Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Day In Ayer Tawar

As a kid that has grown up in a small town of Taiping throughout my childhood days and being so used to the simple way of lifestyle in such environment, I always long for spending my holidays in some other different small towns; towns which are far away from the hustle and bustle of a city, a tranquil and peaceful place, where you can spend your time relaxing and forget about your hectic life for a moment, just to see whether there are any differences. You may find it unusual for someone who is currently studying in Japan to think in such way, but visits to these kinds of places will always be my preference over big cities.
When my friend asked me whether I would like to join him back to his hometown after his exams, I immediately jumped to his invitation. I know Looi from the National Service camp that I attended four years ago, and he is one of the few friends that I still keep in touch with. He comes from a small town called Ayer Tawar, located about an hour drive south of Ipoh. When he first told me about his hometown, I did not know the location of it, until he mentioned Sitiawan, a town slightly bigger than Ayer Tawar. I have been telling him that I will pay a visit to his town one day, and finally I set my foot at this town, which is according to him, a very small town with nothing to do.
Despite having him telling me that, I told myself that I must visit the place at least once.
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When you could spot a Mercedes in a town, it cannot be that small, ain't it?
He doesn't live in the middle of the town, but in another village called Kampung Jering. However, most of the houses there are not wooden houses even though they named it a kampung. In fact, the majority of them own their own oil palm plantations, that they are actually as rich as the Datuk and Tan Sri in much bigger cities. The only difference is that they do not show off their wealthiness to the public.
They only lead a simple life, and don't drive luxurious cars, or own big banglos.
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The entrance to Kampung Jering.
We didn't make any plans for my visit here, instead we just let it be random. Personally, I prefer my holidays in such way, without being fixed to a schedule. Having said that, a rough plan is still essential, but it still depend very much on the places you go. We went out with his bike to grab our lunner (lunch plus dinner) at the local pasar petang. They neither call it pasar pagi nor pasar malam, because it opens at noon and finishes by late evening.
We bought one burger each and two cups of pearl shake, and went to a park to have our lunner while chit chatting. Although I stayed over at his place in Kajang for almost a week, we hardly had time to talk much because he was still busy with his exams, while I would go out in the morning and only be back late at night. That was the time I became the unofficial tour guide for the Japanese who came to Malaysia for their holidays.
Well, the park was not that big, just enough for the people living there to relax in the evening under the shade of the trees.
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The park is so green that even the water in the man-made pond has the same colour as the trees there.
The main attraction has to be the gigantic green dinosaur. Credits to the people who built it, because it looked like a dinosaur and not a giraffe, and I would say that it looked quite cute.
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I look like a dwarf here.

He later took me on his bike to go around the village. I do not get to hop on a bike that often; in fact the last time I sat on a bike was more than a year ago and it was also Looi who gave me a ride then. So, I was a bit nervous at first but later, I began to enjoy the ride. It is like a pastime activity for the people, especially the younger generations here to go around their village on their bikes in the evening.
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Normal sight in the evening at Kampung Jering.
When he said he would take me to see leng lui in his hometown, I was wondering where would that be. In the end, I found out that this what what he meant earlier. Leng zai will come out to see leng lui, and the same applies to the girls. They call this pak kuan, or long gai in Cantonese. Sounds like longkang to me though. No offense to all Cantonese speakers out there though.
Anyway, the best part of it is that they will never wear any helmets.
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If you were to wear a helmet while riding around this village, you will certainly receive weird stares from the locals and they would almost straight away know that you are an alien there. Ironically, they still turned on the lights of their bikes although they do not wear their helmets.
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For younger kids, they use their bicycles instead of bikes to go around the village.
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A Chinese temple in the village at dusk.

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Shop lots and coffee shops which are patronised by the older generations mostly.
Later that night, we went to the food court to have a light dinner.
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The food court in Ayer Tawar.
The food court is just a small area, with not much choices of food, to be honest. However, the interesting thing is that inside the same restaurant, there were Chinese, as well as Malay stalls under one roof offering various kinds of food. Still feeling a bit full, we only ordered a plate of chee cheong fun, which is somehow different from what I always have in Taiping. It is wrapped with prawn and pork inside, and they only use one type of sauce - sweet soy sauce. Instead of chilly sauce, they put a scoop of sambal paste and also some cucumber acar. To top it of, fried shallots are spreaded on top of the chee cheong fun.
I would say the taste was not bad and it is worth a try.

