It’s the last day of 2012. For today, I am recapping the journeys I made in 2012, along with a few related entries.
(Some of the cities do not have related blog posts because I am working on a really limited internet connection back home in Sabah. I’ll follow up with the posts once I reach the land of high speed internet–Singapore.)
In case you find this entry a little TL;DR, I want to wish you a happy 2013. May the new year be filled with (productive) travels.
Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia
In a nutshell: The Seremban which D and I visited was sleepy. There wasn’t much going around as it seems like most of the people prefer to look for a living in Kuala Lumpur.
In a nutshell: The reason I dragged D along to PD was to wash my feet in the ocean. My family has a ritual of stepping into the ocean when the new year comes to “wash away the bad luck”. PD wasn’t as fantastic as what my primary school sample compositions tell me. I much prefer the beaches in Sabah.
In a nutshell: On a business trip to cover an event in San Jose. I had the chance to visit Cupertino and see the Winchester Mystery House. I didn’t get to see much of the city because I was stuck in the convention centers getting my bills paid.
In a nutshell: Side trip from San Jose after the business trip. I had planned to visit Napa Valley for a night but decided to stay in SF for the whole week. I saw two great shows, visited many fine museums and cycled a little.
In a nutshell: A short weekend trip to the capital of Indonesia. We weren’t caught in traffic jams as we took the TransJakarta public bus. I didn’t do a lot of research so we ended up walking aimlessly.
In a nutshell: State 9 of my Visit Malaysia project. A small town where our fourth prime minister, Dr Tun Mahathir, was born. Visited the Alor Setar tower, the second tallest TV tower in Malaysia, and saw a bird’s eye view of the town.
In a nutshell: State 10 of my Visit Malaysia project. Went to the market bordering Thailand. I was a little disappointed that the market didn’t straddle the border with stall owners on one side accepting ringgit while the other baht.
No major travelling for the month. It wasn’t as bad as I expected because I had other things to busy myself with during the weekend. For example, reading Web comics, watching Youtube, eating, reading things online etc.
Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia
In a nutshell: Back home for the Christmas holiday because of forced leave implemented by the company. Went on a roadtrip with Mom to the north of Sabah. We read a lot, ate a lot of fruits while at the hotel. Also visited the “Tip of Borneo”.
Despite that, I always feel a sense of euphoria when I stumble upon second hand bookshops overseas.
The musty smell of the shop, the yellowing pages and the cheap price of books give me more thrill than shopping for clothes unless the garments are second hand and cheap.
Here are a few of the hidden treasures I’ve found during my travels:
BOOK OFF, Japan
BOOK OFF is one of Japan’s second hand book store chain. I was introduced to it by my host family in Fukuoka. At the end of my summer school, I sent home a heavy box of Japanese manga.
Popular manga usually go for 200 yen for a book while older manga are 100 yen. Foreign language books are not cheap though.
When I visit Japan (which is not often), I always have my eyes peeled for a branch of BOOK OFF on the streets. (There’s even some BOOK OFFs in Paris, if you are ever there.) When I see a BOOK OFF, I can’t help popping in to see their collection.
During my last trip to Japan, I had a free day waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Gintama Land. I found a BOOK OFF on the second floor of a building and spent hours in the shop, thumbing through comics.
Books in BOOK OFF are always in pristine condition. They look even better than most of the books on my shelf back home.
The Japanese usually read books stores while standing (it even has its own phrase “tachiyomi“). On weekends, it’s quite a sight to see everyone standing, reading while facing the bookshelves.
Bouquinerie du Centre, Nantes
I was looking for a place to have lunch in the center of Nantes when I came across a second hand bookstore “Bouquinerie du Centre”.
The selection wasn’t a lot but it had titles which weren’t easily available in Singapore.
Trying to look smart, I picked up a few Simone de Beauvoir’s books which looked easy enough to be read. Le deuxième sexe wasn’t available, unfortunately.
But I must confess that the books are still in the suitcase since my move to my new rented room in August 2011.
Adobe Bookshop, San Francisco
While in the Mission District looking for lunch (again!), I found Adobe Bookshop. The shop was in a state of orderly mess with stacks of books arranged alphabetically according to author and genre.
I browsed the rows and rows of books, squeezing through bookshelves and found a man snoozing in one of the armchairs.
While I was looking for something to buy back home, a man came into the shop. He said he accidentally bought the same book and asked if he could exchange it for another. The shopowner agreed.
The old gentleman came to my aisle and was looking up and down for the author’s row. When he asked me if I knew where the author’s book was, I helped him in his search. We found it.
