Starting the Day Right...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Back to Kyoto: Autumn Foliage


Kiyomizu-dera Temple at Night

After two years, I am back in Kyoto!  During my first visit, it was for "Hanami" or to view spring flowers, particularly the delicate, transient cherry blossoms.   This visit, it was "Momiji" time! "Momiji" specifically refers to the red maple tree leaves but in reality there are others too, and the colour is not just red but also the golden yellow of the ginkgo tree and others.  

Here in Kyoto, we arrived as the maple trees were supposed to be at their peak.  But this is a fast season, and we realised that maybe we had arrived a day or two beyond the peak.  We also realised that just because the maples were at their best, it didn't mean that every tree was ablaze with red.  Some trees (eg the cherry) may have already lost their leaves, and others may be still as green as ever, resulting in a "patchwork" of colours.         
Amidst the leaves

Our first stop in Kyoto was the Kiyomizu-dera temple - one of the most well-known temples here in Kyoto, and the one nearest our little apartment!  We did not arrive early enough to visit the temple grounds properly (in daylight) but we managed to take a few photos in the fading light and then joined the throngs on the deck facing the main temple to get a chance to photograph the famous illuminations of the main hall.  
Indeed, the throngs waiting to take that one iconic shot were immense!  We stood five-deep along the deck facing the main temple.  People were pushing and shoving to get through and in the meantime, people were hogging the front of the deck taking their photos.  Well, we finally managed to get our shots and went on to meander around the gardens to admire the illuminated pagoda rising above the illuminated trees.

Next day, we went to two more temples, Nanzenji and Eikando-Zenrinji.  First, Nanzenji.  Nanzenji is famed for its aqueduct (quite easy to find) and also its sub-Temples.  We went to one, Nanzenin, famous for its little pond garden, and for the mausoleum to the Emperor Kameyama, who founded the Nanzenji temple in the first place.

The pond garden was a true delight!  First, being a sub temple, it was less popular with visitors (it had its own separate entrance fee, which could be one reason for the smaller crowds).  So we were able to admire the autumn foliage in the garden in relative peace and quiet.  The beautiful red leaves also formed a layer on top of the pond.... So the reflection of the red leaves was accentuated by the leaves already in the water.

The pond garden at Nanzenin

Rock Garden at the Hojo, Nanzenji
Nanzenji itself has a beautiful tranquil zen rock garden in its "Hojo", the dwellings of the chief priest.  Apparently, the rocks look like a tiger with her cubs.... I'm afraid that that one went right past me.  We sat there and contemplated the rocks and the patterns in the pebbly sand nonetheless.  Subsequently, walking through the Hojo, we did see rooms with wall paintings of various animals including tigers (and leopards, I think).  That, I can get.  

Yudofu - in its dipping sauce
The crowds visiting Nanzenji itself would spill over to lunch.  We wanted to try the famous "Yudofu" in a nearby restaurant, Junsei.  Now it so happens that we were staying in this area the last time we were in Kyoto (in a ryokan down the road) and actually passed the restaurant, but at the time we did not think of trying it out.  Big mistake!  This time, they were so busy that waiting time for a table was 1.5 hours (and this was at 1.30pm)!  So we went to a nearby restaurant down the road to try it out.  Yudofu is really tofu cooked in a stock lightly flavoured with a largish piece of kelp at the bottom of the clay pot.   Not as boring a meal as it sounds.   The tofu has a dipping sauce, to which you can add  bonito flakes, grated radish, spring onions, and seaweed strips.  We had vegetable tempura on the side, also some little pickles, yuba tofu, etc. All in all, it was a healthy and tasty meal.  

After lunch, we went on to the Eikan-do Zenrin-ji temple.  Like Nanzenji, this temple is famed for its autumn foliage.  Indeed, we were not disappointed (and got to see the leaves in the blaze of sunset!
Momiji lit by the setting sun

We walked all the way to the Pagoda, with its view of Kyoto, and then walked around the temple buildings, looking at the internal gardens before making our way down to Hojo pond.  Well, I can only say that a picture tells a thousand words so please do take a look at my Flickr site for more glorious photos of Eikando temple and the other two.  (Please note that the photos are being put up progressively).

