Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Book Review: All The Money In The World by Laura Vanderkam

Most people I know have some form of problem with money. If you're a student, you probably don't have enough of it. This book doesn't sound like there's much of a link to Japan, but read on and I'll try to explain my thoughts.

The book isn't meant to be a directional book, in fact, the author says that the book is meant to be taken as a series of essays, rather than a "do this and your life will be easier" book. And in this book, I found one line that I had to share.

"More important, though, by figuring out what matters to you, you can start to figure out ways you might be able to use money in a satisfying fashion."

You see, being a poor struggling student in Japan (it's a category that almost all my friends in JLC fall under), money problems are a really big issue. I'm lucky because so far, I haven't run out of money by the end of the month, but I defintely feel stress over the need to manage my monthly expenses and save money. Right now, what I'm doing is that I bought a little expense book to record all my expenses.

One interesting thing part of this excercise is that I realised that my book buying habits were not as bad as I had imagined. It's fairly constant, and doesn't reach 10% of my monthly spending (it's more like 6%). While this doesn't give me the liscense to start buying books everytime I step into a bookstore, it does mean I can feel less guilty whenever I buy a book.

In addition, I realised that if I have to cut down on expenses, the easiest and completely non-painful way is to resist buying clothes. My clothing expenses are the most variable part of my budget (the lowest is 0% because I was on a no-clothing diet and the highest is close to 20%) and you know what? I don't get as much utility/happiness out of clothes than I do from books. What this suggests is that if I buy less clothes, I can buy more books and overall, feel happier.

Like the book says:
"Money spend on one thing is money not spent on something else, and these choices have consequences for our happiness and the happiness of those we vow to love."

The book is divided roughly into three parts (There's a fourth, but it's more like an epilogue): Getting, Spending and Sharing. In the three parts and nine chapters, the book explores a variety of topics that made me think about how I'm using my monthly allowance in a new way. I can't try to earn more (school regulations for the year), but I can change the way I spend money and how I feel after I spend it. And that, I think, is a good start.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Really Lousy Firework Pictures

I was going to post a book review, but right now, I can hear fireworks from outside my window. (If I'm right, it's gonna last for an hour). Coming from Singapore, where you get fireworks only on special occasions, one of the perks of staying in Japan during Summer are all the 花火大会(hanabi taikai - literally firework competition).

It's not a remedy for homesickness, but it helps.

These are the really lousy pictures I took.

Does anyone have any suggestions/links to tutorials on how to take pictures of fireworks? I can't do much about my lens, but I'd like to know about the shutter speed, ISO and stuff. ^_^

よろしくお願いします(yoroshiku onegaishimasu)!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Babylon Online Dictionary

As part of my efforts of prepare for the Spring Term Final Exams, I made a whole set of notes for my 初級日本語(shokyuu nihongo - beginner's Japanese) textbook. And because I lose absolutely nothing by doing so, I decided to send it to all my friends who wanted a copy (if you want a copy, please leave a comment with your email/email me).

In a surprisingly coincidence, I was approached by Babylon dictionaries to see if I wanted to place a Japanese/English dictionary on this blog. So of course, I said yes.

Before I say anything else, here's a disclaimer: I'm not making any money off this, and as far as I know, there are no adverts in this app.

Ok, so let me introduce Babylon. In their own words,

"Babylon was one of the first companies to offer online dictionaries - it is best known for its dictionary software in which the user can receive dictionary results by simply clicking on a word, and a pop-up window appears with the translation. We also work with all main language dictionaries like Webster, Oxford, Larrousse, etc. (also major Japanese dictionary editors)."

Here is their website and there, you can do a full text translation, which sounds really cool (and like something I'll need for the following semester when I have to read and write essays :p).

So without further ado, 楽しんでください(tanoshinde kudasai - please have fun)

Online Translator

Enter a term and click on "Translate"

Translation Software For a free full text online translator Babylon offers translation in over 25 languages.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Book Review: The Japanese Have a Word for It by Boye Lafayette De Mente

This is one of the books that I borrowed from the TUFS library. It's subtitled "The Complete Guide to Japanese Thought and Culture" and I thought, hey, if I can build up my vocab and learn something about Japanese culture, then I should borrow this book.
The book is structured into 230 short chapters (each chapter is one or two pages long). Each chapter will introduce a Japanese word, it's pronunciation, a 'chapter title' and then explain one aspect of Japanese culture. But, the book does focus quite a lot on understanding Japanese business culture rather than Japanese culture (as a whole).

