Saturday, January 29, 2011

Here We Go Again

Apologies for the long absence, secret admirers. The Fat Geisha was down with a serious bout of flu. As she is typing this, she is still coughing her lungs out. Yes, it's the flu season again. Our beloved Government has in fact declared a nation-wide flu epidemic. But today is not a day to wallow in self-pity, but a day of celebration. I AM GOING TO JAPAN, AGAIN!!

After bitching for several months and watching enviously on the sidelines as friends flew off continuously to my adopted country, the Fat One capitulated yesterday (resistance low due to a drug-induced haze?) and booked two tickets to Tokyo in March, with absolutely no idea which part of Japan she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. Which is a first, because I am such a planner. I don't do things on the impulse (seldom anyway) - I like to plan things to death.

But no matter. There are still SOOO many places we (the Samurai and I) have not covered (and which I doubt we can cover in our life-time even if we visit Japan every year till we die). We are swamped with choices. But what appeals to the historian and the historian's wife? After I shocked the Samurai with my impulsive booking, we quickly narrowed our options to Hiroshima and Sendai. After failing to take the Shinkansen on our last 3 trips, I was adamant that we absolutely had to take one this time round. I would also like to visit one of the "Three Views of Japan" (If Hiroshima, it would be Miyajima. If Sendai, it would be Matsushima Bay). Do we want to see snow or try to catch the sakura? Choices, choices.

In the end it all boiled down to distance. Even by Shinkansen, Hiroshima was a daunting 4 hours ride from Tokyo, while Sendai was only an hour and 40 minutes ride away. The Samurai, long time fan of infamous feudal lord Date Masamune, wants desperately to pay homage to the man on his home turf at Sendai. Matsushima Bay's most famous delicacy are oysters, which we both LURVE. Since Sendai is up north, we may still catch some snow at the tail-end of winter. And when we return to Tokyo maybe we can catch some sakura buds at Ueno Park. The choice is CLEAR!

One eyed feudal lord, Date Masamune. Not my pic obviously. But will be taking the real thing soon!

So time for me to start my massive planning again. My fats are quivering with excitement. This will be my first visit to Japan after I started my language lessons. Will I use it? I cannot wait!!!

The glorious Matsushima Bay - pic taken from asiahotels.com

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: Majo no Jouken 魔女の条件 - First Love Never Dies *Spoilers*


An evil girlfriend recently passed me the DVD set for "Majo no Jouken", one of the hottest and most controversial J-dramas ever to cross our TV screens. A drama that is more than a decade old (it debuted in 1999), it brings back a lot of fond memories for many of us, unless you were an infant or ovum then. In fact, the iconic title song by Hikaru Utada, "First Love" is probably the first thing that comes to mind, and the song still sends shivers down my spine every time it plays on my iPad. (The evil girlfriend and I have been belting  "First Love" in a couple of karaoke sessions in the last few months.)

J-dramas have never been my thing - I'll be the first to confess that Korean dramas with their over-the-top (and often convoluted) story lines and drop dead gorgeous actors are super addictive. On the other hand, J-dramas often have straight-to-the-point plots (normally 10 episodes max), the occasional yummy actors (Matsuharu Fukuyama hear me roar) and of course, my beloved Takuya Kimura (duh!). Not that the Japanese don't have great stories, mind you. Most great shows like "Itazura Na Kiss" and "Boys Over Flowers" are of Japanese origin, but their neighbours - the Koreans and Taiwanese, executed these dramas better.

To be honest, I did not pay much attention when "Majo no Jouken" came out in 1999. I was in the deep throes of my own first love (with the Samurai of course!), so I did not care about watching reel love - and a very depressing one at that. However, I did remember watching snippets of the drama, since Matsushima Nanako was about the hottest thing in Japan at that time (after "The Ring") and I most DEFINITELY remembered Utada's haunting song and positively loving it.

About 2 or 3 years ago, a colleague was raving about it non-stop, claiming it was one of the best dramas he ever watched and asking why I wasn't gaga over Takizawa Hideaki (or "Tackey" for short). By this time, it was a breeze to watch dramas online, and so we did (at the workplace, no less). I think we completed the 11-episode drama in a record two days - I was totally, completely engrossed.