Pagoda at Eikando 
Technically, this was the day we were supposed to walk up the Philosopher's Path and end our day at Ginkaku-Ji (yes, yet another temple).  But the thing about short days and our relatively slow progress is that we don't cover all that much each day.  Of course we could have gone there for the illuminations but somehow after the first night's experience, it didn't appeal.  

Maybe another time, another visit to Kyoto!



Sunday, August 28, 2016

Visiting the National Gallery

Although the National Gallery has been open for a while now, I'd not had the opportunity to make a visit till recently.  And indeed, I'm sorry that I waited so long!

For it was an insightful and informative afternoon, where I had the opportunity to see artworks by South East Asian artists, and of Singaporean art in particular.

The National Gallery itself is a beautiful building.  The old Supreme Court and City Hall buildings were painstakingly remodelled and a connecting building inserted between the two.  It beautifully preserves the splendour of the old buildings whilst ensuring that they are fit for their new purpose.

I didn't really have the need or opportunity to visit the Supreme Court before (not being a lawyer nor a criminal) but I remember going to City Hall for my first job interview :-) The Public Service Commission (PSC) had its offices there and I have to admit that it was with some trepidation that I entered this imposing building to look for the interview room.  Not much remains that I can see (not that I remember much) of these old PSC offices but visitors to the old Supreme Court building can still view the Chief Justice's Offices, and the old cells where prisoners were held when not required in court.

But back to the paintings.   There are a few exhibitions going on at the National Gallery.  I went to "Reframing Modernism", which was in conjunction with the Pompidou Centre and featured European artists including Matisse and Picasso alongside Singapore and Southeast Asian painters of the same era.  But what I found more engrossing was "Siapa Nama Kamu  - Art in Singapore since the 19th Century".  Siapa Nama Kamu means "What is your name" in Malay, and hence this exhibition explores the Singapore identity through paintings.  These paintings give an insight into Singapore over the years just as much as they reveal the painters' own artistic development over time.  It was really interesting, for example, to see how Chen Wen His, well known for his "gibbons" paintings, painted in such vivid colours and in such "modern" styles!

It was also a great opportunity to view Georgette Chen's work - I hadn't seen many of her paintings till this visit.  She is really Singapore's great "impressionist painter" and her paintings of lotuses really brought to my mind Monet's famous water lilies.  By contrast, the quaint and vivid woodblock prints brought a smile to my face.

Best of all, the National Gallery helps you to bring your favourite paintings back with you!  The "Social Table" (you can see it as you leave the exhibition) allows you to select paintings and put them all together in one big picture.  Here's mine:


Here's to my next visit!


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Go Go Go Joseph

Joseph Schooling, not in a technicolor dreamcoat, but in his swimsuit and goggles walked into the Olympic Swimming arena in Rio 12 Aug 9.10am Singapore time and made history, and his dreams come true.

With giants like Michael Phelps and Chad Le Clos in the pool, Joseph Schooling swam the fastest 100m Butterfly in Olympic HIstory - 50.39s!  - for the Gold Medal.  Phelps, Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh tied for the Silver (certainly something you don't see every medal ceremony).  

Joseph had already made history the day before just by qualifying for the finals, with a swim of 50.83s in the semifinals for the event.  Many of us had stopped work (As evidenced by the numerous Facebook posts I saw after the swim) just to catch the event.  Today, fortunately, is Saturday and so I could watch on the big TV screen instead of my little iPad.  Fortunately, I still kept the iPad on hand, to take screenshots of memorable moments.

Here are just a few photos, to mark this major milestone in Singapore's sporting history.  Indeed, in Singapore's history.











Joseph's journey to the winner's podium has taken 15 years, ever since he was 6 years old. It's a story of single minded determination, coupled with talent, hard work, effort, and incredible family support.  

And here's the TODAY article in which Joseph thanks all of his friends, family, coaches, etc who supported him over the years.

Go go go Jo!  You made it today.  And all of us are proud of you!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Visiting Hanoi

Over the years, I have visited Vietnam quite a few times.  it's a country with a bit of everything - history, scenery, exciting cities, sunny beaches and restful resorts.  Yummy food and good shopping.  In short, it ticks all my boxes!

