Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thank You For The Memories, MSAJ

"Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, 
and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness" 

Harold Samuel Kushner


I consider myself lucky to be able to be part of the family of MSAJ (Malaysian Students' Association in Japan). I prefer to call it this way, instead of using the rather heavier terms such as "excos" or "committee members", simply because that is how I see ourselves in the group. In terms of experience, I was among the newbie in the family, although that was a totally different thing if you go by age. It was my first year elected into the committee and I have learned a lot from the others during the past twelve months.

To bring the curtain down on the wonderful journey we have gone through, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) for MSAJ Kanto branch was held last weekend at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Yoyogi, Tokyo. To make the even more interesting, a small-scale Chinese New Year party was also held right after the end of the AGM, as it was the CNY eve on that evening.

 P1290300-1

A stylish poster for the event, with a shining dragon among the motifs. We are lucky because we have our talented Siang Thye to design most of the event posters.

As always, the meeting began with an opening speech from Awadh Asyraf, the president of MSAJ 2011, and it followed up with a brief summary of all the events held throughout the year 2011 by the Secretary, Chye Sin. Subsequently, each exco members from all the six bureaus - Registration, Web System, Welfare and Communication, Culture and Social, Sports and Recreation, and Academic and Career, presented their reports individually. 

To be fair, 2011 has not been an easy year, especially with the triple disaster in March. Most of the events had to be either cancelled or postponed and rescheduled. One of the event that was hugely affected was the Career Fair, supposedly held in May but was pushed to August eventually. Nevertheless, with Awadh as the captain of the ship, we managed to pull through the year with all the obstacles and challenges faced. Awadh has certainly deservedly earned his post as the President with what he has done.


P1290305-1
 
 Awadh in the middle, with his opening speech to everyone in the hall.

P1290312-1
 
Chye Sin, the secretary presents her annual report of activities carried out throughout the year.

People sometimes wonder why people like us would wanna use up our precious time working for the benefit of others. We could have spent our weekends to catch the latest movies at the cinema, or probably hang out with our friends at the malls. Yet, our weekends were used up for meetings, to plan for activities and events every few weeks. 

The answer is pretty simple. It comes from just a single word - "passion". If you dislike doing something, no matter how hard someone else pushes you, it will come out to nothing. However, it is a different case when you have the passion and interest in something. No matter how much difficulties that come to your way, you will still work tirelessly to get an end-result you desired. 

Another reason is, I quote from Chai Ei, is that you get the privilege to spend the money from MSAJ's account lavishly. Literally, haha! You see, MSAJ is actually quite rich because it has been earning hundreds of thousands of yen worth of profit each year, and the digits just keep increasing every single year. Like what Mr Wan Yusri mentioned, this is a non-profit organization and it is only apt that the profit earned should be spent for the benefits of the students. Just in case anyone wonders where MSAJ gets its income from, no, we do not get any financial assistance from the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo, nor the government. Instead, those money mainly come from the members' registration fees and the annual MSAJ Career Fair, or in other words, we generate our own income.

 P1290318-1

Each of us was asked to prepare our speech, but I end up talking spontaneously of whatever that came out from my brain at that moment haha!

It is a human nature that it is hard to satisfy everyone. Being among the committee members in MSAJ has taught me that hard lesson. No matter how much we've tried, there will always be some individuals out there who will never be satisfied with the efforts we put in every events. The President used to call them the ungrateful ones and I don't find it hard to disagree.

One example was some distasteful comments we got during the Career Fair last year. There was this guy who complained that it has been the same companies participating in the fair year in year out. Worse still, some thought the companies we invited were "small and not famous" ones. To these people, I guess they should learn how to be appreciative to others. I am not against people who voice out their opinions, but certainly not in such irrational and irresponsible way. If these people feels that they can do a better job, MSAJ is more than ready to welcome them to join the organising committee of the Career Fair.

P1290319-1
 
Among the MSAJ members who came to the AGM.

Situations like this reminds me of a piece of writing by Raja Petra Kamarudin, in which he questioned us which category are we in. Here, I am not touching anything related to politics but I would like to draw an analogy between what we faced in MSAJ and also the political scenes back home. Sometimes, many people overlook the importance of an Annual General Meeting. The truth however is that it serves as an important platform to elect your representatives that will chart the journey of the association for the next one year. So, my question here is pretty simple.

Are you amongst the less than 30 or so Malaysian students who attended MSAJ Annual General Meeting each year, or are you amongst the more than 2,000 Malaysian students who didn't attend, or didn't even attended any events organised by MSAJ before this? If you are in the first category, then I value your comments and criticisms. If you are in the second then your comments are of no importance and it would be better to just keep your mouth shut.

P1290339-1

The committee members of MSAJ Kanto branch 2011, with Mr Wan Yusri and Mr Muhammad Annizam.

Together with Nasrudin, the two of us were in charged of the Bureau of Welfare and Communication. There wasn't any clear-cut events our bureau held, but I guess I was satisfied with the few little projects that we managed to carry out, while helping out the rest in other events. One of them was to get one of the popular Malaysian restaurant in Tokyo, Rasa Malaysia Cuisine Ginza to offer discounts to students who dine there. In return, they get to advertise their restaurant at MSAJ's webpage. So, it is a win-win situation.

