The end of summer

Summer is quietly wrapping up in Japan as the weather began plotting course for the autumn season. Yet, the remaining heat that hinted summer still remain. Signs of typhoon and extreme heat still present, albeit not that as glaring a few months ago.

I left some signs of summer this year — the sunburn on my hands due to the long exposure under the sun, unfulfilled plans that were forcefully delayed, and places revisited with different impressions.

This marked my second summer in Japan. Although the condition is the same with Malaysia (albeit at some cases, harsher than that of Malaysia), I sometimes struggled to cope with the heat. With heat stroke warnings issued and continued hospitalization of unfortunate people on the rise, I realized I cannot take things lightly.

Speaking of taking things not lightly, I casually registered for the international communication oriented English exams (TOEIC) and had received my results. Suffice to say, the results were within expectations… but how would a typical Japanese think?

Some days ago, I received an internal email extending an invitation to take the Listening and Reading portion of the TOEIC. This exam mainly assesses one’s ability in listening and comprehending the English language in international communication context. A friend of mine questioned its usefulness in really evaluating one’s English skill. I concurred, but I can’t help but to think, what about the JLPT?

A coworker once told me that he feared looking at English words — it was as if he was looking at a bunch of garbled characters, and that they were hard to understand. I can understand his feelings and thoughts; quite precise when I first learned Japanese. Although there are kanji, the Chinese characters, they are quite different from the hanzi that I knew.

Japanese is still a fascinating language to learn (continuously). I picked up a book targeting primary school learners of native Japanese to continue learning. Needless to say, I am still amazed with the amount of things I didn’t know. I learned to appreciate my colleagues who are (probably) struggling to understand what I tried to say, and possibly (silently) absorbed the less polite form way of speaking that I used everyday.

I’m drafting a TODO list for travel, domestically and internationally. I found that taking the bus to travel overnight saves cost if you are not in a rush. I also found that one can go to Yamagata from Narita now at a relatively low cost via LCCs. So much to do yet so little time.


Natural switch

A few years ago, I joined a competition where I had to temporarily leave my college hostel for a few days. As a solo participant, naturally I travelled alone down to Kuala Lumpur, and checked in to the hotel where I was arranged to stay.

Being somewhat familiar with the hotel surroundings, I roamed around aimlessly to seek out for new spots, or spots that I didn’t managed to discover in the past. A glaring difference compared with the previous visit, there was no guardian.

The day of the competition – early morning. I went to the hotel’s restaurant to enjoy my breakfast. I grabbed a plate of mixed foods – Western and Chinese, and a good cup of coffee, and sat at a table not far from the entrance.

The next thing I noticed, was a person (who I shall name as S) who was busy grabbing the plate of breakfast. My first instinct was that S might be a participant in the contest. S sat not far from me (probably a few tables away).

S dressed casually, and at a glance, S might be just another hotel guest who had business to tend to in the capital. The contest was scheduled to be held in the afternoon, but I joined the contest’s discussion/exchange session, which would eventually lead to the afternoon’s contest.

My instinct was right. S was a contestant as well. After the few hours’ contest, I retreated to a public hall where refreshments were served. To kill of some time, I went to a used items corner where it was full of books. S also went to the corner, and we engaged in a simple conversation. It was all simple yet fulfilling, in a way.

I forgot who took the initiative to start engaging the small talk, but I was grateful. We exchanged contact details and left the contest place back to our places (in different location). S, for me, is a unique person that is indescribable. S would probably the person one would like to be with when you want to explore a new experience, travel to a new, unknown place, or even be partners in various occasions.

Fast forward to today, I still maintained contact with S, and managed to meet in special occasions (and still engaging in small talks). Otherwise, we lived on our own ways, just as how life is like. S, for me, is a good friend to have and to learn from.

To wrap up, I include a piece from Lost In Translation, dedicating this to the moment.


Wrapping up July’19

English tests

In this July, I took two TOEIC tests – Listening & Reading (L&R) just a few days ago, and Speaking & Writing (S&W) at the beginning of this month. The TOEIC tests assess one’s English skills in the international communication context. Though optional and probably irrelevant for me, I took those two tests (and paid some fees).

The Japanese companies particularly like the TOEIC tests, probably for one reason — the scores. Depending on the scores achieved, they can measure or determine one’s skill in English, be it proficient, average, or needs more polishing. The L&R test proves to be the most popular test, if compared to S&W and Bridge test (targeted for beginner to intermediate level of English learners).

TOEIC scores are bonus points in Japanese resumes (I think). In the internal company mail, I often receive invitations and discounts for TOEIC L&R tests held in company buildings (usually in groups). Despite the extended invitation, I did not accept it.