This year, I re-visited Hanoi in February (yes, this post is a little late).   The last time I was here, our stay was rather short as we had visited Ha Long Bay as well for an unforgettable boat ride amongst the karst landscape.  This time round, we spent the time solely in Hanoi.

The key highlight of this visit was, for me, undoubtedly the visit to the ancient imperial citadel of Thang Long.  Abandoned when the Emperor moved the capital to Hue, most of the citadel was destroyed and the site and remaining buildings were occupied by the French military and thereafter, the ministry of defence of independent Vietnam.  It was finally re-opened to the public as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010, to mark the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi.  So, it would not have been open during my last visit to Hanoi.

The Doan Mon Gate

Most of the citadel was destroyed, and newer buildings built over them (excavation works are in progress, revealing the older ruins beneath).  But, some old buildings do remain such as Doan Mon (the main gate), the flag tower, the women's quarters etc.  I was amused to see the ladies' quarters had no windows on the ground floor!  Just goes to show the attitudes towards women in those days.  

It was also nice to see the student groups coming to the Citadel to take their graduation photos.  The girls were dressed in their beautiful flowing ao dais, just as they would have done throughout the years...


Students - ladies in Ao Dai

We also spent some time visiting Hoan Kiem lake.  I'd been there before but somehow the lake, in the centre of the Old Quarter, exercises a magnetic pull, bringing everyone to it.  The last time I was here, I spent just one night in the Old Quarter and this time I took care to make sure that we were in the heart of it.  It was certainly more handy to get to the food, the night life and the spas in the area!  The Old Quarter is partially pedestrianised weekend nights and so everyone spills out of the shops and eateries onto the streets.  Right in front of our hotel too!  

Vibrant street scene in the Old Quarter, Hanoi
We also had rather nice meals, including a fancy French dinner at La Badiane (named after the humble star anise). 

Our degustation meal at La Badiane
As I said earlier, Vietnam is one country with a bit of everything.  Hanoi's Old Quarter, in particular, really has that historical charm and character which I like so much.  So here's to my next visit to Vietnam....


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Organising Komono is better with washi tape

So, I am now still going through the Konmari process.  Although, I have to say that the press of work and other priorities are making it more difficult for me to do the weekend sessions.  With paper (mostly) over, clothes done, books done, I'm processing my komono.

First, a definition.  "Komono" is the Japanese word for miscellaneous things and as such there are numerous subcategories, like CDs/DVDs, toiletries, accessories, electrical equipment, stationery, household supplies and kitchen items etc.  I'd done a few komono subcategories whilst working on the earlier categories (to give a little variety) particularly when going through my paper.  So I have tested every single pen I have in my room to make sure it's not dried up (and discarded the rest), put all my stacks of post its in one single container, sorted and essentially tidied up my stationery items.

Dismantling a floppy
I'd also done my electrical items but to my horror I found a whole shoeboxful of old 3.5inch floppies.  Goodness.   I don't know what's on them, don't have any way to read them any more and  don't want to just throw them away without making sure that whatever data is on them is well and truly destroyed.   I did find some instructions on how to open up the diskette, and cut up the magnetic disc inside but I felt very stressed after doing just one.  So I stopped after that.  Will have to figure this out further.

My washi-taped iPhone charger, Organised with binder clip
I also sorted out all my various cords and chargers.  Somehow, reading Marie Kondo inspired me to start checking out more websites dedicated to organising matters.  Along the way, I've discovered the joys of washi-taping my possessions and the many uses one can put binder clips to.   My iPhone charger is now nicely washi'd and so is my mouse.   I used binders to help keep the cables in order.  They look good.  In fact, my mouse and chargers spark joy!

I also went back a category to give my shoes a little more attention.  The last time round, I threw out two pairs.  This time round, the focus was on actually checking out the shoes - cleaning dirty pairs and glueing the soles for one pair tightly back to the shoe itself.  Clean shoes and mended shoes are definitely joy-sparking!  Nonetheless, I discarded another two pairs which were definitely too far gone to salvage.  Somehow the shoe cupboard looks just as crowded as before- time for the other users to get rid of their old shoes too?

