For the last few weeks, I did not feel like writing and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t muster enough will to actually do it. Was it a writer’s block? I don’t know.. Writer’s blocks are for actual writers and I am your ordinary blogger. Whatever it was, the end result was an ignored blog and I have had to brush away the dust and sweep away the cobwebs on the walls (and this is not the only wall with cobwebs insert sly grin but I digress) before I could begin writing.
I will review two movies that I have had the pleasure of eyeballing in the last few weeks that I have been on holiday. A lot has happened, including a heartbreak (sob sob but they say better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all, no further details to be divulged though), new friendships, I finally got my Japanese driving license (I have to do a separate post for this!), an English test (sometimes I get a flare of anger because they made me prove my English proficiency, after receiving at least 18 years (8 primary-4 secondary-4 undergraduate-2 master’s) of education in the language, people should learn how the world works. Half of Africa speaks English, the other half speaks French with a few exceptions like Ethiopia, Angola etc (deep breath, namaste,deep breath namaste) Okay I have calmed down.. But let us get on with the movies, shall we? Enough segue, sexy as it was.
I wouldn’t have watched this movie had it not caused such uproar among some people; who seriously threatened to blow up theaters if the movie was shown in the said theaters; and who were possibly so offended that they hacked into the Sony network revealing emails among executives, movie plans, costs and such other information. I must confess I don’t understand their outrage, unless they view Kim Jong Un as their god which they perhaps they do.
An American journalist finally gets an interview with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. (By the way Kim Jong Un if you are reading this, you can hack my blog but please stop firing test missiles into the Japan sea; I quite live near the said sea.) This could be the great interview that makes the journalist’s career, a break from interviewing celebrities like Eminem who confesses that he is gay which explains his homophobic lyrics. So off he goes to North Korea but of course the CIA uses this chance to give him poison with which to kill the dictator and save the people of North Korea. What follows is a tragic comedy of events, the interview finally happens.. but does he kill the dictator like planned? Things go wrong horribly but in a stupid and comical way, if you have 112 minutes to spare, please yourself. But if you don’t have time, you will not have missed anything if you never watch this movie. Trust me.
The Memoirs of a Geisha
I am living in Japan and had never watched this movie until 3 or so weeks ago. I have seen some women dressed in kimono and with powdered faces and guessed they were Geishas but I had no insight into the culture. According to Wikipedia, Geisha (芸者 ?), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance, games and conversation, mainly to entertain male customers. Everything entertainment except anything sexual.
Memoirs of a Geisha follows the pre-world war II story of a young girl in Japan whose family has “sold her off” together with her sister because the family is unable to take care of them. Sayuri is trained as a Geisha and joins this admired yet lonely profession; a Geisha is not permitted to marry. She falls in love with a man whom she cannot marry but carries on her life, becoming the most sought after Geisha in the city. This happy setting does not last, the war soon sets in and everything changes.
With American soldiers full in the city streets, and with the harshness of war, many women claim to be Geishas but sleep with the soldiers for favours, money.. in short prostitutes. The Geisha profession is no longer respected. Sayuri has to do manual labour during the war; until the man she’s in love with finally comes looking for her, he needs a favour from her. Would she take up the shamisen (traditional musical instrument) once more, wear the kimono and make up once again, and be a hostess to one of the Americans who could possibly finance his business that had collapsed in the war?
It is an engrossing story, watch it if you have the time.
I am sitting here at my table (as always), staring at the sandwich I just made wondering if the bread has really gone stale or not. The date of expiration states 11th and I will be eating it for lunch tomorrow – Feb 14th- when I go skiing again for the second time; it started snowing again and I need to make the most of this cold weather. This is ironically, the sunny side of winter.. winter sports that is. Anyway the point of today’s post is Japanese. I have been in Japan for exactly 4 and a half months, and have been studying Japanese for exactly that long. Next week, I have final exams before heading on a month’s break, spring break as it were. I currently have no plans beyond a vague idea of seeing the cities Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe but ideas are welcome.
I don’t need to learn Japanese beyond the basics actually, my research will be entirely in English. But I want to pick up a fourth language, almost everyone in Kenya speaks at least 3 languages so of course I want to be unique; and when I get time I will hopefully pick up a 5th one, French for when I have to order wine at an expensive restaurant (red/white/sweet/dry, who uses those anymore?! ;-)) I think 5 will be my limit though!
