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2011 Year in Review December 27, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Japan, Kansai, Kanto.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 Year in Review” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-L6

It has been quite a year for me here in Tokyo.  The year started off pretty boring but got terrifying very quickly.  Things settled down of course and now things are pretty much back to normal.  I managed to make many new friends and got out of Japan twice.  Unfortunately I didn’t return home for a year but the adventures I did have will last me a lifetime.  2011 has been the year “everything changed” as the catch phrase goes.  I wouldn’t say everything has changed, but a lot has and will continue to change for years to come.  There is always change in life and I feel that this past year was not that different than past years, in terms of the total amount of change.

The year was pretty standard for me.  The start was filled mostly with work.  I was working hard as I had a personal project that I would be working on starting in late spring 2011.  I decided that working almost to my death was necessary to build up my savings.  I went out from time to time but spent most of my time just ploughing away at work.  By March, things were going smoothly until the 11th when the earth shook.  I can look back at the post I made immediately after the 11th when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred and I can tell that I was scared deep within my mind.  It wasn’t something I wanted to admit to myself at the time but it was probably true.  Even now I try to think that I wasn’t scared, but it was a point where I nearly had a nervous breakdown.  For nearly a month after the 11th, I heard nothing but people being concerned with my safety as well as people telling me things about radiation.  While the concern was always nice, the information on the radiation was not.  There comes a time when you choose your home and very little information will make you change it.  It was difficult and frightening to read a lot of the information but necessary as I had my own confirmation bias that things would be okay.

Once the drama of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster had subsided, things started to return to normal. Life never did return to normal, like before, but things were a lot better.  I started to plan my trips better and my personal project was delayed by just a month.  The summer months were filled with work and a little travel.  I visited Taipei for the first time in my life, as well as Singapore.  I was able to see various areas of Tokyo that I never would have visited before as well.  The summer was hot and humid as always but thankfully not too bad.  There was a lot of energy saving measures everywhere as Japan didn’t have the energy capacity at the time but now that it is winter, the energy supply is looking adequate for Tokyo’s demands.  It was a very difficult adjustment for most people but being me, it was nothing more than a quick change in my personal lifestyle to cope with the higher indoor temperatures and lack of light.

The biggest change for me, other than the earthquake, was my dog Sox.  I had gotten him in December 2010 and it was my first full year with him.  It took a bit of time for him to get used to living in my apartment and the earthquake followed by a trip to Kobe wasn’t helpful either.  He is such a cute and fun dog and now life has settled very well.  He is used to my place and he feels very much at home.  He even sleeps in my bed now, although I’m not always happy he does so.  My previous lifestyle of travelling at least once a season has ended though so it will be difficult for me to keep writing posts in the future.  Hopefully I’ll find more things to talk about in the future but it looks likely that I will have to write more about life in Tokyo rather than the various places I would love to visit.  I will write about them when I do go there but unfortunately it might not be as often as before.

In terms of statistics, this blog has grown a lot.  Aside from June, I have averaged over 1,000 hits a month with the busiest month being March (1,455).  This is probably due to the earthquake and people reading a bit about it, but October (1,432) was also a big month.  In terms of busiest days, November 3rd saw the most hits ever with 123.  My blog has opened a few interesting doors as a few news personalities in the US did contact me for interviews about the disaster in March, or to ask if I knew anyone up there, but I was not qualified to talk about it nor did I know anyone up there.  Tokyo was far from a disaster zone and I didn’t know anyone up there.  In even better news, I had two pictures published.  One was for my dog.  I had a picture of my dog published in a dog calendar for 2012.  It was a very small picture and one of nearly 365 pictures.  He occupied a small slot in June for just one day, but it is better than nothing.  Having my picture published in Mollie Makes was even bigger for me.  It is a new crafts magazine in the UK and I was extremely flattered that they wanted to use my picture, although it was just a small one and one of many used on the page.  Still, I’m happy to see things getting better after a few years of this blog.

This coming year should be exciting.  Last year at this time I mentioned that I was finally putting a little money into this blog and my site.  Things have changed a lot but all of it has been behind the scenes.  I have been working with a partner on a huge project that has taken a lot of my free time and a bit of my work life too.  I hope to have something to announce by spring.  I mentioned that I would have a new website last year, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.  It is still in the works but as things go, they crawl to a finish at times.  Hopefully it will be complete very soon and the big project is released on time.  It is a big challenge to do things by a deadline but that is what must be done.  The year is ending but that doesn’t mean things will end.  Things evolve and so have I.  I can only hope it all works out.

