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English

Good job!

Student: Bakku-gurowndo?

Teacher: Oh, you mean, background. Good!

I was using my laptop in a local coffee shop recently when I heard an audible conversation that naturally caught my attention. It was an English speaking practice session between, presumably, an English teacher with her student. I found it unusual as it took place at a public area, however it wasn’t loud until it could interfere the others. Or maybe it is because I sat a few tables away from them.

The English teacher went on explaining what “cover of a book” meant as the student continuously explaining something about a book — presumably explaining about a book that he recently read, or a story that he stumbled upon recently.

As the conversation progressed, the teacher switched back to Japanese to explain further about the topic that the student was learning. This evoked the times of intensive speech training that I underwent many years ago.

Without a clear guidance, it seemed that I was in a collision course. Indeed, when I first arrived, I stumbled upon walls and dead ends before I finally steered away from them. Learning something new is not easy; when a guru guides you, you will sure can avoid stumbling upon the said course.

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English

COVID-19: When it all began

It was December 31, 2019.

I was in Taipei, resting in my room while watching the television. The news was reporting about some unknown pneumonia cases found in patients. These cases occurred at Wuhan, China. The fact that these cases were characterized as “unknown” made me alert and unease as I was outside Japan.

When the new year of 2020 began, I saw news where people who came to Taiwan who had departed from Wuhan must undergo screening if they have high fever. One of the main entry ports of Taiwan, Taoyuan International Airport, had implemented inspection and quarantine measures to ensure the situation do not escalate out of control.

A few days before I went back to Japan as the year-end holiday was about to end, I read news of a Chinese individual who had came back from Wuhan contracted fever and eventually got hospitalized. It made me wonder about the future of travel Japan and Taiwan, especially during long holidays, such as the Golden Week.

The entirety of January was full of news regarding the Wuhan pneumonia (precursor of COVID-19). The number of confirmed infected patients increased sharply, as well as the number of deaths as a result of the disease. Days before I departed back home for Chinese New Year, I saw news about the disease began spreading in Asia.

The day before Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The night when I departed back home from Chiba’s Narita International Airport, I saw news where people (especially Chinese citizens who were heading back home) hoarded face masks, sanitizers, and other items in huge bulks (think boxes) at various places in Japan, including pharmacies. This action caught me off guard as I didn’t fully realized the scale of the disease and its impact. Even the pharmacies in Narita International Airport had its masks all sold out.

Before I hopped the limited express train bound for Narita Airport, I bought a pack of face masks (and paid attention to buying those which had ability to repel bacterias and viruses) and took the initiative to wore it the entire journey.

How I wish I had bought more of those face masks beforehand. They were all sold out shortly.

Days before going back

Before I went back to Japan, I managed to secure several packs of face masks by purchasing each for RM8. Expensive, but desperate times along with extraordinary demands led to this outcome. Not willingly to take the risk, I bought several packs, just to be sure.

When my father and I visited the nearby pharmacies to buy some 3-ply face masks (or possible, N95 masks), we were met with disappointment when they told us the masks were all sold out.

Fast forward: March 2020

Face masks, hand sanitizers and the such are still largely absent in pharmaceutical stores. Waiting them to be restocked seemed to take forever. Lines were formed outside pharmacies hours before they opened, just to buy masks.

In my company, flexible work policy was implemented to permanent staffs (previously for contract workers, temp staff, and others), allowing them to work from home if necessary. Staffs were encouraged to come to work while avoiding the commuting peak hours.

However, I think that the awareness and actions taken were still not sufficient. The Hokkaido prefecture was its first large-scale victim. If the society do not adapt policies similar to its neighboring countries, I think a huge scale, nationwide infection might occur, especially when Tokyo Olympics 2020 being just around the corner.

I can’t help but wonder when will this pandemic ends. But one thing is for sure — if we do not cooperate to counter this disease, then it will surely be hard to mitigate. All things planned are effectively disrupted.

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English

El Mar Mediterrani – “Fantastica!”

Ryuichi Sakamoto leading as conductor in the finale of 1992 Barcelona Olympics in performing “El Mar Mediterrani”. This is also available as a separate album with the same title.

As the commentator said when the ending of the music approaches, “Fantastica!“.

I can imagine the performance itself being very emotional and epic. Would love to visit a live performance of his someday in Japan!

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English

Japanese immigration

Whenever I go for travel internationally, clearing immigration is one of the most important steps to do. The immigration facilities in Japanese airports are unique for me, due to the modern machines and the sounds they make.

