The Extravagantly Exciting Explorers’ Expedition to Japan

本への贅沢エキサイティング探検」探検隊

Day One

I sleepily blinked my eyes open as the sound of zipping suitcases and footsteps surged into my ears.

“Get up, today is a big day.”

I grumbled with great disgruntlement, threw my blanket off my body, rubbed my eyes, and dragged myself to the bathroom.

And then I froze.

Japan. I’m going to Japan.

I squealed with excitement from the inside; euphoria itself shook me wide awake.


I walked up the passenger tunnel into the airplane, pulling my navy blue luggage behind me while bouncing up and down behind the rest of my family.

It was the nine of us, about to experience the same amazing things, about to explore the same breath-taking country together. My mother’s brother’s family of four, my own family of four, and my aunt.

The nine of us.

Explorers.


“Welcome to Narita Airport. We hope that you enjoy your stay in Tokyo,” greeted the friendly voice over the airport’s intercom. However, the large capitol of Japan was not our first stop.

We were heading somewhere a bit of a distance away from Tokyo.

And we wanted to go there as quickly as possible.

And what do you do when you want to get somewhere quickly?

You go as fast as a bullet.


The Bullet Train.

The Bullet Train.


新幹線[noun.]

Shinkansen; Bullet Train

It felt spectacularly normal inside the train for something travelling at 320 km/h. Even my dad’s car travelling at 80 km/h wishes that it could present half of the comfort the bullet train provides.

Well, not per se “as fast as a bullet”, but this high-speed monster machine is so reliable for its commuters, the average delay for a Shinkansen is only 36 seconds. International regulations state that something travelling this fast will only be considered delayed if the delay lasts more than 10 minutes.


Oh gosh. It was already ten o’clock, but all was worthwhile when we were greeted with this spectacle immediately after stepping out from the station.

The Kyoto Tower.

The Kyoto Tower.

The frost bite bit and the cold winds wounded our skin, so we scrambled into our hotel, which so strategically happened to be directly beneath the Kyoto Tower and 5 minutes away from the nearest train station. Oh, clever mom.

The lack of food places at midnight astonished us and was frankly quite eerie, given our pampered upbringing in a food-filled country. The cruel weather had forced locals back into the warm confines of the indoors, and lone leaves tumbled across the empty square in front of the station.

5 o’clock in the late afternoon and most food places had begun closing for the day as darkness began to fall, so we searched high and low and eventually found a dinky little smoking bar in which we found a room for ourselves to degust delicious Japanese cuisine in.



“I’m bunking in early,” my father moaned as he flopped lazily onto his bed upon entering the hotel room.

“So am I,” my mother groaned at the same pitch as my father.

“Japan,” I squealed excitedly, camcorder in my hand as I recorded everything and anything there was to record.


Day Two

7 a.m. and we were all gathered down in the hotel lobby, unused to the earliness of the morning. This could be inferred from the way we were yawning drowsily and stretching our limbs.

We boarded the packed subway and breezed past scenes of city life and old Japanese buildings.

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All aboard!

Cheery explorers.

Cheery explorers.


We stumbled out of the train station and walked a bit of a distance up a gently sloping hill.

The entrance to a traditional Japanese house.

The entrance to a traditional Japanese house.

On the way up to our destination we witnessed rickety rickshaws, more ancient Japanese houses, but those were merely specks along the road compared to the marvel we were about to see.


This is what we came for.

Steps leading up to glory.

Steps leading up to glory.

Shrouded among autumn leaves, a pagoda.

Shrouded among autumn leaves, a pagoda.


清水寺[noun.]

Kiyomizu-dera; An independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto.

Metal bolts lined the firm wooden pillars as hundreds flocked to the popular site for praying and sightseeing. A view of the entire city of Kyoto was to be witnessed as well as pilgrims and geishas standing in front of the ash wells and statues to pray. Autumn leaves, swaying as the wind made them to, were brilliant splashes of colour against the hillside.

Very vintage.

Very vintage.

It felt somewhat satisfying and remotely exciting to be contiguous with these legendary women of Japan; the very symbol of Nippon, one of the few links that reaches down into canonical, legitimate Japanese culture.


The thing about Kyoto, is that it is heavily cultural and a centrepiece for scenery. Aside from being a bustling city, it offers a bountiful piece of culture and raw, untouched tradition.

芸者[noun.]

Geisha; Traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance, games and conversation.

The Geisha in their natural habitat.

The Geisha in their natural habitat.

Conversation is a Japanese art? So do they entertain people purely using conversation? Because that is a skill worth having right there.


Once satisfied with our devouring of the scenery and landscape, we proceeded down the same long winding road and took the train once more to the next stop in our eleven-day itinerary.

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The Gates of Acceptance in the train station.


 伏見稲荷大社 [noun.]

Fushimi-Inari Taisha; The head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto.

The kitsune guarding the entrance of the shrine.

The kitsune guarding the entrance of the shrine.

The foxes guarding each progressing entrance deeper and deeper into the grounds are regarded as messengers, and mostly carry keys as an attribute of their role in the shrines.

狐[noun.]

Kitsune; The Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore.


I grasped my camcorder in my hand and tried to take all of it in – the seamless blend of nature with shrine, and the glorious blend of the red paint of the wood and the warmly-coloured leaves of autumn trees.

鳥居[noun.]

Torii; a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of or within a Shinto Shrine.

One of the biggest Torii at Fushimi-Inari.

One of the biggest Torii at Fushimi-Inari, featuring the explorers.

My dad and my mother’s brother, the two professional photographers for the trip, had their fingers clicking away on their camera triggers as they adjusted their zooms to fit the large gates, shrines, statues and trickles of nature. Photography was their métier, after all.

My family in front of the main prayer hall at the entrance.

My family in front of the main prayer hall at the entrance.

We followed the neat stone paths and arrived at the picturesque, postcard-ready torii path leading up to the inner shrine.


The rows and rows of endless red posts astounded us as we walked through the tunnel of torii. Hierograms were etched at the corners of the posts, two-word inscriptions that symbolized fortune and safekeeping.

The torii just keep going further and further.

The torii just kept going further and further.

We were just trying to take a nice shot when a Japanese photobomber decided to pop in.

We were just trying to take a nice shot when a Japanese photobomber decided to pop in.

This is the start of the long tunnel of torii.

This is the start of the long tunnel of torii.

So much time and dedication was thrown in to the construction of Fushimi-Inari, building all those beautiful gates in such perfect symmetry. It made me stand back and wonder how much patience the builders of the place must have had, and how much tangible history Japan had to offer.

We walked quite a long stretch and ended up at the inner shrine, a place where people could buy different good luck charms and look at all the different kitsune statues all around. It was a real co-existing complement, for ancient religion, nature and architecture to work in such harmony to provide pleasure for people who might not even believe in any one of the three.

A kitsune holding the key to fertility and good harvest.

A kitsune holding the key to fertility and good harvest.


We thought we had seen it all at Fushimi-Inari, the gates and shrines, but once again it had proved us wrong, very wrong. For along the exit route from the inner shrine back to the entrance, exotic autumn trees branched out along the paths to greet us and serene water features graced our coming.

Freshly dropped autumn maple leaves.

Freshly dropped autumn maple leaves.

The sound of water meandering down the stream was divine.

The crystal water meandering down the stream was divine.

With great reluctance and hesitation, we boarded the train back to Kyoto.


It became crepuscule and as we exited the train station, we couldn’t believe that we’d been as blind as to miss out on all that the mega train station was. Eleven stories worth of escalators shooting up into an almost continuous moving flight of stairs, and a giant Christmas tree towering over all the passing commuters.

