. There are only 3 of us who are black, as far as I can tell. Myself, another lady from Solomon Islands (she speaks with such a lovely accent) and the guy from Tanzania. But I don’t feel it, I think because I am in a university and you know, a campus is the same everywhere. Cool people!

Although I miss home, and my son more than anything, I know I made the right decision. The next countdown on the blog is to the day my son will come to join me in Japan!

Do I Have a Dream?

If there’s one person who is a dreamer, then that person is me. Since I was young, up to now, I have never stopped dreaming. Reality sometimes pours cold water on some of my dreams, but I will go to sleep and dream again.

When Crown Paints asked me to talk about my dream, I was at a loss of where to begin. Because I don’t have a dream, my friends. I have DREAMS! At the moment, I have a to-do list of 30 things to do before 30, which is 3.5 years away. I am not sure I will achieve those 30 things (okay, 29, I have already crossed 1 off my list), but I am already on my way. I haven’t shared my list with you guys (the readers of this blog who keep it alive, I love you guys, excuse the emotions, I am in a strange land and yet to make new emotional connections). Anyway, I was saying I haven’t shared the list with you guys because I have changed my style of writing. I no longer share about everything I see, feel, eat, drink or experience. Perhaps I shall open up again and share that 30-things-to-do-before-30 list, I have a feeling it will shape the future of this blog.

In the meantime, I geared up to talk about my dreams to the Crown Paints team. I am nervous in front of the camera. I hate the sound of my recorded voice. But I braved myself to talk about my dreams, which would have taken over an hour. Fortunately, the required length was only 40 seconds!

So enjoy my 40 seconds of fame below! I shall be blogging about Japan soon, and other experiences.