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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Road Trip

We spent the night at my friend S' villa. As soon as morning came, we got ready to head back to the city. I got dressed and then headed outside the villa. I exclaimed when I saw the scenic mountains far in the distance. My immediate response was to quickly take out my iPhone 5s to capture the scene before me.

However, somehow I found myself to be inside a bus. My friend was sitting beside me. But I could not recall who she was. I pressed my phone against the window panels and started snapping photos ... but I was frustrated because the moving bus made it difficult to take good photos.

Then came to guys and they plopped into the seats in front of us. They were Kim Young Kwang and Song Joong Ki. Jeez, we must have known each other for we were talking like old friends. They offered the iPhones on selfie sticks and offered to take wefies to remember the trip by ....

The bus cruised along ... and I woke up from my sleep. So much for seing Kim Yong Kwang and Song Joong Ki! :P

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Not-so-important Subject 2016/2017

I teach a not-so-important subject in school.

For the students, it is not so important because it is largely a non-exam subject. Essentially, the students need to sit for major exams every semester for their core subjects. But the exam for my not-so-important subject will only be administered 18 months after the students have commenced their course. Therefore, my not-so-important subject is one that they have to worry about the least.

For the school, the results of my not-so-important subject does not affect it in any way. It has no impact on the school's performance or its ranking in the district, state nor country. So the school authorities do not actually pay much attention to my not-so-important panel. Last year, they had even forgotten to apply for financial grants on our behalf, resulting in us having RM0 to run our not-so-important panel throughout 2016. 

For me, I have been able to teach at a very leisurely pace. I take my time teaching the students different skills. I have time to try out various teaching and learning strategies. I spend time organising pair and group activities, I can even have the students play some games. Generally, I want to drive in to the students that my not-so-important subject is easy and fun and they should just enjoy it. 

Though my subject was not-so-important, I did not want to be seen as a non-performing teacher. Whether I liked it or not, the students' results reflected my ability as a teacher. Honestly, I did feel a certain amount of pressure last year. It was because I was teaching 3 out of 5 classes last year, with my kids making about half of the entire population.

Getting the students to perform meant that I had to give them exam drills. So I would pick up pace after the first 8 months. It was nonetheless easier said than done. Exam drills were boring and bothersome. Essay writing drew a chorus of moans and groans from around the classroom. Reading comprehension was snooze time for some. If the students had enjoyed my not-so-important subject at first, they soon disliked it. Who in their right frame of minds would enjoy doing the same types of exercises over and over? 

So I had to motivate. Sometimes, I coaxed them. Occasionally, I coerced. I also had to scold and threaten. It appeared that I was waging a losing battle towards year-end as I could see the students' exasperation and I could see that they were giving up. 

Come exam day and it was even more nerve-wrecking! I had waited for them anxiously outside the hall ... and once they came out, they had given me feedback of all kinds ...

"Teacher, how do you spell ... ?"
"Teacher, should I have made comparison instead of describing the changes .... "
"Teacher, does Figure 1 affect Figure 2 or the other way round?"
"Teacher, I have no idea what to write ... "

Aargh! I made a mental note to brace for the worst.

Yesterday, the results of my not-so-important subject was released. I did not anticipate. I was expecting somewhat the worst. However, the results did surprise me because everyone in fact had done quite well. In one class, all the students scored the highest grades with one girl getting a distinction. I was over the moon. In my poorer classes, in fact, there was a significant group that had gotten merits and passes. Only 2 did not make the grade. 

Phew! I was sure glad that the kids had done well. It was a great start to my school year. I am only teaching 1 class out of the 5 this year. And that made it so much easier for me to motivate and coax and coerce and scold and threaten the 21 kids I have in my classroom. They had better watch out for I am more determined than ever to ensure that they would score. :))

Friday, December 30, 2016

KIX to KUL

I woke up at 5.00 a.m. and got ready; my friends got up even earlier at 4.30 a.m. We were such early birds. Anyway, I got washed and changed and squeezed the rest of my stuff into my bag - all that done within half an hour.

 Breakfast, ¥268
I had a simple breakfast of coffee and sandwich in the kitchen; sandwich was from the convenience store, but it was quite tasty. I liked it and would miss it even! Lol! 

And then we set off for Nankai Namba Station, where we bought rapid express tickets to the airport; it cost ¥1130 per person, with seats allocated. The train departed at 7.00 a.m. from Platform 9 of Nankai Namba, and the entire trip took only 34 minutes with a few stops along the way.