The view of the train station from above.

The view of the train station from above.

Those eleven stories contained department stores and food outlets, as well as little convenience stores and other entertainment shops. Half-starving and half-exhausted, we parted ways for the moment to find food. Grumbling and stumbling, my family collapsed in a humble food shop and ordered the first thing on the menu: beef bowls.

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The restaurant had raw eggs for you to crack open into a bowl and dip your beef in, and honestly speaking, I wasn’t quite sure why nobody by far had told me of this revolutionary method of beef consumption.

Satisfied and slightly bloated, we bumbled our way back to the hotel.


Day Three

“You’ll get that bike, it’s for kids,” my mother told my youngest cousin as we all saddled up onto our bicycles.

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We rode on through the small alleys and side roads that winded through the houses and retail blocks. It seemed that not all of us were competent in bike-riding, and so we had not too few inconvenient stops along the way to our next stop. But hey, explorers travel in more ways than one.

A small train museum's display we saw on the way.

A small train museum’s display we saw on the way.


Sunlight shone down in narrow slivers between the talk stalks of bamboo as we rode on slowly through the grove. The bamboo leaves formed a thin canopy above our heads and swayed ever so slightly in the gentle caressing wind.

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A small fraction of the bamboo grove.

Riding on through the scenery.

Riding on through the scenery.

A lush canopy.

A lush canopy.

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More colourful leaves!

Screaming red.

Screaming red.

There were little ingots of interesting things through the grove, like little houses, tiny shrines and small businesses, tiny things dotting the landscape; vibrant, intricate details.

I tried to inhale as much of it as possible, to absorb it all in; the atmosphere, the sounds, the sights, the smells – all of it. To feel at one with my surroundings and see it from every different angle, unlike taking a picture – a two-dimensional singularity limited to the four corners of the frame. I wanted something more – a sensory memory worth a million years.

Nephila clavata spotted in Arashiyama.

Nephila clavata spotted in Arashiyama.

An old Japanese home nestled away behind bushes.

An old Japanese home nestled away behind bushes.

We couldn't resist snapping a few pictures at this persimmon shop.

We couldn’t resist snapping a few pictures at this persimmon shop.

Bright orange, succulent persimmons.

Bright orange, succulent persimmons.

It's nice to take group pictures.

It’s nice to take group pictures.

The persimmons burst forth their sweet juices once you broke their skin; they were ripe and freshly plucked from the persimmon trees in the surrounding area. We paused along the pavement to devour the literal fruits of farmers’ work.


A full-on traditional geisha!

A full-on traditional geisha!

These are a whole different classification of what we call a ‘geisha’. These spend hours just getting their hair up into perfect shape, to cake their faces with white powder and special lipstick, as well as donning on their hand-woven costumes. They are the modern ancestors of geisha.


Playing on a see-saw in a neighbouring playground.

Playing on a see-saw in a neighbouring playground.

We watched a bunch of elderly folk play lawn golf on the sandy floor of the playground. They had wrinkled eye smiles, thin and distinguished, careworn but not unkind, seeking a recreation to fill up their retirement time by smacking little wooden balls with mallets into little hula hoops. After goofing around on see-saws and swings, we cycled on back into the bamboo grove and tried the other bend in the three-way junction.


“What’s that?” “What?” “In that tree over there.”

“What are those?”

A tiny quiet café defied the rules of entrepreneurship by tucking itself inconveniently out of sight from tourists. Little dolls sat in different poses on trees, playing with each other or sitting alone between tree branches, like decorations of a secret garden. “We have fruit cake, and latté, and pizza.” Our stomachs were growling by then, so we thought, why not? The ambience was pleasant anyway.

Resting up after a tiring journey.

Resting up after a tiring journey.

The texture of the fruit cakes was near perfection.

The texture of the fruit cakes was near perfection.

Doodling, capturing the moment with light sketches.

Doodling, capturing the moment with light sketches.

The whole place felt quite surreal, like a dreamy garden-café where no one could watch us, where the birds twittered around bamboo trees and little lily pads drifted on a pond nearby.


“Do you think we should go in?” On a post standing next to the ticketing counter a jumble of mandarin characters and Japanese ones were engraved, declaring the name of the area proudly in a neat font. “Why not? Cycled all the way in, I don’t expect to come here to be disappointed.” We weren’t disappointed.


天龍寺[noun.]

Tenryū-ji; The head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Also unquestionably beautiful.

The main dojo hall.

The large abbey.

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More geisha hunting!

Branches overhanging the quiet pond.

Branches overhanging the quiet pond.

Kois drifting about in the pond water.

Kois drifting about in the pond water.

Picture perfect.

Picture perfect.

Like a perfect puzzle, each part compliments the next.

Like a perfect puzzle, each part of the view compliments the next.

From a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Tenryū-ji’s abundance and its intimacy with the colours of the sun constantly bring forth technicolor of natural harmony and undisturbed peace. The ducks waddling far off in the pond under the shade of the trees hummed along to the sound of water trickling into the pond from a small stream. The pictures speak for me, and serve as a constant staggering reminder of the beauty that Mother Earth has bestowed to mankind.


We returned our bikes to our rental shop (for they were due) and made our way to the famed Iwatayama Monkey Park down the shopping street, crossing the also famous Togetsukyo Bridge on the way.

The view from the Togetsukyo bridge.

The view from the Togetsukyo bridge at dusk.

A stillwater canal.

A stillwater canal.

嵐山モンキーパーク[noun.]

Arashiyama Monkī Pāku; a commercial park, specializing in public monkey observation, located in Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan.

Monkeys, like humans, are suspected heavily in the science community to be our relatives in our biological classification. They have highly developed brains and are known to socialise a lot like humans do.

To have the level of physical interaction that the monkey park provides between human and monkey is a thrilling sensation. The danger of the beast attacking you and the curiosity of something that is so brilliantly smart for an animal – perks the mind of someone visiting the park.

Picking fleas off a fellow monkey for consumption.

Picking fleas off a fellow monkey for consumption.

Nibblenibblenibble

Nibblenibblenibble

Still picking fleas?

Still picking fleas?

A little feeding session with a wire mesh in between to ensure your safety.

A little feeding session with a wire mesh in between to ensure your safety.

Behold the view of Arashiyama!

Behold the view of Arashiyama!

Goodbye Arashiyama!

Goodbye Arashiyama!


Tired and hungry, we roamed the shopping street of Arashiyama and found a disappointing  selection of food stalls. Most, if not all of them, were selling traditional matcha ice-cream. After combing through a kilometre of the street, we found a spangly little restaurant nestled between two other shophouses.

Salmon, beef and curry rice bowls!

Salmon, beef and curry rice bowls!

On the same trains that brought us to Arashiyama, we headed back to Kyoto station. Bearing ample time left to spend, we decided to take a good look of the city from Kyoto tower.

Kyoto, still bustling with life at midnight.

Kyoto, still bustling with life at midnight.

Explorer selfie

Explorer selfie in the elevator as we head up to the top of the famous Kyoto Tower!

Through the freely provided high-power binoculars that stood at regular intervals around the observatory, we had a good look up close and from far into the lives of the Japanese through the eyes of an eagle. Peering into the homes of unsuspecting people doing things like having home-cooked dinner or watching television gave us a chock-full more insight into a Japanese’s everyday life. As solid proof of our being there, we snapped a few photoshoot-worthy shots of ourselves with the whole of Kyoto behind us.