Take the facial recognition based automated gates (below) for passport control, for example. I had been deeply attracted by it when I first saw it while queuing up at another counter that served foreigners who had Japanese residence cards.

Facial recognition based automated gates deployed at Narita International Airport. It takes 10 seconds to complete the entire immigration process!

The facial recognition gates can only be used by Japanese citizens at the moment. Not sure if it can be expanded to be used by foreigners residing in Japan, because if it does, clearing immigration will sure be a breeze, whether one is entering or exiting the country!

When I cleared immigration while coming back to Japan, the device used by the counter that I usually queued at captured my biometrics, including fingerprints and face photo. It, too, made alert and notification sounds along the way (see below).

A biocart (?) machine capturing a foreigner’s biometric info while scanning the passport’s information simultaneously.

Device sounds always kept me fascinated.

As a contrast, Malaysian immigration’s automated gates do not even emit a sound. While I was pleased that the entire process was quick and smooth when I was clearing immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the lack of sound indicator made me appreciate the effort made and done in Japanese equipments.

The immigration clearing process for Malaysian nationals who use the autogate. Highly recommended to use it to avoid the long queue.

I wonder if there are other countries that share the same characteristics with the Japanese. That is another research topic for another day…

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English

Readjusting routine

After coming back from a week of holiday (the year end holiday) at Taiwan, I am struggling to calibrate the lifestyle here in Japan. It seemed that I was getting too cozy there. As I arrived Narita International Airport, the immense cold instantly reminded me of the current winter season. (It was cool in Taipei, resembling the climate when autumn began.)

As I cleared immigration and customs, the reality began to sink in.

Feeling tired, I brought my luggage back home and felt asleep not far from midnight after settling all down to prepare for work the next day. Perhaps it was the fatigue after a long travel, especially the previous day when I went to Chiayi.

Fast forwarding to this weekend, I felt that several weeks had passed when the fact was only a few days had passed. Planning ahead for trips to Taipei again this year, I wished I could visit there again soon.

I had a quick chat with the friend I had met while en route to Taipei, and she complimented that I was quite suitable being in Taipei. In fact, my girlfriend and I had some talks about moving to Taipei so we can meet each other often. I applauded the idea, but both of us knew the reality of such idea.

Today is Coming of Age Day in Japan, as well as a public holiday. Time to adequately recharge for the week…

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English

Long time no see!

How are you, my friend?

At my last day in Taipei, I took the Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) from Taipei to Chiayi to meet a secondary school classmate who I had not met since we graduated (let’s call this person TW). I knew TW only for 2 years when TW transferred from another school to mine during the Form 4 -Form 5 years.

I made a quick decision to meet TW when our schedules were OK for a chit chat session. Getting to Chiayi from Taipei wasn’t near using common transportation methods, so I opted to ride again the HSR, with my girlfriend, to Chiayi (yay!).

Getting to Chiayi

A gotcha while travelling to Chiayi via the HSR was you had to travel to the Chiayi railway station to reach the Chiayi railway station. TW had kindly enough to suggest me to take the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from the HSR Chiayi station to the Chiayi railway station.

However, one can also choose to take a taxi (priced approximately TWD100) to the said railway station as well. If you choose to take the BRT to Chiayi railway station, you can ride it for free by showing your HSR ticket to the driver. The BRT also accepts EasyCard too.

Meeting up

Our meetup was a simple one — chit chatting while enjoying the local delicacy and comfort food: turkey rice. This was one of the highlights in Netflix’s Street Food episode in Chiayi. However, since we had only one afternoon, I didn’t get the chance to explore the tourist attractions and taste other delicacies.

We talked about topics after our secondary school graduation — from advancing studies to knowing new partners, small talks to somewhat serious talks, knowing other friends’ conditions and promises to explore places inside and outside Taiwan.

Scoring gifts

Fortunately, my girlfriend and I managed to score some local gifts (square cookies, said to be unique to Chiayi!) to be brought back home, as well as tasted the TRA bento boxes (packed meal boxes) that we’ve longed to taste ever since our last trip to Kaohsiung.

I bought the pork cutlet bento while she bought the chicken bento.

Next time…

Taiwan HSR’s January 2020 edition of travel magazine featured Chiayi, where it briefly introduced Chiayi as one of the oldest cities founded in Taiwan. It also introduced some tourist attractions and delicacies where tourist can try. Despite its location, I found the surroundings blessed with modernization.

Getting to know a location always makes me excited as there are many things left undiscovered. I can’t wait to go to Chiayi again next time!

It’s nice to see you again, TW. Next time, delicacies are on me, and no more arguing on who’s paying again!