He then asked if I had my lunch as he was going to grab a bite. Although he didn’t feel threatening, I pretended that I just ate because I don’t think I should go around having lunch with strangers I’ve just met, even if it was in a book store.
While browsing, I overheard the shopowner telling a customer that the shop will be closing down as the landlord wanted to increase the price of the rent. I looked at the price of the books and wondered how the shop manage to stay open in the first place.
When I paid for my books, the shopowner asked if I was from overseas. I answered, “Singapore”. He then said that he was collecting foreign currency and if I had any money from Singapore to exchange with one of the foreign money in the plate.
I did have a S$2 note and I chose a pre-Euro coin from France. I said my thanks and left with my books.
I think the shop would have closed down by now. I feel sad.
This post was inspired by this week’s #Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT): Hidden treasures.
Have you stumbled upon hidden treasures when travelling? What was it?
While there wasn’t a bed and I was kept up at night by a snoring neighbor, it was plenty of fun since I got to soak in hot springs and participate in Gintama Land games.
Saving on sightseeing
Buy discounted tickets at 7-11
If you read Japanese, you can go to 7-11 to see if they sell discounted entrance tickets to places you want to visit.
There is a touchscreen machine in the store selling these discounted tickets. I had to poke around a bit before I found the tickets for Ooedo Onsen Monogatari (180 yen cheaper than buying at the door).
I believe there are discounted tickets for Skytree and other sites.
Sites with no entrance fees
Even if you are not a Japanophile, Japan is just bursting with so many amazing things to see.
Shrines are free to visit but it’s not free from capitalism.
I bought a charm for safe travels at Meiji Jingu and had my love fortune told in a slip of paper at Dai Jingu
(Fortune: I am supposed to really want love for it to come to me. Libra and Taurus are good choices, so is B bloodtyped folks but avoid Pieces people.)
When I was planning my third trip to Tokyo, I thought I would not discover anything new since I have crossed off a lot of the tourist attractions in my previous two trips.
I spent my second day wandering around Shinjuku, waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Ooedo Onsen Monogatari hot springs theme park.
My mind was numb as I walked from one street to another. All the buildings looked very much alike.
Suddenly, I spotted a patch of green between two buildings. I stopped in my tracks just before the traffic lights to look more clearly. Yes, it was indeed an entrance wedged between two tall concrete constructions.
I crossed the street to take a closer look. The name Hanazono Jinja was carved into a stone pillar. Hanazono shares the same Chinese character as “flower garden”, so I named it my secret garden shrine.
I was attracted to the hidden gates because it reminded me of Yuuko Ichihara’s house in xxxHoLic. A building (or empty field in the case of this screenshot) between two taller buildings.
I didn’t immediately go through the gates. Instead, I got a coffee at a cafe opposite the shrine.
While sipping my drink, I found out that the shrine was famous enough to be included on the map of the free guide pamphlet. However, there was no description of the place and why it was in the strange location.
After my latte, I crossed the road to the shrine. The path was shaded not so much by the trees but by the walls of the buildings.
At the end of the path, there was the “cleansing station” where visitors wash their hands and rinse their mouth.water.
Entering the shrine grounds
When I first walked into the shrine ground, I was expecting a small shrine at the end of the path, not a semi gigantic red shrine.
There was also a Treasure Room but I wasn’t sure what treasures could be hidden inside.
Similar to other Shinto shrines, Hanazono Jinja sold charms and ema. You write your wish on an ema and hang it up at the temple.
I didn’t quite get what the banner said but I thought the calligraphy was beautiful.
Praying to Inari
At Hanazono Shrine, there was a smaller shrine for Inari. You will recognize Inari shrines because of the red torii lined in front.
Compared to the grand main building, the Inari shrine was small and cute.
In front, two adult foxes guarded. I realized that the papa and mama foxes have little fox cubs with them. If these were Chinese stone lions, I expect one to have cubs while the other to have a golden ball to symbolize the female and male.
I left by the main entrance, which was large. I’m glad that I found secret Garden Shrine through its smaller entrance.
I had the chance to pop into Taimeiken for lunch during my last day in Tokyo. Even though my stomach was still full from my buffet breakfast, I knew that I needed to try the dish or I would fly back with regret.
The restaurant was a bit difficult to find because I couldn’t find the Exit C5 at Nihombashi station. When I did find the exit, I was confused by the street level buildings as the Taimeiken sign was not there that day.
I eventually figured out the place. I was reached the doors slightly before 1 p.m. and it was strange that the queue was not as long as I expected.