While the normal stages of learning things of interest for me have been 1)excitement 2) some understanding 3)comprehension/plateau and 4)competence, with Japanese the stages have been 1) Frustration 2) Excitement 3) Frustration 4)Some Understanding 5) Excitement 6) More Understanding 7)Some Depression… in short, it is an up and down graph. After learning and understanding something, I get excited then I quickly realize how much more I don’t understand and the frustration/depression has me plummeting again.
1. Let’s start with Frustration
My first lesson in Japanese was actually in Japan. The first lesson in class was introducing ourselves. Which was easy to speak, but I couldn’t write or read; I could not read hiragana or katakana. I finally mastered hiragana after about two weeks (sure it might seem slow but we had to learn on our own as the pace of the classes assumed hiragana/katakana competence). So naturally I now entered the second stage, excitement!
2. Reading kana led to Excitement
Suddenly I could read the words in the textbook . We used Dekiru Nihongo which has no Romaji or English explanations. I could finally tell people which country I come from, which are my hobbies, when is my birthday, ask how much something is etc, and I could write these in kana! The textbook has hiragana readings above very Kanji character but of course in everyday interaction hardly any Kanjis are going to be having hiragana readings on top.
3. Leading to Frustration Again
Sure, we could now tell you what time, day, month and year it is, we could say what we do on weekends, what will did and what we will do. Now that the introduction was out of the way, it was time to learn Kanji and when we started a once a week separate Kanji class, you start to realize that one character can be read in several different ways, depending on whether it is a word on its own or it is being combined with another character to form a new word. It can also be a component of a bigger Kanji. Then you realize there are more than 10,000 Kanji (my Chinese friend told me that is why all Chinese people wear glasses, the strain they go through as kids trying to master all the Kanji.. and now that I think about it all the Chinese people I have encountered here in Japan do wear glasses hmmm..). However, we started simple, and we learned that in Japan the newspapers use about 3,000 Kanjis and the weekly characters we learned corresponded with our grammar & vocabulary classes, making it easier to remember them.
4. Thus we Finally Had Some Understanding of Japanese
By the third month, we could speak simple sentences about every day things. We could write down our schedule, waking up, walking to school, studying Japanese, doing homework in the library, having dinner at a restaurant, ordering, past tense, present continuous etc.. We could even read some Kanjis!
5. Excitement: I can Read Kanji
It was then the third month into the course, and we could even read and write some Kanji. It finally stopped being incomprehensible sticks that don’t make sense; it was still sticks but we could make out shapes and get a sense of what they were trying to communicate. In a paragraph, it was possible to find one or two words that we could read and understand the meaning! Such as 日本語(Japanese), 日本(Japan), 酒(alcohol, yes I know my priorities ;)) and days of the week 日、月、火、水、木、金、土「曜日」
6. More Understanding
The lessons started to get more interesting. We learned more ways to say something, when to use one way and not another. When to say something must be done, something should be done, it is not necessary to do something, and other nuances; learned to offer opinion, how to ask for help (even when you don’t exactly understand any answer you would be given in the real world), how to pick out important information in a poster for an event using the few Kanjis we knew (when, where, what time), learned to give directions, explain symptoms to a doctor, parts of the body, etc.
Four months in and we could speak, read, write and hear basic Japanese. However in the real world, language is so much more than the basic need to pass information about where you are coming from, what you are going to eat, what your plans for the weekend are, and what part of your body hurts. Language is also about bonding, creating bonds of friendship by revealing your thoughts and opinions to your friends.
After understanding this, you start to realize just how little Japanese you know hence..
7. Just a little depression
Sure you can read maybe 300/3,000 Kanjis (I may be exaggerating to make myself feel better) and can speak many more Japanese words; you cannot get lost in Japan and can even have a decent conversation with someone you just met for the first or second time. But the third time you meet that person you need more than that. You can ask someone something, but you can’t quite understand their response. You know just how much you don’t know! Which is about 20%. You need a break, spring break! Then come back for the 80% which will be definitely much easier to learn since now you know what to expect. Or more difficult to learn since the level of complexity is increasing. Either way, challenge accepted!