Well, the good thing about the book was that it was easy to read and quite interesting. There are a lot of history references (although there's no footnote or bibliography) and the author's personal experience is used as an example many times (you can decide if that's a good or bad thing). While there were a few things I disagreed with (some relating to Christian theology, and some contradicting my own experience), I thought it was a pretty informative book on the whole.

Be warned though, the 'chapter titles' are not translations of the Japanese words. They are his interpretation of this aspect of Japanese culture. To be fair, he does define the word within the mini-essay, but on first glance, you might think that the quoted words in bold below the Japanese words are translations.

I'm well aware that right now, my experience is atypical, because all the students at TUFS are learning a foreign language and therefore are more open to other cultures. I've heard from some seniors about comments like "why isn't your Japanese better" and "there's no need to know English in Japan" which is really different from what I'm used to. So while I've never encountered most of the stuff he talks about, it could be a lack of experience on my part rather than him being inaccurate. But to me, everyone is going to experience a different Japan, because of the difference in time and place.
Organisation wise... there isn't much of it. There are a few recurring themes in the book, but they're scattered here and there and there aren't clear sections about say "business culture", "attitudes towards foreigners" and the like. I would have really appreciated something like that though. There is a "guide to key cultural terms" at the very front of the book, but using it (say you wanna explore Japanese communication) means that you'd have to keep flipping the pages instead of reading one section.

In short, an interesting book, although I don't think anything can replace the experience of being in Japan. It also seems to portray a fairly negative view of the Japanese at times (especially when it comes to their penchant for group work and consensus-based decision making).

Watch out for my next post! It's about an app from Babylon that I'm going to try installing into this blog :D

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Edo-Tokyo Museum

I made a fairly last minute decision to see the Edo-Tokyo Museum on Saturday with Rena and Audrey (just going with those two promise a fun trip no matter what). It was excellent and I really wanna go back again (I didn't have enough time to see everything....).
The Museum. It's huge.
We spent about 6 hours there, looking through a special exhibit (about the Nihonbashi, sorry, no photos were allowed) as well as the permanent exhibits, which had:

An actual sized replica of Nihonbashi (Edo version)!

But to backtrack a little, first, we arrived around lunchtime and decided to splurge at a fancy restaurant (but all the places here were fancy anyway):

Since it's summer (and so hot!), I had cold soba:

It was delicious and cooled me down! If you can't appreciate cold soba, just come to Japan in the summer :D Rena and Audrey had the Oyako-don:

I don't think I can stress how delicious the dishes were!

The museum itself was really fun. There were lots of places where flash photography was allowed (in the permanent exhibits that is), and lots of things for you to experience (Apart from the experience corner), like this:

And this:

But my favourite part was the section on the Book Industry in Edo period Tokyo.

If you get the chance, you have to come here! (I'm planning to bring my family here when they come :D )

Friday, 13 July 2012

Summer Holidays!

This is the first time I have a summer holiday! (Singapore doesn't have four seasons :/). The weather right now is (mushi-atsui - hot and humid) to the Japanese and some scholars, but for those of us from South East Asia, it's perfect weather, hot but not humid.

We were given our results yesterday (I'm really amazed at the Japanese efficiency, considering that my last paper was the day before) and while I suspect I'm scoring below average, my grades are still decent. Plus, I improved for Kanji and Grammar, for which I'm already over the moon (not a single Intransitive/Transitive verb mistake!)

So, summer plans. Well, in the immediate timeframe, I have very boring plans. For one thing, I want to finish all my homework. And well, I'm doing a massive cleaning of my room (I've scrubbed my toilet and floor today, so all I have left to do is organise my shelves. Gulp.) - but that's because my Japanese okaasan is coming to visit on Modnay.

But, if I look further to the end of July and beyond, I'm going to:

Go to Hokkaido with Audrey (I'm way excited for this trip and I'll take lots of photos and tell you guys as much as possible!)

I'm really excited that I get to take a Night Train there!
It's a bit more expensive than taking a plane there and back
(ironically), but this is an experience I want(:

Go for Church Camp! Calvary Chapel has a youth camp and I'm really excited to meet more Christian teens~

Go for Kendo Camp! I don't know if I can take 5 days (or was it a week?) of intensive training, but it's in Nagano and it sounds fun! Plus, I really want to improve my kendo.

