A Memory Stuck and New Years in Tokyo

Written on 2nd January 2017
I’m in writing heaven. I’m sitting on a train looking out at snow covered trees and rooftops and thinking about a moment roughly ten years ago. Some moments stick with you more clearly than others. About ten years ago, I came to the realisation that I should stop buying stuff I didn’t really need and instead spend my money on traveling and collecting memories. It‚Äôs liberating. I still have random spending plurges but they are significantly less frequent. I am also donating vociferously.

This year, Alex and I decided to take a trip to Tokyo during New Years before we head up north to Otaru and Kiroro for snowboarding. It’s out of the norm for us. Usually New Years is spent at home. Now that we’re out, I realise that it gives the trip a different kind of flavor. Every country has their own tradition during New Years and the vibe is different. 

If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you’d know how crazy busy it can be with everyone on schedules and rushing to get to the destination. The Japanese are orderly, so no matter how busy it is, it’s quiet yet buzzing. Try standing still at Shinjuku station on a busy workday morning and you’d know what I mean.

During New Years however, the vibe is different. From the 30th to 1st, every thing slows downs. People are still hurrying around, but it’s with a suitcase and luggage to go home for the holidays. Faces are relaxed and the general atmosphere is one of relaxation. You can feel it in the air.

Restaurants and shops close early on the 31st so plan your eating schedule well. On the 1st, many shops and restaurants are closed though apparently more and more are remaining open. Even though they are open, I feel that the English speakers seem to be fewer in number.

On New Years Eve and New Year Day, people go out to pray at temples and shrines. We went to the Meiji shrine. It’s also a day of shopping. From the 1st to 3rd, shops go on sale and people go crazy shopping. More details to follow. ūüôā

We’re almost arriving at Otaru now. xoxo  

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Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year my readers! First of all, I’d like to thank all my readers for your comments and for sharing your updates with me. Although I have not written as much as I would have liked to, some of you have continued to keep touch and in the meanwhile inspired me as well. 
Looking back, 2016 for me was probably one of the craziest, funniest and unexpected years in a long time. There were so many changes going on both globally, in Thailand and within my work itself. Changes to challenge us all. I’m also grateful for all my family and friends. It’s been a year of reunions with friends from times past and a year of unexpected happenings. So much is going on, the question now is what are we going to do in 2017?  
For 2017, I hope you continue to stay healthy, exercise and have some ‘Me’ Time. With those things, we can achieve anything we set our minds to. Stay focused and ‘just do it’ I wish you all lots of success in all you endeavour.

Lots of love from snowy Japan somewhere in between the airport and Otaru.

PS. I’m going to start blogging about Tokyo, Otaru and snowboarding now so keep posted!

Japanese Sweets: Maple Snaffles from Hokkaido

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I wake up in the wee hours of the morning (4.30am)¬†for no apparent reason today with the thought of¬†Maple Snaffes in my head.¬†¬†The thought of it won’t go away, my¬†brain wants to have some, but helas we don’t have any and so I¬†will just have to write about it instead.¬† Continuing from my previous posts on Snaffles from Hokkaido, where I talked about the original cheesecake flavor and chocolate favor, I have to say that my new favorite one is the Maple Snaffes Cheesecake.

The Maple Snaffles cheesecake have the same soft and feathery texture of the original cheesecake flavor but it has an added tinge of maple syrup.¬† The great thing is that you can taste and smell the maple syrup but yet it does not overwhelm the cheesecake.¬† It makes the cheesecake aromatic (I like the smell of¬†maple syrup, don’t you? ) ¬†Too much of the maple syrup would make it too sweet, too little would not be enough to make it aromatic.¬† The Maple Snaffles, have the amount just right.

If you’ve never tried the Maple Snaffles, I think you should try it.¬† The chocolate cheesecake one is for chocolate lovers and if you don’t like the smell of maple syrup, then the original cheesecake one is good for you.

I suddenly have a craving for some rich maple syrup now writing about this.  Maybe today I shall go buy some and make some pancakes!

Have a good weekend everyone! ūüôā

Bangkok Dining: Sendai Ramen Mokkori Silom @ Narathiwat Soi 1

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I love it when friends take me to off the beaten track eateries.¬† Little treasures that just make you wonder what other secrets lay hidden waiting to be discovered.¬†¬† This latest discovery came quite unexpected for it was a chance meeting and we took the opportunity to go grab a bite to eat.¬† In search of somewhere not too far from Silom, Narathiwat and the Rama IV area my friend navigated me to this little japanese¬†eatery called “Sendai Ramen Mokkori Silom.”

Don’t ask me what the name means. I only know “Ramen” and “Silom”(road name.)¬†¬† It’s one of those eateries you find in the least expected places.¬†¬†It’s at the base of an old-fashioned condominium¬†at Narathiwat Soi 1. ¬†It seems to have been around for quite some time and probably well-known to those who go to that area, but for me it was an area I hardly go to and a street I’ve never driven into.

