Tai O, Hong Kong

Saturday, November 17, 2018

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Eighty-two days into exchange, with fourty-six left to go. 

Finding the right words to describe the experience thus far has been quite the struggle and I'm not about to attempt to do so now. What I can say though, is how Hong Kong has been equal parts overwhelming and underwhelming simultaneously. Being in a physically small country for such a prolonged period of time, it is easy to run out of things to do. Yet, there are moments where Hong Kong pleasantly surprises with a little hidden gem that provides a whole new dimension to the region. 

Tai O fishing village is one of them. Sure, it is a tourist spot, but a relatively underrated one at that, judging by the chatter of Cantonese within earshot at every moment. And it has managed to retain its rustic charm despite being surrounded by modern development, commercialization and the towering skyscrapers that Hong Kong is famed for. 

I shall let the photographs do the talking. And I'm so happy that this was one of the better photo days - camera was cooperating and I made the effort to bring out additional lenses to swap out for certain shots. Then again, maybe it's just how alluring the location already is. There was no need for me to do anything to bring out its natural beauty. Hopefully these images do Tai O justice. 

Indeed, a very different side of Hong Kong. Undoubtedly still bustling, but with slower-paced footsteps, gentle ripples of the river, and wafts of aroma from the freshly made egg waffles lightly browned over a charcoal stove top. Not to mention the sightings of Garfield-toned kitties at every crevice and corner - perhaps all distant cousins from a single ancestor. 
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I have been to 
Yellow tarp goodbyes 
At HDB void decks - home. 
Incessant Taoist chants that 
Arouse the ire of a distant neighbour. 
Grief muted by the 
Cracking of peanut shells. 
Red threads around wrists
Said to ward off bad luck. 

If I ever leave
Surround me with white roses. 
Dress me well 
Though it doesn't really matter
So long I am wearing a smile
For that's how I'd want to be 
Remembered for doing most
All my life. 

Make me lie laughing
Show off those pearly whites 
I didn't brush for nothing. 
(Thanks orthodontist!) 
Highlight the pinks of my cheeks
I'd like a healthy 
Natural glow please. 

Hush little baby don't you cry.
Celebrate a life well lived
The little things. 
Bask in the joy of the company
Of the ones whom I love
And is loved by. 
Love one another.

When all that is done
Scatter me through the ocean
I am not a ceramic plaque 
Not to be reduced to a tiny headshot. 
Hold on dearly to 
The words I have written
The photographs I have taken. 

I truly hope that 
What I have shared with the world
Is what it keeps of me. 

(Note: Romanticizing death can be a dangerous, dangerous thing. I am aware of this, and do not advocate for it. However, penning this allowed me to feel things that the usually-emotionless me doesn't and has in fact given me a multiplied zest for life.) 
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Japan (Part II) - Nara & Kyoto

Friday, November 2, 2018

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A panelist from a panel discussion I attended during the 2016 edition of Singapore Writers' Festival once put forth the opinion that "all humans crave the improvement of their lives, which can only be achieved through two ways - earning more money, or travelling the world". (Quote has probably been paraphrased unwittingly and neither am I able to attribute the quote to the original speaker as the book that I took notes in isn't currently with me; sorry!)

While I don't quite agree with the statement in its entirety as I do think the quality of one's life can be bettered through say, forming sustainable and supportive human relationships, amongst other little actions, said speaker does have a point. 

Travelling the world often makes us feel so unbelievably small in the larger scheme of things - knowing that so many other societies and cultures exist with completely different ways of life, being blown away by how beautifully the same sun can light up the same sky when viewed from another geographical region, and of course literally feeling small amongst enormous mountains and towering skyscrapers. And this helps to put things into perspective - not necessarily to count our blessings because that could come at the expense of sympathizing others when it may be uncalled for; but simply to re-evaluate our existing lives and make small changes to improve it.