The lady explorers.

The lady explorers.

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My family and my aunt (in the middle).


Day Four

7 a.m.

Early in the morning and the city is already astir. Office workers in unchanging black suits bustle around, slipping their little black briefcases into taxis or cars as they hurry off to work diligently. High school students, with headphones thrown over their ears and slick jackets to mask their uniforms, scamper into the trains zooming in and out of the platforms. Already neon lights are flickering on to illuminate dim passageways, making way for the dawn of a new day in the city.

Luggage wheels bounced up and down over tiles.

I rubbed my eyes and stretched my legs.

And I mean stretched.

And I mean stretched.

The train popped in and out of dark tunnels like a child playing peek-a-boo, and zoomed across rails winding in between apartments and other tall buildings.

Bridges flying over canals and people strolling in the parks by the water.

Bridges flying over canals and people strolling in the parks by the water.

Passing the large Osaka Dome on the train!

Passing the large Osaka Dome on the train!

Highways spread out, criss-crossing one another.

Highways spread out above the water, criss-crossing one another.


We crossed the Osaka border a bit before noon.

海遊館[noun.]

 Kaiyukan; An aquarium located in the ward of Minato in Osaka, Japan, near Osaka Bay.

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The cruise and museum tickets came in a promotional package, and we decided, why not?

Why not?

Because the cruise was already preparing to leave the harbour.

We dashed through the museum and snapped a quick picture in front of the ship.

We dashed through the museum and snapped a quick picture in front of the ship.

Our footsteps thundered up the gangway as we boarded the masterpiece of a cruise ship, the Santa Maria. The ship’s course was set for a loop around the stunning Osaka Bay, where famous bridges towered over all as we sailed below them.

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The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge has the longest central span of any suspension bridge in the world.

The famously large Tempozan ferris wheel.

The famously large Tempozan ferris wheel.


My cousin and I ducked below glorious masts and ran across the poop decks and scurried down spiralling stairways and twisting hallways, combing through the ship furiously, exploring everything. Intricate and meticulously little details like cannons and minor state flags were hidden all over.

Sails up!

Sails up!

We ascended a particularly narrow staircase that people were hurrying up and down from. When we pushed our way and ended up at the top, we were positively chilled to the bone. Strong bellowing winds mixed with the cold air froze our cheeks and left us frosted.

We'll just catch our breath for a moment on top of a cannon.

We’ll just catch our breath for a moment on top of a cannon.

We were standing at the bow of the ship, at the tip where Santa Maria sliced through the waves and the wind. The centre point of attention and the head of the ship, we felt like kings. An eyesome of the Osaka Bay stupefied us.

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A calm city by the water.


The ship moored by the harbour and we strolled down to the aquarium. Named as one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world with 27 tanks holding a staggering total of 10,941 tons of water, the aquarium prides itself in being one of the most visited tourist attractions in the whole of Japan.

A large set of mock shark jaws!

A large set of mock shark jaws!

The otters greeted us with their foul stenches but cute faces as we stopped by their habitat.

Getting ready to sleep while floating on the water surface.

Getting ready to sleep while floating on the water surface.

Dolphins dived deep down and resurfaced just as quickly with their jet-quick swimming.

A mother dolphin and her child both propel through the water in perfect synchronisation.

A mother dolphin and her child both propel through the water in perfect synchronisation.

Trainers in their wet suits and buckets of fish entered the aquarium, and the dolphins displayed a handful of tricks to the audience ogling behind the glass.

Shake a fin!

Shake a fin!

In the Amazon-themed section of the aquarium, fierce piranhas flashed their sharp sets of teeth while alligator gars glided past in the water, unblinking.

RARGH.

RARGH.

The smartness and cuteness of the sea-lions were undeniable as they obeyed every command of their trainers who also fed them little sardines as treats.

This show is flippin' ridiculous.

This show is flippin’ ridiculous.

King Penguins waddled around as they puffed their shining yellow breasts, beaks held high like true royalty, besides from the fact that they were trapped behind a wall of solid acrylic glass.

Just smile and wave, boys.

Just smile and wave, boys.

The centrepiece of the Kaiyukan, the very pride and joy of the aquarium, is the monster of a tank situated in the heart of the building. It is 30 feet deep and holds 5,400 cubic metres of water and a variety of fish including manta rays, sharks, and a whale shark. Little fish swim in schools while the larger predators glide unwaveringly through the water ominously, a graceful spectacle for all to behold.

Hammerheads!

Hammerheads!

“Fish are friends. Not food.”

Fwoom.

Bwaaaaaaaaah.

Tiny little anchovies swam around a rock endlessly as they played a never-ending game of follow the leader, and they sadly never realised that they were following themselves all this time.

Now we all know how smart they are.

Now we all know how smart they are.

In the darker and deeper part of the aquarium, little creeps and quirks greeted us in their moody tanks, barely moving as they watched humans silently. The majestic giant Japanese Spider Crab waved to us from its moody tank.

Curious little corals waved about in the current of the water.

Curious little corals waved about following the current of the water.

HIIIIII.

“HIIIIII.”


“Quickly! Tell daddy to come to the Mermaid Café now!” My mom instructed me as I bumped into her while gawking at the fish. I ran up the pathway back to where my dad had set his tripod up to take pictures, and dragged him along with me as I rushed to the Mermaid Café, situated halfway through the aquarium. “What is it?” He asked between short breaths. “I don’t know, mummy asked me to bring you there.” We stumbled into the café, wondering what all the fuss was about. Then we saw everyone, mouths ajar as they stared, stupefied by whatever was outside the window. And then we realised. DSC_1006 Light breaking forth from the clouds, little silvers of golden ray finding every gap to shine through, a glorious sun setting on Osaka Bay. Highlighting the clouds, golden linings found their way across the edges of the clouds. Heaven decided to smile upon us that day.


We were taken aback as the aquarium offered even more for us to see. In the tropical-themed section of the building, lethargic sloths inched their way across their elaborate wooden playground as they chewed on large leaves at a rate of one snail per minute.

I'll...just...be...moving...along...here...

I’ll…just…be…moving…along…here…

Four furry otter siblings zipped about their little enclosure playground as they torpedoed through their little pools and held leaves and seashells in their tiny hands. One of them fell asleep next to a glass panel, and the rest followed, stepping on one another in a furry attempt to sleep on top of the otter pile. Adorableness maximus. Spotted seals loafed lazily in their own enclosure, their little fat heads bobbing on the water surface while the rest of their bodies hovered below the water, like sleepy icebergs.

Hey guise...

“Hurdur…”

To round up our walk through the aquarium, there was a humongous ‘touch pool’ near the exit of the aquarium.

The touch pool.

The touch pool.

Little Whitespotted Bamboo Sharks and large Manta Rays lazed around the shallow pool as many gathered around to get a good feel of the slimy but smooth Manta Rays and the rough, hard skin of the Bamboo Sharks.

Baby sharks with mum.

Baby sharks with mum.

We made our way back up, stepping out of the doors of the aquarium, into the cold night’s fresh air.


 道頓堀[noun.]

Dōtonbori; A popular nightlife and entertainment area characterized by its eccentric atmosphere and large illuminated signboards, that runs along the Dōtonbori canal.

Bustling with life!

Bustling with life!

Men, women and their children walked about with long coats draped over their shoulders, speaking intimately in rapid-fire Japanese while window-shopping. Luxurious Japanese brands and other smaller local shops sold all kinds of things – bags, clothes, groceries, and most importantly – food!

