Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stage Celebrities: AV Ambrose



While going through my photo archive, I came across a cutie that I had forgot to share with all of you. He was the audio-video technician for a Huazong event in the middle of 2017. What do you think of AV Ambrose? Think he qualifies as an AV actor? He has a nice height and build for sure.



Saturday, November 10, 2018

Clumps of Grass

I grew up in a neighbourhood that was made up of rows of squat houses striped with grassy fields. We often hired grass cutters to manicure the fields (back in those days, they still used metal blades instead of plastic strings). Once the grass was cut, I would help out with the raking. No matter how well we raked, there would always be leftover blades of grass. These stragglers make their presence known after a heavy downpour. Once the rain clouds clears and the sun dries the field, one would often find 'tentacles' made up of brown grass clumped together by the rain. I loved to pick at those clumps, and let the dried grass crumble through my fingers. Sounds dirty? Just a random memory from my childhood. Not sure if you know what I'm rambling about... :D.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Slow Life Hokkaido VII: Shopping at Sapporo

Hello Kitty on the Street

Sapporo was just a short drive from Otaru, under an hour. Like most of the cities in Japan, very block-ish in design, hence contains a barrage of traffic lights and cross-junctions. Parked our car at one of many public parking spots (the one we parked at had a clamp at the bottom that only released after paying the bill) and went on foot. Spent most of our time there shopping really. So many drug stores with Chinese-speaking staff. However, with the Payke app, you can get most English product information just by scanning the barcode. In addition to drug stores, we also went treasure hunting at Donki (amazing selection of sex toys), Daiso, Book-off, etc.

Ginza Lion

We had our lunch at Ginza Lion beer hall. Great place for Western food. At around 3:00 PM, we left Sapporo for Chitose. Dropped mum and Sis off at the AirBnB, while Bro and I went to pump petrol and return the rental. FYI, some petrol stations in Japan have the service and self-service pumps. Unknowingly, I stopped at the self-service section and wondering why nobody came up to me. Haha. And it's actually cheaper per litre if you can figure out the instructions by yourself.

Steak

Beef

The process to return the car was quite painless and quick. Once done, they shuttled us back to New Chitose Airport. Spent quite a long time there trying to secure a taxi booking for the next morning. The two customer service representatives at the information counter tried very hard to get things right for us. Spent the whole time miming the size of our luggage. In the end, they booked two taxis for us because there were worried that we couldn't fit everything into one cab.

Returning the Rental

Our dinner was just a short walk away. A self-service ramen shop called Yamakoya with booths and a manga shelf. I struggled at the kiosk although they had an English option. Managed to screw it up and ordered one less bowl. Very thick broth, not really to my liking. And the noodles were yellow and thick, also not to my liking. Good thing I screwed up.

Ramen Shop

Coupons

Miso Ramen

Ideally, one should should stay the last night at the airport hotel due to super early flight time. Unfortunately, we were unable to secure a booking and ended up at the AirBnB. The description for the AirBnB listing turned out to be a little misleading. Bro and I had to sleep on the couch, but luckily it had adequate padding. Early the next morning, we hopped onto the cab and got to the airport..... For more shopping! The airport is really the perfect place to get snacks and chocolates. No point lugging Royce and frozen cheesecake around your whole trip with risk of it melting or spoiling. Surely buy it right before you board. That marks the end of our Hokkaido trip!

Check-In

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Slow Life Hokkaido VI: Out and About in Otaru

Otters on Otaru Manhole

The journey from Hakodate to Otaru took us another four hours in a north-easterly direction. I must say that Otaru was the hottest in our whole trip. The sun was blazing and we all dumped our jackets in the car. Like Hakodate, Otaru is also a port city with a long history. The pride of the city is the Otaru Canal. Tourists often take cruises on the canal to admire the old warehouses and merchant building lined along it. One look at a bunch Korean ladies baking in the sun deterred us from trying the same. Our tummies were growling after a short walk in the scorching sun, and we quickly went to find food.

Sunny Canal

Otaru Canal

Canal Painter

A PRC working at the tourist information center pointed us to Otaru Denuki Koji, a collection of twenty small restaurants in a heritage building. The place has a whimsical design, like a building out of Miyazaki's onsen town in "Spirited Away". Within a small courtyard was a statue of Udatsu Kozo, a statue with round-rim glasses holding a skewer dango. Not all of the restaurants were open, so we just took a chance with Otaru Bishokubo Dairen Shokudo. The place serves noodles and rice dishes, with some Chinese cuisine. We chose several dishes with a combination of sliced beef, unagi, and ramen. Lunch was splendid.

Otaru Denoki Koji

Stamina Gyudon

Unagi Gyudon

Udatsu Kozo

Otaru Denuki Koji also offered dessert in the form of eye candy as Ebisuya, a local pulled rickshaw service had a counter there. One particular jinrickisha danshi (rickshaw puller) mesmerized me with his pearly whites, smiling eyes, muscular thighs, and fashionable haircut. His loins were girded in tight white shorts, and he had a scarf around his neck to absorb his manly sweat. A thirty minute 'ride' with him would cost about JPY5,000. Worth the price to experience his athleticism. I saw the way he dashed across the road with a passenger and I must admit that he was in perfect control of the heavy rickshaw. Yum yum. Imagine what he could do with that superb strength and control in the bedroom!