Sitting at the table in my room and eating fairly tasteless food I made, I have come to the realization that I cannot cook. Sure, I can put ingredients in a pot and stir them over a fire, but 90% of the time they come out tasting like what I am eating now, and I don’t like it. I don’t know where the magic went after I cooked my first meal in Japan. Even Googling recipes and improvising didn’t work, I think cooking requires a level of patience that I am not capable of. Therefore I am now adding ‘good cook’ to the rather short list of qualities I am looking for in the future Mr. Savvy (it is not an actual list but if you must know it includes things such as kind, smart, financially stable – I know it is 2015 and I can make money for our family but er… – taller than me (I am only 5ft1inch), slim to average build, reads even if only sometimes, and a good cook.)
The above is not entirely related to the book I am about to review, but I borrowed this book from someone who is also a good cook (I have already said too much *cough *cough). Anyway I generally like to read books with haunting characters, books that leave the characters’ impression on your mind for days, even months after reading it. Books that let you reminisce about the characters, evoking nostalgia as if you were a part of the story. This is the reason why I mostly read fiction, and when I am not reading fiction I can only push myself as far as biographies (watch out for Maya Angelou’s book review soon). Although Broken isn’t one of these books, I enjoyed reading it very much.
Broken is about crime, and solving it. A young college girl of 21, Allison Spooner, is murdered, but who is the killer? The police swoop in and arrest a prime suspect, an almost retarded kid who later commits suicide in the cells. The detective in this case is Lena Adams, who is working with Frank Wallace the Chief of Police in the county, and they are in a hurry to close the case. However when Tommy the chief suspect commits suicide in police custody, the former coroner Dr. Sarah Linton is called in for the autopsy and gets involved in the case. She does not trust the police and calls the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation for reinforcement; she needs someone she can trust to work on the case. Enter Agent Will Trent, who then begins working with Sarah to unravel the case. Agent Will Trent is the typical smart, dark, handsome etc.. agent.
Sarah was a bit too weepy for my like, I didn’t like her character very much; Lena Adams was not quite defined, you like her one moment you hate her the next… I feel like the characters were not fully developed but while Googling the image used above I came across a review that stated this is the 7th book in a series of crime books. This explains it, the characters have been developed in earlier books. Nevertheless, there was the question of the two dead characters, what is the connection between them? Who killed them and why.. there is a third character who winds up dead, there is betrayal, there is even a hint of romance, a hint of mystery (there is so much we don’t know about Lena) and there is the story of how Sarah’s husband died, which we never quite learn in the book.
It was a good book to read in between tackling Kusadikika and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
P.S. Reading is not as important cooking in the case of Mr. Savvy
I am seated at the Germany Coffee Shop near Korinbo 109 in downtown Kanazawa, having a cup of coffee, a hamburger and another piece of bread whose name I know not (it is Sunday brunch). I am not taking pictures of my food for Instagram, instead I am reading an incredible story on Facebook, a story that I am somehow involved in, but only at the very edge. I am fighting hard to stop the tears from flowing. The central character to this story is one Rodel Mc Felpe Aliwalas, who will narrate his story shortly. Seated next to me is Harumi Manabe, who is part of our Sunday-after-church-coffee routine. Yes, these days I attend church but that is a story for another day. One my other side is Kei-chan, also a part of the crew. Seated opposite us are Matilda, another Kenyan doing research here and Natsuko-san, a Japanese lady who is also involved in the story.
Still keeping up so far? The five of us are listening to the background of the story in a mixture of English and Japanese over coffee and bread. My part starts with the previous week on Sunday, when Harumi gave me a name and told me to look for a certain man named Rodel Mc Felpe Aliwalas. Being bad with names and instead of writing it down, I chose the easier way of taking a picture. They had tried to find him earlier but the only profile they found was a sketchy one on linkedIn. His mother, Edona, was a friend of theirs and had asked them to find him 6 months ago but they had had little success so far. She had come to Japan from Philippines many years earlier and was then married to a Japanese man.