We contemplated the different kinds of Japanese food we saw along Dōtonbori. And then we thought, why are we in Japan, trying beef bowls and ramen, but not even sushi? Sushi, succulent in rice wrapped with seaweed and delicious toppings to add? And so it came the decision to eat sushi for dinner.

The thoroughly traditional-looking sushi bar we ate at.

The thoroughly traditional-looking sushi bar we ate at.

Would you look at all those happily hungry faces!

Would you look at all those happily hungry faces!

Plates of raw salmon, salmon sushi, grilled chicken slices, beef, soft-shelled crab, noodles and other kinds of delectable sushi soon filled the two tables we occupied, and were as quickly gobbled up as they were put there. There’s nothing quite like traditional Japanese food in a traditional Japanese restaurant, and the sense of satisfaction after the consumption of artfully conjured food was immense.


Day Five

The train station this morning had a little drop-by restaurant where busy commuters would quickly do a pit stop before heading off to work in the morning.

A queer machine dispensed food tickets when you inserted money, and you would then head over to the chefs where you would collect your food once ready.DSC_0140DSC_0152DSC_0155DSC_0158 (2)


鹿[noun.]

Shika; Deer, ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. The Sika Deer found in Nara Park are native to East Asia. In Nara Prefecture, the deer are known as ‘bowing deer’, as they bow their heads before being fed special shika senbei (鹿せんべい, called “deer cookies”). However, deer bow heads to signal that they are about to headbutt.

Oh deer.

Oh deer.

How can one visit Osaka, without saying hi to the friendly deer in Nara Park? Lovely, graceful beings with lush brown coats grazed slowly on the fields of their sanctuary in Nara. The fawns gathered around the stags in the blissful assumption of safety. Some, when tempted, would approach you cautiously if you are holding a bag of deer cookies sold by vendors in the area. Other less-patient buck deers may ram you in the legs using their strong skulls.

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Um num. Um numnum.

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Just let me eat those biscuits!

Of course, we had to get a few thin deer cookies to lure the deer closer, so we could take pictures. The smaller does gathered around us warmly and nuzzled their noses against our hands as they crunched the biscuits up with crisp, gentle noises. The larger bucks, however, rudely blessed us with painful headbutts all around. We hurried out of the park once finished with our biscuits, slightly intimidated by the vicious bucks.

The ladies tried to do a jump shot outside of the park :') It didn't work out

The ladies tried to do a jump shot outside of the park :’) It didn’t work out

A tad exhausted and basically starving, the roaming tourists scoured the area for a long time in search of a decent food establishment. And alas, after about three-quarters of an hour of wandering around to no avail, we stumbled upon a neat little lunch café posted not too far from the street on which the park was situated next to.

Again, the entire table is filled with food!

Again, the entire table is filled with food!

Little hotpots of freshly steamed Japanese rice with cooked pork were placed one by one in front of us, and also bowls of fresh ramen noodles in their thick, long strands. It was unique, something completely different, and refined to satisfy even the last tastebud on one’s tongue.

It seemed that there was a bit more to Nara than just the deer, for it was a botanical and cultural sanctuary as well. Following a path that led deeper into the heart of Nara, we found a lake in the centre of which rested a beautiful pavilion, undisturbed apart from the birds that often flew there for shelter.

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The sky was hastening to end the day as the sun quickly sunk down and the darker shades of blue quickly overlapped the paler ones. We took the train back the the hotel quickly, and arrived just in time for nighttime.

After a bit of a rest in the hotel, we came back out onto the streets of Osaka to explore. You see, the hotel in which we were staying in stood among malls and departmental stores with their ever-glowing neon signs. Our stomachs growling yet again, our rest stop in our hotel putting three hours between us and our lunch, we headed into a building once more to look for food.

Some of us wanted sushi, others wanted ramen; and a few of us wanted to have a beef barbecue. So in the end it was decided that we should split up into two groups: my father, mother, myself, and my cousin would visit the glorious beef place. The other five would have dinner in the ramen place.

I can’t speak much for group two, but in my opinion (and quite blatantly obviously) group one enjoyed ourselves much more.

Piles and piles of raw beef waiting to sizzle...

Piles and piles of raw beef waiting to sizzle…

Large prawns and even larger scallops!

Large prawns and even larger scallops!

And that's not even all of it.

And that’s not even all of it.

Tuck in!

Tuck in!

We left satisfied, and the grins on our faces shone brighter than those of group two. With bloated stomachs and bursting belts, we rolled our way back into our hotel rooms.


Day Six

We refuelled for the night and woke up with our hair tousled, yawning loudly. It was time to proceed to a new destination, with new people, sights, sounds. A new, unexplored part of Japan.

As was the usual and quickest mode of transport, we took a bullet train ride there.

箱根町[noun.]

Hakone;  a town in Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

We walked around and had our brunch in Odawara Station, the gateway to scenic Hakone and a bustling mix of people trying to catch their bus or train. Proceeding to the basement level to grab a few snacks, my mother hurried us and pointed toward a bus terminal right outside the glass sliding doors.

“We’re about to miss our bus! Hurry!”

“Alright, alright!”

Fate let us down this time, as we dashed through the glass sliding doors too late and saw the bus leave the terminal with a roaring engine. We sat down at the terminal, let down and slightly moody. Us children entertained ourselves with a series of hand games while the adults discussed the itinerary.

“Here it comes,” somebody said as bus 54 rolled into the terminal, half an hour later. We lugged our large suitcases up and rolled them to the back, occupying at least a third of the bus. The bus driver shouted loudly at the traffic-control officer beside and the officer pounded the side of the bus in reply. The bus drove off.

We laughed heartily about our misfortune with the bus incident on the ride to our hotel, and gawked with wide eyes and even wider mouths at the scenery that mother nature beheld in all its glory. Cascading waterfalls, rocky mountain facades, branches of pine trees sticking out into the road like long arms – I reached for my pocket to whip out my phone, to forever log my memories in a series of pictures…

To realise that I didn’t have it with me.

In a daze of confusion and silent internal panic, my hands rummaged through all the pockets of my clothes and scavenged my bags. My head turned this way and that, scouring the floor of the bus for a bright blue phone case. But alas, no result.

In less that a minute the entire bus started searching their own pockets and bags for my phone, even the middle-aged tourist couple and the two young Japanese girls I had never met in my entire life. Everyone was checking, everyone was helping. Despite the earnest efforts of everyone else, my phone was not to be found.

Pouting and leaning my head against the glass windows of the bus, the scenery was seemingly shrouded in a filter of black and white as I thought about all my lost and valuable information in my phone.


The bus rumbled to a stop not too far from our hotel, and we dragged our suitcases through the fresh, biting-cold air and into the warm, welcoming air of the hotel lobby.

Hello Hakone Hotel!

Hello Hakone Hotel!

In the lobby, we deposited our bags and luggage into the capable hands of the hotel staff, who would see that they got sent to our next destination for our trip before we got there, saving us the unnecessary hassle of dragging our bags everywhere we went.

Beyond the lobby, through a glass backdoor of the hotel, visitors can enter a courtyard, of which there is a rickety old dock with a pavilion for lovers, looking out into nothing less but this:

Nothing less but this.

Nothing less but this.

With Mount Fuji in the distance, Lake Ashi was spread out vastly and consumed all the low-lying areas between the mountains. Little boats with their triangular sails drifted slowly across the lake. Once in a while, a magnificent ship, a Hakone Sightseeing Cruise, would break the gentle waves and send much larger ones in its wake.