We also managed to get some sponsorships from the same restaurant in the form of food vouchers to be given out during the lucky draw session at Malaysian Night 2011. Although I personally didn't win any vouchers on that night (I gotta say I don't have much luck in lucky draws haha!), seeing the smiles on the faces of those who got lucky that night was enough to give me a great sense of satisfaction.

P1290329-1

A cake to mark our graduation haha!

However, the biggest event I was involved in was none other than the MSAJ Career Fair 2011. It was scheduled to be held in May 2011, but later postponed to August due to the worries and fears of most companies to come to Tokyo a couple of months after the 3.11 disaster. Being one of the coordinator, we started working almost a year earlier, in October 2010.

It started off with sending out invitations to Japanese companies in Malaysia, and making arrangements for the staffs who are coming over on the event day, as well as making reservations for the venue, promoting the event to the students in Japan, etc. The team started with only three of us, but slowly grew to a wonderful team that had made it one of the most successful career fair ever held by MSAJ, joined by 28 companies in total.

P1290346-1

Jun Hui, campaigning on why she should be elected as one of the excos in the new committee.

P1290370-1

The end of the election session to pick the new committee members for the year 2012.

P1290372-1

The newly elected President of MSAJ Kanto branch 2012, Lai Chai Ei giving his maiden speech.

On the event day, I was the coordinator-cum-participant. Along with the other two coordinators and our team members, we made sure that everything was in place before the event started. Once everything was ready, I switched role and became a participant and went hunting for jobs with the companies at the career fair. That promoted one HR staff from a company who asked me, "Excuse me, I thought I saw you coordinating this event earlier this morning and now you are coming for a job interview?"

Although we had fewer students that we had hoped for in 2011, the fair turned out to be not bad, considering the fact that it was a year full of uncertainties. The most satisfying moment however, after a year-long effort and time being put in for an event like that, was to hear news of your juniors and batchmates getting job offers from the companies participated in that fair you organised. It was one of the best reward you can get and a simple "thank-you" from them would certainly put an icing on the cake.

P1290376-1

The new line-up for this year. It is a well-balanced team, with quite a number of new faces coming through. 

P1290400-1

A dialogue session with the representatives from the Embassy of Malaysia, Mr Wan Yusri and Mr Muhammad Annizam.

The AGM and Chinese New Year Party was attended by Mr Wan Aznainizam Yusri, the Head of Chancery and also Mr Muhammad Annizam Mohtar, the Second Secretary of the HR Department of the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo. During a casual conversation with Mr Wan Yusri at the party, he invited he to join the Embassy futsal team in the sports festival later this year, since I am no longer qualified to represent any university teams in a couple of months' time haha! 

I guess for the first time, I heard Chinese New Year themed songs played at an event in Japan. Listening to those songs and having good food on the eve of Chinese New Year had more or less cured the longing to be back home to celebrate the occasion with our family. The festive atmosphere that night had certainly taken away some homesickness we had.

P1290384-1

Home-made gyoza by a Malaysian family. Most of our Muslim friends had gyoza for the first time at that party.

P1290390-1

The second cake of the day. This time it was chocolate sponge cake. And look what's at the bottom right?

Our Minister of Finance a.k.a. Treasurer, Iman Amira came out with a creative idea of distributing ang pows to everyone who attended the AGM and CNY Party that evening. This is what I love about the events we had since last year because there will usually be some elements of surprise at most of them. A good example was the two return tickets from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur for the winners of the lucky draw during Malaysian Night 2011. It was not announced to anyone until the event night itself.

This time, this ang pow thingy was kind of a surprise as well. I bet those who decided not to attend the event must be feeling a bit regretful now, right? Haha! So, the moral of the story is, try to be more active in students' association activities and who knows you might purple packets at Deepavali party next time lol!

P1290419-1

Long queue waiting to get their first packet of ang pow of the year from Mr Wan Yusri.

P1290415-1

See how happy Siri (his name is, coincidentally the same as Siri from iPhone haha!) was to get his ang pow.

P1290443-1

Awadh, giving some pieces of advices to the new committee members for one last time.

To all in the family of MSAJ 2011, like what the Japanese always say, "otsukaresamadeshita", and thank you for the great memories!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keong Hee Huat Chye

"Woah you bathed from the old year 
till the new year hor?" 

Kai Cung, my housemate
on CNY Eve

Just because I entered the shower room before midnight and it was already 12:07 when I came out haha!

A Happy Chinese New Year to everyone!

Just in case you are wondering what the title above means, it says it's "Gong Xi Fa Cai" in Hokkien. "Gong Xi" or "Keong Hee" basically means "wishing you", while "Fa Cai" or "Huat Chye" literally means "enlarged wealth". As we get tons of the same wishes each year, how great if some of them becomes reality and we would have become billionaires by now haha! I mean, we could get free wealth enlargement program just by wishing each other with that simple line haha wtf!