We hurried into the airport terminal because it was just so windy and freezing cold outside. We queued up at the check-in counters right away. and we were the first few people in the line. At 8.00 a.m., the counters opened, and our check-in procedure only took only about 10 minutes. We used the rest of the time to explore the airport. And at the last minute, we bought more mochi and chocolates to bring home. 

Our flight was supposed to be at 11.00 a.m., but it was slightly delayed for about 30 minutes; and flight time was 6 hours and 55 minutes. It was a long, boring flight. So I entertained myself by watching Pinocchio on my device - I watched 4 episodes before I ran out of battery ....

We were flying Air Asia and we did not pre-book our meals .... 

I ate this onigiri which I bought at the airport; turned out that I did not like it because I found it too dry and with too little filling ... 

Bought another Japanese sandwich at the airport, to eat together with Airasia coffee, RM6.00 and potato snack, RM7.00

We landed at 5.35 p.m. Malaysian time; the plane parked at the last bay right at the end, and it was a long, long walk to the terminal. We bought more chocolates at the duty free shops ..... 

And the first taste of home? 

Nasi Lemak with Chicken Curry

Char Koay Teow With Fish Cake

 White Coffee

We had our meal at PappaRich; the food wasn't bad .... just pricey by Malaysian standards.  Our connecting flight was at 7.45 p.m. and fortunately, that was on time. End of holiday for 2016. :))

I'm thinking of researching my next holiday location ..... ;P

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Last Day In Osaka

I think the best place to stay would be somewhere as close to the bus/train station, especially if you have less than 24 hours to spare ... because that way, you do not need to drag your bags for too long a distance and you also do not need to spend too much time going around on subways.

In Japan, the locations of the transportation hubs are pretty much central - like the Umeda and Namba areas in Osaka ... and the Nagoya Station area in Nagoya ... there is just so much to see and do within the vicinity!

Hence, I was determined to just stay put in the Namba area on my last day in Osaka. So while lying on my futon in my warm hostel room in Takayama the other night, I stumbled on a discount for Khaosan World Namba on Booking.com. The place looked decent and was within walking distance from the Namba station .... and so I booked with right away for only 3040 per pax. What a steal!

From Nagoya, we took a Limited Express Urban Liner train at 9.30 a.m. from Nagoya Station to Osaka Namba. We reached at about 11.30 a.m. and went straight to the hostel. It was easy to find due to the clear directions on its website. We paid for our booking and left our bags there .... and then we went shopping!

Cold, cold day in Osaka of about 6-9 degrees. Today was shopping and eating day. We wanted to buy some gifts and souvenirs for our families back home. We first went to Ebisubashi-Suji first, and then to Kuromon Ichiba Market.

I bought some sweets and chocolates for my family and colleagues back home, 2 packets of green tea and dried scallop snacks for the family. I even bought an Anello backpack out of whim!

We ate as we walked .....

Pork roll onigiri, ¥500

Grilled scallop, ¥600

Deep-fried crab surimi, ¥320

Fugu, ¥2000

Domyoji, ¥120
Mochi, with red bean paste and wrapped in salted cherry leaf
I loved this snack as it was sweet and salty at the same time! Yum! 

Daifuku, ¥195

Soft and chewy skin, filled with red beans and a juicy strawberry; I did not think I'd like Daifuku .... but I must have been pretty crazy to think that; Daifuku rocks! I love it! 

Tokiwado

Next we chanced upon Doguyasuji! It's a street selling all sorts of household items - crockery and cutlery and what not! We got excited browsing at all the cups and saucers and chopsticks and cooking ware and other cooking utensils on sale. S bought 2 sets of Noritake cup and saucers here at a little less than ¥2300 each .... I think they were very affordably-priced. I'd buy them too ... but was too lazy to carry. Heh. Doguyasuji is a must-visit place if you like kitchenware like I do!

Then we headed to Dotonbori ....

Dotonbori during the day .... 

I had to eat my favourite Tai Croissant again before I went home ...

Tai Croissant, ¥200 each

So delicious! 
Crispy, salty and buttery crust, filled with powdery red beans .... Divine!

Eat that while looking the sights .....

Ebisubashi bridge on Dotonbori River

The Glico Man sign
A landmark here at Dotonbori - it's the oldest sign in the area at 70 years of age!

Dinner ... we ate so much throughout the day ... but decided to go for ramen too .... 

Golden Shoyu Ramen, ¥750
The noodles were springy and chewy, but I could detect a subtle hint of kansui or lye water ... and I did not quite like that; The broth was light - I liked it; I also liked the chashu pork ... but the egg wast the killer! So yum!