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The biting, mint-fresh air numbed our cheeks and reminded us of nothing less than the chilly air that battled our tender skins back on the Santa Maria in Osaka. It wasn’t too long before we were forced back into the warm comfort of the hotel’s synthetically-produced atmosphere. The sun was falling behind the mountains anyway.

Something proved to us that it wasn’t all scenery and sights in the lovely state of Hakone. Food was to be had, and delicious, fresh food at that. Aesthetically pleasing, tastebud-stimulating, heartwarming food.

The restaurant across the road from our hotel was run by a single lady. At first we thought the place was closed, as we saw no one at the counter. But soon, as if on cue, the lady popped out from behind the counter, and offered us a nice, long table to sit at.

The thing about Japanese dining is that chairs aren’t always needed. Sometimes sitting comfortably on the floor whilst eating on a dining table might just be the thing for a large family dinner, or even a close, intimate gathering of souls. It really is a fascinating culture, and it really saves on the expense of chairs.

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Fresh from the sea!

Rice bowls of tuna, salmon, eel, fish roe, sea urchin and many other sea-dwelling delicacies soon lined the table. Side dishes including pickled vegetables, chills and other little saucers of unidentified yumminess filled the remaining gaps on the table, setting the mood for a right family feast.

“I’ll take a picture of this,” I thought.

“Crap, I lost my phone,” followed quickly after.


Day Seven

ヒマラヤスギ [noun.]

Cryptomeria (literally “hidden parts”); A monotypic genus of conifer in the cypress family Cupressaceae. It includes only one species, Cryptomeria Japonica. It is endemic to Japan, where it is known as sugi (Japanese: 杉).

A light-hearted stroll among the towering, old, ancient trees that stand as glorious reminders of the wonders of Mother Earth was just the right start to our day.

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Cedar trees loom like titans.

The morning dew had already glistened the hard bark of the trees; it made the leaves shimmer, the ferns at both sides of the gravel path reached out to us.

A bit further down the avenue, across the road, was Onshihakone Park, a reserved sanctuary for nature, covering a small section of Lake Ashi. Wooden fences lined the paths where locals and tourists would walk on, beautiful small stone bridges spanning across small streams where koi and black fish darted about, lily pads providing shelter for them to hide under.

Flowers of different kinds blossomed freely, as the humble park stood in silence, listening to the birds chirp and the fish splash.

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The Explorers with Mount Fuji!

 

“Oh no,” breathed my mom, in a panicked, sudden spur of realisation, “The cruise! It leaves in ten minutes!”

Flustered and frankly quite bewildered, we all grabbed our bags and sent our fasters runners to the cruise to make sure that it didn’t leave without the rest of us. Sprinting along the curved road, past the hotel and onto the docks where the cruise ship was moored, we scampered up the gang plank before the ship left without us.

We seemed to have a certain reputation among ourselves for being late to sea voyages.

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Our majestic cruise ship docked at the harbour.

 

The ship set sail at once, gliding steadily on the surface of Lake Ashi, giving us the best views of Fuji and its surrounding mountain companions. Even the little shrines nestled on the sides of the lake seemed quaint and peaceful. Other ships sailed past slowly in greeting, their sails flapping in the wind like hands waving hi from one ship to another.

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Not too far from the docks where we took the cruise was the cable car entrance, which brought us up to a dizzying height above the mountains and the dense foliage which covered the entire area in a blanket of colours ranging from green to yellow to orange to red.

We peered out the thin glass windows that separated us from the thin air outside.


 

大涌谷 [noun.]

Ōwakudani (lit. Great Boiling Valley);  a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents and hot springs in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. It is a popular tourist site for its scenic views, volcanic activity, and especially, Kuro-tamago (黒卵, lit. “black egg”)

The peak of the mount had little steaming craters everywhere which reeked of the infamous stench of sulphur, giving off the unpleasant odour of rotten eggs. If the stench had not already made you double over, the biting frost of the mountaintop would have.

Still, Owakudani was a pleasant surprise.

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The photographer gets his picture taken 🙂 Lookin’ good, dad.

Normal, uncooked eggs were dipped into the craters by local food sellers and emerged black in colour, a curious phenomenon that made us think about whether the eggs were really safe to eat. Fortunately, our growling stomachs managed to convince us to try some, and the decision to eat them was the right one.

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WHAT IS HE DOING TO THOSE EGGS

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After a hearty meal at a nearby food stall, we took a little bumbling tram down to the base of the mountain, where my mother found an “open air museum” and decided we should visit it.

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Bumbling tram!

 

At this point of time I was hesitant and very unsure about visiting a museum while on holiday. Sure, it was a “contemporary art” museum and might cater to my artistic tastes, but I felt that we really should be heading out there into the unknown instead of wandering around art pieces I could easily browse at my own viewing pleasure on the internet.

Groaning and moaning but not really showing it, I stuffed my hands into the warmth of my pullover’s pockets and trudged in with the rest.

There were pretty interesting pieces in there, I’ll have to admit. They were impressive to an extent, and the best part was that they were interactive. We went up to them and took silly pictures.

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Damien hates eggs.

 

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Having being slowly frozen for the trip so far, when we saw the words “Outdoor Hot Foot Bath”, we scrambled to the bath and removed our shoes and socks, and submerged our feet in. It was heavenly.

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Mm. Warm.

Across its spacious grounds wound pathways and artwork, bringing its open space to life with the free expression of human creativity, alive in contemporary. Chromatic blends fused with curves and edges of solids, infusing artwork into the nature of the valley.

How does human nature portray its mental confines of daily life, regardless of its unreality? Like a prisoner in jail, human nature’s instinct when it comes to the illusion of liberty is art; the true meaning of self-expression.

Hills bounced up and down around the museum, delighting in the presence of the sentimental; the intrigued.

Strangely bucolic and uniquely eerie, humanoid forms twisted their way around the gardens, my boiling pot of emotions inside me twisting with their form.

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Evening dipped in with the sway of the trees and the statues came to life with the darkness, shadows dancing across the open fields. Picasso’s work stood in the glass confines of an indoor exhibit, portrayals of his attempts at letting his expressions fly free across the canvasses and ceramic works.

“Give me a museum, and I’ll fill it.” -Pablo Picasso

An enormous wooden structure occupied a circular area in the space, a dome constructed by stacks of wooden blocks. Within hid a certain surprise, the pronunciation of childhood and all its joy.

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A humongous knitted playland!

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My eyes, windows to my soul, swallowed inviolable feelings expressed by the artists through their pieces, and I was touched, if nothing. I decided, as we left the museum, maybe buying the museum ticket wasn’t such a bad idea after all.


Taking the tram back to the main Shinkansen interchange was easy enough, just a few stops away from where we were. From there my family decided to take the chance to go back to Odawara station where I’d lost my phone two days ago, in the off chance that we might find it. The five other explorers, my cousins’ family and my aunt, took a train straight to Tokyo where they would wait for our return.

I wasn’t feeling too optimistic on the way to Odawara, if I had to be honest. In Singapore, losing your phone meant that it was time to get a new one. No point searching endlessly for something that would have easily been nabbed by a crook looking to earn some quick cash.

But my family stood by me, and success prevailed.

“Phone? iPhone?” I asked the food seller in the basement of Odawara station. In response, she pointed eagerly to the next food stall, suggesting that we ask the seller there instead.

We did, and in turn she pointed to a large set of double doors leading to the back route of the station. In that direction we headed, a group of tourists unsure about the nature of the Japanese, but taking the risk of blind trust.