Since this is the year of the dragon, a symbol of fortune and power and considered the most fortuitous among all the twelve zodiac animals, I suppose there will be a lot of activities throughout this year. We shall begin bracing for engagements, weddings, and babies making in the next twelve months.

P1290460-1

Early bird ang pows I got this year. Two from grandma number one, one from grandma number two, and another one from aunt number two. 
That orange is from MSAJ Chinese New Year Party on CNY eve.

Five years back, I celebrated my first Chinese New Year away from my family and relatives and it was quite hard to take in the beginning. Five years on and now, it is no longer a big deal. Although we do not get to spend this special occasion with our loved ones at home, but having great friends to celebrate the day isn't too bad after all, especially once you have gotten used to it.

A very common question my family and friends often ask me is, "You guys don't have holiday one-arh?" or "Why not coming back for CNY?". Just to clarify for once and for all, the Japanese do not celebrate this day, as the Japanese New Year is on the first of January each year. So, there is no public holiday and it is just another day here in Japan.

Well, the Japanese actually used to share the same New Year's Day according to the Chinese lunar calendar many, many years back. That was until 1873, five years after the Meiji Restoration that Japan adopted the Gregorian calender and the first of January became the official and cultural New Year's Day. In Okinawa however, the cultural New Year is still celebrated as the contemporary Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese New Years.

P1290269-1

  Specially imported cookies from Malaysia. Importer by the way, was me haha wtf! Green beans biscuits and sugar jerry biscuit tau sar pneah
home-made pineapple tarts and peanut biscuits from Aunt number two, and an orange from my friend.

Chinese New Year this year was pretty early compared to the last previous years, which used to fall in early February and in the mist of our exam period. This year however, I'm already in my final year and only have my FYP to deal with; so no papers to sit for which means less stress and more happiness lol!

As some of you might have known, I was back to Malaysia for ten days, and returned to Japan four days before CNY. I would have wanted to stay on longer so that I could spend CNY with my family at home, however I have commitments to fulfill at the same time here. Final year projects, lab work, thesis and presentations, all eagerly waiting for my return haha!

P1290452-1

Grandma always reminds us, "New Year must wear red red" haha! Taken on CNY eve.

CNY eve this year was spent at MSAJ Chinese New Year Party in National Olympic Memorial Youth Center in Yoyogi. Though the food was not as great as what we can get in Malaysia, we still have Sprite, home-made gyoza, and cakes, to compliment the Japanese bento sets, snacks and drinks.

On the first day of CNY, we were greeted by the heaviest snow storm in Tokyo in six years. Although it snowed in Chiba as well, it was not that heavy as it was in Tokyo. I spent my day in the lab, cutting and polishing my piece of titanium oxide haha! So, to you guys who are fortunate enough to be able to be back to your hometown and spend quality time with you loved ones, please really appreciate every moment of those because not everyone gets to do that.

P1290381-1

Gigantic cake for the party. It looks more like a birthday cake, doesn't it?

At night, the Chibans (not sure if that is technically correct but I am referring to us who are from Chiba University) went out for a simple dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Seikoen (生香園) just a opposite Keisei Midoridai station. It would be more fun if we could cook and eat together but the timing was just not really right and we decided just to eat out this time. So, here are the dishes we had for the night.

By the way, I just cincai give a random name to them, since I have forgotten their exact names haha!

P1290497-1

Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts.

P1290500-1

Hong Kong fried chicken. This was really good and we ordered a second plate later that evening lol!

P1290502-1

Sea cucumber and mushroom.

P1290505-1

Pork with green mustard.

P1290507-1

Deep-fry tofu in spicy sauce.

P1290510-1

Mixed vegetables, one of the traditional dishes in a reunion dinner.

P1290514-1

Fried spring roll with mustard sauce.

400185_10150515447414005_704464004_9077658_62865559_n

Wee Kien, sitting in between his two juniors, Chai Ei and Chi Wern.

403815_10150515446404005_704464004_9077649_4070130_n

With Bik Ee and Bao Cong.

To wrap up this entry, here is a video produced by my juniors from Nagaoka Kosen, where I spent my first three years in Japan. This is the second time they made a video in conjunction of CNY; the first one was in 2010 and that one was really funny too. In terms of humour, I think not many videos are able to match this one.

So guys, enjoy the video, specially brought to you by Nagaoka Video Team (NVT). Trust me, I can assure you that you'll guling guling on the floor laughing haha!


While some oil company spent hundreds of thousands of ringgit to make a CNY video, it only require sincere and genuine hearts from these kids to come out with this video. Well done and I am so proud of you my juniors! I think you guys deserve an ang pao but I'm still unqualified to give out to you guys yet haha!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Return To Love

"Mom warded. 6am came to ER. Asked Cheryl 
drive to emergency. BP very high. 
200 up, 103 down. But got down a bit dy"

Mom's text message
at 16:20 hours, January 9, 2012

P1280721-1

My only thought was to hop onto the plane and reach my hometown as soon as possible.