Modifying the search parameters a little, I was able to find a profile on an Arabic job website that looked recently active. LinkedIn had not worked, they wanted me to upgrade my account before I could send a message (can you believe it?). The profile I found matched whom I was looking for: a mid-30s guy from Philippines who now appeared to be working in Qatar. I had one credit to send one free message to a member after signing up, but it was all I needed. I now had to compose my message, something that he would actually read. Spam messages from strangers are often titled: Urgent, Please Read, Hello Dear and such like. I finally settled on “Looking For You”; since the email was coming from a jobs website, maybe it would imply that the sender was looking for him in a professional way and would incite enough curiosity to be read. I hopped that it would at least be delivered to their actual email and so I included my email address in the message, crossed my fingers and waited.
In a few minutes, I got a reply from him! Unbelievable, I hadn’t thought it would be that easy and was prepared to track the company he said he indicated for in Qatar to get his contact. I immediately chatted with Harumi on Facebook, telling her he had replied. He asked me questions trying to establish authenticity on part; I would then ask Harumi on Facebook and back and forth it went. It was midnight here, and we continued the exchange until around 1am. He wanted so many answers but I had never met his mother so I could not answer him, and he had to wait for the following day when he would call Harumi and get some answers.
That was last week. Exactly one week later, we are back at the coffee shop and I am reading Rodel’s story, how he finally found his mother, and wondering if I should share it on the blog, with his permission of course. I get back to my room after coffee, and I find an email and I find an email requesting me to share the story my blog! Below, read it for yourself.
I found you and you are gone
It was summer of 2002 and I was a young 24 years old when my mom called me and she told me that she have a stage 4 breast cancer. She was in Japan at the time living with my Japanese stepfather and my 11 years old half-brother Sadato. After that phone conversation, my mom didn’t call me again, no letters, whatsoever. I’m trying to call her on their land line and no one’s answering. I tried to write a letter and sent it to her address but there was no reply. Days became weeks, weeks became months, months became years and there’s no news about my mother. I tried to ask for help in our Philippine embassy and Japanese consulate but there were no results. I asked my friends who happen to have Japanese friends but there’s no luck. I can’t find my mom. I cannot think of any reason why she suddenly disappeared and so I thought that she’s already dead. Having a stage 4 cancer is something serious and cannot be taken lightly so I made up my mind, my mom is dead and I need to go on with my life. 4 years later I married the second woman I love, first woman was my mother. How I wished I had my mom with me to accompany me to the altar while I’m waiting for my future wife walking through the aisle. A year later, my wife gave birth to a lovely princess. I don’t know what’s with this thing loving a woman, now I was given another one, a pretty little one. Again I remembered my mom, I was imagining her reaction if she saw my princess Adaiah, her first granddaughter. I’m sure she will be happy to have a baby girl. Besides, she already has two boys in me and my brother. I built my own family since I don’t have one to begin with. My wife’s mother, brother and two sisters are all living with us in one house. I treat them as my own, I took care of them and given them all they need. How I wish my mom would see this, of how I became.
Years passed by, I went abroad, December of 2009, I went to Doha Qatar to work. I promised to myself, I will not do to my wife and daughter what my mom did to me which is to leave me alone in the Philippines while she went abroad and live with her husband and my half-brother. Now I’m doing the exact same thing, I went abroad and left my wife and my baby girl in the Philippines. It was very hard for me. I’m trying to convince myself every day that what I’m doing now is for them, though it is really for them, still it’s a burden for me. My life went through, there are challenges here and there but I guess the biggest challenge for me is yet to come. There’s nothing that came to me that I wasn’t able to conquer. I was a strong and abled man. I was able to give a better life to my wife and daughter. I gave my wife a car, a house (not yet finished but almost done), I sent my daughter to an exclusive school, and I was able to provide them more than enough. All in all, I can’t complain with my accomplishments in life. Then again, I remember my mom, how proud she would be if she saw me doing well in my life in spite what happened to us. Wherever she was, I know she’s happy. Besides she’s with our Lord God almighty now watching me from above and guiding me all the way. It was thirteen years to date since the last time she disappeared and all those thirteen years, all I did are things that my mom would be proud of.