“Phone?” We asked the security officers sitting in their air-conditioned lounge in the loading bay. Their eyebrows were furrowed, eyes squinted, like they didn’t understand us. Of course they wouldn’t.

My mother whipped her phone out and used Google Translate to say, “My son is missing his blue-casing iPhone. Have you seen it anywhere?”

Immediately their eyes lit up, two officers started chatting animatedly between themselves, and one of them scurried over to a long row of drawers where he unlocked a drawer with a key.

Pulling it out, he extracted a ziplock bag, within shimmered a glint of sky blue. I believed for the first time in a long while I glimpsed the sweet sight of hope.

I teared incessantly, I could feel my cheeks become hot, my fingers quivering in excitement as I gingerly received the phone back.

“A…-Arigato…” I stammered, my eyes gleaming with the light of a billion suns. I bowed repeatedly and signed off the list of lost and found items they had, and breathed deeply. I exhaled, my worries and cares gone with my breath. I believe I just did what people call a “sigh of relief”.


Day Eight

The bustling, bee-lining life in Kyoto was nothing compared to the constant rushed scampering one in Tokyo. At daybreak the oiled machine routine of Tokyo’s residents started, people dashing about the train stations and bus stops, grabbing hold of every sliver of time they had.

築地市場[noun.]

Tsukiji Market;  the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world and also one of the largest wholesale food markets of any kind.

We pushed past the people as we made our way to the famous Tsujiki Fish Market, a one-of-a-kind wet market that specialized in the sales of not only fresh-from-the-port fish, but also a billion other kinds of seafood.

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A lunch with fresh fish!

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Humongous fish heads being prepared for consumption!

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Miniscule crabs.

 

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Abalone straight from the sea!

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Mussels and clams piled up into enormous mountains and octopus tentacles curled around one another as they lay in Styrofoam boxes; sea urchins and sea cucumbers were displayed by the dozens. Salmon, eel and tuna in thin slices tempted us.

Fishmongers skilfully cut away the cheeks of the scarily huge fish heads, professionally making sure no part of the fish was wasted.

We ordered bowls of rice and seafood at a nearby foodplace and ate a hearty meal. We didn’t like the sea urchin, though.


The next thing to do on our itenary was to head straight to the Shinjuku Gyoen gardens, but we overlooked one small detail: the garden doesn’t open its gates on weekends.

 Improvising, my mother suggested that we should head to Shinjuku to shop instead. The shopping district was buzzing with fashionistas and teenage hipsters looking for a good style. Large departmental malls rose in tall columns everywhere, offering much within their walls.

Not much could be said about Shinjuku; it was just another shopping district, yet so distinctively atmospheric.


Night fell and we wandered around to find somewhere decent to eat. After not too long, we settled at a place with delicious beef bowls, Yoshinoya. Neatly presented with raw eggs to deep your beef in again, we tucked in.

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Heaven in a bowl, I’m not lying.


Day Nine

アメヤ横丁[noun.]

 Ueno Market; An open-air market in the Taito Ward of Tokyo, Japan, located next to Ueno Station.home to over one hundred and eighty one shops, which sell products ranging from fresh food and fish to clothing and time pieces.

Winding through alleyways and large spaces, we combed through the confusing pathways in the market, awnings stretched out far from shops at the sides of the pavement. Ranges of bags, jackets, clothes, and especially food were prevalent, and tenders of the stalls stood on chairs with megaphones, announcing the prices and varieties of their goods.

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Dad standing in front of a stall with goodies!

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My family settled down in front of a stall selling long legs of Alaskan crab and juice meat skewers. After a long day of shopping, good food was greatly deserved, and good food was gotten.


After which we headed to a quiet reserved place just off the border of Ueno Market, passing through Shinjuku once more. Roughly made stone paths defined the rustic charm of olden Japan. A dojo stood silently off the beaten path, containment of its ancient roots to Nippon.

弓道[noun.]

Kyudo (lit. Way of the Bow); the modern Japanese martial art of archery.

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Where the path came to a stop further down the hill laid Shinobazu Lake in the bay, skyscrapers providing a modern contrast against nature of old; lily pads blanketed the lake surface, small black fish darted about in the water.

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A pagoda.


We wandered around Shinjuku on the way back to the hotel, and headed for a famously known Japanese retail store called Tokyu Hands.

It specializes in innovative products, ranging from custom stickers to unconventional household goods. Six stories tall, shoppers looking for a good run with their money can look forward to an endless range of products.


 

Day Ten

“Do you want to go to Disneyland?” My dad asked my mother and aunt.

“No, we’d rather stay in the hotel. Maybe walk around a bit. We’re too tired,” they replied.

So nine of the eleven explorers took the train straight to Disneyland.

Even the Disney-themed train on the way there had us amazed.

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I had never been to Disneyland, you see, and the one at Tokyo was something of a miracle to me. Light-hearted orchestral music played softly in the background while mascots roamed around, taking pictures with cute little children and equally young-at-heart adults.

Cinderella’s castle stood tall and proud, the centrepiece of the park, the joy of the people. Its looming spires and strong stone walls are the icons of Disney, the trademark symbol in the opening sequence of every Disney movie.

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The mural of Cinderella’s story!

 

Rides were aesthetically pleasing as the rest of the park was; a great big deal of effort was put into the design of rollercoasters and joyrides alike.

Since Christmas was the festival of that time of year, the entire park had bells, faux snow, and other Christmas decorations. Disneyland even had its own towering Christmas tree!

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Merry Christmas!

 

Queues were not much of a chore since there was so much to look at while we were waiting; little posters and quirks made waiting easier for many of us.

Even the food, albeit expensive, was great. Mickey mouse ice cream and large turkey legs filled our stomachs, and we had to wait a little while before we could take another ride.

The day parade was filled with an infectious atmosphere, one that made you want to jump up and sing and dance. Disney, oh, Disney. You never disappoint.

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The best part of the whole day was the night parade. Disney characters clad in neon suits shone brightly at night, dancing and singing, bringing the park to life.

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Fireworks gleamed brightly at night as they lit the night sky up, exploding across the chromatic spectrum, leaving sparkling trails behind, leaving everyone to ooh and ahh.

On the way out, the Christmas tree glowed with all the golden Christmas lights, round balls glistening with the reflections like disco. Magical and alluring, we quickly snapped a picture with it.

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Contented and dizzy with happiness, we left Disneyland feeling young again.


Day Eleven

Odaiba, the seaside bay at which our current hotel was located, had a large Ferris wheel rotating slowly on its axis, looking down at us as we explored the bay. Feeling slightly moody because we would be leaving Japan in a matter of hours, we snapped as many pictures as we could before our sweet moment of happiness could end.

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A Statue of Liberty replica!

Alas, the time came for the Explorers to end their magnificent expedition. We were blessed with good weather, safe travel, despite several hiccups along the way. Embracing the true Japanese spirit of indulging culture, fusing that with nature and modern technology, our exploring did the talking for us.


Who knows where our next journey might take us? Through the thick and the thin, the spirit of adventure and travel prevails, especially for the eleven Explorers.

As the famous Ernie Harwell once said,

It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.