Finish the History of Children's Literature course from iTunes U. I actually like this topic, but I haven't had the time to listen to the lectures during the school term.... :/
Sadly, most people (like Yee Ann Kor Kor) are starting school soon, and the rest are having school. But if you guys have time, come and visit me! (Provided that mom's back is better, of course).

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

ASEAN Festival 2012

Exams are finally over! But I noticed this disturbing trend. The day before the (most important) exam, I'm invariable doing something else. For mid-terms, I was organising Rena's surprise party. For end-of-terms, I was helping out at the ASEAN festival from 11am-6pm. I don't regret going though, it was really fun (and delicious).

Let me make it clear, this was what motivated me to go:

Claypot Rice

Chicken Rice
While I may have gone for the food, I had so much fun because of the people I met. Apart from getting to know the other Singaporeans better (I'm terrible at attending events that have a lot of people), I met my Dua Yi Dun (My mom's oldest sister's husband), who was in Tokyo over the weekend.

Oh, about the food: I have such talented senpai's! Apart from the laksa (which was sponsored by Prima), they cooked both the Chicken Rice and the Claypot Rice themselves. And it was delicious.

So basically, I spent the whole day trying to get people to buy our food. In the SIA uniform no less (either SIA or STB should just hire us to promote them). I was actually so lazy that rather than figure out how to pack the uniform in my bag without crumpling it, I decided to wear it to Church and then to Roppongi (where the festival was held).

And being typical Singaporeans, we left a lot of things to the last minute. Like when the food arrived and such, If I remember correctly, while we were setting up our booth, almost every other country was done (and they did it very professionally, with lots of food and other souvenirs and such). But, it's the quality that counts and I think our food didn't lose.

There were other events and performances (I was singing along to Home by Kit Chan when the senpai's performed it ^^), one of them being the "Fashion Show." Epic-ly enough, we not only didn't rehearse at all, not all of us had our costumes when we were supposed to go on stage. Thankfully, we improvised a costume and the entire routine. I suppose this is the true "super-power" of Singaporeans.

That is me (on the left) and Emily (on the right), who, judging by her SIA uniform is my superior ;) I'm really terrible at all this catwalk stuff, I was so awkward!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

期末試験 (End of Term Exams) - Spring Term Edition

There are a few more days (like 2 or 3) before 期末試験 (kimatsu shiken - end of term exams). There are more subjects than for mid-terms (I have math and Politics and Economics as well. As well as a speech. And essay writing. ... ... OTL) I still don't think I'll be ready by Friday though. Sigh, I'll just try my best.

And sleep more.

I heard that sleep is very important to grades :D

And I suppose that it should help that kendo has finished for the term (there was a really cool party that I will blog about if I can get pictures). But back to topic, kendo is finished for the term because the whole university has End of Term exams at the same time. So it feels like I suddenly have a lot more time to study (but I miss practice. It actually helps me focus).

But well, I found this drink stand at school yesterday - they were giving out 100ml bottles.

Considering that the weather was quite warm yesterday (think Singapore but without the hummidity), the really cold drink (in a cold glass bottle) was quite refreshing. It tasted a bit like Red Bull, but I don't think it was an energy drink because I wasn't noticably more hyper than normal.

And today, Yamada-Sensei gave us a 頑張って(ganbatte) present:

美味しそう(Oishisou - looks delicious)! 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

I think you'd have seen pictures of my blender by now. So today, I want to dedicate a post to my precious 100yen blender.

Honestly, if I didn't pick this up at the school sale, I wouldn't have bought a blender. It seemed (at first), like such a luxury. How often would you need to use a blender?

Well, a lot apparently. Apart from things like blending bread to make breadcrumbs (thus making burgers), I use it for two things:

Ice-cream/Milk/Liquid shakes:

Strawberry-Orange Juice Shake.
Cherry and Vanilla ice-cream (I bought some cherries
on offer, then forgot to eat them. But it tastes good like
this too!)

and so far, Banana Ice-cream:

Do you know, if you blend frozen bananas, you get an ice-cream like mixture? (But re-freeze it again first). And since banana's are one of the cheapest fruits I can find here, this is another way to eat more bananas (and it's a really pleasant, way, I haven't gotten sick of it yet. And when I feel like adding more junk food, I can just blend frozen banana with Nutella and ice-cream:

Or add things like mint chocolate inside (whether you like this depends on whether you like eating banana and mint chocolate together). I don't have a picture of that, but it was really delicious ^^

Half the year has gone by already! And these past two months have really flown by. O.O Where did the time go?