Friday, 31 October 2008

Japan - Day 1 (Shinjuku & Shimokitazawa)

After months of anticipation to our first overseas holiday together, after spending weeks of deciding what to do and where to go, after spending days to work out our budget, after spending hours to search and confirm our accommodation bookings, the day has arrived to our long awaited holiday.

We reached Sentral nice and early, checked in, got our preferred seats, which is good and said our goodbyes to our parents before boarding our night flight. We were so busy when we were back in KL that actually felt more tired than working. Hey, that will not stop us from enjoying our trip to Tokyo!

The flight was 90% full, according to the air stewards but it was a very pleasant flight, the food was much better than flying out to Melbourne, the shows were appealing to us, the controller was working perfectly, even the Japanese dude sitting in front of me were particularly polite. Every time he wanted to lower his seat and put it back to upright position, he would asked first before doing so. I was impressed!

On our way to Tokyo

2,681 miles to Tokyo - approximately another 5 hours

Coincidentally when I finished my second movie, the pilot turn on the lights - indication that very soon we were about to reach our destination and breakfast will be served shortly as well. Woke Mei Lee up for breakfast and the whole time we had our shades down. When we pulled it up, we didn't realize it was already bright. Our front neighbour had their shades pulled down as well. Out of a sudden, Mei Lee got a little bit excited and started whisking out the camera and started taking photos. Well... who would not be when Mt. Fuji is right next to you. :D

Mt. Fuji from our aisle seat

Reached the airport as scheduled. Narita International Airport (NIA) is a little bit old but the set up is quite similar to KLIA, i.e. the departure gates and the main terminal is connected by monorail. Got to the main terminal, collected our luggage, passed custom with no complication (they were quite friendly I must add), got our 7 day JR rail pass and took Narita Express (N'EX) train from Narita Airport to Shinjuku. Shinjuku was where we were staying for the next 4 days.

Us taking the N'EX

Sceneries of Japan

Our travel path - from NIA to Shinjuku

When we reached Shinjuku Station, we were surprised how big the station is and it was packed with people. It's one of the main station in Tokyo, which obviously we didn't know beforehand. It was quite a challenge going through the crowd while pulling 2 huge luggage. The station has 3 levels and we were at the lowest level trying to get to the top level.

When we finally got out, we started looking at our Lonely Planet (LP) and wondered a while which direction we should be heading to our hotel - Hotel Sunlite Shinjuku. It's very near to Isetan and OIOI shopping centre. We thought that should not be too tough. Just look out for Isetan and OIOI, walk towards that direction and we should be fine. We were so wrong! Not only there were a few Isetans within 1km radius, the names/logo of the building are at street level. Unlike Malaysia/Australia where the name and logo of the building is put right at the top.

We thought that rather than trying to be gung-ho, it would be so much easier asking the locals where our hotel was and we did just that. We asked him in English but he only understood part of it. He didn't know where it was, probably he only know the hotel in Japanese. He started making some phone calls tried to locate the hotel for us but didn't get much out of it. He then brought us to a police kiosk knowing that they would not better than anyone else. When we were walking there, he helped pull one of our luggage. Again, we were very surprised by his generosity.

Spoke to the policeman, he gave us a clear direction and when we saw our hotel name from far, we were so relieved. Checked in to our hotel, nice and sweet, our room was on the top floor, so we got a pretty good view with minimal blockage. We didnt take any photos from our room but we took some of our room. The room was so small (as expected) that both of us cant' walk pass each other without giving way to another.

Our bedroom, lounge, kitchen, study room, etc...

At least we got a LCD!

Our tiny bathroom

By the time we checked in, refreshed ourselves, rah rah rah... it was already lunch time. Both of us were hungry and wanted to try something that you can only get in Japan. So we walked around the Shinjuku city and since we don't know any kanji, we depended on photos or similar. We found a local fast food place and gave it a try. We had to match the price of the sample against the ticket machine. Thank goodness there was no 2 meal with the same price.

Front of the shop

Ticket machine

Mei Lee's pork ramen

Stephen's curry pork rice

It was a good lunch. Not expensive, 1,300 yen for both of us. We were satisfied. Explore the city a bit more, hoping to find another good place for dinner. It must have been the heavy lunch, we were feeling abit sleepy shortly after that. So we decided not to spend more time exploring and tired ourselves already.

Restaurants at one of the small lanes

Mei Lee checking out the menu

Mei Lee doing more menu research

Got ourselves a couple hours of rest, when we were ready, it was past 7 at night. We read it somewhere that Shimokitazawa being one of the trendy and western side of Tokyo. Its just a couple of train stops away and since it was already dark, we thought of gave it a try. Went to the train station, got our train schedule printed out from Route Information machine (very user friendly) and we were ready to leave.

Part of Shinjuku city at night

Hello Kitty shops were everywhere

Mei Lee spotted a "castle" on top of a building. Interesting!

Stephen at one of the smaller lanes

Mei Lee at one of the smaller lanes

Mei Lee with our route information.