Monthly targets

As stressful as it sounds, the targets are aimed to improve, if not, enrich life by forcing oneself to do something. It is something that I began trying this year by setting some targets each month.

The first target was to visit at least one place that I never went to. That sounded easy.

Except it’s not. Apart from procrastination, probably the other factor that hindered me is the uneasiness to explore places that I’m not familiar with. However, that fear not only defeated the purpose of coming to Japan, but also limited the extent of where I can expand my album and todos.

A random station. Unplanned detour. Accepting random plans from friend. Coming up with one day travel plan.

Wrapping up

In just a few moments, July will be coming to an end, and hence stepping forward towards the end of the 2010 decade. What a milestone! 5.. 4.. 3.. the countdown continues.


Escaping to the city: the weather

Once in a while, I take the train to go to Tokyo. It’s about an hour away, just perfect for a nap in the train (if I found a seat, that is). Since I rarely go to the metropolitan area, my impression towards Tokyo is always refreshed.

Just recently, I travelled to Okachimachi, a town neighboring Ueno and Akihabara to watch the new hit anime movie by Shinkai Makoto, Weathering With You (天気の子). With the cloudy Saturday morning being relatable to the movie theme and its atmosphere, I entered the cinema with high hopes.

Yes, it definitely earned a solid five-stars rating.

Its location is mainly focused in the Tokyo metropolitan area, centered in key areas such as Shinjuku, Kagurazaka, Tabata, Odaiba, Yoyogi, and the likes. I was deeply amazed by the frames drawn; each has its unique characteristics, and certainly make the work itself more interesting.

The building and landmarks, public transportation, and various scenes within the movie certainly bring an extra layer of realism — not only the scenes inside were modeled after the real locations, the background noises and effects also reflected the real Tokyo. How I wished I watched it in Shinjuku.

After I finished watching it at 11am, I decided to walk to Akihabara from the JR Okachimachi Station. It’s a near half an hour walk (~1.5km), but it was satisfying. I’d argue that besides hopping on the train, cycling and walking are definitely some of the ways to enjoy while travelling.

Tokyo, and the neighboring Chiba prefecture (where I stay in) are experiencing the lack of sunshine for weeks. The Marine Day, annually celebrated at the beach (and the likes) under the hot sunshine, for this year is quite cloudy. It was quite odd for the summer season, as it was humid yet cool. Although it was relieving for my house’s electricity bill, I’d sure appreciate more sunshine over the days to come.

Weathering With You touched upon a topic which affected worldwide, that is, climate change. Many parts of Tokyo are built upon reclaimed land. I won’t spoil the contents, but after watching the movie, I’ve grown more appreciation towards the surroundings, which I’ve taken (and I believe many people would have) granted for.

The company I am currently working at right now is taking steps to reduce the global warming footprint, and is working towards a greener environment. Many companies have followed suit, however, still insufficient. The mindset of the masses play critical role in improvising the environment. However, the mindset still requires huge improvement…

Have you watched the movie?


Tanabata wishes

It is Tanabata (Star Festival) today in Japan. In contrast with the desired weather, which is sunny and clear, it rained throughout the day and throughout Japan due to the rainy season, otherwise known as 梅雨 (つゆ;tsuyu). I went out this morning to attend an English exam. It rained lightly and had strong winds — definitely not an ideal day to go out and enjoy this Sunday.

I didn’t write wishes on a paper and hang it on a bamboo branch, so I decided to write here instead!

I wish the world, my family and friends, and my loved ones be in a healthy and peaceful manner. I hope I can close the chapters of 2019 and the 2010 decade in a well-ordered, memorable manner.

This year’s Tanabata wishes

What are your wishes for this year’s tanabata? Whatever it is, I hope it realizes in a way that is beneficial to you.


A note on a small story

Today, I revisited a movie (which claimed its first broadcast in Japanese terrestrial TV) that reminded me of a story in the past. Remarkably, this day marked an important milestone in that story as well.

That story was a short one yet it was full with memorable moments. The movie quite emphasized on time and logic, yet the former is visibly significant, in my opinion. As I liked to put it, time is the only resource that one cannot earn again.

Things that happened were preserved in the memory archives, never be rewritten. As much as I would like to kick myself for letting incidents happen, it remained as a solid not-to-do in the present and the future. I am deeply sorry, to this day. I kept on thinking, had the incidents do not happen, would it change how the story ended? At times, I doubted. Sometimes, I cheerfully thought it might change the course of the future. It was indeed a thorny past. In the amidst of thorns lied a gem that briefly shone… and dimmed.

I wish you good luck and happy always.


