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…

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!

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)

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.

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!).

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。

Pray and wishes

What do you pray for? What do you wish for?

In these few weeks, I have visited various places surrounding natures, particularly shrines and temples in the prefecture where I stay. As one of the places where Buddhism got widespread in Japan, I naturally got attracted to its history, places of worship, and the architecture.

I am not a religious person, but showing respect to a religious place is an absolute minimum that I do. Following the locals’ way of showing respect, I bowed in front of the statue (of both shrines’ and temples’), and offered prayers.

Many kinds of things ran through my mind in that brief period of time of praying. The things that I wished for were mainly peace among world and society, family and friends, and the ones that I cherished. Albeit sounded cheesy, with the current situation happening worldwide, I hoped my wishes could at least ease some of the pain certain people is facing right now.

If you were in front of a shrine, temple, or a religious place of your choice, what would you wish for? How would you realize it?

Some of my friends are atheist, and hence do not conform to the idea of religion. However, we shared the same idea of “wishes” — thoughts that something can happen. Removing the aspect of religion, isn’t that pray synonymous with wish?

Behind these abstract concepts lie a core idea – a desire that something be realized. One of my wishes is to fix a broken rope. This rope might already been broken, yet it only takes two hands to fix it. One hand offered the rope, but it is up to the other hand to accept the offered rope, and combined two hands to fix the broken rope — to become, once again, a normal rope.

I recalled a conversation between two siblings at a shrine where the older sibling scolded the younger sibling for throwing a coin with a low denomination of the Japanese yen into the box. “Why are you so stingy [for throwing a low denomination coin]? Aren’t you afraid that the god [of the shrine] gets mad at you!?” Unless the higher entity is a materialistic one (which I highly doubt), I believe that what one offered in heart matters the most.

So, now, what do you wish for? What do you pray for?

Japanese-influenced Chinese

When I met my girlfriend a while ago, she noted that my Chinese had been steadily deteriorating. On top of that, she also mentioned that the vocabulary I used was influenced by Japanese’s kanji. Baffled by this, I recollected the words that I used when I attempted to communicate with the locals (and her).

The use of wasei-kango (Japanese-made Chinese characters) in Taiwan is prominent in some ways, as Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan is influenced by Japanese in some way.

I have only been in Taiwan (specifically Taipei) for a short period of time, however I have observed the use and influence of Japanese’s kanji in the daily use of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. Take some of the examples below:

Trad. ChineseMeaning
歐吉桑uncle (Japanese: ojiisan)
歐巴桑auntie (Japanese: obaasan)
通勤commute (Japanese: tsuukin)

Learners of Chinese and/or had knowledge of Japanese might notice that the Chinese words are identical to its Japanese counterpart (except for uncle and auntie).

Not only that, some place names in Taiwan had also pronunciation in Japanese! (Taiwan was ruled by Japan previously.)

Place Name Chinese Japanese
板橋 Banqiao*1 Itabashi
高雄 Kaohsiung Takao*2

*1 A district located in New Taipei City

*2 I was made known of this pronunciation by my girlfriend’s great teacher, Mr. Young (楊), in his history class.

On top of it, certain stations in the Taipei MRT have their own Japanese pronunciation too, presumably to make the Japanese tourists feel comfortable, in my opinion. Oh, I love too much about these aspects.

With regards to the observation made by her, I also noticed the steady decline of proficiency in Chinese myself. It’s time to polish it for the upcoming Taipei trip!

Moment of hesitation

When I was walking down a road while contemplating where to go next yesterday on a trip, I stumbled upon an older brother and his younger brother who were running from an alley towards my direction.

“C’mon, run faster!” The older brother shouted towards his younger brother as the younger brother struggled to catch up while not losing his balance. While holding tightly onto his bag, he rushed along the alley, presumably not wanting to miss the coming train.

Two cars, with a white one leading the way, were driving at a normal speed (the said area was near to the train station and a primary school). With no zebra crossing in sight, the older brother dashed through the street towards the train station’s direction. As a bystander and I stopped a while, the younger brother attempted to dash through the street without checking the road.

I thought to grab the kid’s hand, or at least jump in front of him to avoid any accidents from happening. However, the car leading the way managed to sound the horn at the younger brother, which caught his attention. He later then safely crossed the road.

One’s hesitation can definitely change other one’s fate… and life. Ashamed and regretful, I left the spot with various kinds of thoughts in mind. “What if the younger brother did suffered from injuries as a result from my hesitation?”

Bearing that thought in mind, I continued my journey… with efforts to remove the hesitation should an emergency situation arose.

Parallel Tokyo: a devastated metropolitan

I grew up watching disaster movies, like The Day After Tomorrow and Sinking of Japan. Watching Sinking of Japan, I wondered how life is like in a disaster prone country like Japan. Having being living in it for quite some time, I feel that no one can always be adequately prepared should a disaster strikes, like the recently happened Typhoon Hagibis (commonly known in Japan as Typhoon No. 19).

NHK General TV is currently showing a drama series depicting a devastated Tokyo after a huge earthquake struck the metropolitan. The first episode of the series showed hours after the earthquake hit metropolitan at a few minutes after 4 p.m. at December 2, a fictitious television station and its reporters trying their best to report what was going on in Tokyo.

I was lucky to reach home early to watch the premiere episode at 7:30 pm. My first impression was its realistic depiction of a television station should a disaster happened. It instantly reminded me of Sinking of Japan.

A tweet promoting the drama series.

Titled “Parallel Tokyo”, this series depicted a disaster stricken Tokyo where it suffered a large magnitude of earthquake that rivaled 2011’s Great East Japan earthquake and its coming aftermath.

Trailer for the drama series “Parallel Tokyo” showed in the morning show Asaichi.

There is a 70 percent chance that a major earthquake will hit densely populated central Tokyo in the next 30 years. Millions of lives could be affected by collapsed buildings, power outages and other major damage.  … Official estimates show that about 23,000 people could be killed, and nearly 2 million homes destroyed, if a magnitude 7.3 earthquake strikes central Tokyo.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/614/

Echoed by the statement above, various Japanese agencies are doubling their efforts to prepare for the disaster, including conducting drills, educating the public and raising awareness in general. 30 years might sound like a long time, but it might happen at anytime. For the Japanese, they may have no where to escape should a disaster with this scale happened. I can’t help but wonder, will the scene where the Japanese people seek refuge at other countries in the movie Sinking of Japan happen in the event a large scale disaster occurred? I sincerely hope not.

The drama series “Parallel Tokyo” premiered today at 7:30 pm and shows a new episode everyday throughout the week at 10:00 pm until Thursday (December 5). After episode 1 finished broadcasting, the announcer made remarks that I strongly agreed upon:

We’ve decided to broadcast this drama during this hour (7:30 pm time frame). Many people will find shocking scenes in this drama, including children who might be scared while seeing these scenes. Shocking as it may be, we felt that it is better to expose these now, and to facilitate in creating an atmosphere where family members can begin discussing how to take cautionary measures and making preparations in the event this disaster strikes.

If you are in Japan, and are interested in things related to disaster and disaster mitigation, I recommend this drama and its related documentary, scheduled to be broadcast in this Saturday (December 7). Be sure to turn on your television’s closed captions (CC) for the subtitles.