Dru

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Beverages and Western Food in Singapore December 20, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Beverages and Western Food in Singapore” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Kn

Beverages in Singapore are quite standard.  You can easily find various colas and carbonated drinks everywhere.  It is important to keep hydrated when touring around Singapore.  I had become dehydrated a few times and finding a place to get a drink wasn’t difficult.  The one surprise I had was that you had to find an actual shop.  Tokyo has spoiled me as I can just go a block or so and find a vending machine to get a drink.  It is so easy to find them, but in Singapore, I had to look around a bit for a convenience store to get one.  While there are convenience stores everywhere, it isn’t always easy to spot them and you can get a bit of bad luck by zig-zagging and missing them all.  I was pleasantly surprised to find bubble tea shops around Singapore.  While I wasn’t expecting the best, I did try one.  I ordered a simple milk tea with pearls and was asked about the sweetness level.  I said, non-sweet, and the clerk was surprised.  Living in Japan, tea is rarely sweetened and when I went to Taiwan earlier in the year, the bubble tea was unsweetened.  While I like both, on a very hot day, I actually prefer unsweetened to feel more refreshed.  While the bubble tea was just average, I think I can see why people like it sweetened.  The tea didn’t taste as great and the sweetness could mask the imperfect taste.  In fact, I found it impossible to find unsweetened tea in Singapore as they take the western tradition that any cold tea has to be sweetened.

Alcohol in Singapore is something that is a bit strange.  Alcohol is easy to find and purchase.  You can easily buy alcohol at any convenience store and supermarket but it isn’t that cheap.  It isn’t expensive either but when you go to a restaurant or club, it can feel astronomical.  The lunch time specials, called “happy hour”, provide 2 for 1 or 50% off drink deals.  In fact, these deals tended to last from lunch till dinner, rather than just an hour.  After this happy hour, prices are scaled up to “regular” price.  One of the most common types of price scaling was a happy hour from open till dinner; then dinner time; then regular price after dinner.  This made drinking a little expensive but if you stuck to drinking in the afternoon, it was very reasonable.  The selection was also interesting.  You can really feel the influence of western nations as most of the beer was imports from other countries.  While there were regional brews such as Tiger beer and other nearby specialties, it was tough to determine what was local and what was foreign.  I try to support the local economy but in Singapore, I decided to support the European community by trying various beers from Europe.

Western food is also very common in Singapore.  It is very easy to find McDonald’s but it is also easy to find various pubs and bars as well.  I love to visit nice brewpubs wherever I go.  In Taiwan, I had a few drinks in the gay district and had a good time there.  In Vancouver, I often go to pubs where I grab a burger and a beer.  In Tokyo, I often go to various izakaya and drink till the sun comes up.  In Singapore, I found the drinking experience to be more like Vancouver where you have nice brewpubs, but also like Taiwan where you can have outdoor terraces with many drinks being served.  Alcohol is still a very western ideal in Singapore.  Muslims are very strict at not drinking alcohol and I have found Chinese people don’t often drink too much, especially with family.  I read that Singapore frowns upon public drunkenness so I kept myself in check.  Most of the western style restaurants have to cater to those who drink alcohol as that is what is expected in many restaurants.  Whether it is a bottle of wine or a pint of beer, people enjoy a little alcohol with their meal and Muslim Singaporeans respect that.

Singapore is not just about the foods that I have mentioned.  I did see a lot of Japanese restaurants and I feel that they must be delicious, albeit a bit overpriced compared to Tokyo.  I also saw many other places selling foods that I never had a chance to try.  You can spend days exploring Singapore and trying various types of food.  It is a matter of making time to go out and try new things that is difficult, especially when you also want to see everything else that is out there.  You can spend a small fortune eating if you want or save a lot by going to the Hawker’s markets.  It really depends on your personality and your budget.

Beverages and Western Food in Singapore is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Food in Singapore December 13, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Food in Singapore” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Kk

Singapore is a wonderful place to eat.  In my previous posts about Singapore, I mentioned that Singapore is a very multi-cultural city and that is reflected in the food options that are available.  From the research that I had done prior to my trip, I never found a lot of information on real authentic Singaporean food.  I found a lot of information on food in general but nothing that would say that this or that was truly originated from Singapore.  People had told me that the food is from Singapore but I had a tough time telling the difference between what I was told to be Singaporean food and what appeared to originally be Chinese/Indian/Malay/Indonesian food.  This was further exacerbated as the closest I came to eating real Singaporean food was in Canada at one restaurant that was a mix between Malaysian, Thai, and Singaporean food.