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English

Travel note: Activate debit card overseas

I was in a predicament while travelling in Taipei where I needed to pay a huge sum of money for accommodation due to issues in my Airbnb accommodation. In my trip, I brought cards issued from Japan and Malaysia.

Can your card be used overseas?

This might sound odd, but credit cards surely can be used overseas. No, I’m talking about debit cards. Usually, these cards cannot be easily used overseas unless their overseas use has been authorized beforehand.

Although this highly depends on bank, this feature can be easily turned on/off via the online banking service. Activating it was a breeze – simply logging in to the online banking service, turn on the overseas debit card feature, and confirming the action via a secured way (e.g. entering an authorization code).

Well, I forgot to activate the feature in my Malaysian card. No wonder my debit cards were virtually useless at that point. I was greeted by various apologetic looks from the hotel receptionists as they informed me that the transaction was denied.

Increasing your credit card’s upper limit

My credit card issued in Japan is the only way to settle huge sums of money when needed. A swipe of it proved to be failed as well, as I had used it earlier when I needed to urgently find a stay.

Check the spending upper limit, my instinct told me. Indeed, a quick check using the phone’s app showed that the swipe would made me instantly hit the spending upper limit previously set.

Luckily, the credit card’s online service allowed me to temporarily raise the spending upper limit, so I quickly took advantage of that. Since this was my first credit card, I’m not quite sure of other companies’ feature. I wondered if this feature was standardized worldwide, as the upper limit will be automatically reset to the preconfigured spending upper limit after a certain amount of time lapsed.

Will it require a confirmation code to be sent? Will it require a phone call to verbally verify your request? What happened if the act was done overseas? These questions do need to be researched further.

Takeaways

I noted the followings as reminders for me should I travel overseas again next time. I hope you will benefit from them too!

  • Activate the appropriate debit card’s overseas use feature before you depart from home country. This allows you to use the debit card for payment and withdrawing cash when needed.
  • Allow at least 24 hours to ensure the feature is properly activated and acknowledged by the bank. Check your bank’s information to know more.
  • Secure an amount of emergency funds. You may never know if you need to access them.
  • Know your credit card’s upper limit, and if possible, the amount of money usable by the credit card.
  • Know the ways to instantly (temporarily) increase your credit card’s spending upper limit when needed.
  • If the credit card’s spending upper limit cannot be increased instantly, be sure to increase it and confirm the increased spending upper limit prior to departing from home country.
  • If credit card cannot be used, use a debit card to perform the payments instead. Bullet point #1 applies here.
  • Under dire circumstances, use cash payments to mitigate the issue. Then, find ways to withdraw cash via ATM or other ways (e.g. Western Union)
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English

Travel note: Checking the written address

Where are you?

I was in a predicament where I couldn’t locate my Airbnb place via the standard maps app in my phone. According to the place written in the Airbnb app, it pointed to an alley but no exact building name and number was written on it.

Equipped with the full address noted beforehand, I asked the taxi driver the place and he drove me there. Nowhere was a building that matched the description in the address (because there wasn’t one in the first place). However, a building with multiple floors seemed to match where I was supposed to stay.

Attempts to enter the building failed as the supposed lockbox was not available, and the entrance was locked.

Contacting the host

There were multiple ways to contact the host. Prior to my trip, I had requested a change in accommodation stay length via the app but it wasn’t entertained.

Sending multiple private messages via Airbnb’s feature proved to be unfruitful as the host didn’t respond to any of my messages. At that point, I felt frustrated.

I called the host’s registered Taiwanese number, yet I was greeted with a message that the phone was switched off. The friendly taxi driver voluntarily called the number using his phone, yet, no one had answered the call.

Seeing this situation happening, my heart immediately sank.

The accommodation rate in the capital was very high, especially during the holiday/peak season.

As it was late in the night when I searched the accommodation, I resorted to stay in a nearby hotel. Indeed, the rate was multiple times higher than the planned Airbnb accommodation, yet, this wasn’t unexpected.

For the rest of my stay in Taipei, I stayed at another hotel relatively near to my girlfriend’s university at a reasonable rate.

Requesting for a refund

According to Airbnb, one can request a refund, but depending on the timing when the refund is requested, you could get either a full, partial, or no refund. Cases where the stay period has begun are entitled to no refund usually.

In my case, I was entitled a full refund after I sent a support request via their Resolution Center. In my request, I did send screenshots of the conversations between the host and I, and a detailed explanation of what happened.

Takeaways

Here are some takeaways I had noted for myself. However, I hope some of these can be of a help to you too!