本への贅沢エキサイティング探検」探検隊


Dedicated to:

Wong Khai Leong

Wong Chooi Ying

Hazel Wong

Damien Wong

Wong Lai Fong

Wong Lai Peng

Richard Lai

Joelle Lai

From Ryan



The Lego Movie

“One of the randomest but crazily action-packed blockbusters of all time…” -Ryan Lai

 

“You’ll never regret seeing Superman, Batman and Gandalf in the same movie…” -Ryan Lai

 

“Wait, did I just see a unicorn?” -Ryan Lai

 

Yes, once again it is time for my irregular blog updates. And this time, it’s another movie review! I don’t know how many of you readers actually go watch the movies I put up as movie reviews, but when I do, it means that the movie’s really good. Your choice…

A fundamental building block of a human’s early life (literally), Lego has been popular among children of different ages and nationalities.  Being replicated or impersonated numerously by other knock-off toy brands, Lego has never failed to be the original and best toy in the world. And now, for the first time in Lego history, they made a MOVIE!

And yes, I know what you are thinking: If Lego ever made a movie, how are they going to animate it? Will it be one of those cheap stop-motion ones that people on YouTube make? If yes, I’m not watching it.

And you are WRONG! 😀 In fact, billions of seperate Lego parts have been modeled, textured, calculated, saturated into the highly-detailed movie that is in theaters now (has been since 6th of February). 

In this wacky, nonsensical, random but nonetheless entertaining movie, the makers have constructed (hoho did you see what I did there) a smart and attention-grabbing plot for the movie that includes famous people or fictional characters from all around the world. They have it all – Gandalf, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Green Latern, Batman, C3-PO, Abraham Lincoln, and Professor Dumbledore!

(Yeah this is really all I have for you, I don’t want to spoil the plot of the story or anything…)

 

STARRING

MORGAN FREEMAN

CHANNING TATUM

 

WILL FERRELL

Yeah these are the only interesting voice actors.

Thank so much for reading my movie review! I wanted to see if I could do an interesting one without the use of pictures so here you go! 🙂

See you at the next silver lining!

 

Travel log: Taiwan

Hello clouds! 🙂 I’m coming at you with a terribly irregular update for your preferred choices for your holidays!

And this time I’m giving you a country in general: Taiwan. Mmhmm I know that Taiwan’s really big and all and there’s many places to go and much more to see so I’m just going to keep the facts and statistics down and give you more of the sightseeing spots.

All you really have to know for Taiwan is that Taiwanese people speak Chinese and a national dialect of Hokkien, so if you’re not a Chinese-speaker then maybe take up a few basic lessons or get into a tour group. The people there (from my personal experience and opinion) are really warm and friendly, mostly trendy and very, very cultural.

So the first place you would want to go to in Taiwan is the Taipei 101, the famous tower in Taipei (pretty obviously) that stands at 508 metres tall (woah that’s taller than me) and has a total floor count of 106 floors (five below ground). But honestly I think if you were to go to Taiwan then the Taipei 101 shouldn’t be on your list of priorities for sightseeing (unless you fancy boring city blocks and man-made towers).

O tall tower crushing all unworthy buildings below.

O tall tower crushing all unworthy buildings below.

 

There’s also the Sun-Moon Lake, located in Taiwan’s Nantou, which is definitely a must-go. Being there during springtime is best and the peace of the lake is almost immediately soothing.

Oh, what rare serenity.

Oh, what rare serenity.

Onto Alishan, Taiwan’s most famous mountain ridge located at Chiayi County, which boasts a lovely sunrise view above the clouds in the morning, 25 peaks over 2000 metres tall each, and many many pine, cypress and spruce trees.

Hey, how come I didn't get this view?!

Hey, how come I didn’t get this view?!

Finally there’s the Liuhe night market that you must visit if you like buying food. The street food there has been said to be tastier then restaurant food, and definitely much cheaper. Beware of the shocking crowd there, though. Taiwanese love to crowd there and eat till they drop at night!

"Hey, move it!" "Stop pushing!"

“Hey, move it!”
“Stop pushing!”

I hope you enjoyed this short travel log that I put together! ^^

P.S. Happy Belated New Year to all my lovely clouds!

See you at the next silver lining!

This Movie Will Change Your Life: Frozen!

I really have to give Frozen’s entire movie production crew credit for making such a phenomenal movie. Not only were the graphics nice, the voice acting, humor, soundtrack and character development were perfect too!

Ever since I watched the movie 4 days ago I’ve been hooked on to every single little aspect of it    ^^ Favorite movie EVER !!!

I definitely won’t spoil the movie for you so I highly recommend that you immediately head to the nearest theatre and watch it for yourself. I promise you, no regrets.

And I HIGHLY SUGGEST that you check out the clip on youtube for Demi Lovato’s Let It Go sung by the voice actor of Elsa, Idina Menzel. Disney’s Frozen “Let It Go” Sequence Performed by Idina Menzel     

Well, that’s been all for today. *Still so excited about Frozen*

See you at the next silver lining!

The Great Korean Escape

This is a short story about a fantastic tour across the wonderful land of Korea and the polluted, much more hazardous land of Shanghai, the most influential and probably the most crammed-with-people state in China. Our protagonist, or main character, if you’d like, is Ryan, otherwise known as blog-writer Nextsilverlining.

Now, our story begins on a flight on board the China Eastern Airways, on which Ryan takes a transfer at Shanghai along the way to Korea, where he arrives at the humble airport of Incheon.

On the first day of his tour of Korea, along with his family, he goes straight to the snowy North of Korea where he delights to be out in the cold weather, nostrils freezing over, fingers clammy and numb, face almost blown away by the wind like a sheet of paper. At an area which seems deserted but still somewhat touched by human civilization, Ryan rejoices in revving an ATV around in the snow like a crazy biker, drifting in and out of the course, the putrid smell of gasoline and dirty snow diffusing into the air.

Trust me, it's more fun than it looks

Trust me, it’s more fun than it looks

On the second day of Ryan’s lovely tour, he wakes up early in the morning, has his buffet breakfast of Korean foods, and makes his way onto the tour bus, headed straight for the lovely ski slopes of Oak Valley. The moment he arrives there, he is struck by the beauty of the ski resort. Ski slopes were laid out beautifully across the mountains, weaving paths through the woods and looked as natural as a white silk shawl tossed casually onto a mountain. Difficulties for the ski slopes ranged from Basic to Advanced to Intermediate,none of which Ryan or his family tried, unfortunately. Instead he found himself climbing wearily up a small hill to the side of the slopes, Steel boots and Kevlar skis dragging through the snow in attempt to reach the summit of the hill. Once there, he pushed himself off the hill with his ski poles as hard as he could, and whoosh — he slid down the hill gracefully, coming to a gentle stop fifty metres from the top of the hill.

Ryan and snow go well together

Ryan and snow go well together

On the third day, Ryan visited Everland — One of the most memorable and exciting theme parks he had ever gone to. Tall towers loomed over passersby, failing to ruin the joyous mood of everyone in the theme park, lovely peaceful music playing in the background. Roller coasters, teacup-spins, 4D movies and safaris were scattered across the theme park like a child’s toys, waiting for people to discover them and break them out of their comfort zones. I won’t go into much detail about any of the other rides that Ryan took except the Roller Coaster of Death (No, that’s not what it’s called but rather what I would call it). That roller coaster’s highest peak stood precariously at more than a hundred feet tall, which coincidentally was its first peak. Now, little Ryan here was obviously not fond of taking the scariest ride in the entire amusement park, but, seeing a 10-year-old joining the snaking half-hour queue and his own mother already queueing too, he plucked up a bit of courage from his depleting courage resources and forced himself to join the queue. He already regretted his decision two minutes into the queue. Tapping his feet extremely quickly and trying to regulate his breathing, he tried to look calm and in control of the situation, not for the sake of others, but rather for himself. Then it was time for the roller coaster. He’d seen every single roller coaster car’s passengers scream as they were launched up and down repeatedly during the ride, and dread reached for his entire being, from the tip of his toes to the tallest hair on his head. And then the car left the station. I would like to say that Ryan braved the ride the whole way through and thoroughly enjoyed it. That is partially true. What the entire truth is, is that air had escaped his lungs the moment he was at the tippity-top of the peak. He was higher than a mountain. He took a short one-and-a-half second literally breath-taking view of the entire theme park below, stretching as far as the eye could see, and then he descended. All the organs in his body decided to defy gravity at that moment. In fact, his whole body decided to defy gravity. He found that he could not scream. He could not move his limbs. For one awful moment, he thought that he was paralyzed. And then the roller coaster car curved horizontally and he was launched back into his seat. The worst was over, right? Might as well enjoy the rest. He slowly raised both of his arms as he neared the next drop and screamed the happiest scream he had ever screamed. No other feeling felt like this.