What’s surprising is that walking out of the condominium¬†parking (you can get your parking ticket validated at the eatery) you do not see the eatery right away.¬† I saw another Japanese place and almost went there, but lo and behold suddenly this one appears.¬† It’s surrounded by a lot of things, and it the daylight it’s not easy to spot, but when the lights come on, you see it clearly with the red lanterns and the lights shining from inside.

It’s small and simple inside.¬† A wall full of photographs of the owner with celebrities and well-known people decorate the shop and japanese writings also adorn the walls.¬† I always wonder if they have something unique that’s not on the menu.

The menu is dizzying.¬† The large B5 sized menu is filled with pictures of many types of ramen, rice dishes and other japanese favorites.¬† Too many makes it hard for me to choose and so I go with my favorite Mabo tofu with ramen. (It’s ramen with tofu sauce) and of course the tonkatsu (fried breaded pork) with japanese curry.¬†¬†¬† The portions are HUGE.¬† Not somewhere to go if you are on a diet, but a great place to go if you want to just eat and enjoy.

I liked the fact that the atmosphere took us out of the typical restaurant vibe we get in downtown Siam.¬† It’s less hectic and probably because it was a lazy Sunday evening one could just chill and relax without feeling pressured to give up our table to the waiting customer.¬†¬† (I don’t know what it’s like on weekdays since it’s near to the business district)

The food was good and delicious for its price even though the ramen noodles¬†were not made in-house. It wasn’t the best ramen I’ve ever had, but I think it is not too far off from the authentic ramen noodles I’ve had in Japan.¬† (The owner is japanese and appears on the menu cover¬†and on the photos on the wall)¬†The tonkatsu was crispy and lean. However if you ask me to compare the tonkatsu to that at¬†Saboten (another japanese eatery), I have to say Saboten still wins.¬† The thing is, food at this eatery is roughly¬†half the price of Saboten.

Dishes were around 140-250thb each which is a pretty good deal compared to other japanese restaurants downtown where a medium pork loin at Saboten can cost you around 290thb.  The portions are large, the flavor authentic and the atmosphere unique. I could be somewhere in Soho.

Would I go back again? Yes I will.¬†¬† It’s one of those places that isn’t pretentious, the food good and a nice hideaway from the crowds of Bangkok city.¬† Itadakimasu.

Japanese Sweets: Snaffles from Hokkaido

I love to eat. I think many like me also like to eat but our likes and dislikes change over time. I think our tastes also change the older we get. When I was young, I hated mushrooms. Now I devour them as if they were the most delicious thing on earth. Anything with mushrooms are good. Tonight I want to share with you one of my all time favorite sweets, not sweets but (as if you can’t tell from the post title) Snaffles.

In Japan, apparently each city/region has their own specialty when it comes to sweets. You can only get the triangular mojis from Kyoto, Tokyo Bananas from Tokyo, Castella cakes from Nakasaki, and Snaffles from Hokkaido (correct me if I am wrong here). My first experience with Snaffles was early last year when we had a Japanese friend come visit. With him came along a box of Snaffles which has since become one of my all time favorites amongst cheesecakes and japanese sweets.

I usually don’t like cheesecakes too much because they are heavy and creamy. Not my thing.

Snaffles’s cheesecakes, however, are light as a feather. As my spoon scoops up a piece I feel as if I am take a spoon through a souffle. Despite it’s lightness, it is rich in flavour and with the plain cheese one, you can taste the cheese. Not overwhelming. Just delicate and light. Snaffles also comes in chocolate and I have to admit I like chocolate purely for my love of chocolate. The chocolate is chocolate and the texture is light (though not as light as the cheese flavored one.)

Another detail I like about Snaffles is that they come in small little rounds. Each little piece is around two bite sizes and perfect for those who want a taste, but don’t want to over eat. It also lets you have a bit of each flavour without feeling overly guilty. Yes, I used that excuse. Tonight I had one cheese and one chocolate. Tomorrow I go running.

They also have different flavours that I have yet to try. Waiting for me is another box of Maple Snaffles. That will have to wait it’s turn, but I will let you know how it is. My guess is that it is light and tastes like aromatic maple syrup.