Then the biggest challenge in my life came to me, January 26, 2015, a Kenyan girl sent me an email. The Kenyan girl’s name is Harriet. She’s a student and a blogger who’s currently living in Japan for a scholarship. She’s really good at computers as she found my profile in one of the public job sites in the Middle East and sent me this email. While staying in Japan, she met a Japanese woman named Harumi Magane and this woman is looking for me. Harumi asked Harriet for help to find me as Harumi wanted to speak to me about my mother. It was a surprise of my life, I felt numb, and I was crying while driving my way home and cannot wait to speak to Harumi. I took Harumi’s number from Harriet and waited until January 27, 2015 at 7 am Japan time to speak to her. I was so nervous and don’t know exactly what to expect. And so I spoke to her and she has a warm voice, she sounded sad and she asked me if I knew about my mom, she said my mother died 6 months ago! I was in total shocked, I couldn’t speak, I can’t believe what I’m hearing, and where was my mother all those 13 years? Then she went on with her story. We spoke for a good one hour. I asked Harumi why all these years my mom didn’t communicate with me? Harumi said my mom was ashamed for the kind of life she had given me, she’s ashamed of me because she left me in the Philippines alone, she’s ashamed and she thought that maybe I was angry at her and blaming her for all the bad things that happen to my life. She couldn’t forgive herself and so she chose a life without me instead of having me in it. My tears ran down, I can’t bear to hear all these things from Harumi. She continued, she said that my mother was so proud of what I had become, she said my mother knew that I’m already married, she knew that I already had a daughter, she knew that now I’m working in the Middle East, she knew that I’m doing great in my life. She knew all of these because of my wife’s facebook. She’s checking it every time, watching me from the pictures and following me every step of the way.
She knew all these things and yet she chose to hide and never show up. I have lots of questions but all those will not have an answer, she’s already gone and she is for real with our God Almighty. I wanted to blame myself, that I gave up easily and stopped searching for her. But Harumi told me that it’s my mother’s choice, it’s my mother’s choice not to interfere with the life she wishes to have for me, I already achieved the things she wanted me to achieve and so she chose to just let it go by sacrificing her own happiness and letting me live my new life with my new family. I cannot question her decision, I’m not in the position to question what’s good and what’s not good, after all, mothers always think for their children’s well being. By not having my mother on my side, I strive, I became mature, I became afraid of failure and so I made sure that failure is not an option. I made my mother an inspiration as I always put in my mind that her sacrifice should not go to waste, what I’m having right now are all because of her.
Wherever she is, I want to thank her with all my heart, I wanted to tell her that I don’t hate her for what she did, I don’t blame her for how my life had become, I wanted to tell her that all the things that I have now is because of her, because I want to make her proud. Yes I was so sad, for the past few days. I cannot help sometimes, I look up and ask, why I didn’t have the chance to tell my mother all these? But then again, I answer my own question. God has his reasons, this is what God wishes for me. God always has a plan, everything happens for a reason and it’s not by chance, it’s by Gods will.
Harumi said my mother’s ashes were still in my stepfather’s house. I made Harumi a promise that I will fetch my mother, I will go to Japan to meet my brother (whose now 23 years old) and take my mother’s ashes and bring her back to Philippines. I want to give my mother a Christian burial and that is what I will do. I cannot promise when but it will be very soon. Wherever my mom is right now, I know she’s looking at me with a smile in her face. Thank you mama for giving me this wonderful life. I LOVE YOU AND I ALWAYS WILL. Rest well and let me take it from here. You’re hard life will not be wasted; it will be treasured and loved as long as I live.
(The photo captions are my own words)
Edona left, with Harumi on the right. Edona loved singing.
I heard she was a good singer. They often went to Karaoke with Harumi and co.
She was beautiful, wasn’t she?
Edona with Natsuko (whom I earlier mentioned was with at the coffee house today. She was her best friend I believe)
It is always one thing to be vaguely concerned about the environment, it is another to actively take part in environmental sustenance activities. One obvious way to do this is to plant (the right kind of) trees in your area. You don’t have to do this alone, you can be part of the Total Eco Challenge, and at the end of every year, they actually award individuals and organizations at annual gala dinner who have contributed significantly in increasing Kenya’s forest cover.
The TOTAL Ecochallenge program was started in 2002 with the aim of inspiring and helping all Kenyans to plant trees in every possible place. The target was 100 million trees per year, every year, for ever. Today, the program has more than 5,000 projects that have seen the planting of over 800 million trees since its inception.