Perfectly cooked .... so delicious! 

And we finished dinner off with ....

Instagrammers' favourite, the Pablo Cheese Tart 

I wasn't going home till I ate a tart. There was a long queue at the Dotonbori outlet ... and of course I joined in and queued up in the cold.

Pablo Mini Cheese Tart, ¥200
The crust was so crispy, and the cheese filling - rich and creamy and melted in the mouth ... 

We headed back to our hostel to pack our stuff ... we were leaving for KIX at 7.00 a.m. the next day.

Khaosan World Namba
Big room, wit ha sink and a hair dryer inside. Great place to stay! 

Today had been fun! Tomorrow we say our goodbyes to Japan. :))

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nagoya

Early in the morning, we went to the Jinya-Mae Morning Market in Takayama... again it was disappointing. Only a few stalls were set up. Hmn .... was it supposed to be like that every morning? Or were we too early? Hmn ....

 Jinya-Mae Morning Market

Stalls selling pickled daikon
In fact, I loved the pickled daikon, having tried them all over the places when they were tasters - they would be great to eat with rice; they were crunchy, sweet and tangy, and so refreshing to the palate. Some were flavoured with ingredients unbeknownst to me .... but I liked them all just the same ....

Our comfortable room in Takayama
We put away the futon mattresses for them ... the room fit the 3 of us just nicely ... 

We took the 10.00 a.m. bus to Nagoya - it cost ¥2980 and the trip took 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Nagoya wasn't that great this trip. Well, the city's probably great. But it's just that we did not have time to explore. So we did not see much. Our bus arrived at Meitetsu Bus Terminal at Nagoya Station at about 12.30 p.m., and we spent some time figuring out how to go about - we enquired at the Tourist Information Centre here. I was glad the lady staff spoke very good English. She suggested that we take the Meguru loop bus - a tourist sightseeing bus which would be making stops at all the notable sightseeing spots in town. A one-day pass would be ¥500.

We took a bit of time to look for our hostel at the Sakae area in Nagoya as well. We got a bit lost, and there was this kindly old lady trying to help me .... but we could not understand what each other was saying. Lol.

When we finally found the hostel, we dumped our bags and set off. We took the Meguru loop bus in front of Oasis 21 near the Nagoya TV Station and we went to the Toyota Commemorative Museum.

Nagoya TV Station
This 180m tower is a landmark of Nagoya, and the oldest radio and TV broadcasting tower in Japan built in 1954

Oasis 21
This is a bus terminal cum shops and eateries but they were all underground. Above ground, the oval glass roof was really a sight; there was water on the surface and even a walking path atop the roof! It certainly gave off that futuristic vibe .... 

Admission into the Toyota Museum was ¥500. We bought tickets from a vending machine. So cool. 

The Circular Loom
Toyota were loomers before they were automobile makers ..

So in the museum were exhibits of lots of fabric-weaving machines, detailing the evolution of the textile industry. 

Robots on display

Then only we saw exhibits on how Toyota started its automobile operations .... 

Making Toyota's first passenger car, Model AA

Main Toyota models on display

Very informative and probably if I were interested in machines, this place would be fun. It was crazy cold and windy by the time we finished; and I had plans to visit the Noritake Garden and the Nagoya Castle and the Osu Kannon .... sigh ... but it was dark already and too cold to be out in the open.

Dinner was at an eatery near our hostel ...

 My set meal had rice, salad, chawanmushi, sashimi, tempura and a miso soup; loved the pickles too!

Tempura
There were a few pieces - prawn, sweet potato, eggplant and the perilla leaf .... I liked the prawn and the sweet potato the most! 

After dinner, we went back to our hostel. My third regret for the trip - should have extended our stay in Nagoya for another day. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Day In Shirakawago

As usual, we woke up very early in the morning. We got ready and then headed downstairs for breakfast. At K's House Takayama Oasis, we loved the kitchen and the lounge area which looked so neat and clean and aesthetically pleasing .... 

Lounge/living area at the hostel ..

There was free freshly-brewed coffee at 7.00 a.m. ... 

A typical day's breakfast for us .... 
The breads were from the convenience store; we would normally buy them the evening before; the sandwiches were kept in the fridge and we would toast them for a while the next morning ...

 The sandwiches were very yummy, this one had teriyaki chicken and egg mayo in it .... 

The breads and buns from the convenience stores were actually very good - comparable to those we get from the bakery back home - the pastry was usually soft, while they do not skim on the ingredients. 