Little did I know the queue would snake out when I left the restaurant.
I was soon seated in the crowded restaurant. The place was smaller than I imagined. My elbow was almost touching the lady at the next table’s.
Even though there was a 800 yen lunch set, I ordered the omurice. I was informed that my order was for a normal omurice so I changed it to the famous Tampopo omurice.
The deco was vintage. The chair even had what look like animals.
The pattern was repeated on the serviette.
My 50 yen borscht arrived before my omurice. The serving was larger than I expected. (I imagined a small Chinese bowl of tomato-based soup.)
Soon my omurice came, along with a small serving of ketchup. The dish looked beautiful and I took a while to find the best angle to take a photo of it.
Unfortunately, that extra 30 seconds caused my egg to overcook. Instead of a beautiful waterfall of egg flowing over my rice. Mine looked like a the face of Two Face, a character in Batman.
For 1,850 yen, the taste wasn’t exceptional. It felt like it lacked salt. (Or my friend D likes to say: Too little seasoning.)
I ate every grain of rice because it was expensive. But I didn’t feel satisfied. :( I think I will go for the normal omurice, or even the lunch sets next time.
Take Exit C5 of Tokyo Metro’s Nihombashi station. Once out of the station, turn to the right and another right at the corner of the street. It’s just down the road.
This post is part of my money saving tips for Tokyo series. Last week, I talked about ways you can save on transportation in Tokyo.
Today, I’ll be talking about my favorite topic: Food.
Eating and drinking (even water, not beer) in Tokyo is not terribly cheap. But here are a few ways you can save those extra 100 yen (to buy more food).
Lunch time fixed menu + combo sets
During week days, some restaurants have prix fixe menu. Taimeiken had 800 yen set lunches. I didn’t get the set lunch because I wanted to try its omurice so I got the 1,890 yen dish instead (but with much regret).
Besides lunch sets, regular menus would have combo sets which allow you to try out smaller portions of two different dishes. The soba restaurant I visited in Kamakura had a combo of tempura don and zarusoba which were both delicious.
Yes, McDonalds has a 100 yen menu. But since you’re in Japan, you should try out the Japanese fast food outlets.
Although this menu from Nakau was from last October, you get a taste of how low food prices can go in these outlets.
Another benefit of these outlets which use coupon machines is that you don’t need to speak Japanese to order. Instead, you look at the pictures on the machine and pay it with your bills or coins.
Convenience store food
The onigiri (rice balls) in the photos were 129 yen each. Having two can substitute a meal.
These Japanese takeaway food are available at convenience stores which open 24/7, this means you will never go hungry.
Free drinking water
I tend to forget to hydrate when I’m travelling because it’s too much of a chore to buy water.
Luckily in Japan, there’s quite a lot of free drinking water outlets. I’ve seen some at the platforms of train stations.
Restaurants also have free ice water or tea on the table, I admit that I’ve pour half a pitcher of water into my bottle once. Just once.
For me, staying overnight at Ooedo Onsen meant saving one night’s stay at a hotel. Since I already want to soak in hot springs, adding on the extra 1,700 yen wasn’t too bad. But if you are travelling in pairs, this might be a more expensive option for accommodation.
Since I was going to spend the rest of my night at Ooedo Onsen, I decided to pay for the evening entrance (past 6 p.m. 1,680 yen) instead of day entrance fees (from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 2,180 yen). I also bought my tickets from 7-11 so there was a 180 yen discount.
Before heading to the ticket counter, visitors need to put their shoes in shoe lockers.
After putting away my shoes, I went to queue with the rest of the people. Since there was still about 10 minutes before 6 p.m., everyone had to wait patiently.
About 5 minutes before 6 p.m., a lady dressed in traditional outfit came out with a pair of clappers and said lots of things in a sing-song tone.
I remember from their Web site that she’s the kanban-musume Oshino. This literally translates to “Signboard girl” which means she’s the attraction of a business.
Too bad I wasn’t too sure what Oshino was saying. I guess it was to welcome all of us to Ooedo Onsen.
Soon, the counters opened for the evening session. I handed over my my coupon and was given a wristlet with a barcode taped over and a key.
Before heading into the changing room, everyone gets to choose a yukata. There are different designs and sizes of yukata. I picked on with purple flowers.
After yukata choosing, it’s time to hit the lockers. Find the locker corresponding to your wristlet. It’s in Japanese so if you don’t read hiragana, you might need help.
The size of the locker was enough for my backpack.
At the lockers, strip down to your underthings and wear the yukata.