Oh, if you get a box of Snaffles be sure to open it right away and eat it. They have a very short lifespan and need to be refrigerated. www.snaffles.co.jp

Oban Yaki: Japanese Style Pancake @ Isetan CTW

I love Japanese food. I can eat it everyday and still not get bored with it.¬† Tonight¬†I feel like having some Japanese Oban Yaki (which are Japanese pancakes with some fillings) so to curve my craving,¬† I will tell you instead about it.¬† It’s incredibly delicious and satisfying.¬† It’s comfort food that beats all the other comfort foods. (For me anyways)

I’ve never had this pancake anywhere else other than at the Isetan Store at Central World in Bangkok so I cannot tell you if it’s the best one, but even then I find it scrumptious.¬† I can feel my eyes sparkle and already my mouth curving into a grin just thinking about this pancake hot off the stove with gooey fillings.¬† I like the one with the hot chocolate filling, but the creamy custard or the red bean are also just as good.¬†¬† The chocolate is hot and gooey to the right consistency, not too sweet nor too bitter.¬† I can imagine myself biting into the warm hot chocolate, whose taste is just perfectly offset by the pancake.¬† It also doesn’t run down your hands so it’s perfect.¬† The cream is just lovely and not too sweet.¬† A great cream pancake if you love cream buns.¬† The red bean is a thicker consistency and full of nutrients.¬† (I’m not a very keen red bean person)

The counter is just outside the Isetan supermarket on the fifth floor and behind a glass wall you can observe the pancakes being made.  A special stove with large indentations form the shape of the pancake.  The batter is first put in, rotated and the filling finally dropped in just as the pancake is partially cook.  Towards the end, the second half is placed on top and a few minutes later you have the Oban Yaki.

I love watching it being made.¬† Almost every time I go there, I find a little crowd of people watching as they wait for the Oban Yakis to be ready.¬† It’s that popular, on weekends they aren’t made fast enough for the hungry consumer.¬† I always buy at least three and for a mere 30thb each, they aren’t a bad deal…

They are so good that when I went to Japan last year, I actually went around looking for the “original” from Japan, made in Japan Oban Yaki, but helas I could not find it.¬† Perhaps its only found in certain cities.¬† I suppose this gives me an excuse to go back to Japan and look for it some day.¬† I still love the country.

What Sacrifice Means…

After the earthquake I wrote an email to a Japanese colleague asking her of her troubles and hoping that all was fine. Her response made me teary eyed and it’s something I still remember till this day. She told of her hardships and how they were having trouble with electricity, but it was the end that hit me. She apologized for having caused me concern and worry. Wow. I was breathless. Here she was in trouble, her nation was suffering, and still she apologized for making me worried about her!! I admire her.

My experience is but a fraction of what others have experienced. Since that unfortunate day of earthquakes and tsunamis, I’ve been hearing endless stories about the Japanese discipline and sense of morality. How even in times of suffering and the Japanese will not loot nor take advantage of those less fortunate. Other people’s lives are taken into deep consideration. Afterall, everyone is in this situation and everyone has their own troubles. Everyone has loss their homes and loved ones. It’s time the people helped each other, not time they tried to gain from other’s misfortunes. There is no selfishness. No thought of me, myself and I. Others are more important.

I hope that we can all learn something from the Japanese. I know I have.

Below is a forward I got earlier last week that I think is a wonderful reminder to us all to think a little more of those around us and perhaps of the word “sacrifice.” Sacrifice a little of our own happiness for the greater good of others….
________________________

THIS letter, written by Vietnamese immigrant Ha Minh Thanh working in Fukushima as a policeman to a friend in Vietnam, was posted on New America Media on March 19. It is a testimonial to the strength of the Japanese spirit, and an interesting slice of life near the epicenter of Japan’s crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It was translated by NAM editor Andrew Lam, author of “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” Shanghai Daily condensed it.

Brother,
How are you and your family? These last few days, everything was in chaos. When I close my eyes, I see dead bodies. When I open my eyes, I also see dead bodies.

Each one of us must work 20 hours a day, yet I wish there were 48 hours in the day, so that we could continue helping and rescuing folks.

We are without water and electricity, and food rations are near zero. We barely manage to move refugees before there are new orders to move them elsewhere.

I am currently in Fukushima, about 25 kilometers away from the nuclear power plant. I have so much to tell you that if I could write it all down, it would surely turn into a novel about human relationships and behaviors during times of crisis.

People here remain calm – their sense of dignity and proper behavior are very good – so things aren’t as bad as they could be. But given another week, I can’t guarantee that things won’t get to a point where we can no longer provide proper protection and order.

They are humans after all, and when hunger and thirst override dignity, well, they will do whatever they have to do. The government is trying to provide supplies by air, bringing in food and medicine, but it’s like dropping a little salt into the ocean.

Brother, there was a really moving incident. It involves a little Japanese boy who taught an adult like me a lesson on how to behave like a human being.

Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts.

It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there wouldn’t be any food left. So I spoke to him. He said he was at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father’s car away.

I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn’t make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.

The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That’s when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. “When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food. So here’s my portion. I already ate. Why don’t you eat it?”

The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn’t. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line ended and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed.

I was shocked. I asked him why he didn’t eat it and instead added it to the food pile. He answered: “Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally.”

When I heard that I turned away so that people wouldn’t see me cry.

A society that can produce a 9-year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.

Well, a few lines to send you and your family my warm wishes. The hours of my shift have begun again.

Ha Minh Thanh