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Exploring Mt. Takao

A Keio train prepping for departure from Shinjuku station heading to Takaosanguchi (Mt. Takao)

A thought crossed my mind ever since the last mountain hiking and the monolog while transiting station, and it naturally was the idea of hiking Mt. Takao. Located in Hachioji City in Tokyo, neighboring Kanagawa prefecture, Mt. Takao is a perfect getaway spot from the metropolis’ hustle and bustle.

Woke up early in the morning and equipped with a light backpack, I headed to the train station with a hint of drizzle. Due to the plum rain season officially hitting the Kanto region (spanning Tokyo and Chiba prefecture), a quick check of the weather condition in both my area and Hachioji City showed that drizzle and rain showers were forecasted in the morning.

A paragraph written in a Japanese site dedicated to mountain hiking catering to novice and the alike encouraged hiking in the drizzle,

Even if it’s going to rain lightly, (please do) continue ahead in your hiking journey! It will serve as a learning journey and can allow you to gain experience on how it’s like hiking in the rain.

Armed with the tips given and a proper suit, I began the hiking journey near to 8 am, similar to the previous mountain hiking, from the station entrance.

Takaosanguchi Station entrance

The hiking experience was a pleasant one — visitors can choose from the several routes provided. I opted trail no. 6, which is one of the hiking route in the nature. It was a 3.3km route to the top of Mt. Takao, which is 599m tall.

The entrance of Mt. Takao’s hiking trail no. 6.

Compared to the previous hiking, Mt. Takao was lower and a shorter route, but this was a satisfying experience for a half-day trip. I took a shorter time to reach the top and bottom compared to the published estimated time taken, enabling me to complete the whole hike with time to spare before heading back home.

Part of the hiking path at trail no. 6 of Mount Takao covered in fog.
Due to drizzle and a low temperature (24 C), fogs covered the hiking path.
A selfie with the post indicating the top of Mount Takao.
Reached the top by 9:30 a.m, but due to the fog, views cannot be seen properly.

Before heading back to Takaosanguchi station to head home, I stopped by a shop selling local Japanese desserts (below, both costed a total of 290yen), yummy. The soba dango’s syrup (?) was thick and slightly salty, yet delicious. Best to enjoy with a hot beverage.

Soba dango and sake manju sold at a local Japanese dessert shop.

For the normal tourists who came here without the intention of hiking, trail no. 1 or the cable car would be a suitable route to enjoy the mountain. I shared this information with a friend, who said he can’t wait for the COVID-19 travel restriction be lifted and enjoy this mountain! Mt. Takao is beautiful at various seasons, including autumn. Perhaps the autumn foliage is a sight not to be missed.

I shall visit again someday, seeing you in a different sight.

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Priority in place: travel

While travelling, money spending is an important aspect not to be overlooked, lest the money being prematurely spent. Hence, careful planning is always recommended. A worksheet with formulas in place, a text file with your favorite calculator app, or the analog way – writing down on paper, all these methods work.

Most of my friends opted the conservative way of travel in terms of budgeting, as many of them saved as much as possible whenever possible. One method was to travel via a low cost carrier to Japan, the other one was to take the bus to travel to a destination instead of the shinkansen bullet train or a domestic flight whenever possible. A friend of mine told me that she don’t mind eating foods from the convenience store, a view I largely shared with.

While travelling to Taiwan, I went for the same route, with the exception when the local eatery is cheap or unique enough to spend some bucks to try it out.

I heard from another friend of mine that he spent the night in the Tokyo airport before departing to Mount Fuji the next day(!).

A similar case happened to me when I chose to sleep on a bench in Kai Tak Airport (Hong Kong International Airport) midnight while waiting for my flight back to Penang in the early morning in 2018. Sleeping on a bench was not the most pleasant experience: I had to be on alert with potential pickpockets and not falling down from the bench. With the 5am alarm set on my phone, I fell into a short yet deep sleep as the faint sound of cleaning workers cleaning the area echoed throughout the building.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, it is not easy to go around without taking precautionary steps. Yet, this does not hinder one to enjoy the most while travelling domestically. A friend recently shared her plans to travel outside the Tokyo metropolitan area to a few cities which spanned multiple prefectures. Her plans, in my opinion, sounded splendid indeed. The plan alone really made me excited to travel into further areas again.

Wrapping up in the thoughts of travelling, budget and time seem to be manoeuvring the entire plan. Achieving the optimum balance usually brings the most joy, excitement and satisfaction in the entire trip. With plum rain season officially hits Japan, and the summer vacation quietly approaching, I think it’s time to draw up a plan to hit the road.

Where shall I/we go next…

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Climbed to the top: Mt. Tanzawa

Last Saturday, my friend and I, on a somewhat spontaneous agreement, decided to climb Mt. Tanzawa to its top (elevation of 1567m), located outside Tokyo metropolitan in Kanagawa prefecture. As it was located far away from my place, I woke up early and took the first train headed to Tokyo.

