Just returned from my annual trip to the sleepy Malaysian state of Penang. In many ways, I feel that time stops in Penang. The exuberant old man we buy apong (a kind of pastry) from every year is still there, cooking his signature food in his ancient wok at his street stall. The KOMTAR (Komplex Tun Abdul Razak) building still looms over the city. I remember when I was a little girl, Komtar was easily the most modern structure and we shopped there. The street hawkers are ever-present, serving up Penang laksa, hokkien mee (different from Singapore's) and other local fare. We passed by my mother's old school in our car. But in many other ways, Penang is progressing with the times. The waterfront area has developed and new shopping complexes like Queensbay Mall have sprung up. We no longer shop at Komtar, but at newer establishments like the said Queensbay and Gurney Plaza. I guess no place can escape from the onset of modernisation forever.
Shots of Tokyo in the day and at night, from the observatory in the Metropolitan government building. The wide expanse of greenery in the second photo is some park (forgot its name). Its just amazing to see the whole of Tokyo laid out before you.
The very adorable boy in the first photo is my little cousin kengo. We had dinner with my aunt's relatives on our last night in Kagoshima. In the second photo, from left to right is (top row) my uncle, my cousin kosuke who's a year younger than me, my mother, me, my sis. bottom row is my aunt's aunt, my aunt, my aunt's father, my brother, and finally right in front is kosuke's brother kengo. They are a close-knit family who get along really well. I'm astounded at how well my uncle has integrated himself into Japanese society. He talks and looks like a Japanese! He even smokes, and it's sort of in their culture for working men to smoke.
What remains of our scrumptious breakfast one morning. We had caramelized Japanese sweet potato, octopus omelette, rice cakes, green tea cake, fruit juice (their fruit juices taste much more natural), and teppanyaki which consisted of beef and pork. I realised how good beef and pork can taste when I ate it in Japan. Their beef and pork is so tender, definitely of a much better quality than those in Singapore. My aunt often goes to the mountains to pick chestnuts and gingko nuts. She cooks the chestnuts in brandy, making them taste heavenly, and roasts the gingko nuts. I'm missing Japanese food really badly. The seafood, pork, rice, pickles, ramen, miso soup, sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, teppanyaki, yakiniku, everything! How come people who went to Japan never told me how good the food was?
The exterior and interior of my uncle's house. Everything--- the walls, the floor, the staircase, the ceiling, the furniture--- is made of wood, so it's kind of like a wood lodge. How quaint is that? They have two sofas, but usually they sit on the mats on the floor (see the second photo) and sleep there too! We had breakfast on the wooden table that you see. People in the neighbourhood share a common plot of land where some grow their own vegetables. There are no fences that separate the houses, hence you truly get a sense of communal living. All against a scenic backdrop of stunning mountains. I really enjoy their way of living; it seems surreal to an urban person like me.
My uncle's family keeps 14(!) cats. Yep. Not kidding. They're all so delightful. They're fat and furry, very different from the scrawny stray ones you see in Singapore. They love to roll over on the carpet. And I've never seen cats climb trees and roofs that fast in my life! As you might have guessed, my uncle's family are animal-lovers. My little cousin catches crabs from drains. When he came to Malaysia a few years back, he tried to stroke a ferocious dog. We had to pull him away from it.
Disneyland! Need I say more? As it was a Saturday, the place was PACKED with locals. In the souvenir shops, everyone was jostling around grabbing cookies off the walls. The estimated time of the queue for a rollercoaster was three hours! The atmosphere was great. It's a good way to get to know the Japanese as you mingle with them and observe their behaviour. Night fell at 5pm, so we also got to see the place at night! The castle was lit up stunningly. My only complaint is that it was freezing after nightfall.
We stayed at a mountainside ryokan (traditional japanese inn) for one night. It was truly an unique experience. We slept on thin mattresses placed on tatami mats and dressed in yukatas (a simpler version of a kimono) for dinner.