In a nutshell, the story was about the forbidden love between a teacher, Michi (Nanako) and a student, Hikaru (Tackey). Besides being separated by a huge age gap of 9 years, their relationship is a totally taboo thing in our conservative Asian society. Props to the director for not treating the subject with kids gloves - the couple was shown to develop a sexual relationship and Michi even became pregnant as a result! Not surprsingly, society came down very hard on them, with almost disastrous consequences.

I consider myself a very liberal person in my views towards life. But I have got to admit I was perturbed and more than a little uncomfortable watching as their relationship progressed, almost like watching an inevitable train wreck happening. Since the actors themselves were of the same age as their characters, the age difference was clearly visible, hence the audience would not be able to sweep all under the carpet by saying that Hikaru was mature for his age therefore making their relationship more acceptable in their eyes. In addition, Michi was also taller than him! (Which made me question myself: Would I go out with a shorter guy? Answer: If he looked like Tackey.)

Nanako deserved all the applause for daring to play Michi and not making her look like an outright paedophile who was taking advantage of a troubled teenager. It was obvious from the start that Michi was a sexually mature woman (since she was already sleeping with her fiancée in the first episode), and the scene where Michi and Hikaru made love in the library showed more sexual aggression on Michi's part. Despite this, the audience could also feel Michi's pain at her restricted life and her desire to be free, and understand the reason why she was so attracted to Hikaru and eventually believed herself to be totally in love with him. This made it difficult for the audience (and me) to condemn her actions outright.

And thankfully for Michi (and Nanako), the other characters in the drama were equally dysfunctional and detestable. Hikaru's obsessive mother with the "Momzilla" complex was even more frightening than Michi's desire for Hikaru. Michi's controlling dad could also spawn a new class of "Dadzillas", her bitchy and backstabbing "best" friend was so irritating you could slap her, and her estranged fiancée was so lacking in charm you could totally understand why she was willing to throw her reputation and family away to be in the arms of a much younger (and hotter) man.

Obviously for such a depressing drama (there were honestly few light hearted moments), there could be no happy ending since there was no way in hell society could accept the two of them. The main point of contention between my evil girlfriend and I was our interpretation of the ending. Michi, following a dangerous miscarriage, lapsed into a coma. The ending showed her opening her eyes and smiling at Hikaru, but  in my negative point of view, it was likely she died and that was her spirit smiling at him and/or it was only in his imagination that she woke up. Of course, my girlfriend chose to believe in the happy ending.

What would this post be without a paragraph on the delicious Tackey as the brooding Hikaru dealing with all the maniac older women in his life? He was about the most yummy-licious 17 year old then. I was laughing when I read in another blog post that if the writer was in Michi's shoes, she would also totally launch herself at Hikaru, 9 year age gap or not. I CONCUR. With his trembling luscious lips, soulful puppy eyes and young bouncy skin, how could one resist?!?!? Although I must confess that my desire dampened somewhat when he undressed and his body was just skin and bones. You need some meat to caress on, man. Really.

In conclusion, this is one great show for keeps, whether or not you approve of the morals (I believe she should have waited for his graduation before jumping on his bones!). A well told tale, but nothing to laugh about.

A disturbing but compelling love

The million dollar question: Did she wake up or did she die?

Mmmmmm, Come to Mama......

P.S. Samurai T has been watching the series with me - equally addicted and, as an educator, most disturbed by  the developing teacher-student relationship.

Come, let us reminisce the old times once again with our "First Love"........


This is a very good fan-made video. Unfortunately I cannot find one with Utada's song in it!

But how can I end the post without the song? So here is the MV. :D




Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy SMAP Songs To Perk Up My Day

"Why are we playing Japanese songs again?!" wails the Samurai as my list of SMAP, EXILE, Arashi and AZENCHITAI songs went into repeat mode. "I want to listen to Jay Chou!" 

"Because they are NICE!" I said defensively, as I bopped my head to the addictive beats of a SMAP song. "Don't you think they sound happy? They are such great de-stressing songs!" Indeed, I think the singular unique feature of SMAP music is the upbeat and positive tunes with their sometimes illogical and crazy lyrics. No matter how depressed I am, or tired, or stressed out, just listening to their music lifts my spirits like no other. There are romantic songs, love-making songs (a-hem), chill-off songs for a lazy afternoon, spiritual songs, songs to put you to sleep, but in order to get the same effect as a Happy Pill is to play my SMAP songs.