To receive a news about your Dad being warded in the hospital due to some health complications is enough to make you worried. A few days later, it was Mom who got warded as well, and to get such piece of news when you are living thousands of miles away just makes you feel really helpless. 

It was a right decision made at the right time, as I flew back to Malaysia for ten days over the last couple of weeks. I wish the trip was longer; nevertheless, it was still better than nothing. I kept this trip from everyone, including both of my parents, sisters, relatives and friends, mainly because it was quite a personal one. I never intended to do it on purpose, and to those of you who felt that I should've at least inform you about me coming back to Malaysia, I am sorry for failing to do that.

P1280804-1

Took my three younger sisters and grandma for dinner on the first day I was in Taiping.

P1280813-1

As my Mom and Dad were hospitalised, as the eldest among my siblings, I felt the responsibility of being the head of the family for the first time.

My flight was on January 9 and I reached KL the next morning. Many thanks to some of my friends in KL, who let me to crash at their place for a night. On the next morning, I took a four-hour bus ride back to my hometown. My sister only knew about it when I called her to pick me up upon reaching Taiping. I wasted no time and headed to Taiping Hospital immediately.

My two younger sisters brought me to C6 Ward and to the room where Dad was warded. My both eyes ran wild, trying to spot which bed was Dad’s. I asked my sister, where was Dad's bed as I didn't manage to locate him although there were only four beds in that room. My sister pointed to bed #8, the one which is just next to the window. When I caught the first glimpse of Dad, I couldn’t recognize him. That moment really hit me hard. 

Dad’s face was pale, his body looked frail, I bet he must have lost a huge amount of weight. Dad looked totally like a different person compared to the last time I saw him in April last year. I however, didn't allow my emotion got over me, as I tried my best to be strong and controlled myself from being emotional. I walked to Dad's bed; he turned over to me, and it took him a few seconds before he realized it was me, his son who was standing next to him, just less than a meter away.

P1280829-1

Mom and Dad, in their green hospital uniform.

"Why you came back?" was his first question. 

Very typical of my Dad. Yet, it shouldn't be a question in the first place. Just as I was going to continue my conversation with Dad, my sister asked me to assist her in the cleaning-up job. That's the first thing I did when I went to see Dad - to change his pampers. Dad just passed motion and his condition was just too weak to walk to the toilet. While doing the cleaning up, Mom's story about her doing a similar thing to my grandpa crossed my mind. She never had any regrets or thinks "I-should've-done-it-when-he-was-still-alive" when my grandpa passed away several years after that, as she felt she had done her duty as a child when grandpa was still alive.

I still remember when I was still a little kid, I lived with my grandma as Mom was completing her teaching course in Penang. Dad never missed from stopping by grandma's place every single morning before he goes to school, to feed me. It was just bread, dipped in plain water, but it was the love of a Dad that means everything. And now, I guess rightly for me to do the same thing now, when he needs his children the most.

P1290015-1

Though he was sick, this man I call Dad is still able to sign cheque, to pay off various bills at home.

Mom has been telling me about every single details and developments since day one Dad was warded. However, it was only through phone calls and messages, which did little to really give me a clear idea about what exactly happened to him. I took some time for ask Dad to explain to me what really happened to him, in which he described to me in details, until Mr Kok, my Mom's headmaster dropped by to see him.

After spending about thirty minutes with Dad, I went to the next room with Mr Kok, where Mom was warded. Both Mom and Dad were in the same ward, but different rooms. Like Dad, Mom too, looked clueless when she saw me at first. However, unlike Dad, Mom's condition looked much better. I tried to balance up the time spent between Mom and Dad, so that neither one of them will feel left out. There was one night, I hugged Mom before I left and that was the best ever feeling I've felt for a long, long time.

P1290004-1

My two grandmas, probably discussing who should be the one to enter the toilet first lol!

Mom was warded due to her sudden increase of blood pressure one morning, which was most probably due to the lack of sleep and exhaustion she got from taking care of Dad. Imagine waking up early in the morning, teaching at school until noon and without taking showers and enough rest, she will head to hospital once school's over. She would then stay in at hospital throughout the day until midnight, and sometimes she even stayed overnight there. I am pretty sure even a fit young adult would fall sick if he is put through such a hectic routine. Even myself felt the stress after only one day. 

My daily routine when I was back home runs from early in the morning, right until midnight, for eight straight days. Not that I am complaining, but it really tests you to the limits, both physically and mentally. Most of the time was spent at home and hospital. Home was basically to refresh myself, to take shower, to check and reply to any urgent mails, and rest. The other times would be running around places to get stuffs, mostly for food that Dad requests.

Fortunately, my two sisters were back for their semester break and we worked together to help our parents to get back on their feet. It certainly the burden as we took turns to help out and do our bit. And I am pretty sure that the children's physical presence certainly cheered them a little bit and help them to recover faster.

P1290047-1

Brought Mom, sisters and two grandmas for dinner after Mom was discharged.

P1290044-1

I consider it some sort like a reunion dinner, as I was to fly back to Japan before Chinese New Year.