Jinrickisha Danshi

A short walk away was Sakaimachi Street, a preserved merchant street in the heart of old Otaru. From the outside, much of the old flavour is preserved, but most of the shops are now re-purposed to get a slice of the tourism pie. Most have been transformed into restaurants and cafes, and shops selling specialty snacks and local products like kelp and glassware (Otaru is famous for it). The most prominent player in Otaru is LeTAO which has three outlets along the heritage road. The Western confectionery set up their main store at the Marchen intersection, which marks the end of the street. The beautiful building with a clock tower faces the Otaru Steam Clock, that was a gift from the city of Vancouver. Both clocks mark the time with bells and whistles. LeTAO cleverly lures tourists into their shop with free samples of Royal Montagne (chocolate blended with Darjeeling tea). Walk around the ground floor, and you get a full dessert buffet of testers. Upstairs is their tea room, but we didn't visit.

Merchant's Street

Marchen Intersection

Steam Clock

Instead, we had our tea time at their new outlet just across the street called LeTAO DANI which specializes in fromage danishes. A yummy creation with excellent taste and texture. Best taken with a cup of melon soda. Sis walked over from the main store with their original cheesecake and melon cheesecake. Both didn't quite appeal to me. Always go for their Double Fromage. Magnifique! As we walked down the road, we made several stops for hot kelp broth, soft-serve ice cream, and grilled squid. Ika Taro Honpo makes delicious freshly grilled squid (get the spicy version!). You can watch the machine in action at the shopfront.

Kaonashi with LeTao Goodies

Mario Kart

Peanuts lovers should also stop at Snoopy Cha-Ya to buy merchandise and eat at their cafe. I feel that it's much easier to buy Snoopy merchandise compared to Hello Kitty or Doraemon!

Charlie Brown Omu Rice

Boys and Girls

Then we had a slice of extremely juicy yubari melon. Each piece is like a piece of sponge heavy with melon juice. Not much pulp at all.

Yubari Melon

I don't think we covered the whole street. The heat was already getting to us, so we retreated to the Otaru Miyakodori Shopping District to get away from the tourists. The Travel Recommends internet was acting up and I had to contact their customer support. Seriously, I think the mobile internet is not unlimited. Every time you exceed the quota and complain, they probably do a top-up or something. Really annoying.

Otaru Miyakodori Shopping District

Anpanman Cloth

Our AirBnB for the night was Sun Inaho, a residential block in a neighbourhood not too far from the canal area. However, the host seemed to be operating in stealth mode because he left a lot of warnings about not pissing off the neighbours. Of all the places we stayed it, it was the most inconvenient cause it didn't come with parking, we had to drag our luggage through a dirt path, and then lug the bags upstairs. Luckily there was a self-service public parking lot just two blocks away. Park. Leave. And pay using the kiosk when leaving. The unit was also very stuffy and didn't have any air-conditioning. We opened every window in the apartment.

Once again, we got our dinner from the supermarket. A lovely assortment of discount grilled seafood (squid, octopus, sanma, etc), grilled eggplant, shoyu chicken, and blanched vegetables. For dessert we had chocolate cream puffs from Kitakaro Otaru Honkan. If you ever visit their shop Sakaimachi Street, do also get their Hokkaido Kaitaku Okaki, fantastically crispy mochi snacks seasoned with seafood. Love it!

Kaonashi at Dinner

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Slow Life Hokkaido V: Hungry in Hakodate

Yakumo

One night was all we had at Lake Toya. Got up early and had a simple breakfast of eggs at the AirBnB. Upon checking out, we finally had a chance to greet our host's dog. Didn't hear a single bark since yesterday. A two-hour drive ahead of us to Hakodate. We were in a little of a rush because we had to reach Hakodate before the seafood market closes at 2:00 PM. The first stop was at Yakumo where I realized that we were running low on fuel. Asked Bro to probe ahead for highway oasis ahead and he came up empty. Unlike Malaysia, the highway in Hokkaido does not have many petrol stations on it. In our region of travel, there were only four highway oasis that have more complete amenities. Seeing how critical our fuel level was, we had no choice but to exit the highway at Kutchan. Bro went to talk to the guy manning the highway exit. Good thing that the staff had a phrase book for all sorts of emergency situations. He handed us a map to the nearest petrol station in town. Phew! We were saved!