  • Ensure the address provided is available in English and the local language (e.g. Traditional Chinese or Japanese).
  • Make sure the provided address can be pinpointed in a maps app (e.g. Google Maps, Apple Maps).
  • Take note of all contact information of the host beforehand.
  • Take note of the refund information/ways via the platform you used to book the accommodation in case similar cases had happened.
  • Take photos (screenshot) of all interactions with the host. If physical paper is used, be sure to scan/take a photo of it.
  • Do not use platforms other than the one that hosted your accommodation to perform any operation concerning your stay (e.g. sending extra money unofficially to the host, such as a direct bank transfer to the host’s account, sending a private message using other apps, such as Whatsapp to request for room related services).
  • While in doubt, contact the host immediately, and escalate to the platform provider should the host is not responsive.
  • Always prepare an emergency fund in case the accommodation is not available for you, and you need a place to settle down fast.
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English

Happy New Year 2020!

Hello, 2020

It is now the year 2020. Apart from saying goodbye to the 2010s, this year also marked the last year before the end of the decade. I’ve been happily enough to count down with my girlfriend here in Taipei.

Rainy end

It was rainy for the past few days here in Taipei at a relatively cool temperature averaging at 16 C. Currently it is winter in Taiwan, but it does feel like early autumn in Japan. I had the opportunity to ride on the Taiwanese shinkansen, or the High Speed Rail, to Kaohsiung with my girlfriend too.

Alas, not all things went as planned, and one of it deserved its own post. I will write one someday when it is fully resolved.

The New Year eve was a cloudy day and it slightly rained as well. However, it did not deterred the determined ones to gather at hot spots, such as the Taipei 101 and Taipei City Hall to witness the countdown events and the fireworks. One of my friend spent her countdown with her boyfriend in Tainan, southern part of Taiwan. I spent mine with my significant other in Taipei. Truly, it was remarkable, witnessing the change of date and time into the new year.

Comes the sunshine

The weather forecast in my phone’s app showed partial sunshine in these few days. Indeed it is. Perhaps it was due to the winter season, the sunshine in the noon shone over the city like it was in the afternoon. However, the temperature had risen over 20 C, providing warmth to people across the street. As I rode the YouBike rental bicycle and walked through the streets of Taipei, I felt relaxed and warm as I casually breezed through.

My girlfriend and I casually talked and teased about our targets for this year. I said to her, “I wanted to cut down inappropriate talks in daily conversation.”. However, to sum what we’ve said, it was basically continuing the targets set in the previous year(s). Getting fit and reducing weights are our common targets, but with the non-stop new discovery of street foods in Taiwan, that would prove a difficult one to realize…

The year of the Rat

2020 is the year of the Rat, and I was born in the year of the Rat two cycles ago. Coincidentally, I bought a Mouse branded laptop last year.

Appendix: knowing a new friend

On the flight to Taipei via China Airlines, I got to know a fellow Taiwanese who was on her way to the United States, transiting via Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. From our 3-hour conversation, she planned to take a brief break by going back to her home in Taipei before continuing her journey to the US the following day.

I was amazed by this planning. Not only she was able to stroll around Taipei/Taoyuan area in the process, she could also go back to her home, then continue to be on her way to her final destination. I was reminded of the case where I had a half day layover in Hong Kong in November 2018 when I was heading home for my graduation.

This Taiwanese girl is currently working in Tokyo area, and was on her way to the US to join her roommates in exploring the area. She also expressed concern on the upcoming 2020 Taiwanese presidential election, where we discussed in length about the political situation in Taiwan (I was not Taiwanese!). We were thrilled to talk about various issues and memes circulating a certain presidential candidate, yet cautiously talked as we do not want to spark and ignite any flames over differences in political ideas with other passengers.

As we left the plane, we parted for our ways and even exchanged social media accounts. As of current writing, she is having fun in the US. I also learned that Taiwanese do not require a tourist visa while travelling in the US, while Malaysians still require one (so envy of her!).

Categories
日本語

SEVEN SEAS VOYAGE

5年ぶりにこの曲を聴いた。昔に聴くたびに意味がだんだん分かってきたが、歌詞にあるその「実感」が感じられない。

生まれ故郷を離れ、でかい世界へ渡れ。失うものはないぜ。全力でかかれ!

去年の春に日本に到着。今度こそ、遠く場所に行って生活する。単なる遊びではなく、責任をもって生活していく!っていう感じ。週末にはすぐに「観光客」ムードに切り替え、仕事を一時的に忘れ、日本でしか見られない場所をもっと楽しみたい!っていう気持ちが、心の中にあふれている。