In the kitchen that morning, we met an elderly couple from Singapore. They were very friendly, and we chatted for a while about our homes and families... This couple visited Japan annually for their holidays for the past 15 years, and suggested to us some other parts of Japan they felt were worth visiting - Hokkaido, for example, was a very enjoyable place to visit according to them. 

It was a cold wet morning. According to the weather forecast on tv that we watched the night before, it would be snowing at 6.00 a.m. and raining the whole day. Darn. 

Heat packs
I bought these from Daiso back in Kuching .... ironical huh? Since I could just buy them from any Daiso outlet in Japan at an even cheaper price. Lol. I stuck a heat pack on my back and put one in my pocket for extra warmth.

We took a walk that morning to the Miyagawa Morning Market. There was snow on rooftops and at the road sides. Indeed cold ... and damp too.

Miyagawa River

Miyagawa River
A bit of snow on the grass along the banks 

A typical stall  

Not sure if it was too early or that it was raining, but there weren't many stalls set up yet, but there was nothing much to see at the Miyagawa Morning Market at 8.00 a.m. I was rather disappointed.

Miyagawa Morning Market 

So we decided to head straight to Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'd bought the bus tickets the day before. So we queued up for the 9.50 a.m. bus at the Nohi Bus Terminal. There were 8 open-seating or free-seating buses a day to Shirakawago - 8.50 a.m., 9.50 a.m., 10.50 a.m., 11.50 a.m., 1.50 p.m., 2.50 p.m., 5.50 p.m., 7.00 p.m.; The return buses were timed at 6.43 a.m., 10.45 a.m., 11.15 a.m., 1.15 p.m., 3.15 p.m., 4.15 p.m., 5.30 p.m., 7.43 p.m.

And so the bus took us through snow-covered mountains, the whole journey took 50 minutes.

Brrr .... cold but so pretty ....  

The bus' final destination was the Shirakawa-go Bus Terminal, situated right at the edge of the Ogimachi Village, the place we would be exploring today. The bus terminal shared the same space as the Tourist Information Centre, where I grabbed a walking map and we set out in the rain .... 

Ogimachi Village, Shirakawa-go
First view of the gassho-zukuri houses this place was so famous for ...

"Gassho" means putting the palms of the hands together in prayer; these gassho-style houses have steep thatched roofs at a 45 - 60 degrees angle; no nails were used in the construction of these houses; it is believed that snow falls from the roof much easier at such an angle since this is an area which experiences heavy snowfall in winter. 

It was pleasant to explore the village on foot, at a leisurely pace

Lovely houses giving a rustic feel ...

Aiming to take artistic shots of the houses .... lol .... 

Scarecrow? Horsecrow? Hmn .... 

A bit of snow covering the roof and parts of the ground ... 

We walked and walked in the drizzle, taking photos and just admiring the setting and the scenery ...

Walking along the main road ... not sure where it led to ....
We were more in awe of the snowcapped mountain in the background ....

At the village, there was a suspension bridge across the Shokawa River ...
 Not much water in the river .... 

When you get to the other side, there's a Heritage Museum with an admission fee - you can learn more of the gassho-zukuri houses and visit the interiors of the houses. We chose not to go to the museum.  

And when we were tired ... we sat down and snacked on .... 

Gohei Mochi

Croquet, ¥250

We did go inside one of the houses in the village itself - Wada House; entry was ¥300. This was the family house of the first mayor in Shirakawa-go ....

The living area was spacious!

The hearth

This house was pretty large and was 4 storeys high .... and we could climb to the 3rd floor; the 4th floor was out of bounds.

The steep steps up to the 3rd floor ....

The roof structure from the inside, the 3rd floor
No nails were used, we could see how the beams were tied together.


View from the top floor of Wada House


View from the top of Wada House 

Lacquer-ware used by the Wada family

Wada House, the largest gassho-zukuri house in the village 

We then headed to the shuttle bus depot, and took a 3-minute bus ride to the observatory. Each trip cost ¥200. 

Ogimachi Village, Shirakawa-go
The entire village which we explored on foot that day .... 

At the bus terminal, we queued up for the 3.15 p.m. bus ..... and reached Takayama at about 4.05 p.m. ..... and we were cold and hungry ..... and we just popped into a small eatery near our hostel for some food .... 

Chinese noodles

Katsudon, ¥880

A large bowl of rice .... pork cutlet and egg, topped with shredded roasted nori

After dinner, we went back to the hostel to thaw ..... we were all damp and cold and could not wait to get inside. 

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