Friday, February 22, 2013

Ushering The New Year With Family Love

"Love of the family 
is life's greatest blessing"

I’m coming home I’m coming home
Tell the World I’m coming home
Back where I belong, yeah I never felt so strong


"Dad said you haven't been back for the Chinese New Year for so many years already. That's why he took out all the lanterns and decorate the house (until it looks like a temple lol!)"

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The lanterns and the lion head decoration, all put up by my Dad as he knows all of us will be back for CNY this year.

Mom said that to me when I was Skyping with her one night. It was a few days before I flew back to Malaysia to celebrate the Chinese New Year. My first time to welcome the New Year in the Chinese lunar calendar in six years. I will be telling a big fat lie if I say I wasn't excited when I stepped onto the plane at Tokyo International Airport in Haneda. I knew that, in a few hours' time, I will be stepping onto the land, the only land where I call ... h.o.m.e.

I spent one day in KL before accompanying my aunt, who drove back to Taiping. We were lucky because the journey was generally smooth, without any traffic congestion that gave us some worries. After a four-hour journey, with a short stop in Bidor to have their famous duck noodles, we arrived in the best place in the universe.

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Taiping, known as the herritage town in the northern region of Malaysia.

Twenty-four hours upon arriving in Taiping, it was the Chinese New Year's Eve. When we talk about the eve, the most common thing that will strike your mind must be the reunion dinner. It is one of the biggest event of the year, something that every parents look forward the most. That's because they will get to see their kids from near and afar, making the trip back home, to gather as one big family, sharing laughter and stories, over that meaningful dinner.

And do you know what's the simplest way to put smiles on your parents' face? No, they do not wish for your hard earned cash nor presents that costs thousand of ringgits. Having their kids to spend the New Year by their side, will make them happy, more than anything else. Never let them think they are a burden, but a treasure who is appreciated by their children.

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The menu for the reunion dinner this year. The menu do not have elegant name, but wait until you taste them.

At around noon, we began our gotong-royong project in the kitchen. Dad and second sister was the vegetable cutter, I was the cook and Mom was the big boss a.k.a general manager in the kitchen lol! As for another two Cinderella sisters, they were still in their wonderland. 

Although the initial menu is the list was only nine dishes, we ended up making twelve dishes in total. One dish for each month of the year hahaha!

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Mom holding on her bawal putih (silver pomfret) which she just caught from the fish market.

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Dad was assigned to cut the vege and sister was in-charged in cutting the onions, garlic and ginger.

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I cut the vegetables too. In fact, most of the vege went under my knife lol!

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Cooking is easy; it was the cutting and preparation process that took most of our time. This are among the ingredients ready to go into the frying wok.

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The after-result. Twelve dish for only six people. People must be thinking we cooked to feed the elephants in Taiping Zoo lol!

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The general manager of the kitchen poses in front of her masterpiece. She looked extremely satisfied with our work rate haha!

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There are twelve dishes to represent the twelve months and twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac. Haha! No-lar, I just simply make out that story lol!

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The cooking team who made it possible. Minus that Cinderella in the middle hahaha!

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I don't remember we doing a "yam seng" thingy in my family, but it was quite fun. It was a reunion dinner, but it felt like a wedding dinner hahaha!

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Another pose for the photo. No matter how much we ate, the food doesn't seem to get any lesser lol!

After the dinner, it was time to get ready for prayers and wait for the clock to strike midnight. I used the remaining thirty minutes or so to clean the altar and putting up Mandarin oranges for offering. I'm not sure if this is a Chinese custom but I always make sure I take a shower just before the New Year. Don't know why but I feel better to welcome the New Year with a clean and refreshed body haha!

As it got nearer to midnight, we started to hear firecrackers. The quite night suddenly turned like a war-zone. Bom here bom there lol! Okay la, maybe not bom but still they were really loud that it triggered some of the car alarms haha!

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Cleaning up the altar. Whenever I'm at home, that task becomes mine, by default.

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Guess what, my sister is gonna use this photo for her Pendidikan Moral project lol!

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Now I know why my aunt told me I am so white like an albino snake lol!

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Unofficial family photo, coz we wanted to rehearse for the official shot the next day haha!

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Chinese New Year cookies, minus that fern plant lol! Mom made more than half of these by herself, and the highlight is definitely the pineapple tart.

The next morning, Mom woke me up and we went to do morning dana at Taiping Insight Meditation Society (TIMS). "Dana" is a Pali work, which refers to the practice of giving, whether to human beings ot animals. It is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one's humanity and one's capacity for self-transcendence.