Crabs For Sale

Hakodate was really hot. Our first taste of 'real' summer. Parked our car at a paid car park and walked to the Hakodate Morning Market. By that time, the crowd had lessened, and some stores had started closing. We didn't really know where to start although I had been there before. I think it's much easier in Kuromon Market, Osaka. To make things simple, we just aimed to clear our must-eat list:
  1. Hairy Crab
  2. King Crab
  3. Squid
Randomly picked a stall (guess the guy's cute smile carried some weight) and let the guy 'lead' us into fishing a large one from the aquarium. Think that crab cost of us JPY6,000. Worth every yen though. Haha. Once we paid, we brought us to a restaurant located on the second floor of the market-- Asaichi Shokudo Nibankan. Many locals were eating cheap donburi there (starts ate JPY500), but we couldn't be bothered with rice! Twenty minutes was quite a long time to wait for our crab to boil, so we got some other stuff too for example grilled hokke (my favourite Japanese grilled fish), and giant scallop. When the hairy crab arrived, they had already cut the shell with kitchen shears, so there was no need for us to do the work. All we needed was a 'crab needle', a tool with a small two-pronged fork on one end (to dig out meat from the shell), and small spoon on the other (to scoop up roe). The texture of the meat was good, and it was sweet, with the natural saltiness from the sea. Very satisfying.

Buying Crabs

Kaonashi and Hairy Crab

Kaonashi and Giant Scallop

Kaonashi and Atka Mackerel

One item was scratched off the list. Went back down to scour other parts of the market. Stopped again at another restaurant to try their grilled King Crab legs. Also ordered some sashimi-- salmon, surf clam, and live squid. The King Crab has a different taste and texture altogether. A different type of yummy. Haha. And I must say that the live squid sashimi was amazing. A very different type of sweetness and different translucent parts of the squid offer a different experience. By the time we finished our second breakfast, the market had already wound down. We headed to the next point of interest-- Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses.

Live Squid Sashimi

Buying Peaches

Historically, Hakodate was one of the first international port cities in Japan, and the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses were one of the pioneer commercial warehouses there. Today, the warehouses have been re-purposed into a commercial complex, but the heritage exteriors are maintained. Basically it's a whole lot of shopping and dining! We did not managed to wander through all the warehouses. In the end, we stopped at Pâtisserie Petit Merveille to fulfill my sister's cheese cake cravings. A simple act of handing out free samples is really effective. Sis took four varieties of their bite-sized hanjuku style cheese cake, and a slice of their baked cheese cake. My personal favourite is the caramel hanjuku. Love the fragrance of the caramel. Pumpkin and chocolate was kinda meh.

Red Brick

Shopping for Trinkets

Rice Crackers

Cheesecake

I maxed out my first SD card at Kanemori because I was smitten by the tanned, muscular thighs of the traditional rickshaw pullers. Who can resist athletic university undergraduates in tight cotton shorts, all sweaty and flashing their sunshine smiles? The next snack stop was at Hakodate Yukinko food truck, where we had soft-serve ice cream (made with local milk) and a yukinko (sweet potato snack).

Jinrikisha

No more shopping for us that day, so we took a leisurely walk at Motomachi, Hakodate's old quarter. The historic neighbourhood is located on slopes overlooking the port, and used to house many foreign residences. Amazing that we found the energy to traverse those slopes. Along the way, we also visited some of the old churches, namely the Motomachi Catholic Church, Hakodate Episcopal Church of Japan, and the Hakodate Russian Orthodox Church. The Motomachi Catholic Church is topped with the statue of the city's bird-- the Varied Tit.

Old Street

At the end of the road was the Former Hakodate Ward Public Hall, an important heritage building in the city. A unique architectural attraction that fuses Japanese and Western influences. And the building itself is painted an eye-catching yellow and grey. In front of it is Motomachi Park which offers an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Hakodate. From there, we walked down the magnificent cobblestone Motoi-zaka slope which was an important landmark back in the 1870s.

City Bird

Old Town Hall

Slope

Before we left the bay area, Bro bought the Lucky Egg Burger (#2 bestseller) from Lucky Pierrot, the best local burger chain in Hakodate. One bite of that sloppy burger was enough to convert me. If you're ever in Hakodate, do visit one or all of their quirky and cheerfully-decorated restaurants. My loss for not trying it back in 2016.

Grandpa and Grandson

Dinner for the night was Benten Sushi, right at the foot of Hakodatehachimangusai, a 15th century shinto shrine in a forest. FYI, the restaurant is very small, and very much a neighbourhood sushi shop where families gather, and local obasans come to drink. When we arrived, we had to wait half an hour at the shrine parking lot (giant Hakodate mosquitos abound!) for the crowd to clear. We weren't feeling particularly hungry, so we requested to share two dinner sets. Something that we thought simple actually caused much distress to the elderly couple manning the shop. Not something in their SOP. Haha. The sushi was really good, and I particularly liked a gunkan sushi topped with tobiko and raw quail egg.

Benten Sushi

Once we finished dinner, we rushed off to La'gent Plaza Hotel located in Hakuto. The hotel is located in a quiet part of town and is quite new. Like most Japanese hotels, the room was pretty cramped though. We made use of the hotel's hot spring before calling it a night.

POI Mapcodes:
  1. Hakodate Morning Market : 86 072 344*22
  2. Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses : 86 041 611*87
  3. Motomachi : 86 040 467*21
  4. La'gent Plaza Hotel : 0138-77-5055 (phone)