right believing leads to right living

This is something that my pastor usually talks about. I’m not about to go into my belief, which I think is something personal and I don’t need to share it publicly. But rather I thought this is a very apt phrase – “Right believing leads to right living”. Simply put, it just means that believing in the right thing(s) will cause you to lead a life that is.. right and good. What is right and good, is of course debatable and subjective depending on person. But it generally corresponds to something like, not doing the wrong/illegal things, and also perhaps in terms of mind set, not thinking the ‘wrong’ things?

I don’t know if I were a born pessimist. But I would admit that for the most part of my life so far, I have become sort of a pessimistic person. It is not chronic, for I still do see the good in some situations and I am not constantly in a state of depression as there are still bursts of optimism, hope and sunshine in my life. It’s just that, my life and my emotions often go through a crazy roller coaster ride, which can happen many times a day. It is tiring, to say the least, but whatever option it is that I am going for, whether it is believing in God for everything and letting God chart my life, or seeking tangible professional help, at the end of the day, it is still my mind that needs to be controlled. My mind needs to see the hope, believe in the hope that God has a great plan for me in life and that whatever it is that I am going through now, it is a way for me to grow, to learn whatever I need to that I am currently lacking in, to be protected from a path that I would otherwise have taken that might have put me in harm’s way.

I am trying very hard. With His grace, I want to believe that this is possible and every single hurdle that looms up in front will be cleared and overcome, and I will come out stronger and better.

As I was going through some files, I saw a lot of my travel photos from the past, when I was in my previous job. I remembered complaining about the fatigue from travelling to places far away, not the glitzy, glamourous cities that we associate with business travel. I remembered complaining about the lost weekends and personal time because of the need to start the business trip before the work week begins, and after it has ended. The discomfort of not being able to get proper and quality sleep due to the different time zones, being stuck in cattle class, the need to take red-eye flights, suffering from jet lag.

But I also remembered and reminisced the peaceful and happy moments when I managed to squeeze in some form of sightseeing in those nondescript places that these trips led me to, enjoying the wonderful cuisines of these countries and marvelling at the magnificent sights that Mother Nature had created there. The euphoria of heading home after a trip and the real feeling of ‘being home’ when the flight touches down in Changi. The anticipation of seeing my family again, of being able to feel the familiarity of Singapore and having my favourite local food, being dressed comfortably in our national ‘costume’ of shorts and T-shirt, not needing to be all wrapped up for the cold, wintry climates overseas.

Was that meant to be just a phase of my life that has passed and become another chapter of my life’s history? I don’t know. I do miss travelling, but I don’t know if it is not God’s plan for me to continue a life of frequent jet-setting. I can still travel leisurely, and it definitely beats business travelling. But there is always a difference, because I can’t afford to travel as often on my own expense, and I won’t be going to some places that I won’t travel on my own.

My last business trip was to Shanghai.

shanghai_nov2013

I am thankful that I didn’t have bad memories of Shanghai. In total, I think I have been there 4 times, and they were all business trips, and always in times of generally fine weather, either March or November. I didn’t have to go through the nastiness of summer in Shanghai, and on several of those past trips, I had the opportunity to meet up with friends or family who work/live there. It had been kind to me, and on that last trip, it was good as well. I was even given a farewell gift by my German colleague, which although small, was a really nice gesture that touched me, despite that we were not exactly that close since I only meet her when I go on business trips. She knows how much I visit Starbucks, which we usually also do when we travel, so this was what she gave me.

shanghai_nov2013_1

it’s all about the convenience of coffee 

It is no secret that I am a big fan of cafes. I wanted to say that I am a coffee fan but then again I think I can’t really lay claim to that because as a friend rightly pointed out one day, to my dismay, that despite me being a self-professed / so-called aficionado of coffee, I did not know the difference between an Americano and a Long Black. I now know the difference, thanks to that episode, so I shall just say that I love hanging out at cafes because they are convenient for the lone ranger who is out to seek some caffeine boost and nosh to keep the energy going.

Despite that there are tons of great cafes out there with a uniqueness that chains like Starbucks can’t ever emulate, I seldom check them out, whether locally or abroad. Locally, their locations frequently are prohibiting for me because I do not want to caught in a situation of taking a taxi all the way to some Ulu Sembawang place to look for a cafe only to find out that it’s full, with patrons not seemingly likely to leave anytime soon, or worse, that it is no longer in operation. The latter could be a very real predicament, considering that businesses in Singapore do come and go quite easily due to the competitiveness of the scene. Even overseas, there are times when I stick to the tried-and-tested places because I know I can hang around for a fair bit of time without being ‘chased’ out of a small cafe, and they are easy to locate for someone who might have been walking for hours and just need to get some sustenance.

So anyway, these were some of the ‘convenient’ places that I grabbed my daily coffee and bites at when I was in Tokyo recently.