To ensure the success of the program, Total Kenya has employed the services of an in house TOTAL EcoChallenge Advisor, commonly known as FORESTER, who is a trained expert in issues relating to plant species, habitat safety, ecological structure among others. The advisor is readily available for consultations reagarding tree agricutlure and can be contacted through the below contacts:
Whenever I meet kids, one thing we can always bond over is the applications on my phone/tablet. Show them an interesting game and you have made instant friends. On the other hand if you have nothing going on in your phone, then what else will you talk about with kids who only speak Japanese? It is definitely easier to talk with adults than with kids when your grasp of a language is basic.
I started by playing Bouncy Monkey. It is a nice enjoyable game with easy instructions, tap to jump and tap continuously to use the parachute*. It’s easy to play so it quickly becomes addictive, as you try to beat the high score. I managed to unlock about 4 levels the first time I played it. And of course when you clear a level, you get a screenfull of bananas! You are a bouncy monkey after all! Extra features include the ability to choose the colour scheme you want. There are in-app ads but well, since it is a free game you have to live with it! It’s easy to ignore them though.
Tap and hold to jump and start playing the game right away
When you finish a level, there is celebration! It’s bananas!
I continued playing trying to increase my high score! This is how many levels I have now unlocked.
In this game, a little boy called Jimmy is not only running from a dog, but he also has to navigate obstacles ahead. It is like Temple Run for kids, the concept is the same at the very least. I am still trying to unlock the first level though!
Still stuck on level 1. I want to unlock the 9 levels and then see what lies beyond!
For the last 3 years, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) has brought you the annual Kenyan bloggers’s awards. For me, they are always a chance to discover new interesting blogs I can follow (as if my reading list is not full enough already!). Anyway, do you have a blog you think is worthy of an award? The nomination phase is now open and you can nominate your favorite blog.
The 2015 BAKE Kenyan Blog Awards will have 18 categories. This comes after the addition of one category, a “Best Education Blog” category. This category will reward blogs about education matters and those run by educational institutions.
The inaugural BAKE Blog Awards was held in 2012 and it had 14 categories; best technology, photography, creative writing, business, food, agriculture, fashion, politics, sports, general and corporate blogs as well as giving out awards for the “tweeps” of the year. 300 blogs were submitted and 10,000 people voted. The gala event to award the winners was held on 5th May 2012 at the Nairobi Serena.
The second edition of the awards which were held in 2013 and had 15 categories. The ‘Lifestyle/Entertainment’, ‘Blog of the Year’ & ‘Travel Blog’ were added as categories and the two Twitter categories i.e. Best Individual Tweep & Best Corporate Tweep. Over 500 blogs were submitted and 50,000 people voted. The gala event to awards the winners was on 4th May 2013 at Southern Sun Mayfair Nairobi.
In 2014 the awards were held at Intercontinental Hotel Nairobi and it had 17 categories. 2 new categories “Best County Blog’ and ‘Best Health Blog” were added. Over 800 blogs were submitted and more than 50,000 voted in the 2014 awards. The 2014 awards produced a tie on the Best Sports Blog category which was a first for the awards.
The timeline for the awards will be as follows:
1. Submission phase – January 9th 2015 to February 18th 2015
2. Judging phase – February 19th 2015 to February 28th 2015
3. Online voting – March 2nd 2015 to April 30th 2015.
4. Winners Gala Event – May 2nd
This year, the awards will have 18 categories with the addition of ‘Best Education Blog’.
Over the winter holiday, I went to Tokyo to see the New York of Japan (for some reason I kept calling it New York).
One thing for me defines Tokyo. It is not the skyscrapers, not crowds of people with a number of foreign faces bobbing through… it’s the trains. Tokyo has an expansive railway that is the lifeline of the place. Coming from Nairobi where there is only one railway line, serving only a few routes, I was really impressed by the railway network in Tokyo.
The subway was up to 7 floors down.. on each floor below the ground, there was a different line running. I was actually excited to be riding the subway, riding a tube under the ground was like being in the future Bear in mind that the map below is just the subway, the (normal) railway line, JR East, is not included.
