A week of April in Tokyo

Last year, I had not had the chance to visit Japan, or Tokyo, for that matter. For a few years running, I think I had the chance to make an “annual pilgrimage” to Tokyo, one of the cities that never fails to lighten up my heart when I think of visiting. I wouldn’t go so far as to proclaim as it “my home”, because my home rightly will always be Singapore, with its warts and all, good and bad. It is where I will feel most comfortable in and where my loved ones are. But Tokyo, as a place to visit and holiday in, remains at the top. Perhaps until such day when I have a chance to live and work there for a prolonged period of time that will either change this view for better or for worse…

I booked myself on an early morning flight to Haneda, and before getting onto the plane, since I don’t get complimentary access to the lounge anymore (sigh), I made a short pit-stop at Coffee Bean for a tea latte before boarding.

Coffee Bean’s tea lattes are my favourite drink from them, despite that they tend to be fairly sweet due to the vanilla/chocolate powder being used, but somehow I always find them to be quite enjoyable. Maybe it’s the sweet tooth in me speaking up.  While waiting to board the flight, and on this weekday morning to Haneda, it seemed that the flight would not be a full one, judging by the sparse crowd in the waiting area. Indeed, it wasn’t full and there was quite a bit of space available. But it’s an old plane that SQ is using, a 777-200, so the KRIS World system isn’t the new version and can be a bit wonky at times, with a tiny screen that provides a low quality of movies that you watch. Nevertheless, at least there is inflight entertainment to tide me through the 6-hour flight.

When I got to Haneda, I decided to take the Airport Limousine Bus, but which also meant I had a long wait for the bus to depart. I wandered around the airport, which was not much in terms of shops that I could mill around, and also because I was lazy to wheel my luggage around. Even with a 4-wheeler, it still requires some effort particularly because the airport has those metal studs to facilitate the visually-impaired in getting to the lights and escalators, which impeded the smooth movement of the wheels. Got these from 7-11, a small cup of mixed beans salad and a red bean-flavoured Kit Kat! I love the convenience stores of Japan (only Taiwan follows close behind) and what they have. If only we get these here too. The convenience stores in Singapore aren’t really that ‘convenient’ at all, and often times, the prices are just exhorbitant.   On the ride to the hotel, which is just a 45 or 50-minute ride from Haneda. That’s the good part about flying in/out through Haneda, which is located much closer to the city as compared to Narita. However, if you are going by Narita, the NEX makes the transit shorter, less than an hour, but for lazy people like me who want the convenience of the Airport Limousine in terms of porterage for your luggage, then Haneda makes a good choice.  I reached the hotel in the evening and had a relatively quick and smooth check-in to the hotel, Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, my usual go-to hotel in Tokyo, which is located just opposite Takashimaya Shinjuku and boasts competitive pricing, especially if you are staying multiple nights and book early. The rooms are small but they are generally clean and well-maintained, and for the most part I find it to be sufficient for me. I have stayed in their double rooms before once, and other times, always booked the ‘Bright Single Room’. As you can see, there really isn’t much space for you to move around, especially if you have more than one piece of luggage, but with some maneuvering, it shouldn’t be too tough. I laid the luggage facing up on a rack the whole period when I was there and managed fine, but just needed to be a bit careful in not knocking into it in those middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.    That’s it for now, shall update more when I can. 🙂

Starbucks Christmas moments part 2

Still on the topic of Starbucks and their Christmas delights, I think I seem pretty determined to try as many of their Christmas offerings as I can this year, seeing as to how in the past years, I didn’t really go beyond a couple of the beverages and food items. I am still disappointed that the cranberry orange loaf did not make a reappearance, but let’s see if there will be anything from this year’s range that will make the same grade. At this stage, I highly doubt it though.

So this was something that I really wanted to try after seeing it in the display case, the turkey ham with spinach salad sandwich. Apparently, the sandwich is made on ‘beetroot bread’ of sorts, which I guess means coloured with beetroot juice? In reality, it has a dull pink kind of tint instead of the usual beige shade of breads. Perhaps that was what drew me to try it and somehow it sounded fairly wholesome.IMG_0364.JPG

You can’t really tell from these pictures about its colour. In fact, I think the picture I have here makes it look very orangey. That’s due to the lighting option selected when I snapped the photo.IMG_0365.JPG