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Chee cheong fun.
I asked him to spend a day in Taiping the next day, but unfortunately he had to return to his hometown on the same day after he sent me back because his niece was celebrating full moon. It is like a tradition for the Chinese to organise a party-like gathering when a newly-born is one-month old. The usual food on this particular day would be yellow glutinous rice, chicken curry, red eggs and ang koo. All his family members and relatives were expected to have a gathering to celebrate the event later that night.
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Looi gave me a box of sponge cake with two red eggs inside to take back.
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One of his nephew, but I was told that this little boy can be mischevious at times.
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They spread some sticky kaya-like thing on a paper to trap the house flies. Even the lizard got trapped here.
So, before leaving, we had a breakfast at his house first.
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Mee sua in red wine.
It was mee sua, cooked in red wine. Usually, we cook mee sua in chicken soup or some other herbal soup. Apparently, it is well-known among the locals in this area and certainly, it was great to get the chance to try something different. Before we left for Taiping, he took me to a few more places first, and that will be on some other posts. Although we did not get to go to many places, but it was a nice short trip to his hometown in Ayer Tawar.
It was a whole new experience for me personally, to get to visit such place.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

NNCT Sports Meet 2008

It was the annual Sports Meet in my college several days ago.
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The polystyrene scoreboard. Clean and simple.
One thing about the sports meet here in Japan is that although they do it in a very simple way, yet the lively atmosphere is still there. There are no contingents with a flag bearer marching into the field, no flag raising while singing to the school anthem, and super-long and boring speeches from the head of the school.
Instead, it just started with the president of the sports department announcing the opening of the sports meet, followed by a short speech by the school principal. Later, the captain of each of the five Engineering departments went up to deliver their short messages. Too bad that the microphone went off after the first guy gave his message, the four other guys had to do it manually, i.e. using only their voice.
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The principal, telling the students to enjoy the day and practise fair-play.
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The second guy from the right, captain for the Electric and Electronic Engineering Department had no choice but to shout out loudly.