Remember that the left side needs to be on top, or else you are wearing the bathrobe as a corpse would.
Strolling on Edo street’s
In my yukata, I went out to the fake Edo streets. There are plenty of food stalls around so don’t worry about being hungry. There’s also free hot tea and both hot and cold water so you won’t go thirsty.
When I was there, there was a performance at 7 p.m. I think the shows change every season.
Soaking in hot springs
I couldn’t take photos at the onsen or its changing room so I can only tell through words.
Before heading to the ladies’ hot spring area, we need to put our things in another changing room. There’s other lockers here to put yukata and underthings in before heading to the hot spring area.
In the changing room, there’s a corner with samples of makeup remover, toner, face lotion. There’s also hair bands and toothbrush provided.
Before heading to the hot spring, take everything off. Everyone strips naked so no need to be shy.
The hot springs are divided into indoor and outdoor pools. There’s a large section where everyone washes their hair and body. Free shampoo, conditioner and body soap is provided too.
After vigorously washing and conditioning my hair, I headed to the pools.
There were a variety of pools and areas:
Ooedo Onsen hot spring which was real undersea hot spring, instead of just hot water. The color was a bit rusty. There was also a side with recycled Ooedo Onsen hot spring which didn’t have a rusty color.
40 degrees Celsius pools
Massage jacuzzi pool
Pool with frothing machine which makes the water much more “fine” and is good for the skin
Cold water (brr)
The pools outdoors were limited. There was only a large pond and an area with a few fake vintage bathtubs.
Off to bed
After soaking in the pools for the longest while, I head to the changing rooms and bought myself a small glass bottle of milk.
At about 11 p.m., I decided that it is time to find a place to sleep.
Ooedo Onsen has a capsule hotel but it’s catered only to men. The private rooms are too expensive for me.
I think there are also large halls where they layout tatami for people staying over. This I’m not too sure though.
My choice was the ladies’ lounge on the second floor. Here, they have reclining chairs with mini TVs. They even provide blankets.
Most of the chairs were taken by the time I got there. I found a chair with a broken TV and settled there. A mother and her young son slept one chair away.
I put on my eyemask and ear plugs and tried to sleep on the 150 degrees chair.
Suddenly as I was drifting off to sleep, I heard a loud rumbling noise. I took off my eyemask and discovered an older lady snoring in the seat next to mine.
It wasn’t easy blocking her snores out even with my earplugs but I managed to sleep.
In the morning, I woke up and realized that she was gone. I was also surprised to find that it was almost 7 a.m. which meant that I had less than 1 hour before the pools close for cleaning.
I went back for a last soak of onsen. Soaking in the morning and at night was different. I could see the blue sky in the outdoor pool while at night everything was a blur because I wasn’t wearing glasses.
After the soak, I changed back into my real clothes and checked out.
Stayed: Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
Pros: Save on entertainment and accommodation; fun
Cons: Snoring seatmates; not having a real bed
Tokyo’s Tsukiji is the famous fish market. Some guidebooks recommend visiting early in the morning at around 5 a.m. to catch the tuna auction.
Being the lazy glutton, I didn’t wake up that early. I did visit Tsukiji, but only for the sushi which was slightly disappointing.
As I didn’t want to walk around with an open guidebook, I roamed the outer stalls of Tsukiji and missed the inner market.
I broke my fast with a tamago-yaki, or grilled egg, on a stick from Yamanaga. It wasn’t the most famous tamago-yaki stall in Tsukiji but the egg tasted yummy.
I ordered the warm tamago-taki which came on a styrofoam plate. There was some shredded white radish with sauce which gave the sweet grilled eggs a balanced flavor.
Sushi at Tsukiji
It is sacrilegious to visit Tsukuji without eating sushi. So after my tamago yaki, I went off to find my breakfast.
I stopped at the main chain of Sushizanmai. I had to wait outside before I was ushered into the restaurant before I was seated at the counter.
I ordered a sushi set which was disappointing. I was not as yummy as I thought it would be. I suspect I ordered a lower quality set.
From my side of the counter, I saw the chefs work. One took a fish out of the tank, sliced the flesh off its bones and served the slices on a plate.
It was a bit horrifying watching the fish die in front of my eyes. But I forgot about it after I bit into my piece of onigiri.
When I walked back to the train station, I passed by a stall selling drinks for 100 yen. I picked ramune which tasted like ice cream soda. At the top of the bottle, there is a frustrating marble rolling around which sometimes blocked my from enjoying the drink.
I never figured out how to get the marble out. But some people have videos of how you can do it.