The below picture is more accurate in terms of the colour of the sandwich but there isn’t that much turkey meat/ham in it. As is the usual case. So let’s talk about the sandwich. I feel that it’s a bit of a miss. Although I was really looking forward to trying it, when I actually had it, I didn’t enjoy it as much. The bread felt too soft, it’s like as though it was all puffy and airy in it that I could just compress it into a flat bun similar to a sliced bread, something to that extent. It also made it a little difficult to cut and slice with the knife given due to its softness. Taste-wise, I can’t really taste any beetroot so the sandwich bread felt like ordinary white bread without much taste. It looks good but the taste doesn’t live up to expectations. starbucks_xmas_swNot much comments on the ingredients other than in terms of portion it definitely isn’t overflowing the sandwich bread as pictured in the official picture. It isn’t too little either, but it’s good that the ham isn’t too overloaded on sodium from what I can recall as I don’t feel it being too salty. There’s also sliced cheese inside that felt like the light variety, and some strips of spinach. There is another version of the sandwich, containing beef, but I think going by the experience with this, I wil probably give that a miss. The beef isn’t made on this pinkish bread, just the usual ordinary colour that you can also see in a blurred image in the above picture that I got from the Starbucks Singapore website. This will reduce the number of their Christmas items for me to try and maybe for those that I like I can have the breadth for seconds!

The other item is this crispy chocolate bar, or if it goes by some other name if I can find out I will update it here. This is a very tough bar of crispy chocolate that is extremely hard to cut into with a fork! I was worried that the entire bar will fly off the plate or I will break the plate by trying too hard. IMG_0366.JPG

Taste-wise, it isn’t too bad but nothing spectacular. It’s essentially a cereal bar made of crispy puffs. When you put it into the mouth and start chewing you realise that it’s light and airy, not so substantial like you would expect from its resilience. But nevertheless it is still a good sweet treat that will go well with coffee!

treats

I have a problem with snacking; the need to constantly munch on something. I wonder if it’s due to the fact that I am frequently and easily bored. So I brought some animal biscuits and mixed nuts to the office the other day. Well, the biscuits are not the healthiest snacks anyone can think of but they are really fragrant and the shape of the biscuits help to break the monotony of the day somewhat. A small treat for myself that day! 20130802-091452.jpgObviously, I didn’t have all these snacks pictured on the same day at the same time. I received some Smarties one evening in Jap class from a classmate. There wasn’t any special occasion, but sometimes the people are pretty generous with treats. I used to buy stuff for them too when I travel, but these days I have kind of stopped with the practice because it became a bit of a burden at some point to have to consider getting something for them on each trip that I went, and the class started to have some changes in terms of the student mix. It’s weird to buy something and just distribute it to selected people but some days I don’t know exactly how many are going to turn up. Maybe I can continue with it again, since I don’t travel that often now, otherwise it really does become a chore.

20130802-091504.jpgThen these! Well, we can find this in our supermarkets locally too, I saw it in Isetan supermarket the other day, but this box was from my colleague, air-flown halfway around the world! Note that the words below the brand are also different! I checked out the one in Isetan, and that row of words was in English. Haha.

20130802-091513.jpgI keep this box in the office, and I am consistently having a couple of these each day. OMG, think chocolate, hazelnut and caramel, every day. I can just about imagine all the calories that are being added to my waistline gradually. =/

Anyway, snacks are supposed to make people happier, momentarily or otherwise. I snacked a lot today, as I thought about what I had… pop chips, mixed nuts, haw slices, chocolates, … I can’t even remember all that I have had. And to add to the list, I had an apple, a slice of papaya and a plum. And then before that I actually ate sushi. This was just evening.

Seriously, what’s wrong with my body and strange obsession with constant eating?

junk food cravings

Once in a while I do suffer from attacks of cravings for junk food. You know, things that have little to no nutritional value, but instead can be of extreme detriment to the body in terms of transfats. It isn’t even healthy fats, like Omega 3 from fish, but rather, unhealthy fats that will cause a lot of harm in addition to of course making one grow fat. I used to be uncontrollable where junk food is concerned; I could finish a large pack of chips at one sitting, and rationalise to myself that it is ok because I am replacing a meal with that. Maybe the calories work out to be the same, or even less, if we were talking about an all-out meal, but even the same calories could mean very different things for the body. If you consume a portion of steak with salad that perhaps contain the same number of calories as a pack of chips, it isn’t rocket science to know which fares better for your body.