My bedroom is definitely looking much better after this extensive Kondo-inspired work.  I do have the huge "memento" category to work through, but I have managed to locate and pack them all in a single box for the time being.  Somehow, I can't really bring myself to do this just yet.  Fortunately (or maybe not) I can shift my attention to other rooms in the house, such as the kitchen (all that kitchen equipment) or even the living room (there are loads of cabinets with empty boxes, old ornaments etc) to de-clutter.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Paper, paper, all is paper

Over the past month, I have spent half every weekend clearing out my paper.  

According to Marie Kondo, paper is the third category for clearing, after clothing and books.  It is really my weak point as I find it really difficult to throw papers away!  Marie Kondo listed the papers which people keep:

- old lecture notes (check)
- old cheque books (with just counterfoils remaining) (check)
- old payslips (check)
- old credit card statements and bills (I only keep three years worth, in my defence)
- greeting cards (check)
- warranties and instruction manuals (check)

To which I have to add, old course and education certificates, travel-related paper like old maps and tourist brochures, bank statements, insurance documents, car and home maintenance related documents etc etc.

You get the picture.  My room is a veritable fire trap.  My cabinets and drawers are full of paper, and stacks lie on the desk and side table.  I opened up one big box which has been hidden in my cabinet for the longest time - only to find it full of papers which I had to sort through.  Some were old bills and the like but a lot were letters, cards and little travel souvenirs like postcards and pictures.  Sorting all the papers out took a very, very long and tedious time.

Marie's rule of thumb: discard everything, except (I) those documents which you must keep indefinitely for legal/contractual purposes, (ii) those documents which you need to take action on, and (iii) those you want to refer to and need to keep for a limited period of time.  

I can't say I followed her instructions to a T.  But, somehow her instructions succeeded in pushing me to discard my undergrad notes, my old payslips (except for my very first payslip - consider that komono not paper!), the cheque book stubs, expired warranties etc.  I decided to keep only two years' worth of credit card statements, not three (slowly, slowly).  Old car repair bills (for vehicles which were scrapped years ago) also made it into the bin.

Marie Kondo says in her book that her clients' record is fifteen 45-litre bags.  I'm not sure what the volume of my bags is, but I've filled about ten large shopping bags.  And, I've not quite finished since I still need to get a shredder to shred my bank statements in (I was a little reluctant to just tear them up).   

What I found very useful was Marie's suggestions on how to file papers.  Just keep them in three files reflecting her categories above.  She observed that most people have very elaborate filing systems, so much so that it makes it difficult for them to file papers away.  The far simpler filing system she proposed makes it easier for people to keep their papers.  Thinking about it a bit, I totally agree!!!  I have since simplified my "incoming" documents - instead of sorting them into my handphone bill, utilities bill, credit card etc, I will just put them all in the same big folder marked "2016" which I can then go through and decide what to shred or keep at the end of the year.  (I am afraid that I'm not really capable of throwing away my old credit card bill once it is paid).  So hopefully, this easy filing system will help me keep my papers sorted.

I was so tired of clearing just paper, that along the way, I did concurrently work on other categories.  I finished clearing out my clothes.  Five bags worth, ready to cart away.  Not the empty closets which some Konverts boast of but pretty good, for me.  I also sorted a little komono along the way, clearing out stationary and miscellaneous junk drawers.  

So that's paper (mostly) over.  Now to the rest of the komono.


Friday, January 01, 2016

Tidying up for the new year

It started when I heard that my sister had asked our mother for a book on home organisation for Christmas.  I was shopping for Christmas presents at Kinokuniya and saw this book entitled "the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing" by Marie Kondo.  I vaguely recalled reading  about her off my Facebook feed and so thought the book would be just the thing for my sister and picked it up immediately.

Of course, my mother had got her the exact same book.

So I kept and read the book instead.  Further research online threw up lots of "before & after" pictures, testament to the efficacy of her method.  So I decided to give it a try. 

Marie Kondo's first step is to de-clutter, before deciding how to store what is left.  Her default is to get rid of everything, except those things which "spark joy".  And she starts off with clothes (including bags, shoes, etc), before moving to books, papers and komono (miscellaneous items).  Thus far, this is what I've done:

1. Cleared out my t-shirts and my underwear drawers, and folded them Kondo-style, and stored vertically.  It was amazing to see how orderly the drawers became and how much space suddenly emerged!  And how easy it is to see my things after that.  