Everyone will bring food there to be offered to the monks. It can be anything from white rice to nasi lemak, bananas to mango pudding. I brought a few boxes of maccha-flavoured Kit Kat which I brought back from Tokyo hahaha!

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More commonly known as TIMS, it is a parent body that also manages Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS).

The alms round was, for the Buddha, a key feature of the monastic life and the alms bowl is, for all Buddhists, a symbol of the monastic order. However, the monk can only accept the food after they are offered to them. To make things easy, we usually offer a whole table of food at once as if it were a giant dish. 

To do this, generally requires at least two lay people to physically lift the whole table and at least one monk to receive the whole table by grabbing onto the edge. However, everyone are usually very eager to offer the food, and hence, they will form a huge crowd around the table. Those people who cannot reach the table will just hold the hands or clothes of the people in front of them. Doing this is sometimes quite fun because we will stay connected with each other, moving from one table to another, while forming a long train formation all along the way haha!

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This simple act of lifting the table, to offer the food to the monks.

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The monks will then put the food into their alms. They will make sure they do not take too much as they have to consume these food by noon they are offered, 
and cannot keep them as snack or for the next day's meal.

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We then had an interesting Dhamma talk by Venerable Aggacitta Bhikku, who told us about his experiences with snakes during his time in Myanmar.

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With his vast knowledge and experiences, the Dhamma talk, conducted in Hokkien with some English, Malay, Mandarin in between, was indeed a very entertaining one.

It has been a old-long tradition in my family to start the day with red dates and longan dessert. As this drink is sweet, it is believed that it will bring a sweet and great year ahead.

On the first day of the Chinese New Year, people will usually wear new clothes and eat better food as this indicates a new beginning and a better life for the coming year. Bright coloured, especially red clothes, are preferred as it as this signifies prosperity, fortune and good luck. White or black colour is ato be avoided on this auspicious day as these colours represent death and is usually worn at funerals. However, the younger generations these days are not superstitious and will wear anything they feel is "in". The consequences - getting scoldings from their grandparents when they visit them haha!

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This is one thing that I never miss every time I celebrate Chinese New Year.

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CNY cakes and cookies, plus Mandarin oranges to be given to neighbours. We have been carrying out this practice for almost twenty years and in return, 
we get muruku during Deepavali.

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Packets of sugar, as a gesture of thank-you and appreciation of our cookies.

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My first red packet of the day, from my Dad!

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My red packets collection for the last six years, thanks to my parents and sisters who helped me keep them during my absence lol!

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Got a short ceramah from Mom before receiving the ang pao from her haha!

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And here you go, our official family portrait of 2013.

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Question of the day: Who do you think in this photo, is not from the same generation?

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Mak Datin and Toh Puan, posing for the camera haha!

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My three sisters with the youngest member of grandma's grandchildren.

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She made that snake origami herself.

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With the two little brothers from KL.

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And one last photo of Ming Hui, reading her story book, on our way to somewhere interesting.

And that's all for now. I guess it is still not too late to wish everyone Gong Xi Fa Cai and an early Chap Goh Meh, which will fall on this Sunday. Go get ready your Mandarin oranges, apples and maybe durians as well. Remember to write your Gmail and Facebook account on those fruits. Who knows you might get a friend request after a few days. And if you are lucky, you may get some "pokes" and "likes" hahaha! Just kidding-lar lol!

Till then, stay tune to know where and what were we up to later that night!



~ to be continued ~

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Shiramazu Flower Fields, Revisited After A Year

"Yes! Yes! I remember this young man!"

lady at the flower farm
upon seeing me again



The final tour for the Chiba Kun Ambassadors was held last week. This time, we were taken to visit Minamiboso City as well as Tateyama City, in the southern region of Chiba Prefecture. The first spot was the Chiramazu Flower Parking area. If you had read my blog regularly, you might recall that I had visited the same area during the first year as the Chiba Kun Ambassadors last year. 

The freezing temperature of the winter didn't stop us from anticipating to seeing the breathtaking flowers that spread along the the Minamiboso region. This part of the region faces the Kuroshio Sea, which is adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, and this makes it a non-frost area blessed with a mild climate. The flowers in Minamiboso starts to bloom as early as in December and ends in March.

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Palm trees welcomed us as we enter Tateyama City.

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The signboard that shows that we have arrived to our first destination of the day.

The early spring that this area enjoys makes it covered with carpets of flowers, which create beautiful photo spots. Visitors can enjoy not only flower viewing, but actually picking these flowers that grow healthy with the sea breeze. There are no less than eight flower beds scattered along the road in this region, but the most popular one is the Chikura Shiramazu flower fields located along Highway 410.