However, frustration sets in at times when Dad asks for food that we all know is not suitable for a diabetic person like him. Whenever we insist to his demands, then he will start to sulk. However, if we fulfill his requests and he feels sick, for example vomits or records an increase of sugar level, he would kinda put the blame on us. He wants to get discharged as soon as possible, but at the same time he doesn't really wanna adhere to the doctors' and our advices. Where can like that, right?

After thirty-two long days, Dad was finally discharged on January 18 and got his long-awaited wish, to be released from his "sangkar" (that's the term he uses haha!), exactly on the day I was supposed to leave. I sent him home at around four thirty in the evening, did some last-minute packing, showered, talk to Dad for a while before leaving for the six-thirty bus bound for KL. It was a satisfying feeling; it felt like a mission accomplished and I can head back to Japan with less worries.

P1290094-1

Brought Mom and grandma to the Consulate General of Japan in Penang for their visa application.

P1290115-1

Met up with my third aunt, and she brought us to have banana leave meal at Passions of Kerala at New World Park.

P1290117-1

The food there was insane. After all, Indian food is one of my favourite, that's why.

P1290119-1

We got a guy to take a photo for us, and he ended up inside the photo as well lol!

I had a short talk with Dad before I leave my house. It was during that conversation that both Dad and me broke down. To see a person like Dad, who never expresses his emotion to shed his tears openly like that was totally unexpected. I wish I could stay a little longer, but I still have things waiting for me in Japan at the same time. Final year project, thesis writing, presentation, etc., all to be done within this several weeks. I hope Dad will remember the promise he made with me. At least, I could leave a more relieved person than I was when I hop onto the plane from Tokyo ten days earlier. 

I consider what happened to my parents as a blessing in disguise. Who would want their loved ones to be sick? However, it was through this trip, this event that perhaps taught me to appreciate your loved ones more than ever. I have been closer to my Mom since I was young. Whenever I have any problems, I only usually pour the problems to Mom. She will then tells Dad about those problems.

P1290144-1

Went to see Dad with Mom. That was his final night staying in the hospital, as he was discharged on the following day.

I hardly have a heart-to-heart conversation with my Dad, and to do that just feels awkward to me. Perhaps it was an uncommon thing to do, especially among Chinese families, to talk about personal stuff and to show love and affections towards our parents. Just ask yourself, when was the last time you tell your parents the three word - "I love you"?

However, things have changed for better now. I no longer feel indifferent to talk about life and to share thoughts with Dad now. There was one night, while I was accompanying Dad in the hospital, I talked to him about what I've been up to recently, the job offer I got, my plans for the next few years, stuff like that. Amazingly, his response was unlike how it used to be before this, especially that "rezeki" term he used.

At the same time, I witness all kinds of beautiful human values, specifically we Malaysians possesses during the eight days accompanying Dad at hospital. Dad gets visitors from all races and backgrounds, his school staffs, students' and their parents, friends. One incident that really touches me was this pak cik, whose wife was warded in the same ward as Mom. His wife by the way, happened to be my Mom's classmate. After knowing that we couldn't get the popia Dad longed to have from the town, he rode his motorbike all the way to Kamunting, about ten kilometers away just to get four pieces of popia for Dad.

P1290021-1

Although the trip I made lasted less than two weeks, I guess this was the most worthy homecoming trip I've ever made for the past five years.  Sometimes, we tend to focus on our problems in life and to take for granted our blessings and achievements. It is easy for us to forget what it was like when we were once family and the times we shared. It is easy for us to forget how to love, how to smile. But, it is even harder not to love. I am grateful that through this event, it made me realise how important it is to put your family first, beyond anything. After all, family is forever.

To my Mom and Dad, three younger sisters, two grandmas, aunts and uncles, relatives, friends out there, Happy Chinese New Year to you all!


P/S to Daddy: Little by little, one step by one step, we believe you will make it. I know you're reading this. Don't shed your tears now, 'coz you look so much handsome when you smile.
P/S to Mom: Your quick and smart decision could have probably saved Dad on that night, and I am so proud of you!
P/S to all: The title of this entry was inspired by the book written by Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflection on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles". 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My New Apple iPhone 4S

"Hey, you are still using a normal phone, eh?"

Most frequent comment I used to get
whenever I take out my phone from my pocket

So guys, I finally decided to change to an abnormal phone. I just got my new Apple iPhone 4S a couple of days ago. It was released in Japan about three months ago, but I'm not a fan of joining the crazy people who would line up overnight, waiting for the release of the phone on the first day. In Hong Kong for example, police were called to control the crowd, who were penned like sheep, goats, and pigs and it got to the extend that if someone tries to leave a pen to go to the washroom or get some food and drinks, security officials will photograph them with a camera so they will be allowed to re-enter their sorted pen. *shakes head*

The latest iPhone 4S uses dual-core A5 chip, giving it more power and faster graphics, the 8MP camera with all-new optics making it one of the best phone camera, the very much advanced mobile operating system in iOS 5 and iCloud, an easy way to store all your music, photos, apps, etc. The most talked about feature however, must be the inbuilt voice command or Siri. Now, you can have someone to talk to if you are alone waiting for the train haha wtf!