donuts But where cravings are concerned, the thought about health and calories can just go out the window completely. I wonder if sometimes I have controlled too much, that there can be very strong urges to just lose control and indulge in the sinfulness of gorging on junk food. Yet I know that the high from its consumption doesn’t last long, and in fact makes me feel worse after. Stress can lead to irrational cravings, and I have read that cravings sometimes tell us about something that the body is lacking. In my case, what am I lacking? Or has stress culminated from some areas that is wreaking havoc on my face, and also internally where these cravings are concerned?M_MsI have not totally sworn off junk food of course, especially not chocolates. How can anyone not like such a wonderful thing? I have so much chocolate stashed away in the fridge that despite knowing that some are long past their expiry, I just keep them there. I guess to me, it doesn’t matter that they may be past the sell-by date because as long as it looks edible still, it’s ok to me. :p popchips

Chips. Sigh, I have such a love-hate relationship with you.

choco-loving!

Each time I visit Japan, I never fail to check out their stores, convenience stores or value shops (e.g. Daiso or other shops that do not go by this name but are just simply the 100-yen shops), to scout around for food items that I have not tried before. I love snacking, and Japanese snacks are surely one of the best to snack on, particularly when they always lure consumers like me with their seasonal offerings. Just plaster a “Season Limited” tag on the packaging and I’m sold. Easy right? Of course it’s not like I like all types of Japanese snacks, but my weakness tends towards chocolates (Kit Kat anyone) and stuff from Pretz/Pocky/Jagabee. My love affair with chocolate is not a very consistent one, but over the last few years I have been consuming copious amounts of it, perhaps I am stressed out unknowingly over some things I mull over, and so the craving for chocolates grew stronger. Besides, they are really convenient souvenirs to get when I travel, whether it’s for myself or for others. Most people like, or do not mind, receiving chocolates or foodstuff as souvenirs, but lately I have stopped this souvenir-gifting because I find the practice a little tiring.

So this time, I brought back some items too, Hokkaido chocolates in corn and melon flavours. Ok, I know I went to Tokyo and not Hokkaido, but who cares right? 

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These were purchased from the huge 3-storey Daiso shop in Harajuku, displayed at the checkout counter. I don’t generally buy truckloads of things from Daiso, though I have witnessed customers buying up huge baskets of items, maybe as gifts (because they look like tourists anyway so they can’t be buying homeware or the likes), so while waiting to pay, these sneaky things found their way into my basket too.

I only just opened the box recently, and without trying to read the descriptions at the back of the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see the packaging.  

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Well, what would I have expected from a box of Japanese snacks but individually-wrapped items right? In fact, most of the bigger packs that I bought all contained individually-wrapped food, how thoughtful! But of course, it could be environmentally-damaging, since we buy these things home, and here in Singapore, the recycling culture isn’t that big. Although the Japanese use up a lot resources in their packaging, whether for food or other things, I believe recycling is a major activity in their country. I choose to think that whenever we sort our trash, the disposal of each type of trash is done properly and recycled where possible.

I ever encountered a cleaning staff in our very own Changi Airport emptying trash from the various bins (i.e. paper, plastic, etc.) into one giant trash bag when he was collecting the trash. Totally defeats the purpose of making people sort the rubbish and in the end do they all go into one giant incinerator?

Anyway, back to these chocolates! These are flavoured milk chocolates I think, and indeed there is corn and melon flavours respectively in each of them that I’ve tried, not strong but distinct present. And the best thing is that they are not expensive at all, one box probably contains about 10 pieces, I’m not entirely sure, but it only costs 105 yen per box, which works out to be about S$1.30 going by the current exchange rate (that has moved tremendously in our favour since the beginning of this year!).

spring is here…?

How is it that the weekend passes so quickly, before I can even pause to take a breather?

And it is already March! As I suppose that some other parts of the world welcomes spring and bids adieu to the cold wintry climate, we are dreading the onset of hot humid climate here in Singapore. Over the last week, the temperatures have gotten gradually higher as is the humidity level. Although there are still bouts of storms, the atmosphere isn’t as cool as during December and January for sure. Even most part of February was pretty awesome, except that I hate to be commuting when it’s raining cats and dogs because even with an umbrella, you are bound to get really wet when it rains here.