So below are the MVs of my all-time perk-me-up-immediately SMAP songs. (Yes, yes, another opportunity to drool over Takuya in action.)

1) BANG! BANG! バカンス!(Hilarious)



2) ORIGINAL SMILE (From 2005 concert - Such a Happy Song!)



3) SHAKE (Makes me Wanna Boogie and Takuya with Kids Meow!!!! - From 2008 Concert)



Seriously their concerts are so infectious and joyous I am going to ask my girlfriends if we should attend their next concert in Japan. So how GIRLS?!?!

There are other songs like "Dear Woman", "White Message", "Dynamite", etc. (Am too lazy to embed all the videos here.) but those top 3 are my absolute all-time favourites! SMAP forever!

Friday, January 14, 2011

What do Japanese Customs Officials Think of Rabid Singapore Travellers?

I was poring enviously over a friend's beautiful and oh-so-wonderful photos of her latest visit to Tokyo. Which served only to remind me how many gazillion places we still have to explore in Japan and that made my backside extremely "itchy" again. How I would love to just jump up and scream at the Samurai, "Let's pack immediately and go!" But alas, the Samurai has heavy responsibilities educating the future generation of Singapore (barf).

What makes it even more intolerable is that two other girlfriends from my "Japanese Gang" are going on Yet Another Trip to the Land of the Rising Sun at the end of this month over the Chinese New Year period, instead of getting stuck visiting the same old boring relatives again. I have just about lost track of their number of trips to my favourite adopted country. Is it the 11th or 10th trip within a span of 5 years??? At their craziest, they visited Japan THREE TIMES in one year (when airfares were cheap during the recession year of 2009).

I have myself visited Japan THREE TIMES in THREE YEARS with the Samurai, which is in itself a record for me. I don't even visit Bangkok THAT often, or Hong Kong for that matter (supposedly havens for shopping fanatic Singaporeans). Already, my parents and relatives, and generally non-Japan lovers were going, "You are going to Japan, AGAIN?? Weren't you just there?!" and looking at us as if we had lost our marbles. (Yah, Japanese marbles.) And because I felt quite embarressed about being viewed as insane, instead of my original destination Hokkaido, we chose to go Taiwan. (Damn, I soooo wanted to go to Hokkaido.) Afterall, we just visited Tokyo barely half a year ago.

In fact, on my third Japan visit, which was in June 2010, I was queuing at the immigration checkpoint at Narita Airport and looking through my passport at the Japanese entry and exit stamps and dates, and started worrying, "Crap. This is going to my third set of stamps in 30 months. Will they think I am smuggling or trafficking something or what?!" But I realised that since my 2 girlfriends with the 10 or 11 sets of Japan customs stamps on their passports could get through immigration smoothly without setting off any international alarms, I should be pretty safe.

Yet, I squirmed slightly under the gaze of the customs official, and did my best to give a kawaii smile into the camera. Suddenly I believed I could imagine what he was thinking as he looked at the passport and me, "Another rabid Japan lover. What a sucker. But thank you anyway for coming and contributing to our dreary economy."  And probably at my 2 girlfriends, plus other friends who have been visiting Japan like drug addicts, they would be marvelling, "Are these people crazy or what? They don't visit any other country but Japan! Do they have lovers here? Or a business? Or....???" I am assuming that the immigration officials are very bored sitting there all day doing their jobs. If I were one of them, you can bet your bottom dollar I would be thinking those exact same things. Then again, I have an extremely active imagination.

Regardless of what they think of us, they can most surely expect to see me peering over their counters soon, and striking my best kawaii pose. Cheese!

Meow. Welcome to Japan.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

木村拓哉がすきですから、日本語おべんきょします。I Study Japanese because I like Takuya Kimura.

After a 2-week hiatus for the Christmas and New Year holidays, we (myself and 2 other long suffering girlfriends) went back to our class at Ikoma with some trepidation in our hearts not least because we haven't been very good girls and did not revise our Japanese as fastidiously as we should have. (Gomenasai, Sensei!!)