The impact from my recent Japan trip was quite muted though, perhaps because we chose to explore rather over-visited tourist spots and already knew what to expect at these places simply by scrolling social media. Nothing truly awed us, and if anything, reality fell short of expectations too. That said, I definitely cannot discount how being on the receiving end of the insanely polite Japanese service, how witnessing actual Salarymen collapse from exhaustion in the most outrageous locations, and how seeing the city spring back into action immediately the day after a typhoon hit, still taught me a thing or two about living and being human. 

For now, let's revisit perhaps one of the most photographed places in Nara, which we visited on the morning of our third day in Japan. 

Nara Deer Park

Contrary to popular belief, these deers are hella rude. While it is true that some of them will bow in a Japanese-like fashion, most of them are wild beasts who will head-butt you rather forcefully, and bite your clothes unrelentingly till you feed them an unappetizing piece of "deer cracker" you purchased for ¥150 from a little hut that smells of deer. Do not be fooled by cute and gentle pictures of these deers - those photographers are definitely skilled. 

But well, we can't fault these deers at all. Because they are, in fact, wild animals. For our own entertainment, we're are the ones who made them reliant on being fed these nonsense.  

Case in point: 

Still seemingly innocent.

Getting a little impatient.

Well, I've attracted quite a crowd by now. 

Huiting was a lot more successful in remaining calm when the deers approached.

Following our little deer-feeding expedition, we had udon at a random shop near the Nara subway station. It was then that I received a text message about how my flight (due to fly on 30 September) was cancelled due to the impending typhoon and the earliest alternative was the next day. This meant that we had to stay in Japan for another day - which also means a whole slew of accommodation and other troubles. At this point, it was also unclear if Huiting's flight was also cancelled, and even if it wasn't, was it safe to fly? 

We spent much of lunchtime trying to contact our Airbnb host to hopefully extend our stay, and to figure out if Huiting's flight was also cancelled (turns out it was). Our kind host managed to find an alternative accommodation for us in the same apartment building, and even offered us a discount for the unfortunate incident. 


Due to our impromptu trip to Universal Studios, our plans for Nara and Kyoto, which were previously on two separate days, had to be fitted into one. It was rather ambitious since these two cities weren't even that close distance-wise, and as a result we didn't get to explore either properly. 

Even with my limited insight into both cities, on the surface I really enjoyed Kyoto a lot more. Despite how there were many tourists, there was still such a peaceful quaint vibe to the place. I can only imagine what a serene getaway it would be without a crowd. How I wished we had more time to explore the area. 

We stopped by the Rilakkuma Honey Stand - I am such a sucker for all things kawaii. This ice cream exceeded my expectations taste-wise though, as I assumed it was only going to rank high on the novelty scale. While I'm not a fan of honey, the drizzle of the sticky syrup really helped to balance out some of the bitterness from the matcha soft serve. 

The only decent-ish picture I got from the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest - and no one will be able to tell it's taken at the bamboo forest. I was unable to play with the camera settings to get the right shots. Not a pity though, as I didn't think the bamboo forest was anything worth raving about, perhaps also because a previous typhoon had destroyed much of it. 

We decided to stray off the beaten path and explore the residential area.  

Abandoned... or not?

There were rickshaw-pullers everywhere. 

Snapped a couple of pictures before we quickly evacuated the tracks due to an oncoming train.

We later tried to find the Iwatayama Monkey Park, but by the time we got there the place was closed. They closed early to prepare for the impending typhoon that was due to hit the next day. 

I really like this photograph. 

That night, we decided to have dinner at Kyoto Ramen Street, located on the 10th floor of the subway station building. If I'm not wrong we ate at Menya Iroha, which served us a hearty bowl of pork broth ramen topped with an onsen egg each. The rich and flavourful soup warmed our tummies and hearts. Satisfied, we decided to call it a day as we needed to make a stop at Family Mart to stock up for the next day when we had to avoid the harsh weathers and suspended train services that Typhoon Trami would bring to Osaka. 

Typhoon Day 

Unlike my typhoon experience in Hong Kong, I didn't have anyone (e.g. school administration) sending me emails telling me what to do and updating me with the weather forecast. This time, Huiting and I had to source for information to determine our course of action. We decided not to take any risks and stay-in - it was going to be difficult to do anything considering the trains weren't operating anyway. 