I have to admit that I didn't quite follow her instructions with the rest of my clothing.  Because I had recently done a mini-purge, and also because I found out that my relative was sending a box of clothes overseas in about a month or so.  It made more sense to hang on for a fuller "kondo-ing" of my wardrobe nearer the date.  

2.  Cleared out my bag collection and got rid of three huge bagsful of bags.  Because my umbrellas were stored with my bags, I took the opportunity to organise them as well (I didn't purge any because I have been known to leave my umbrella behind me, so will leave it to natural attrition to reduce their numbers).

3. Shoes.  Ok, so I only got rid of two pairs.  Not that I have that many to begin with.  There was one "maybe" which I decided to keep for now.  I'll throw it out when I next buy a pair of shoes; its partly the need to preserve my share of the real estate in the shoe storage areas.

4. Toiletries.  This effectively means I've Kondo-ed my bathroom.  Paid special attention to the cabinet under the sink (where I installed a few Daiso extension rods to create a shelf for good measure).  Confession: I could not bring myself to get rid of my entire collection of hotel supplied goodies. I use them!  I do!!! But maybe I don't need to keep on taking them back any more...

I have to admit that Marie Kondo's instruction to strive for "ultimate simplicity" in storage solutions struck a chord around here.  For years I have had this little plastic chest of drawers under the sink where apparently I am supposed to retrieve soap, first aid things, etc.  In practice the drawers were hardly used and the bandages inside seem a little old.  My hotel "selections" were occupying one drawer but it was also very difficult to find what I was looking for in the drawers.  I got rid of the drawers, and used a shoebox -Marie Kondo's recommended solution instead.  That also put one empty shoebox to good use.  

5.  Books.  Okay, this was not that much of a purge as others have done.  Partly because I just can't bring myself to get rid of too many.  I know that Marie Kondo says "sometime means never" but then I recently read a book which had been sitting there for years so there.... Maybe I got rid of some 45-50 books, but because the bookshelves were overstuffed previously, this means they have just reverted to being nicely full.  And I can actually find books I want to read!   My bookshelves, full as they are, spark joy.

I also worked on the family cookbook collection.  Again, we could have gotten rid of a few more but my mother felt bad getting rid of some which were given as gifts.  

What's left : paper (this is going to be a tortuous session) and komono.   Looks as though I'll need to do another update.

I am hoping that all this decluttering will help me start 2016 on the right note!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Emmeline's last bow

Emmeline
After losing our Darling Dinky, it was sad to say goodbye to Emmeline just two months later.

Just before leaving for Japan, I instructed my family: "do not euthanise any cats in my absence". It was said half in jest, but little did I know that a few days after my departure Emmeline would suffer a serious ear infection which led to a vet visit, and diagnosis that she too had feline cancer.  She was treated for the ear infection, and so was still alive (but feeble, not eating well) when I returned.  She fell ill again shortly, and had difficulties breathing - difficult to watch.  So we took her back to the vet, and said goodbye one last time.

Emmie and her little pirates

Emmeline started off being called "MC", itself a short form for "mother cat".  She was the mother of our cute little "pirate kittens" (her first and last litter, for we sterilised her after) and was a very devoted mother to them.  

After the little pirates got adopted, MC continued to hang around and from an occasional visitor, became a regular inhabitant of our front yard.  She was on good terms with Mollie and Paddy (our late tom cat), and snuffled amiably at the indoor cats when she caught glimpses of them through the open door.  Eventually we decided that we had been thoroughly adopted and therefore formally named her "Emmeline", or "Emmie" for short.

Watching over her kit.
Emmie's health had its ups and downs.  She developed a mouth infection which resulted in expensive dental treatment and the loss of numerous teeth (she became our $500 cat).  From the front yard, we moved her to the back yard to watch over her recovery.  But she was hard to budge - even after her health improved, she became the undisputed queen of the yard, with all our other cats watching her warily whenever they ventured into her territory.  She happily invaded the house too, lying on our sofa in the afternoons.

It's hard picking out her photos; she looks a great deal like Mickey (our other dear departed black & white) so I'm picking out the ones I definitely know are of her....

Emmie indeed gave us many warm and fuzzy moments, and we miss her.
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