The tunes of the dusk

Everyday, a tune lasted for 1 minute is played through a huge speaker set outside the company building. Even though the windows were tightly shut and people were talking, a certain broadcast still can be heard faintly (it can be heard louder when it is autumn or winter — the windows were opened to allow cool air to flow in).

The first tune, an instrumental version of Yuuyake koyake 「夕焼け小焼け」 (“Sunset”, a Japanese kids song, shown below), is played at 4:45 p.m.. A broadcast is also included by the local municipal council while the tune is being broadcast, announcing that it is almost 5 p.m., and urging kids to go back home as well as asking the locals to look over the kids as they went home.

Yuuyake koyake (“Sunset”)

I also noticed that the time the tune played changes over season. As night fell earlier in the autumn and winter, the Yuuyake koyake tune is played at 4:30 p.m. during autumn , and 4:15 p.m. during winter.

Whenever the tune is being played, it is also an indication that it’s almost time to go home (not quite so in the winter). I felt relaxed and became slightly energetic as I continue pounding the keyboard throughout the afternoon. When the need for overtime work arose, it essentially became my motivation for the dusk.

Gaijinpot blogged that Yuuyake koyake is a tune being broadcast everyday through the speaker systems being set up. The purpose of the speaker systems is to convey disaster information to the residents, but when there is no disaster (thankfully), the relaxed tune will be played instead.

This system is widely applied across country, and the period of the tune being broadcast varies between region, typically between 4 p.m. to 6 p.m..

At 5 p.m., another tune unique to the region where I worked at, Yuube hoshi 「夕べ星」 (“Evening stars”, shown below) played. The atmosphere and the tune in its entirety was very relaxing; as if the stars in the sky can be brightly seen. Nevertheless, it marked the last 20 minutes before calling it a day. Update: noteworthy – this tune only plays at Wednesday.

Yuube hoshi (“Evening star”)

At days other than Wednesday, the Narashino city song (orgel version) is played instead in the 5 p.m. slot (shown below). Nevertheless, its unique variation also appealed me.

The Narashino city song in orgel version

In the place where I stay, the tune played at 5 p.m., titled No bara 「野ばら」(“Wild rose”, shown below). I found it amusing that different places and regions have their own variation, like the train jingles.

No bara (“Wild rose”)

When these tunes were broadcast in the weekends, it signified that the day is almost over. Depending on the day and context, either I happily pack up for the day, or quietly prepare for the new day ahead.


Reflecting 10 years

10 years ago today, I attended my first Japanese class in secondary school. It was at class 1A, where the Chinese class for students from different classes were gathered at to be attended. In that fateful year, a Chinese teacher who was transferred from other place opened the school’s first Japanese class. At first, it was opened as a trial class where students can join by just filling the names onto a piece of paper which was passed around in the class.

I didn’t know about the Japanese language in general. The naive me thought that it was a language mixed with Chinese (due to the use of kanji), and even a corrupted version of Chinese (again, I was naive back then). “Since it’s free of charge, why not give it a try?”, the 13 year old me thought as I filled my name in the form.

The first class

The first Japanese class started in Monday afternoon, 15 June 2019. As I recalled, it started with aisatsu (greetings). We weren’t taught the writing systems immediately, but the first contact in regards to communications in the classroom.

Sensei, konnichiwa! (Good afternoon, teacher) and Sensei, sayonara! (Goodbye, teacher) were the phrases we say when we began and ended the class that day. The experience of learning a new language was unique to me – stepping into an unknown territory.

I nearly gave up of learning Japanese in my second year of learning – I nearly failed one of the tests and struggled to understand them. Learning new things definitely were not easy.

Setting up targets

In 2011, a Japanese language assistant teacher who hailed from Osaka, Japan, was stationed in my school for 1 year. Ms. Nishikawa, a sweet, helpful, and approachable person taught us about the Japanese culture in general. Under her guidance, I mustered my courage to dance on stage performing soran bushi, a traditional songs and dance in Japan (even now, I can listen to the music being played automatically in my head…).

She left after a year, leaving myself to continue wading across the course as I continually absorbed the required knowledge. In 2012, I joined a national Japanese speech contest held in Kuala Lumpur as a secondary school student under the appropriate category. Although I didn’t obtained the coveted prize which allowed the contestants to travel to Japan, I did leave with strong determination to try again sometime in the future. Three years later, I joined the national Japanese speech contest again, this time, as a college student.

Reflecting the past and looking forward

Fast forward to today, I am working as a software developer in Greater Tokyo, Japan. It has been a “kill two birds with one stone” approach for me, as I am able to utilize languages in both linguistic and technical aspect. I had never thought that I could achieve this 10 years ago.