I transferred at JR Ochanomizu station to head to JR Shinjuku to meet up with my friend, and took the express train on the Odakyu line to Shibusawa station. The jingle for this station is an excerpt of a famous 90s Japanese pop music – Makenaide by ZARD (see below). Just listening to it made me happy, probably because I knew this song. I think anyone who knew this song would be somewhat happy.

I last climbed a proper mountain 2 years ago — Mt. Fuji with another friend in early September. It was the last weekend for 2018 where they opened the public to climb, before closing the tracks until the following year (it was not safe to climb afterwards due to potential snowfall and unsafe tracks).

The mountain that my friend (let’s call her YY) and I climbed is located in somewhat middle of Kanagawa prefecture, neighboring Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. Hiking to the top would take about 4 to 5 hours, and completing the entire journey would last about 8 to 9 hours. We began climbing at some time after 8 a.m. from the Tanzawa Oyama Quasi National Park entrance.

The friend of mine continuing her journey uphill.
Continuing her journey uphill.

YY is an avid mountain hiker/climber, hence she proceeded more smoothly than I was throughout the journey. We reached the top about a quarter to 1 p.m. (probably around 12:50 p.m.) after a few breaks along the journey.

One of the plain paths full with greens as the sunshine warmly covered the area.

However, we couldn’t see any views below the mountain as it was a cloudy day — in fact, we were briefly covered by fogs that rose to the mountain top as we had our lunch (the weather turned cloudy after noon.). Luckily, it didn’t interfere with our mountain descent.

Mountain path turned foggy with YY ahead of me as we continued to the top.

We reached the entrance a quarter to 5 p.m., which was within our schedule. I think we reached earlier than we planned due to the shorter time it took to descend the mountain via the same route we took to ascend the mountain. However, we were worn out after that climb, yet satisfied.

We wrapped up the day with a (somewhat mediocre) dinner (YY seemed to agree with this) at a seafood izakaya near Shibusawa station, and parted our ways back home after arrived at Shinjuku station.

Glass of cold beer that we had at the izakaya. Cold beer after a long day sure is delicious!

I particularly enjoyed the entire journey — able to meet with various hikers with a casual konnichiwa as we passed by, a “ganbatte! You are almost there!” encouraging message from a random hiker as I rested a while to regain composure before reaching the top, shops in ‘checkpoints’ that were unique in each ways (I should’ve captured more photos of shops in each checkpoint!) — these truly shown the unique aspects of mountain hiking, especially with a companion.

A shop selling snacks and drinks at one of the checkpoints.

Equipped with the excitement I had in casual hiking of the mountains, I look forward to conquer another mountain, someday in the future. Perhaps a future target would be Mt. Takao. Maybe another mountain in the Saitama prefecture. Or perhaps, one that is far away from the metropolitan area…

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Monolog: The faraway target

While changing a line from JR Sobu to JR Chuo to head to Shinjuku, I looked up at the platform indicator. To Takao, it indicated. As I was heading to Shinjuku to meet up with a friend before proceeding to head to our destination, I had a feeling that I should head to that place instead.

Going to Takao is on one of my to-do list, among other to-do lists. Famous for one of the hiking spots in Tokyo, its iconic Mt. Takao has a lot of faces according to different seasons. As it is summer currently, the lush greens decorate the visitor center and its surrounding buildings, forming a view direly needed for someone to temporarily escape from the concrete jungle.

Embed from Getty Images

Going to Mt. Takao is as easy as hopping on the upcoming train which heads to Takao and simply hop off there, however, this day was not the schedule for Mt. Takao. Perhaps someday.

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Road ~Taiwan Express~

Road ~Taiwan Express~ (路~台湾エキスプレス~/路~台灣EXPRESS~) is a drama produced with collaboration with two countries’ public broadcaster – Japan’s NHK and Taiwan’s PTS, themed around Taiwan’s High Speed Rail (HSR), and its accompanying love story between a Taiwanese and a Japanese. (A comprehensive information can be found at J Drama.)

This mini-drama, which lasts for 3 episodes, is broadcasted until the end of this month. Apart from watching the story regarding the birth of Taiwan’s HSR, its love and human drama that transcends national border, it also showed the awesome sceneries of Japan and Taiwan, especially the HSR.

The Taoyuan HSR station board. (2019/12/27)

Due to COVID-19, plans for Taiwan for this year had to be postponed. However, that doesn’t hinder the feelings and urge to travel to there! I have fond memories riding on the HSR to travel north-south in the island. Definitely comparable to that of Japan’s shinkansen bullet train.

Cannot wait for the last episode scheduled to be broadcasted this Saturday. Of course, I cannot wait to go to Taiwan again!