This spot is popular as visitors get to enjoy the breathtaking flower fields, and also the magnificent sea at the same time. It is also frequently featured on TV shows and magazines, making it one of the must-visit spots in Chiba prefecture.

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Part of the flower fields, which faces the Pacific Ocean.

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We had a staff from the Minamiboso City Office, who came over to explain to us about the place.

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According to him, some of the flowers are used in the menus of the nearby restaurants.

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The shops located opposite of the flower fields, that sells ready-cut flowers and other souvenirs as well.

In these open-field flower cultivation fields, visitors can pick the flowers according to their favourite colours and types on their own, or the ready-cut flowers from the direct-selling flower shops. The flowers grown in this area are known to be long-lasting and also for its cheap price. 

The farmers usually start to plant the flowers in August and it roughly take about five months until the plants mature and start to bloom. Among the main flowers grown in this area are stock, pot marigold (金盞花), snapdragon (金魚草), poppy (ポピー) and baby chrysanthemum (小菊).

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This is one of the many flower fields in Shiramazu.

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A close-up shot of purple stock.

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This is potmarigold or also known as kinsenka in Japanese.

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There is a wide variety of colours of stock to choose from.

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These are ready-cut potmarigold.

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Fresh and colourful chrysanthemum.

Taking the advantage of the variety of flowers available from this region, some restaurants here use the edible flowers in their menus. Flowers like potmarigold, snapdragon, stock, and rodgersia podophylla are used in tenpura and steamboat menus.

Although the location of the flower field in Shiramazu is not directly next to any JR train stations, there are buses which runs from JR Chikura station. Besides that, there are also express buses that runs from Tokyo station and Chiba station, which makes it easy for tourists who doesn't have their own transportation.

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Remember this?

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A reunion after one year. Everyone was in all smiles.

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The many kinds of flowers that "mak cik bunga" sells.

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She never fails to carve a sweet smile on her face whenever I ask for a photo with her.

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And this is her flower field, just behind her stall.

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Look at how beautiful the full-bloom stock were.

I made it a point to drop by the hut of the "mak cik bunga" whom I interviewed her last year. The moment she spotted me, the started waving to me. I asked her if she still remembers me and she nodded happily. Of the eleven Chiba Kun Ambassadors who were on the day's tour, only two of us were there last year. And I was quite happy that she still recognises me haha!

I spent some time chatting with her, and managed to asked her one of the questions I have always wanted to ask her - her famous signboard. Apparently, prior to putting up that interesting signboard, it was just a boring board bearing her stall's name and phone number. However, about five to six years back, one of her customers was kind enough to present her a gift - that is the new signboard which bears her face and fake silver teeth haha!

After getting to know about her silver teeth signboard story, I visited her flower farm just right behind her flower stall.

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We dropped by another flower farm. This is Kyle with me surrounded with colourful stock.

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This time, we had the chance to pick the flowers of our choice.

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Took a group photo with the flower field owner after we picked our flowers.

Back to the "mak cik bunga". Still remember her? Before we leave the place, she was so kind to present us with a huge bouquet of flowers to be taken back as souvenirs. And the flowers were divided to each of us and indeed, after more than a week, these flowers are still blooming on my dining table.

So, if you happen to visit Minamiboso City, make sure you do not miss out dropping by this flower fields!


|| INFORMATION ||
Opening hours: 8:30 a.m. to sunset (January to April)
Closed: May to December
Parking spaces: 31 (Large: 3, Standard: 27, Disabled: 1)
Toilet facilities:  
Gents: 6, Ladies: 6, Disabled: 1

Address: 1397, Shiramazu, Chikura-cho, Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture, 295-0027, Japan.
Tel: 0470-43-1811 (Shiokaze Okoku)
Website: http://www.shiokaze-oukoku.jp/index.html (Japanese only)
Access:

Car: 
(through Tateyama) Tateyama Futtsu Expressway (館山富津自動車道) → Tomiura IC (富浦) → Chikura (千倉); (through Kamogawa) Kamogawa Toll (鴨川有料道路) → Kamogawa Route 128 (鴨川 R128) → Chikura (千倉); (through Maruyama) Route 410 → Maruyama (丸山)  Chikura (千倉)
Direct bus: JR Tokyo station Yaesu South Exit (JR東京駅八重洲南口), board the Boso Nanohanago (房総なのはな号)
 → JR Tateyama station (JR館山駅) → Chikura (千倉) → Shiokaze Okoku (潮風王国); ¥2,500, approximately 2 hours 50 minutes one way.
Train: JR Chikura station (JR Bus for Shirahama) → Shiramazu Ohanabatake 
(白間津お花畑); 15 minutes.