While it may be difficult to tell the difference between real Singaporean food and dishes that had been localized with time, there are three distinct Asian types of food that can easily be found in Singapore.  The first is Malaysian, or rather South-East Asian.  One will have to forgive me if I am not in touch with the differences of each country’s local cuisine, but unfortunately I am not an expert on Singapore.  The first dish that I can think of that is part of the area is Kaya Toast.  Kaya is a type of coconut and egg spread and Kaya Toast is when you take this spread and put it in a toast sandwich along with a small wedge of butter.  It reminded me of eating cinnamon toast as a child with lots of sugar.  It was delicious and something that I would eat, not just for breakfast but also for a snack.  The typical way to order Kaya Toast is to get a set with Singaporean coffee and eggs.  Singaporean coffee reminds me of what I think is a Vietnamese style, or rather originally French coffee.  Using a tall metal pot and a high pour to add air into the coffee itself is wonderful technique that is employed in Singapore.  They also use condensed milk and hot water to keep the coffee from being too strong.  The eggs are soft boiled eggs that can be used as a dip for the Kaya Toast or eaten plain with or without soy sauce and black pepper.  One might wonder, what is the “correct” way of eating Kaya Toast, and if the Discovery Chanel is true, there is no correct way of eating Kaya Toast.  You can eat it in any way you’d like.

Another traditional dish I noticed would have to be the noodle dishes.  Dishes such as Mee Goreng and Bee Hoon were great.  They are a regional take on Chow Mein or Yaki Soba.  Almost every Asian country has their version of fried rice or fried noodles.  The version I had in Singapore was delicious with heaps of seafood.  In every food court and hawker’s market I could find these home style foods.  The smells were great and there were small citrus fruits included with these dishes that looked and tasted like sudachi in Japan.  The small citrus fruits were a perfect complement to the spiciness of the noodles.  I also had a chance to eat Lahksa, which is more Indian in style.  It was a spicy soup, almost curry like, with noodles that reminded me of a soup curry rather than an actual Singaporean dish.  One item that I didn’t have a chance to try was the satay.  I was always unlucky when trying to order it.  I always wanted to have satay in that region as I wanted to compare it to the satay that I could get back in Vancouver.  Rather than allowing it to be a regret, I thankfully think of it as just one more reason to go back to Singapore.

In terms of Indian food, there is a lot.  With Little India just a stone’s throw away from my hotel, it was easy to get Indian food, but I never went to Little India for it.  The first chance I had for Indian food was at Boat Quay.  I went to a restaurant that advertised Northern Indian food and it was delicious.  I don’t know what the difference is between Northern and Southern Indian food but my guess would be that Northern Indian tends to be “drier”.  By this, I am comparing it to Indian food that I have bought in Tokyo, which is highly unlikely to be authentic.  I ordered what would seem to be regular food from India.  I had some samosas, naan, curry, and tandoori chicken.  The Samosas were delicious and very much alike the potato samosas I had in Vancouver.  I also had papadums.  These are similar to Indian “chips” with a mint dip and a mango dip.  It was not what I expected but not terrible either.  The naan was a surprise.  I am used to the huge triangle shaped naan in Japan, but these were simple circles and probably more traditional of India or northern India.  The curry was also a bit of a surprise.  I ordered a chili chicken curry that had almost no sauce.  Rather, the sauce was so thick that it looked more like sweet and sour chicken, but a lot spicier.  While it was a surprise, it was also very delicious.  The tandoori chicken was the house specialty and it was as expected.  Not too dry as some places do but just the right amount of spice for me.  I had one other opportunity to have Indian-like food in Singapore.  I ordered some curry in a food court and it was also a bit dry overall.  While the dry curry was good, it was just something I had to get used to as I had a bad experience with dry curry in the past.