Some of my friends are coffee snobs, and they turn their noses up at Starbucks’ coffee. Since I used to can’t tell an Americano or Long Black apart, it is also safe to assume that I can’t really distinguish between good or bad coffee. Wrong. If it’s very bad, I certainly can taste it, but my body is not accustomed to very good coffee, which I often associate with strong, acidic coffee that leaves a bit of a bitter/sour after taste at the back of my tongue. They also leave me feeling a little light-headed or high thereafter. So a tall or even grande sized brew coffee or Americano from Starbucks does the trick for me on days when I want to have more fluid in the cup rather than the usual smaller cup of coffee that I would otherwise get from these standalone small joints.
A short-sized Americano with some Cranberry Granola Toast. I don’t think the toast is that healthy, but then I love breads in several, scratch that, many forms, so this makes for a nice morning snack.  A short latte with a cup of Granola and Cranberry Yogurt, something I had just before I took the Airport Limousine Bus to the airport on my way home. These days, we are also starting to see Starbucks Singapore offer more of such options, but they already pre-mixed the granola or whatever else fruits or compote they have into the yogurt. I would have preferred if they were separate because otherwise the crunchy/crispy bits would have lost all the crunch and become too soggy.   On one drizzly evening, before I went for Bikram yoga class, I killed time at Excelsior Cafe with a cup of Americano and a slice of Sakura Tea Cake. Somehow, butter/tea cakes that come in plastic packaging like that creates a preconceived notion in me that the cake won’t be that great, as compared against buying tea cakes that are displayed in a sliced loaf, encased in a glass container. I know it’s weird, but I always get that kind of feeling, and have yet to ascertain the veracity, if those cakes are really not as nice. Who knows?  The weather in Tokyo during the week that I was there was on the overall, great. But there were still moments when the city was shrouded with drizzle. There was just one day when the weather was bad because it rained almost the whole day and made us feel lethargic and tired, but otherwise it was generally ok. I am always spoilt for choice whenever I pop into Dean & Deluca in Tokyo, where the array of pastries and breads available all scream at me to buy them. Their muffins are really good but they are huge, and I am quite wary of these sugar bombs even if I still do give in to the craving sometimes. But then again, this slice of Caramelized bread probably isn’t much better, except that the interior didn’t feel/taste as sweet as a muffin would, and I kind of tore off the sticky parts. :p And lastly, on my last morning in Tokyo, I finally found Mister Donut! I didn’t have this when I was in Bangkok last year because the donuts on display then looked kind of sad, so I made sure I went there to have my favourite Pon De Ring. But I was a little disappointed, and started to wonder if this was my usual because the glazed ring didn’t taste as good as I recalled. Perhaps the one I used to have wasn’t this variant.. Hmm. Oh well, at least I tried it and maybe the next time, I can give it a miss already.

Going local at the food halls

The first evening when I arrived in Tokyo was a week night. Being the lazy me and still having a mind focused on keeping to my eating habits as much as I can, even though I am on vacation and should really let loose, I thought of checking out the supermarkets, to grab some fruits and yogurt, which are almost my daily staple these days. It just feels weird when I don’t have either, or have them in insufficient quantities.

Since Takashimaya was conveniently located within minutes away from the hotel, I popped over to the supermarket and food hall in its basement, and was ensnared in the evening peak of Japanese grabbing last minute dinners from the stalls. Most items were going at a discounted price, though not that significant but at least they became a little more affordable. Much as these are just takeaways in small portions, upon conversion back to SGD, even with the strong exchange rate now, it was still pretty mind-boggling. I can’t imagine spending this kind of money on dinner on a daily basis if I were living in Tokyo. Perhaps that explains the myriad of convenience stores and their convenient packed meals, or those “vending-machine” food outlets that dot the streets of Tokyo.

I bought 2 small portions of cooked pumpkin and a medley of broccoli, cucumber and french beans, things I didn’t used to appreciate too much, especially the variety, until the recent years. I have missed out so much but it’s never too late to start!  I also wanted to have some fruits in my system so I picked up this box of cut-fruit salad from the conbini (local abbreviation/slang for convenience store). It contains some pieces of kiwi, pineapples and grapefruit, and costs roughly about S$3.50! O_O But this is still cheaper as compared to the veggies above.Of course, what is a visit to a supermarket in Japan without picking up some strawberries!? These also do not come cheap but so far from experience, strawberries that I have bought in Japan are always sweet, not to mention that they are all of about the same size, with very vibrant colours and not in some odd deformed shape like some US-variants tend to be. These 2 boxes cost about S$7 each, which is actually not too bad, considering that in Singapore the same box could sometimes cost twice that, unless they are not from Japan. And they really do not disappoint. I could really just eat them strawberries everyday!One thing I feel doesn’t quite make the cut would be the yogurt. Even though we all know Hokkaido milk is probably one of the tastiest milk I ever had, their yogurt do not seem to match up to the European/Australian versions that I have had. Perhaps I haven’t tried enough Japanese yogurt to make a valid comment, and Soy Yogurt is a totally different ball game altogether, but the bigger tub pictured below felt a tad too watery, when I prefer my yogurts to be creamier and thicker. I love Greek yogurt too, which isn’t creamy unless it’s the Greek-style type, but then when I have Greek yogurt, my expectation isn’t that it is creamy so somehow I manage with that quite well. Hmm.  And this is the view that I got out of my window. Not a very pretty sight compared to what I have seen from hotel room windows of other places I have stayed at in Tokyo but I don’t need to sit by the window the whole day looking out at the city when I can just go out and be in the city. I love vacationing in Tokyo, and this was a good trip, despite some kinks that occurred before it finally materialised.  

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. 🙂

make some plans

Maybe it is time for me to start planning for vacations. For the longest time, I have been procastinating, and not feeling any wanderlust. To be more accurate, it wasn’t that wanderlust left me, but rather there was something festering inside that overwhelmed any other feelings.

That something, I don’t know if it has been put to rest, but I know there are stronger forces at work that will prevail and triumph.

Considered several options, and somehow in the midst of all that consideration, wanderlust seemed to have dissipated once more.

Bangkok.

Hong Kong.

Tokyo.

Where else? Maybe somewhere in the US? Or Melbourne? Flights of fancy… including Cologne because of that train ride, Moscow because last November I didn’t have a proper chance to be a tourist even though safety considerations tend to deter me from thoughts of heading there, Vienna because I have always seen such beautiful pictures of the place and have since then entertained thoughts of visiting…

Let’s see what happens, if wanderlust will return again.