In the train station, there were more than 20 ticket machines and all serving different train lines.

Reached Shimokitazawa 10 minutes later. Walked around, scouting anything interesting to eat. We spotted a tiny shop selling octopus balls. Since this being one of the local food, we tried it. We enjoyed it. It was very tasty and the sweet sauce was not very sweet, to my liking. The cook speaks little English and when they found out we were from Malaysia, he was so happy, started laughing. His wife at the side smiling from ear to ear as well... We somewhat felt they were proud to have overseas visitors trying their food.

Front of the shop

Cook at work

Octopus balls waiting to be bought

A happy chap with freshly made octopus balls

Octopus balls - up close - it taste much better than it looks

After our starter, I wanted to have some sushi. So happened that there was a sushi place not far from the octopus balls shop. Went in there, my first impression was "is it still open?" There was only 1 customer and the chef (husband) and cashier (wife). We sat down at the sushi bar. Looked at the menu, all written in kanji. Told Mei Lee that we had to point and choose our dinner from the sushi bar. We were served warm green tea, plates for soy sauce, ginger, the usual stuffs.

We decided what we wanted to eat shortly after but I was not too sure the red sashimi, was it tuna or whale meat. I don't mind eating both but want just wanted to know what I was eating.

Stephen: This tuna? (pointing at the red sashimi)
Cook: Maguro!
Stephen: ...... tuna?
Cook: Maguro!
Stephen: .... hai hai maguro! (still had no idea if its tuna or whale)

From then on, we just pointed and eat. No questions asked. The only English he knows is "Australia" and "good". We only Japanese we remembered were "thank you" and "sorry". The sushi were very fresh. It was made right in front of us when we ordered and we had such a good time trying to understand each other that we ended up laughing more than talking. :D

After we paid the bill, his wife walked us out, gave us a good bow and kept on saying thank you. We were obliged to bow back. We ended up bowing a few times to each other.

A very good start to our holiday!

Front of the sushi bar

Monday, 27 October 2008

Sorting out Japan photos

Mei Lee and myself have taken approximately 1,300 photos for our Japan trip, not including videos.

It is going to take us a while to sort out the photos, resize it and upload it to our blog.

You guys just have to be patient. :D

Thursday, 16 October 2008


Both Mei Lee and I have arrived safely at Tokyo and it has been fun, tiring and interesting so far.

Watch out for updates in 2 weeks time. Now, we are going to enjoy our holiday first.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Congratulations to Ai Hoon & Aries

We attended Ai Hoon & Aries wedding on 5.10.08. It was held at the Nathania Springs in the Dandenongs Victoria Australia. Both Mei Lee and I were looking forward to attend their wedding as we have not been to a "aussie" style wedding. We know its going to be different from those we have attended so far.

We were there early to help both of them out with the front desk and to organise the arrival of guests before the Holy Matrimony at 2.30pm.

By 2.15pm, Ai Hoon arrives in their new shinny red car, given to them by their parents as their wedding gift, so I heard. All the photographers were rushing out trying to get a nice shot of the princess of the day. I wonder whether she felt like a superstar with all the photographers going crazy!

We all then took our seats in the gorgeous stained-glass chapel, with both the Aries and Pastor Jonathan waiting for Ai Hoon to walk down the aisle with her dad. Below are some of the snapshots of The Holy Matrimony.

Aries and Pastor Jonathan patiently waiting for Ai Hoon

Ai Hoon walking down the aisle with her dad

Pastor Jonathan giving his speech on "Intention of Marriage"

Aries happiest moment!

Ai Hoon and Aries lighting the unity candle

Newly wed couple walking down the aisle, embracing their future together

A group photo with the rest of our Melb friends

Then the pre-dinner drinks and finger food were served. Chatted with friends and guests and before we know it, it was reception at 6pm. Just in time as I was already getting hungry. Nice!

It was a 3 course dinner with a choice of chicken or salmon for main and 10 choices of desserts! Mei Lee was looking forward for desserts, good choice as I have more of her salmon. :D

Our allocated seats and hand written name cards

The menu for the evening

The newlyweds making their entrance during the reception

Entree: Risotto of smoked chicken, bacon, mushrooms and spinach with parmesan and tarragon

Main 1: Roast Atlantic Salmon on a green pea, prawn and herb risotto with a citrus hollandaise

Main 2: Chicken Breast Wellington based with camembert, mustard and onion in a golden pastry on a caramelized onion gravy

The newlyweds cutting their wedding cake

Desserts: The 10 choices. (I am too lazy to name all the 10)

The wedding ended around 9.30pm and both Mei Lee and myself enjoyed ourselves very much. The chapel wedding was very nice, Nathania Spring was filled with flowers blooming, the weather was good, the wedding was well planned, food was great, especially the desserts (according to Mei Lee), it was truly an experience for us as much as for the newlyweds.

Once again, Congratulations to Ai Hoon and Aries.