Thankfully, while our brains crashed in the last half hour of the class from too much revision and new information overload, the latest lesson proved to be quite interesting. Besides learning the very useful verb "すき” which means "I like" e.g. "すしが好きです!” "I like Sushi!", we started to learn how to construct longer sentences with CONJUNCTION  (those who don't know what that is, please go back to primary school. Oh alright, I cheated and looked up on Wikipedia too.) In a nutshell, conjunction refers to a part of speech which links up two sentences. So instead of saying "I like Sushi. Sushi is delicious." I can put everything in a single sentence and say "I like Sushi because it is delicious."

For me, learning new languages is mostly about cheating because you HAVE got to "cheat" since this is not your mother tongue and your brain power is not as it used to be. Since my two "base" languages are English and Chinese, I will apply my knowledge on their sentence structures and sounds accordingly when learning a new language. There are some similarities between English and German, and of course LOTS of similarities between Chinese and Japanese and Korean. It frustrates me greatly when a language suddenly comes up with a new rule, against all that I already know. For example, all German words have a "gender" and you have to memorise if a "table" is a "he", "she" or "it". (For useless general knowledge - a table is a "he" - "Der Tisch".) And the gender of the nouns are distributed randomly - there is no set rule. You have just got to grit your teeth and remember the gender of ALL nouns!

Thus far, the Japanese language has already thrown up a few bombs. Like how the numbers 4, 7 and 9 can change in form and pronunciation depending on the context they are used. In the latest lesson, we were thrown another "bomb". The Japanese conjuctive sentence is neither like the English or Chinese. "すしはおいしいですから、すしがすきです。” which directly translates to "Sushi is delicious because, I like Sushi." or you could turn the sentences around to "I like Sushi, sushi is delicious because." So all we could do was to curse and swear, and try our damnest to cram this new rule into our already overcrowded brains.

On the upside, now it all makes sense when I watch Japanese dramas and actors keep crying out "どして?” (Doshite?!?!?! an oft-heard refrain especially during many dramatic moments.) "Why??" "Why are you leaving me?" "Why are you so cruel?" "Why are you crying?:" and so on and so forth. And when people ask me "why" questions, I can now answer back in my limited and basic Japanese with my new conjunction - "kara" or "because".

And our Sensei asked us the all important question during class - Why do we want to study the Japanese language? "そして日本語おべんきょしますか。” And the title of this blog was my answer. Although in all honesty, I chose to study Japanese (over Korean) because of my desire to travel to Japan more often in the future. But my girlfriend gave that answer first. So what the hell, I chose the next best thing. The hot Kimura-San.

And now it gives me yet another excuse to post ANOTHER gratuitous photo of him:

ENJOY!!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why the Taiwanese Don't Hate the Japanese Even After a 50-Year Occupation

"Why would you want to write about that?" asked a puzzled Samurai T after I pestered him to give me a 30 minute crash course on China-Taiwan-Japan relations. When I bombarded him with even more questions, he finally told me in exasperation, "Please go and read Denny Roy's 'Taiwan: A Political History' for more information." Which I won't, of course. Much as I love history, reading the texts is like watching paint dry. I would rather take a nap. Or play "Kawaii Megu" on my iPad.

My inspiration for this post came from my brilliant observations during my recent 8-day family tour to Taiwan that the Taiwanese remain quite enamoured by all things Japanese despite the fact that they were under Japanese occupation for 50 years from 1895 - 1945. For example, our local tour guide, Mr Ge, spoke about the Japanese and their contributions to Taiwan's infrastructural and industrial advancement during those years with a tone of reverence. Contrast this to his often dismissive and sarcastic remarks about the hordes of PRC tourists who have been invading their shores since the warming of cross-strait relations after President Ma Ying-Jeou's election."Locusts," was what he called them. (Although, I have to admit, they were really like hordes of locusts in the many places I went to, which diminished our enjoyment significantly. In particular, Samurai was very pissed that he could not view the exhibits at the National Museum "Gu Gong" in Taipei because of the SWARMS of loud PRC tourists surrounding almost every national treasure. We had been to so many museums around the world, and this was truly the most disastrous.)