The Journey to and From
Japan’s total area may be less than Kenya’s, but it is a series of islands stretched wide and long. So moving from one part of Japan to another takes quite some time actually, it will take a number of days (driving or train) to move from Hokkaido in the North to Okinawa in the South. It takes about 4 hours by train from Kanazawa City to Tokyo, but 2 hours by the Shinkansen (bullet train) which one can take from April this year. Trains are not so cheap, it costs about 10,000 Yen (Ksh 8,000) one way! However, there was an offer by JR Railway where 5 people buy a ticket for about 10,000 Yen but only using local trains. We went to Tokyo in a group of 10 people, used only local trains (stopping at every small station along the way), and transferring a total of 6 times. We took 11 hours to Tokyo, having watched Japan’s beautiful countryside in winter. Coming back, I took a night bus for about 8 hours and slept through most of the journey back.
Sometimes we caught a glimpse of the sea.
In Nagano, a renowned ski area, the snow was window-high and if it continued then it would soon be over 2 meters high. Perfect for skiing and snowboarding. I hope I can go skiing or snowboarding end of this month or early the next.
Chiba is a neighbouring prefecture of Tokyo. I met a number of Kenyans living there, including my friend Anthony with whom I got the MEXT Scholarship. He taught me how to ride a bike (it has been embarrassing to admit that I don’t know how to ride a bike, but now that is behind me!).
We traveled on the 23rd and on Christmas, had dinner in at Australian restaurant in Chiba. the portion sizes were huge. We told ourselves, “ganbarimashoo”, the Japanese expression for let’s do our best!
This place is famous for various sights such as its giant robot (my camera doesn’t take good photos at night so I couldn’t capture this well), the rainbow bridge, a replica of the statue of liberty, a beautiful walk near the sea and various illuminations during the festivals, among other sights and sounds.
The Rainbow Bridge is beautiful.
Tsukuba Kenyan party
On another day, I joined Kenyans having a party at Tsukuba at the JICA center there. Tsukuba is a city in Ibaraki prefecture next to Tokyo. The road there was beautiful in winter, I am sure it will look great in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming on the trees lining the road below. There was ugali, sukuma wiki and chicken stew, there was pilau, chapati and beef (just writing this is making me salivate). We also attempted some nyama choma (barbecue), braving the cold outside. A good time was had by all!
This area in Tokyo is defined by its skyscrapers. Exiting West from the Shinjuku Station is like being in the West side of Moi Avenue in Nairobi. Exit East and you walk into a multitude of people, and it is here that I first saw a homeless man living in a tunnel! He surrounded himself with cardboard boxes and warm blankets, and he appeared to be staring at some poster in his hand.
This is the second highest structure in the world (after the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates), standing at 634m high (picture 600 meters on the ground.. seen it? Okay, then make that vertical and you can picture what you are looking at). However, as a standalone tower, it is the highest in the world. I wanted to get up there, and take in the areal view of Tokyo. However on the day I went, there was a multitude of people, and we were told to come back 3 hours later, to start queuing! We gave up. I will be in Japan for the next 3 years at least, so I will save some places for next time.
On a related note, if the Japanese got a very thin, long wire and added it to the top of the Sky Tree, it could go back to being the highest structure in the world, no? When will Kenya make a remarkable contribution to the world’s skyline? Now that we discovered oil, isn’t it high time?
Of course no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to its entertainment district! Somewhat dodgy, a little dangerous I hear, but otherwise fun. However, we went on a Tuesday evening and were told the dance clubs are closed until Thursdays onwards. There were lot of sports bars though.. Irish, British.. the British pub we went to was run by this guy who is half Japanese, half Ghanaian. On that day, there didn’t seem to be much happening so after one drink and a round of darts, we left. Trains in Tokyo don’t run all night, they stop at midnight. So if you want to party you must be ready to stay till morning, or take a (fairly expensive) cab home. Anyway, place earmarked for next time
At the end of the 8 days, I was actually glad to get on the bus and go back to my fairly quiet city of Kanazawa. I had missed it.
And that dear readers, is my winter holiday report. Now rate it below.
(There are times as a blogger (writer) when you will be sitting at your computer, fingers poised over the keys, cursor blinking, and a hot cup of coffee/tea or cold beer/wine just within reach, but the words just won’t come. The mood is right, the time is right but the words are stuck in your mind. Sometimes you give up altogether, and switch to other mundane stuff, like watching videos of The Real Househelps of Kawangware on Youtube. And then you ask yourself, whom am I writing for? Then I finally realized that I am not writing for you readers (sorry!) but for myself and now my mind is finally free, I can write more easily. On that note then, back to blogging.)