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Dreaming of the person in the distant past

Lately I had dream of a particular person in the distant past. It occurred in a regular fashion, yet my recollections were hazy at best. It was like a failed attempt to chain the series of dreams I have been experiencing lately.

A quick search on the Internet revealed to me of this person’s existence. However, a clear conscious told me that the connection of the chain (or anything that had to do with it) must only be attempted somewhere rather than this reality.

Due to work, I had lesser dreams, less much about this particular individual. Maybe the chain has begun to disintegrate, or maybe it had began to decouple over time… by itself. Nevertheless, its physical effects (much of it still was pain) still have a remarkable effect on me, even today. Even now.

May you live happily, where ever you are, especially under current circumstances.

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Working from home

It has been a month since I began working from home.

Work. At home.

Rewind to mid April 2020. It was a week before the Golden Week holidays. I was finally given a work laptop by the company to allow myself to work at home.

Boy, was I excited. To be able to wake up slightly late than usual, dressing freely yet getting work done and do not need to go out? That was really a sweet deal. Unlike Malaysia where mandatory lockdown (known as movement control order, MCO) was in effect and everyone was forced to work from home (where necessary), Japan did not enforce a lockdown.

Japan’s own version of MCO was “state of emergency”, where people were advised not to go out if not necessary. Business nationwide were somewhat forced to close or to change ways to conduct their business — off the premises. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to work from home. Despite that, I needed to go back to the office at least once a week to ensure my desktop was in proper order, etc.

A new normal

Back to present day, May 21, 2020.

Except Hokkaido, Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures, people are allowed to go out and businesses are allowed to resume operations (gradually). People are still advised not to move across prefectures, let alone going overseas.

A new lifestyle, a new “normal” has begun taking place.

Whenever I go out, wearing a mask has become a must. The sensitivity of the whole COVID-19 situation has not subsided, despite the decreasing numbers of confirmed cases and deaths nationwide.

I have been busy working on work, and catching up with the project deadline — at home. It was fun – not having to go to work and able to continue work with the comfort at home. Truly blessed.

My development laptop was really a modest one — an Intel Celeron processor (really?) equipped with a SSD (thank goodness), as well as a standard 8GB of RAM. For the past month, it ran well, despite a few hiccups. It’s probably like that because of my main IDE — Visual Studio 2010 SP1. Imagine if this PC ran the latest version of Visual Studio 2019. Phew.

The real work

Last week, I went back to my company to update my PC. Since it ran on a HDD, it took a while to complete the entire update, as well as a couple of virus scans. In between, I began typing away on my work laptop.

The office was very quiet. Apart from managers, most staffs were at home. The “Work at Home from <start date> to <end date>” note filled the entire attendance board for almost every department (including mine). Except for staffs at essential departments (where they have to make sure the company infrastructure stays smooth and alive), the overhead light at most of the desks were turned off.

Quietly, I turned on my PC and began working away, with minor chatter and ambient noises accompanied me throughout the day. My senior manager, who happened to came to work that day, asked if I was OK with my work (all my colleagues were working at home). Smiling with my face masks on, I answered with a “OK, no problem”.

The atmosphere at home, workplace filled with people, and workplace where people were scarce were totally different. It was as if I came in in the weekends. However, with the COVID-19 situation, I imagine that this atmosphere will last for sometime, until it gradually recovers to its former state.

Weekday office with a weekend atmosphere. We do live in strange moments now. I wish I can continue work from home for the many months to come until COVID-19 subsides to a level where travels are acceptable, and mandatory quarantines are no longer necessary. Maybe next year.

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Short haircut and frozen hair

Last Saturday, I visited the barber nearby my house to get a haircut. A lady helped me settled my haircut as I briefly told her that I would like my hair to be cut short. This was done as she had cleaned the seat that was used by the previous customer.

The hair cutting session between the lady and I went smooth and silent. A guy who sat next to me, while getting his hair cut, engaged in a small conversation with his barber about the problems that COVID-19 caused. I shut my eyes while listening to the conversation they had while getting my hair cut.

After the haircut was done, I briefly chat with the lady barber about the upcoming weather (it was forecasted that it will snow and rain heavily the next day). She told me that it’s gonna be cold, and I promptly agreed. As she said while adjusting her face mask,

“Luckily you had your hair cut short, otherwise the hair might get frozen tomorrow! Hahaha.”

That was definitely a good one, until I chuckled at it.

As I went to the counter and paid for the brief session, she said, “I see that you had came here last month.” (note: she was the same barber who cut my hair last month), while checking my previous visit. Shortly afterwards, she stamped at my member card, making me eligible for a discount forthe session.

As she handed back my member card, she bowed to me and said, “Hope to see you again next time!”.

I will definitely see you again, next month.

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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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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.