P1280672-1

Apple says it is the "most amazing iPhone yet". Is it? Yes, of course it is to people who has never own an iPhone yet. But for an upgrade, well, I am not so sure.

The Apple iPhone 4S in my opinion, still remain one of the most attractive smartphones to have ever been built. The outlook remains very much the same as iPhone 4. However, the iPhone 4S is a bit heavier than its predecessor by increase from 137 grams to 140 grams; though it is just an insignificant increase, I would say. Also, it still features a small 3.5-inch display, compared to other top-tier smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy S2 with 4.3-inch and Samsung Galaxy Nexus with 4.5-inch display.

P1280680-1

I won't be doing a review in depth here, because I don't think I am the best person to do it. Besides, you can always look for a more detailed and professional ones on the Internet. Anyway, just like its predecessors, the Apple iPhone 4S comes in two colours - black and white. I was having a hard time to decide between the two, but eventually I went for the more popular and safer choice, the classy black one. Besides, the argument I saw from this side on choosing between black and white does make sense.

"A white bezel will you give the impression that the screen is dimmer, and has less contrast. The content won’t stand out as much. There is a reason why TVs come generally in Black, and letterbox content with black frames. White will make your movies and games look worse. Then, a white Frame will also reflect more light when you’re outside, it will be more visibly dirty and worse of all, white Apple products have a long history of problems, from cracking, delays to light leaks and so on."

P1280694-1

I have not used the Siri application on my phone, but based on my past experience playing with it, it is kinda "stupid" application haha! I doubt we Asians will find it as good as people in the western countries because of our Asian accents. Unless in few years time, some genius comes out with Siri for Asians. I am kinda interested to get the Japanese and Indian version haha!

This video is another example, Singlish version lol!

P1280707-1

Besides the iPhone, there are also Apple Earphones with remote and microphone, dock connector to USB cable, USB power adapter, and some documentation placed underneath the phone inside the box. The iPhone 4S is not perfect but Apple's simplicity, great design, and quality materials used makes it great smartphone that competitors are still trying to match.

The phone plan I made with Softbank includes some lame made-in-China digital photo frame, Photo Vision 008HW, which I don't think I will ever gonna use it lol! It comes together with the plan, and the only way to do away with it is to pay a certain amount to terminate it. Kinda stupid right? Tak pasal-pasal kena paksa buy this stuff haha wtf! The staff in the shop also, I assume, cooked up a story about a Chinese who ordered three of those photo frame to be brought back as souvenirs.

P1280697-1

Anyway, as a small token of souvenir, I got a packet of limited edition Shiratojiro instant cup ramen (白戸軒カップラーメン) and also a pair of Otosan ramen chopsticks (お父さんラーメン箸). On the side of the cup, it was written in Japanese, "このラーメンは犬など動物には与えないでください", which translates "Please do not feed this ramen to dogs and other animals" haha wtf! Who knows right, people might think this is a dog food seeing the white dog on the top of the ramen. By the way, that dog's name is Kai-khun, or more popularly known as Otosan, the mascot for Softbank.

After using my new iPhone for several days, I am beginning to love it and also at the same time, regretting for not getting it earlier haha! So, to anyone who is still using conventional mobile phones, trust me, you will never regret getting a smart phone.

Thanks for reading and I shall continue to explore my new iPhone *hehe*

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Two Weeks As A Postman

"郵便物はお客様の身になって
丁寧に扱いましょう" 
Mihama branch post office
daily newsletter

"Treat the customers postal items and mails as your own, by handling them with care."

While people were busy enjoying their ski trips, that was how I spent my winter break this time.

Many months ago, Japan Post sent out recruitment postcards to hire part-timers to help them in sorting and delivering out letters and New Year postcards. I applied for the job and about a couple of weeks later, I got a letter inviting me to an interview session. I was the only gaijin, a common term for foreigners in Japan, at the interview session, held at the Mihama branch post office.

It was a very simple interview session, as they just wanna know if I had past experience working part-time in Japan, and whether or not I have problems reading kanji characters. To be honest, it is not easy to read Japanese names written in kanji and even after almost five years here, my ability to read the Japanese names written in kanji is kinda limited.

P1280580-1

A special postbox to deliver New Year postcards at Mihama post office.

To support my application, I submitted a copy of my resume during the interview. It was actually from the leftovers I had from my job application earlier that year haha! Anyway, during the interview session, one of the interviewers said to me, "Based on your qualifications, I guess you should have applied for a better part-time job". I replied him, "Well, for your information sir, this is the one and only place I would ever wanna work at".

Talking about apple polishing at the highest level lol!

Fast forward to another few weeks or so later, my apple polishing tactic worked, as I got a letter confirming that I was hired haha wtf! We were required to attend a briefing session for them to explain to us the basics of our job. There was also one session where we saw a video about the consequences if we did not do our job properly, for example, stealing or hiding the mails away, and also the punishments we will get, which include being sent to the prison. Yes, it can get as serious as that.