There is a class I am taking, there are actually two classes I am taking that are not compulsory (but they somewhat are). One of them is a free-conversation class, just a class for Japanese students to meet international students and vice-versa. We do fun activities like Christmas parties and presentations about each other’s countries. In the last week of classes last year, we had a visit to the Ishikawa Zoo which is about 30 minutes from here.
The visit to the zoo was interesting and depressing all at the same time. I think this is my first visit to a zoo, does the Nairobi Orphanage counts as one? I was impressed by its diversity. Despite its small size (relative to our wildlife parks), there was a wide range of animals (the number was not much, but the variety was big), from birds to tropical reptiles, to fish to bigger animals like the giraffe and even an elephant! However, while the smaller animals and the aquatic ones seemed to thrive, the bigger animals and the primates seemed lonely and and their sadness was tangible and infectious.
It was a beautiful winter day at the zoo and we walked around in groups of about 5 people each admiring the animals (plants, maybe not so much).
There was a lion lying in the weak winter sun trying to bask in vain. Now that is not something you see everyday, an African lion in snow. You get the feeling that it isn’t right, it should be roaming the extensive Savannah plains of Africa, running freely in pursuit of its meal or lazing with the pride under a tree licking its jaws and giving a satisfied roar. Instead, it lay there just beyond the glass and when it saw us, turned and gave us its back! But before that it gave a thundering roar that would have been scary were it not for the glass between us. But maybe it’s a lion that grew up in an orphanage or in a zoo and does not know what life in the wild looks like, and might not survive there, I comforted myself. But does it feel the call of the wild, a thought persisted? Judging from its roar, it probably did.
Lion at the Ishikawa Zoo
The lion giving us its back
We had gone to the lair of the big cats first, so we saw a lioness in a tiny room where we could peer at her up close, but no good stills of her were possible as she paced restlessly up and down. The tiger in the next stall also paced up and down as if in synergy or is it resonance. By contrast, the leopard in the next stall sat still in a depressed stance, barely blinking as we gaped and took photos.
The tiger(or tigress) in the next room paced too
The next subject was more still. Too still if you ask me.
Wait, not all the animals at the zoo were sad! The snow leopard was cheery, running around its habitat and sometimes ambling silently over our heads. We had to stare at him through the glassy ceiling as he (or she) also sought some sun.
After that, the mood grew lighter as we saw numerous other small animals playing, eating or just sleeping.
We then stepped into what was a recreated tropical rainforest environment, complete with the heat and humidity. The vegetation, fish and animals are all thriving in the artificial micro-climate.
And resting below is the giant Iguana lizard, I didn’t know it’s name and had to ask on twitter. Thanks for the answer, @caroledee
There were penguins being cute, and rodents called Capybara that are the largest rodent in the world. These love being in hot baths and they had and even had a running jacuzzi (ofuron/onsen), very convenient in winter, don’t you think?
Lots of birds, but you know.. caged birds. Amazingly, they have also at the zoo a giraffe and an Asian elephant. However they were too huge for the tiny rooms they were housed and being behind metal bars.. I am not even going to share their photos. Instead, look below at this fantastic image from Mutua Matheka’s blog of an elephant in Ambosel! After that, continue visiting the website to download new wallpapers every Monday or even using the Android App.
Elephant in Amboseli
The seals were really fun to watch. They did flips in water and swam with grace. We watched one being fed fish and it seems as if it was also being taught something (not sure what) as it was patiently fed one fish after another. Initially, I assumed they were sea lions and had to Google to see the difference, learning a lot in the process.
Feeding of the seal:
Can you believe all that lasted just an hour? There was no time to linger at the zoo, it was a touch and go (or glance and go) moment, and it was a lovely experience, sad animals notwithstanding!
Dr. Anita Borg (1949-2003) devoted her adult life to revolutionizing the way we think about technology by dismantling barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields. In honor of her vision, Google is announced the Google EMEA Anita Borg Memorial scholarship, which awards a group of female students a € 7,000 scholarship for the 2015-2016 academic year. All recipients will also be invited to attend a networking retreat.
Deadline to apply: February 2, 2015
To be eligible to apply, applicants must:
Be a female student enrolled in a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD program for the 2015/2016 academic year
Be enrolled at a university in Europe, the Middle East or Africa
Be studying Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Informatics or a closely related technical field