Chinese food is by far the easiest food to obtain.  Everywhere I went I could see various types of Chinese food.  Growing up in Vancouver, I had a great opportunity to taste various types of Cantonese style foods.  In Singapore, chicken rice is very famous.  It is actually Haianese food but it was delicious and the ginger rice that I had with it was perfect.  The rice had the scent of ginger but it wasn’t too spicy either.  I also had a chance to eat some Chinese style pastries.  Within the food areas of department stores, I could find various cakes and pastries.  Singapore has many bakeries that sell traditional bread style pastries as well as flake pastries.  I was happy to see I could get my favourite pastries in Singapore and I didn’t have to go to Hong Kong or Vancouver to get it.  Japan is one of the worst places to get real Chinese pastries, and even in Hong Kong I have found it a challenge at times to get the ones I want as  Hong Kong has been transitioning from the pastries that I know and love to a more Japanese style.  Japanese pastries tend to be very good but the way they do things is not the same.  Think of the difference between a McDonald’s burger and a gourmet burger.  They are the same thing but done completely differently.  Sometimes one is better than the other, but it depends on your mood.  That’s how I feel about these pastries.  Chicken rice and pastries aren’t the only dishes available in Singapore.  You can also get dim sum, although I couldn’t get any due to bad luck or timing, noodles in soup, and various rice dishes.  Because I ate in food courts, the food was somewhat skewed.  I am used to eating in restaurants where I can share many dishes along with plain white rice.  In the food courts, food is designed for single people and it was hard to try many different things at once.

As you can see, eating in Singapore is varied.  The food was all delicious and other than being a little scared of the cleanliness of the hawker’s markets, everything was fine.  If I could, I would go to the hawker’s markets more often but I also felt a little strange as it was filled with locals.  I stuck out like a sore thumb every time I walked through the hawker’s market that was between my hotel and the station.  For some, it is a great place but with my own personality, I found it difficult to enjoy a meal there.  The hawker’s markets are open from late morning until dinner time, but around dinner time they all start to shut down.  You can easily find food during the day but by night things get a little difficult.  It is a great adventure to try the hawker’s markets and next time, if I’m with the right people, I’ll have no problems going back and eating there more often.

Food in Singapore is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Happy Holidays 2011 December 6, 2011

Posted by Dru in Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy Holidays 2011” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-L9

It is another year and another Christmas.  As I get older, I notice that times goes faster and faster.  I can’t believe it has been a year since I last wrote this holiday post.  It is nearly a tradition to talk about the Christmas season now.  Unfortunately there is nothing left to talk about for Tokyo’s Christmas.  In my previous posts, see links below, I have mentioned the tradition of Christmas in Japan.  In reality, nothing has changed over the years.  Things are still going strong and people just party like it’s 1999.  It is a little difficult to find new things and I’m sure I’ll discover something, but generally speaking there are no new unique developments in Japan.

The most popular thing to do these days is to go around Tokyo and look at the various Christmas light displays.  There are several places that are now traditional places to visit.  Omotesando is one of the first places one should visit.  It is often credited as the place where Christmas Illuminations regained popularity in Tokyo around early the 2000s.  After they lit up the main street from Harajuku Station to Omotesando Station, lots of people flocked to Omotesando to enjoy the lights as well as do a lot of shopping. Most areas now do the same thing and it is almost a competition to see who can attract more people.  Unfortunately most of the displays haven’t changed much since they were first introduced.  The signs change and any lighting that is associated with a specific year has changed but the actual displays are generally the same.  It is a bit of a shame that they don’t become more creative but that is how things are in Tokyo.  People have an idea, make it possible then reuse it until it becomes stale.  Rather than revamping things so it stays fresh, they recycle things too often.  Thankfully some areas do change things up.  Christmas trees tend to be different each year and most weak displays are added upon each year until they become grand displays.  Some areas do change slightly each year but as mentioned the basic designs don’t change.

Other areas of mention are Shinjuku, Shiodome, Marunouchi, Roppongi, Korakuen, and Odaiba.  Most of the displays in these areas are very similar to previous years and the locations are the same.  It is possible that some of them will change but I haven’t heard anything about new displays this year.  Some areas are somewhat new but they tend to be on the small side in their first year.  Smaller areas of Tokyo will see light displays and they do tend to grow a bit each year.  Smaller areas don’t have the money to build a large display in one year so it takes a few years to build it up.  No matter where you go in Tokyo, you are sure to see Christmas decorations and lighting.  It can feel a bit commercial but it does put one into the Christmas mood.  Unfortunately, due to the greater importance of New Year’s decorations, after the shops close on Christmas day, the decorations are quickly removed and replaced with the New Year’s displays overnight.  It can feel a bit depressing at first but the thought of an exciting new year is wonderful.

Merry Christmas everyone and I hope you all have a safe and happy holidays wherever you are.  For those who aren’t Christian, Christmas is barely a religious holiday anymore so I hope you can still enjoy it.  (^^)

Happy Holidays 2011 is part of a series of posts each year talking about the year end holiday season in Japan.  To read more, please venture to the other posts below:

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