I was assigned to the Masago-ichi post office, just a small post office in Miihama Ward. Anyway, it is not the nearest post office from my house, which is by the way, just thirty seconds bicycle ride from my home haha! My working place is roughly about 3.6 kilometers away from my place; so it takes about twenty minutes to cycle there.

Screen shot 2012-01-05 at 11.18.35 
PM.png

The usual route I take from my home in Kurosunadai (Point A) to Masago-ichi post office (Point B).

It is common for Post Japan to recruit part-timer, usually high school students to help them during the busiest time of the year - the end of December and the beginning of January, to sort out and deliver the New Year postcards, called nengajō (年賀状). The custom of sending out nengajō was to give tidings to their faraway friends and relatives about themselves and their family.

Japan Post usually accepts the nengajō from mid December and if they are sent within a time limit, usually a few days before the end of the month, they are guaranteed to be delivered on the morning of New Year's Day. The nengajō are distinguished from regular mails and postcards by the special mark of "nenga" (年賀) below the stamp. Nengajō are usually decorated with designs based on the year of the Chinese zodiac. For example, the nengajō this year is full of dragon motifs as it is the year of dragon for 2012.

P1280530-1

Masago-ichi post office, in Masago, Mihama Ward.

The most common type of nengajō are the pre-printed ones. The nengajō usually has spaces for the sender to write a personal message. However, plain and blank cards, where people can hand-write or draw and write messages on their own are also available. For people who has the time and prefer to make their own nengajō, they will get rubber stamps with conventional messages and with the annual zodiac animal at department stores and other outlets. 

One of the things that impress me the most is that even with the rise in popularity of email, the nengajō remains very popular in Japan. Another elements which is related to nengajō is the lottery numbers, each unique from the rests. The lottery's winning numbers are picked in mid or late January. The prizes aren't money but are various goods, such as electronics, stamps, and so on.

P1280229-1

Miihama Ward consists entirely of reclaimed land from Tokyo Bay; as such, the area is flat, and portions are below sea level.

Another important part of the etiquette is not to send a New Year's card to a family that has had a death in the family during the year. In this case, a family member usually sends a simple postcard called mochū hagaki (喪中葉書) from people who are in mourning from mid November, to inform friends and relatives that they don't take and send New Year's greeting cards, out of respect for the deceased.

On average, the number of nengajō delivered throughout Japan on the first of January is estimated to be approximately 5.2 million pieces! In Miihama Ward itself, there are about 147,000 nengajō delivered every year, averaging about 20 nengajō delivered per person, making it ranked seventh nationwide in terms of number of nengajō delivered.

P1280235-1

Masago, the area I was assigned in Miihama Ward, is an area which is comprises of mainly neighbourhood housing.

There were ten internal part-timers who worked at the post office this time; yet, we still worked overtime everyday. I worked for a total of eight days in the space of two weeks, excluding two days off during the period. Work starts at noon and suppose to end at four in the evening. However, like I have mentioned, there were just too many nengajō for us to sort them out, that had us work overtime until five or six on most of the days.

Now, I shall begin explaining about my job. Basically, there are seven different areas, called "ku" (区) covered by this post office, and I was put under the third area, or "san-ku" (三区). This area manages every mails delivered to Takasu 7-chome until 12-chome (高州7丁目〜12丁目).

P1280023-1

How our working place - Masago Sagyosho (真砂作業所) looks like.

At around noon, a staff from the Mihama post office, which is the main post office in Mihama Ward will bring in several containers full with nengajō. Most of these nengajō has already being sorted out according to city district, or chōme (丁目) by machines. Our job is to sort the nengajō into city block, called ban (番) and house number, or gou (号).  

I am kinda impressed by the ability of the machine, because most of the time, it can read the address on the nengajō right until the house number. These machines can process about 6,000 nengajō per hour, compared to 2,000 nengajō if done manually. The process of sorting out by machine is usually done throughout the night and they will be delivered to the respective post offices to be sorted out in the final stage on the next morning.


P1280156-1

Individual name tag for each of us.

P1280159-1

One of the first thing before we begin our job - putting in the "yubi-sakku" (指サック) or finger sack on both thumbs.

At noon, a few containers containing about 50,000 to 60,000 nengajō will be brought in. Most of them are already sorted out by machines, while some are not because the machines cannot read them. We will usually start off with the unsorted ones, putting them into their appropriate slots which looks like pigeon holes, according to different chōme (city district) and ban (city block). One thing to be aware is to avoid putting the wrong nengajō into the wrong slots as there are similar address, for example "4-chōme-11-ban" and "4-chōme-12-ban". Sometimes, when we sort the nengajō too fast, mistakes happen which we would realise it when we are sorting them out according to house number later.

The next step is to sort the nengajō from each slots according to house number. As the area I covered was mainly comprises of apartments, they are usually divided according to floors. So, each slots is for one floor. I will then sort the nengajō using a cardboard slot-box (年賀組立整理箱) while referring to the delivery ledger (配達名簿), which is a list containing the names of each household in order. 

Mistakes often happen here as well, because sometimes there are two or even three different person with the same surname living on the same floor. For examples, there might be two different Tanaka or Watanabe family on one same floor. Besides that, we will have to be extra careful not to include nengajō for person with the name marked with a red or blue tag on the delivery ledger because these people are no longer staying there. We will separate and re-sort them, which I will explain what we do with them later.