On this day, I received my gift in the form of helping hands from everyone over the past 10 years. It is not an overstatement to say that I wouldn’t be what I am today without the people in the past. I owed deeply to the kind, helping hands offered by my friends, mentor, and my family. My girlfriend had also played a huge role in this as well, to which I remain grateful to this day.

What would the second decade be like in the 21st century? That, I had yet to set.

It is hard to detail everything in the span of 10 years, but I will always be grateful to all the experiences I had; be it sweet or bitter. Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu!


A huge Showstopper!

I love things about Microsoft, particularly stories behind the scenes. From the “why does a feature behave like so” to “here’s why so and so happened” type of stories by Raymond Chen (a prominent blogger and senior programmer of Microsoft) to various podcasts and technical tips from different Microsoft employees, I have been searching for in-depth stories, particularly stories that depict the process – from the beginning to the end of a development process. There have been (mini) stories from people like Kraig Brockschmidt, Larry Osterman, Ben Bathi (on Windows Vista’s predecessor Longhorn) and others.

Until I stumbled upon this book.

Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and The Next Generation at Microsoft (phew, what a title) (or, Showstopper! for short) describes the story of the development of Windows NT. The story of the birth of the underlying engine which powered the Windows operating system we know today was told in a vivid way. With a huge number of people working on the project which spanned several years, Dave Cutler and the gang shaped the future, literally.

When I first read the beginning part of Showstopper!, I was quite excited for the journey the developers are about to embark – to develop a new operating system that is portable/universal, and is shaped not for the current moment, but for the future. It reminded me of the excitement when a new project phase began. Potential ideas were explored and deep thoughts were given whether to implement and how to implement. It all seemed fun on paper.

As I continue reading, I got nervous as they hit a lot of road bumps. Missed deadline, huge amounts of bugs, bug catching and solving that seemed never ending, and countless disappointment and anger across the team. Yet, they never gave up, continue squashing the “priority one” and “priority two” bugs, and the infamous showstopper bugs — problems within the system that prevented from normal use, e.g. system and program crashes and destruction of data. The team leads were understandably furious of the appearances of these classes of bugs as they rushed against time to meet the deadlines for various schedules.

A late release constitutes to missed opportunities.

Software developers or people who enjoy stories about software in general will definitely appreciate this book where it detailed aspects about software and project management. I get stressed out when I read the part where Dave raged towards his team, as if I was in his team. Thankfully, my workplace did not have this culture hence the calmer side on my part. However, the story written was quite vivid (in my opinion) that I felt the atmosphere and emotion together with the team. From the part where they hyped towards success, especially killing bugs, to facing depression from various aspects of life, of which it was derived from the moments and atmosphere of Windows NT development that affected them deeply, the various perspective being told added elements of the human aspects in the software development side.

I had re-read this book twice (as of this writing). At times when I opened Kindle, I would jump to a chapter I find interesting and continued from there. I often ended rewinding to earlier chapters to pursue the fun of reading this book.

This book has been translated to Chinese and Japanese, and has received positive reviews too. I plan to buy the translated copies sometime in the future…

You can read a sample (preview) portion of the book, which covered the Introduction and the first chapter, Code Warrior, which introduced Dave Cutler, one of his days in the Build Lab (a place where a new, incrementally built copy of Windows NT being produced), and his younger days and days prior joining Microsoft.

Have you read this book before?


Hi there! (again)

(I have written countless times of this introductory post, but hey, here we are, again.)

Hi there! Welcome to White Journal Black Ink. I write about random things; some are with centered themes, some are purely randoms. I try and express my thoughts in a written way where I couldn’t do so verbally.

I have attempted to blog in three languages simultaneously – English, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese, but with little luck. Updating three blogs in sync are more like a chore than enjoyment, so I stopped this approach (for now). Mandarin Chinese is my mother tongue, and I use English and Japanese often in both casual and work environment. I speak Mandarin Chinese with the Malaysian variant as I hailed from the South East Asian country, which bordered Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, and Indonesia. I have not written blog posts in a while, hence my language is getting rusty (and may have errors along the way too!)

The name, White Journal Black Ink, was inspired from WordPress’s 2010 theme – Twenty Ten. The design was clean and simple, something I adored about in various aspects, even in technology. The name, derived from the theme’s design, is about writing things in black ink onto a white journal (black colored typefaces against a white page), as simple as that.

I might share some tips covering variety aspects, from travel to programming (as I liked both!). Sharing is caring, as I learned from many generous travel and programming bloggers as I learned a lot from them. Saying that I owed them a lot is definitely not exaggerating at all.

I generally welcome constructive comments, e.g. pointing out mistakes in lingual and factual aspects. However, spam/advertisements/profanity/offensive comments are strictly off-limits and will be deleted without further notice.

Happy reading, and have an enjoyable day ahead! – Adrian