Again, the weekend saw me being extremely busy, which explains why I don’t usually blog. It isn’t like I have hordes of people to meet, but I just keep myself occupied, gainfully, during the weekend. I did meet up with some friends, some I haven’t seen in more than a year I believe (omg, it has been that long!), and went for Turkish food at Sofra at Shaw Towers. Honestly, I cannot remember its name, because I know it is Shaw-something, but I always cannot recall what’s behind, since in Orchard, there is a Shaw Centre and Shaw Plaza somewhere? The last time I visited Sofra was years ago, although I believe I have been there perhaps at most twice. For it to still be there after so many years, it has to be of a certain standard I gather. We ordered some food to share, including my friend’s highly-demanded hummus and the sesame bread that comes in a big poofy serving. The food that we had, sorry no pictures because it was pretty dimly-lit in the restaurant, which comprised a pide (Turkish pizza), chef’s plate (various mixes of kebab meat), a dish of potato gratin and lamb (cannot recall its name, sultan’s plate or something) and a salad platter (which also had hummus, grilled brinjal amongst others). There was this yogurt drink that my friend ordered, which we were forewarned would be a little salty but my friend didn’t catch that comment, so we were surprised at its taste, like yogurt laced with taste of olives. Weird.

After dinner, we proceeded to Tom’s Palette on the ground floor for ice-cream. It’s a busy store, with people streaming in non-stop in groups. One of my friends mentioned it has grown in size, from a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop to its current size that can accommodate bigger groups of people with proper tables and chairs. They have very interesting ice-cream flavours, including a salted egg yolk (of course I didn’t try it, it is just really weird to have savoury ice-cream don’t you think). I just ordered straight off the look and name of the flavours without testing which is better. They come in sizes of small, medium and large and for each, you can mix up to a maximum of two flavours. I got a small cup for S$3.40 and mixed Earl Grey tea and Rum & Raisin. The Earl Grey is pretty strong, and I got it because I missed Fauchon’s earl grey ice-cream so much, and this came quite close but towards the end it just felt a little much, like it is just strong and intense but nothing else. The Rum & Raisin is good, with very obvious traces of alcohol in it. Most of us stuck to safe flavours, and there was someone who tried an apple rosemary flavour which was not really creamy enough, i.e. it felt more crumbly than creamy. Overall, we think the ice-cream wasn’t too bad but don’t get what the hype about it is about. For S$3.40 for a small cup that is probably just a little more than a scoop of ice-cream, I thought it’s quite pricey, or have I been too out of touch with ice-cream?

Anyway, I got a chocolate gift last Friday! Will try it someday soon I hope, there is still a lot of chocolate lingering in my fridge, most of which I think have already gone past their expiry dates. But where chocolates are concerned, and especially refrigerated ones, I think it is fine to eat them even when expired. Someday if I develop some condition for eating expired food, you all know what’s the cause.  20130304-110628.jpg

the fattening diaries

The last time I visited Helsinki for a business trip, which was just a few months ago in September, 1.5 weeks were enough to make me put on weight. I think the lack of exercise that happens to me when I am on these work trips, just sitting my fat behind on a chair the whole day, plugging my system with lots of milk-laden coffee, and of course, these…20130118-073914.jpg

Karl Fazer is a Finnish product, I think. These were introduced to us by our nice Finnish colleagues who plied us with the varied forms of them. We had the blue ones that are original, the pink Geisha ones which contain hazelnut and then there’s the one with the green/silver foil wrapper which come with mint filling on the inside. There are some other variants of course, which I discovered at the supermarket, like caramel, yogurt cream type, etc., and they are all equally good. It doesn’t seem odd then that it is so easy to gain weight here.

This time, it also does not help that I am not doing anything other than sitting and eating. Of course my brain is working but I think it doesn’t burn as many calories as I am stuffing into myself. Chocolates being one thing, and bread being the other. Sometimes I think I was probably made to live in such cultures, where they have such amazingly-tasty bread that is great even on their own. I eat bread on a daily basis here for every meal, so you see that is another culprit. But then again, it is too cold for me to bear. The Nordic countries are probably one of the colder places that I have ever visited so far, today in Helsinki the temperature is -20. Degrees Celsius! I think I would still prefer to be somewhere I feel a little more comfortable in, like Japan. I love Japan, and I need to think of a plan that can bring me there, for a longer period of time… but each time I draw a blank, because perhaps I am still not ready or unwilling to let go of what I currently hold in my hands, if there is anything at all.

Well but right now, I am looking forward to getting back to yoga when I go home; I am so ill-disciplined so I don’t practise on my own outside of the studio-setting. I know I should and I probably could but I don’t. I choose to spend my time in the hotel room surfing the net and doing… nothing. Haha. Although… having to think of adjusting to the temperature back home, which is like a difference of between 30-40 degrees, that’s no joke!

Happy Friday everyone! Hope you all have a great weekend ahead, where I will spend mine in the air.