P1280173-1

The steel slots (区分函), where each slot is for one banchi.

The sorting out process ends at each house here. However, in other places like Miyazaki in Kyushu, where Kok Hong used to do the same job a few years back, they went one step further by arranged each nengajō according to the people living inside the house, as written in the delivery ledger. Father's nengajō cannot be below Mom's nengajō, unless Mom owns the house. Elder sister's nengajō has to be above younger brother's nengajō, and etc. Crazy, isn't it

While sorting out the nengajō, I encountered various kinds of things on the nengajō; interesting messages and drawings (even though we are not supposed to read the cards, but it was just a quick sight as I were sorting them out); one of them had a huge Angry Bird origami pasted on the nengajō lol!; and also errors made especially on the receiver's address. The most common one is mixing up the house number; 201 becomes 210, 416 becomes 716 and etc. That is when we have to check these kinds of nengajō individually on the delivery ledger. 

However, the best of all was one nengajō, which was written with only the receiver's name. Yes, ONLY name, without the address! I was like wtf, do you think we have super-human ability that we will know where to send that damn nengajō by just providing us the name of the person you're sending to? There are so many Hirakawa Masahiro (bukan nama sebenar) out there lar!

As the nengajō will only be sent out on the first of January, the nengajō which comes in everyday until the New Year's Day will be added to the stack each day. By the eve, the wooden racks (道順組立整理箱 or サオ) will usually get full. As one of the final stages, the nengajō from each bundle will be checked for one final time to avoid any mistakes. One bundle sometime has more than a hundred pieces of nengajō! They will then be put together with a red rubber band, having about five to seven smaller blue rubber bands, arranged and put into a bag, ready to be delivered on the next morning.

We could breathe a great feeling of satisfaction, because the hard work we have put over the past few days will be over, and the nengajō will finally be delivered to each house in a few hours' time, giving smiles to the receiver in the morning of New Year's Day.

 P1280532-1

For Masago area, they still stick to the conventional way of delivering mails using these red modified mama-chari.

So, that was about what we, the part-timers do everyday. However, sometimes, we are also asked to do other job, and one of them is forwarding mails, called tensō (転送) to people who has moved to a new address, or someone who has died. There is a folder containing the names of the people and stickers of their new addresses. We just have to peel off the sticker and stick it over the old address of the mail and they will be delivered to the new address.


This is a very systematic and convenient service by Japan Post. Whenever someone moves to a new place, they just have to fill in a form with their old and new address, and state the date when they wanna start to have their mails forwarded to the new address. This service is provided free for a period of one year, and after that period, all mails will be returned to the sender. I don't think this thing exists in Malaysia, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
 
Besides that, we also sometimes helped out in dealing with "accident mails" haha wtf! Yes, I am not making up stories. They really call those mails with such name, or in Japanese, jiko-yūbin (事故郵便).  These kinds of mails are mails which names do not exists both on the delivery ledger and also the forwarding-mail name list. So, one important point to take note when you are sending out nengajō or mails, never try to be funny by writing nicknames, like "Justin Bieber" or "soh zai" even if you are trying to make fun of your friends. These nengajō will be returned to the sender because they are not found, or in other words, they are categorised as "accident mails" haha wtf!

I kinda like working with the "accident mails" because the job is kinda simple, as we just have to find the names of the unfounded mails inside the residency folder (住居), which I consider the post office encyclopedia because it contains the history of the people who had lived in a certain house for the past few decades haha! If the names are there, it means the person is no longer living at that particular address. So, I will use a red stamp and stamp on the nengajō, indirectly telling the sender that the name and/or address is not found because their mail has met with an accident haha wtf!

P1280635-1

On my final day working at the post office, I took a photo with the Big Mommas haha! Ando-san, whom was under the area I was assigned,
is the one in the middle with the peace sign lol!

Overall, I pretty love this part time job, because it does not require hard labour or awkward working hours. Besides, the pay certainly worth the simple jobs we have to do; sit down, sort the nengajō, while sharing light moments with the staffs once in a while during the break. The break is usually about fifteen to twenty minutes and the nice staffs (whom they call themselves mama-tachi (ママ達) or "Big Momma", while they call us kodomo-tachi (子供達), or  "Jibby" "the kids" haha!) serve us snacks and warm green tea.
 
It was kinda hilarious when I asked to have a photo with the mama-tachi. They were like, "Aiyo, we are so old grandmas already, you still wanna camwhore with us-ar?". I insisted and guess what they did in the end? They started adjusting their hair, rushed into the toilet to check out if their face look alright, and everyone was so excited lol! Even as I am typing this, I can never forget that funny moment haha wtf!

As a small token of appreciation, I sent a photo and a short thank-you note to the mama-tachi in Masago-ichi post office the next day.

P1280647-1

Hoping that this will give smiles on their faces when they receive this mail.

So, that is my story about becoming a postman in Japan, which I will one day tell my grandchildren haha wtf!