But back to my main point of this "essay" (hur-hur). I found the Taiwanese' fond memories a stark contrast to the Chinese and other Southeast Asians who virtually spew vitriol at the thought of Japanese occupation during World War I and II. Samurai T concluded that this was because the Japanese colonisation of Taiwan was mostly a "positive time" for the locals, in that they brought many technological advances to the country and built quite a bit of modern infrastructure like dams and railways. However, the occupation of parts of China and Southeast Asian countries were often marked by cruelty, death, and dire conditions for the living. So that explains the wide difference in attitudes.

Some interesting titbits shared by our knowledgeable tour guide: 1) A part of the famous Sun Moon Lake was actually created by dams built by the Japanese in the area. 2) And before the recent invasion of the PRC hordes, the country with the highest number of visitors was Japan. The Japanese apparently also have very fond memories of its former colony and love Taiwan's mild climate. 3) A significant number of Taiwanese are able to speak Japanese, and they remain greatly influenced by Japanese culture. 4) Besides contributing to the hardware of the country,  it appeared that software has also been successfully transmuted. From my personal observations, just like the Japanese, the Taiwanese are very warm and polite and retail service is impeccable, although F&B service may vary slightly between urban and rural areas. 5) The Taiwanese are also very big on recycling. There are hardly any rubbish bins on the streets, just like in Japan, and Taiwan is generally a very clean country, except maybe for its night markets.

The gorgeous and mysterious Sun Moon Lake - part of it man-made - thanks to the Japanese.

A brand new high speed rail from Yilan to Hualien. Very Japanese indeed.  But in actual fact, the rail network in Taiwan is not as extensive as Japan's.

The bustling and sparkling Ximending in Taipei at night. Reminded me of Shinjuku.

A close girlfriend, who has been to both Japan and Taiwan, asked me, "So, in view of the similarities will you continue to visit Taiwan over Japan? Since Taiwan is 2 hours closer." Immediately, I replied, "I would still choose to go to Japan any day." My reasons are as follows:

1) I am not a big fan of Taiwanese food, even the famous street market food holds limited appeal to me. In fact my stomach rebelled against the local tour food during this trip. Not a pleasant experience for sure. Give me my sashimi and tempura!

2) As a tropical dweller, I have had enough of heat and humidity. Mild weather does NOTHING for me. I was very disappointed to find that the supposed "winter" in Taiwan meant temperatures of 20 - 28 degree Celsius when I was there. Seriously, give me the snow and the blizzards!

3) Since I am also Chinese, there isn't that a sense of "newness" when I visited sights like temples and night markets. Nothing I haven't seen in Singapore. At least the shrines in Japan are different (although one can get "shrined out" after visiting too many of them.)

4) Some cheap shopping available (but you have got to look VERY HARD to get good bargains). Fashion capital of the world (or at least Asia) is still Japan, no competition. A zillion times better shopping. If you have no money, Japan also offers a more interesting WINDOW shopping experience.

I had fun in Taiwan, but I will definitely be going back to Japan this year!!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fat Geisha Is One Year Younger Today.

I don't need botox - not yet. Once you hit 30, things do not naturally go downhill - truly! *Cross my heart.* Unless one has a really terrible lifestyle or suddenly decides not to upkeep oneself, we don't age quite that visibly. Of course, in another 10 years or longer (I hope), one day I may just wake up and start screaming when I look into the mirror. Now, I look the same, more or less. With careful make up, I can pass off as someone 10 years younger, or so a stranger told me recently that I looked 24!!! I was so delirious with joy for the entire day, let me tell you.

Emotionally, mentally, I still feel unbelievably young. Experience makes you wiser, but doesn't necessarily make you old. Yes, energy levels may have dropped since my spring chicken days, but I was never very energetic when I was younger so I don't feel the difference that I cannot pull all-nighters now. Regardless of age, I have always valued my sleep. When it's required, I can look at things with a cynical eye like an old bitch, but I am still able to feel the wonder of experiencing new things like a kid being given a sweet. Oh joy and more joy! I know, the day I lose my exuberance is the day I am truly old.

However, I don't really look forward to birthdays anymore because the actual numbers are NOT flattering. Yes, I may look 24, behave like 28, yet my identify card will tell you point blank that I am 3....X (secret!). And those under 20 will stare at you like you have grown horns on your head - "OMG you are soooooo freaking old."

Anyways, happy birthday to myself.

A birthday card from my 7-year old niece. Most touching!