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While the rest waited for the event to unfold.
Before the first event started, everyone, including the lecturers, the staff and all the students spread around the field to do some morning stretching-ups. Apparently, the Japanese have been doing this since they were in kindergarten, and it is not surprising that they have memorised all the movements. And the best part of all, there is a song which is made specially for this session and it is the same in whole Japan.
In fact, we first heard this song when we had our sports meet in PPKTJ a couple of years back.
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Morning exercise.
However, not everyone seems to be paying attention to the stretching-ups. Take two of my classmates for example.
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Clockwise from top left: tai chi; conserving energy for his next move; Dragon Ball; he felt paiseh when he noticed that I was capturing his moves.
As simple as it seems to be, they certainly didn't lack when it comes to efficiency. There was one time during one of the event, that they announced the result of the event less than thirty-seconds after the event ended. I suppose the result could be informed to the officials because they know how to utilise the technology by using walkie-talkie. It will take something special to match that, when we think of our sports meet in Malaysia. On the other hand, I don't think I have to start talking about the rubbish problem between here in Japan and back home, because after the sports meet here ended, there was not a single rubbish on the field and we didn't even need to clean it because everyone made sure their rubbish were thrown in the correct place.
However, the events during the sports meet are relatively different from what we usually get during our primary and secondary school. There are no track events, long jumps, high jumps or deep jumps. Instead, the events contested are more fun-oriented, like the first one, which is called 人送り (hito okuri) or human-delivering.
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See how high they throw their teammate.
The game is simple, each team comprising of about twenty to thirty people line-up in a straight line, and they need to transfer a few person from one end to the other end. The person who will be delivered will run and hop onto the arms of the people lining up, and the rest will use the strength of their arms to push and move that guy until the end. Once that guy has arrived at the end of the line, he will jump down, run ten meters forward and return to the starting point for the next guy to continue the rally.
For teams who do it the wrong way, the poor guy will be left stuck there, and not moving at all. However, some teams who were able to execute it to perfection will see the guy flying high and manage to finish the event very much faster than the rest.
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Piggyback-fight.
騎馬戦 (kibasen) or piggyback-fight was the next event. Three person carry the forth person with a ribbon tied on his/her forehead like a piggyback ride, where the main objective is to pull the ribbon of their opponents. This game also requires proper strategy, and teamwork because I see some teams just attacked their opponents blindly. In the end, they find themselves surrounded by opposing teams and that spell the end of their lives.
Some teams were smart that they team-up with other teams to provide more attacking options and having more people to protect them when they were attacked. As for some who were even smarter, they just stood there without moving and just watched the rest battled out. When the time was ending, they only started to attack the remaining teams.
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Two-on-one.
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A pair of long hands certainly provide an advantage in this game.
As this event was joined by the girls too, they usually will just find a corner and stay there until the whistle is blown because they were too afraid to join the fierce fight. Can you imagine seeing girls attempting to pull something from a guy? That would not be very nice, ain't it?
But I am not sure if the guy wouldn't be more than happy to allow the girl to do that.
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"Kowai!!!" *insert kawaii voice*
Unlike last year, some of my friends and I watched the event from morning until evening this time around. It was certainly interesting to watch something different from what we used to see all this while. Looking at the Japanese battling out in those events, we managed to catch some glimpse of funny and embarrassing moments throughout the day.
In between, we camwhored, as always.
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This was in the morning.
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That guy in white is a fifth year senior of mine from Vietnam, and this genius is going to Tokyo University next year.
The third event was 玉入れ (tama ire) or ball-inserting. I know the literally translated version sounds wrong but anyway, this is by far the simplest event. Thirty people stand outside a circle, in which bean-filled packets are scattered inside the circle with a netball-like pole with a net in the centre circle. The objective is to throw all the packets into the net in the fastest time.
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All set and ready, waiting for the cue.
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And trying their best to get the best time.
I joined in this event as well and my job was to stand on the centre, while receiving all the packets from my teammates and insert them into the net. Well, I put my height into full use this time because I just had to jump a little bit and there is hardly any packets which fall off from my throw each time I jumped.
That cause enviousness from the other teams, but as much as I had hope that I would be able to help my team in this event, we only ended up forth out of five teams. It was quite disappointing to be honest.
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Strip-off show in the middle of the field.
The next event is one of the event which always keep most of us anticipating for it. It is like the highlight of the sports meet and equivalent to the 100-meter event in Olympics. They call it 棒倒し (bou taoshi) or pole-tumble.
One team will be divided into two, that is the attackers and the defenders. The attackers will run half-round of the track and get into the defence area of the opposition team and try to knock down their opponent's pole and at the same time, grab the flag on top of the pole. As for the defenders, their job will be to protect their pole and the flag from the attackers of the opposing team.
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One of the team trying to lift their spirit before the game started.
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The attackers at the starting line.
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Here comes the attackers.
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Attacking the opposition's pole.
It is left for the players to use whatever method to win this game. Hand-fist, tackle, pushing, and shoving.
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It was almost like a fighting scene.
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Some turned into monkeys and chimpanzees by climbing on the others to grab that flag.
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Almost there, as the pole was tumbling down.
This event can get really fierce and out-of-control as every year, there will be cases where people are left injured after the event. Last year, there was case in which someone had broken tooth. This year, one of them remained on the ground after the event because he dislocated his shoulder apparently.
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Poor guy lying on the ground.
Another event would be the 綱引き (tsuna hiki) or tug-of-war. It is a tad different from the local version of ours because in Japan, one team can have as much as twenty people. And they do not carry up the rope until the referee blows the whistle. It was indeed harder compared to what we used to play because we will feel an instant force on our muscles once the whistle is blown.
Another thing would be the fact that there is only one round for every match, and not the best-of-three like always. Thing is made worse that if they see no team winning after a determined period of time, say two minutes, they will either decide the winner by looking at the team which was winning, or simply by using the paper-scissor-rock method. Damn kampung can.
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My class during the early rounds. Too bad they didn't make it to the end.
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The lecturers and staff had their own team as well. They was the finalist last year, but got knocked out in the early rounds this time.
The sports meet made a new change this time, as we the international students made up a team to join the tug-of-war event. Well, there are twenty-two of us in our college, including seventeen Malaysians. However, one was away for his part-time job while the other was still in his cast. Haha, you know who that is. So, we were left with only twenty people, without any substitutes.
Despite so, we got reinforcement from the members from the Chikyu Lab and Mr Haga Ryusuke himself joined in to be our anchor. A few other Japanese students joined in as well. Not only that, our team was among the teams that received more attention than the rest because everyone was anticipating how far we would progress.
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All were feeling relaxed before the match.
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Feeling confident, but not over-confident.
Win five matches and we will be crowned champions.
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First match: It was just a warming-up session for us as we won in less than ten seconds.
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Second match: Our opponent tried to give us some fight, but we prevailed in the end.
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Third match: Everyone was so fired up because we were only two match away from getting into the final. Each of us pull in the same rhythm and we won it with ease.
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Forth match: It was the semi-final and we were against the champion of last year. We knew it would take something special to beat them, but we still gave our best. Unfortunately, it was not enough and we crashed out.
Although we didn't win the first place, we still have a group shot, posing as if we were the champions.
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We know that there is always another year.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Lost My Virginity