I've already dedicated a post to sum up some of the thoughts I have about experiencing these typhoons, which can be found here, so I'm just going to focus on what I ate in our cozy Airbnb apartment. Can I just say that Japan convenience store food is amazing. It tastes like food from a restaurant in say, Singapore. Really no qualms surviving on Family Mart packaged yums for a day - and I'm thankful to have been able to afford these little luxuries. 

Salmon onigiri that was a tad dry, but still flavourful. I'm not the biggest fan of seaweed but the fact that the ingenious packaging allowed it to stay crisp is definitely worth a mention.  

I was drawn to this Caramel Pumpkin latte for its cute limited-edition packaging, but I'd definitely buy this again for the drink. It wasn't too sweet, and you can taste distinctly the caramel and pumpkin spice flavours. 

Omurice that I really wouldn't mind paying for in a restaurant. The slightly sticky tomato pearl rice went so well with the fluffy egg. And that savoury brown glaze drizzled all over the bed of pale yellow was really the cherry on top of the cake - so good straight out from the microwave oven. 

In the late afternoon, Huiting and I realized that the typhoon still hasn't hit Osaka yet. This was worrying as we couldn't afford another delay to our flights. We'd rather it came as soon as possible since we still had school to attend. But seeing that the weather appeared alright from our windows, we decided to take a little walk to the nearby mall. Turns out everything was closed (naturally) other than Family Mart, where I decided to get a little hot snack: a corn dog!  

At this point, the rain started getting a lot heavier and the winds were literally howling, so we quickly headed back to the safe confines of our apartment building. 

Unlike the one we had at Shinsekai, this corn dog had a whole sausage in it, as it should.

I was really looking forward to dinner. Look at how much thought went into putting this instant ramen together - so many different elements.

It was good with high-quality ingredients, but perhaps because I didn't have this piping hot, it didn't do much to warm me up.

Before trying this latte with tapioca "pearls", I was quite curious to find out how they managed to pre-pack finicky bubble tea pearls because a cup of Koi milk tea left in the fridge overnight would have its golden bubbles turn hard and slimy. Of course, the Japanese never fail to innovate. They didn't put actual tapioca pearls but instead spherical shaped chewy jellies - not the same, but still a nice touch. 

And I fell in love with the crispy wafer and creamy caramel shell - really worth the slightly steep price point. 

Thankfully, the typhoon came that night, and neither of our flights were postponed again. The next day, we decided to get our last-minute sushi fix before heading to the airport. 

Kuromon Ichiba Market

The city already awake and bustling - it seemed like there was little to no damage caused by the typhoon this time round. Thank goodness. 

My platter of sushi which was on the pricey side due to the inclusion of the uni (sea urchin) sushi but everything on this plate was so fresh and amazing. My favourite was the ikura (salmon roe) sushi. They were so generous with the ikura, and the feeling when the little fish eggs burst in your mouth, filling it with savoury goodness, is to die for.   

Huiting's grilled crab meat. 

My hella cute ichigo daifuku (strawberry mochi). 

The one ice cream I have been dying to try after reading and researching about it during my summer internship (not really for work, but for my own interest/ gluttonous's sake). It definitely did not disappoint. From what I remember, the unique and elegant swirl was purposefully engineered. And well engineered it really was - from the rich Hokkaido milk flavour down to the buttery Langues de chat (the same kind of cookie the famous 白い恋人 snack is made from) cone. I'd down two in one sitting easily. 

We also saw a lot of slot machine arcades, with a whole ton of elderly people inside.

With that, Huiting and I headed to Kansai International Airport, which marked the end of our Japan trip together. It was a really carefree and relaxed trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed her company as well. For now, it's back to Hong Kong! It did feel slightly weird that I was catching the plane there, as opposed to Singapore. 

A beautiful sunset to mark my departure from Japan. 

As our plane took off, the baggage handlers from the airport bowed and waved towards us - a gentle yet impactful reminder of the sheer kindness and courtesy I've been blessed to experience in this country. I waved back and silently hoped they were able to see me from my little window.   
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