Not to the opposite sex, but to Genki Sushi.
Do you know how hard it is for us who are studying abroad to take it, when we see people posting up pictures of local food in their blogs? Well, it is like someone who feels like shitting, but when he or she sits on the toilet bowl, the shit just wouldn't come out. So, it feels like we are trying to release something, that is our craving for local food, but it just wouldn't happen. Okay, perhaps I should stop talking about shit, because I have had enough of shit recently.
We always say people who show us those pictures of food are cruel, because they know we will not get to taste them, but yet, they still show to us on purpose. But why not we think the say way, and do exactly the same thing to these people, isn't it? I am studying in Japan, but sometimes I feel that the pictures of food that I post up are mostly Malaysian food, as I do not blog on the Japanese food I have here. So, I will do this time time, in this very post.
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It was this dark at five-thirty in the evening.
Well, it may sound quite amazing here, but I have never stepped my foot into any Genki Sushi restaurant after more than one and a half year living in Japan. Pretty sad case, ain't it? Anyway, my fellow Malaysians friends were talking about sushi recently, and we decided to have a sushi dinner that night. After all, it has been some time since I last had sushi in Japan, and I should treat myself to some nice food once in a while.
Here are the sushi I had, which I reckon will make at least some of you to start drooling over them at the end of this post.
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サーモンペッパー炙り - Saamon peppaa aburi | My friend introduced this one to me, in fact, they ordered ten plates of this for five of us immediately after we took our seat, without needing to ask who wants this first. But it was indeed a perfect choice. The sauce with the pepper used made it taste something like bak kua (roasted pork).
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げその唐揚げ - Geso no karaage | Deep-fry squid's legs. It is best eaten while it is still hot.
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とびっこ - Tobikko | It means flying fish roe, and what I love most about this is that I get to feel the tiny fish roe when I bite on them.
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びん長まぐろ - Bin chou maguro | This was just plain tuna, nothing special about it.
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うなぎ蒲焼 - Unagi kabayaki | To be honest here, this is the worst unagi I have ever eaten so far because the meat is too soft and not tender at all.
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サーモン大とろ - Saamon ootoro | Notice the gold colour of the plate? This plate cost 231 yen (RM 7.40) but it was worth it. The raw fatty flesh of tuna fish really gave me that orgasmic feeling.
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サーモン - Saamon | I know she likes this very much.
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えびフライ - Ebi furai | Just like the karaage, this one is also best eaten while it is still hot. The crispy bread crumbs covering the big prawns inside with some mayonnaise as the topping was too good to handle.
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焼サーモン - Yaki saamon | The roasted salmon. It was not bad.

Ten plates of sushi, to give me full sanctification for the night.
Anyway, one thing about my style of eating sushi is that I always have a slow start, and more often than not, I will be the one with the least of plates during the early stage. I prefer to take it easy at first, without much rushing. In between that, I will take some sips of hot green tea while chatting away with my friends. Slowly but surely, I will begin to catch up and in the end, I find myself becoming among the one with the highest stack of plates.
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My stack of plates is the one on the front left.
Drooling now?