And this isn't even the highest peak

And this isn’t even the highest peak

In the late afternoon, he visited a teddy bear museum and later that evening, went to stroll the streets of Dongdaemun, Seoul. Food sellers, clothes sellers, fortune tellers, stood in their humble stores, trying to grab attention in the ever-increasing competition of entrepreneurship.

Bulgolgi sandwiches have made a huge difference in Ryan's life

Bulgolgi sandwiches have made a huge difference in Ryan’s life

And so, the fourth day of Ryan’s being in Korea. He went to the ShenWuMen, a reconstructed old ground in the middle of Seoul containing many small old houses and royal throne rooms. He also went to stroll about the other places of this lovely area, which apparently has quite a number of ancient Korean artifacts. Later that day he visited Art Korea next to the Seoul Museum, which was actually, he found out, a cheap excuse for a cosmetics shop selling expensive whiteners and wrinkle-removers and cleansers he couldn’t care less about, so instead, he headed out into the cold and decided to stroll a bit more of lovely Korea, where beauty isn’t limited to skin-care but rather the loveliness of nature and a bit of man-made structures. At night, he visited another small palace in the middle of the ever-changing, bustling streets of Seoul where an emperor once had instructed a pair of golden dragons to be built at the top of his throne room, so that he could gaze upon the beauty of their dragonish gracefulness. Later that same day, Ryan and his family went to watch a hilarious and simply, yet outstandingly, hilarious performance of Bibap. Ryan has informed me that he does not wish to reveal any spoilers of the show, so if you want to know, go watch it for yourself!

Just a small memoir I took home from Bibap.

Just a small memoir I took home from Bibap.

On the fifth day of Korea, after a bit of boring half-day activities, Ryan took a plane from Incheon International Airport Straight to Jeju Airport, where he planned to spend the next few days at the wonderful island of Jeju. Ryan then proceeded to take a scenic photo of the Dragon’s Head Rock off the coast of Jeju, where legend has it that a dragon stealing precious jade from Mount Hallasan was shot down by an arrow from the mountain deity, resulting in him falling towards the coast of Jeju, his body immediately sinking into the ocean and his head rapidly freezing as he looked towards the sky. After that, Ryan didn’t do much then except wonder around in the hotel at night, so we’ll move on.

I honestly find it funny how mankind can see the weirdest things in shapeless rocks

I honestly find it funny how mankind can see the weirdest things in shapeless rocks

On the sixth day of Korea, Ryan climbed South Korea’s tallest mountain, a volcano dormant for so long that trees were growing in a large crater on the top, Hallasan mountain. It isn’t exaggerating to say that Ryan was indeed almost freezing to death during the climb, for the air got thinner and colder the higher he climbed, as well as the famous Jeju wind that was beating against his jacket every second of the climb. These conditions made it almost unbearable for our young hero and his still-going-strong family as they made a desperate sprint towards the top of Hallasan. They finally made it in about half an hour, and the view was simply…simply…there is no word to describe it. All there is to say is that Ryan’s family’s mountain-climbing adventure did not go to waste. Later that day, Ryan continued along the border of Jeju to a scenic field with a barn of horses nearby, all of this next to a beautiful cliff with jagged rocks and not much of a rocky overhang.

If you look closely you'll see trees

If you look closely you’ll see trees

The seventh day, Ryan went to visit a tall, white bridge with cables latching firmly to the ground with their hands of solid steel, uniting two islands that tourists flocked to in order to take postcard-worthy pictures. In the night, Ryan and his family fled to the Underground Mall of Jeju, Jungang, and walked two hundred metres before returning to the surface with sadly, nothing but a made-in-Korea bag for his sister. And a bag of warm burgers.

What a bridge.

What a bridge.

On the eight day of Korea, Ryan stared out of his room’s balcony window blankly and almost a bit sadly as he watched cars rumble by merrily on their way as they headed places, to continue life on Jeju, or Korea, in general. Mountains stared back at him as though they didn’t want him to leave. But it had to happen sooner or later, wouldn’t it? It was like a sad love story. Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose, it was like Ryan had instantly loved Korea the moment he stepped out of the China Eastern Airways plane. But it had to happen. He dragged his feet around as he loaded his luggage onto the bus, which trudged towards Jeju Airport. He took a final look out the window of Jeju Airport, the Koreans almost looking back at him as to say, “farewell, but not forever…”

This has been The Great Korean Escape.

See you at the next silver lining.

After the exams

I really couldn’t believe my results this year, thinking that they would end up so much worse. I won’t go into the details, for fear that I would bore you, but you’ll be interested to know that I didn’t get below an A2 for a single subject. So much for excessive pre-exam electronic media consumption. Ah well. Some things are quite unpredictable.

As for now, I’m currently bored out of my mind and running out of things to do at home. Staring at the walls wondering what interesting event could possibly unfold next has become my main activity. It seems like the holidays have given me too much time, and have made me realize that I would be better off at school, with errands to run and activities to be done. To occupy my time with something meaningful or productive is my life force, something that truly satisfies me and gets me on my feet. I guess this is a good time for me to catch up on my sleep and exercise, but it’s only the second day of the October-December holidays. How am I going to find more things to do?

Very soon I’ll be heading overseas to Korea, Shanghai etc., and I’m really looking forward to some fresh air in the mountains and a bit of fun time outside of Singapore. Finally I’ll have something new to do.

See you at the next silver lining!

Travel Log: Jeju Island

A bird's eye view of Jeju Island.

A bird’s eye view of Jeju Island.

Yay! It’s the travel log again! If you have not already see the title of this post, I’ll tell you now that the travel log today is on Jeju Island. I’ve never personally been to this mystical and beautiful island, but I’ll be there this December! *YES*

Okay, Jeju is a semi-tropical oasis a little off mainland Korea. If you look closer at the picture above, you will see that there is a portion of land behind Jeju Island. Yes, that is mainland Korea. South Korea, not North Korea, mind you. And you’ll be fascinated to know that it has been pronounced as one of the 7 wonders of the world!

On Jeju island, there is lots to do and much to see, including its lava caves.

In a lava cave.

In a lava cave.

Try trekking through these dark caves. These caves were formed by rushing lava that flowed through the earth, burning a cave underground. Don’t worry. There’s no active lava. I hope.

Next, you should hike up sunrise peak, which happens to be that lovely green bowl-shaped cavity in the island that you see in the picture at the top of this post. It is really worth the climb. You get to see a panorama of wonder – The city, the sea, and the whole island below you!

Finally, you should definitely go spend some time at jungmun beach. The beach’s shoreline is made up of sand, salt and lava. Many have experience first-hand how soft the sand is.

jungmun-beach-58402

Yes, that’s really jungmun beach.

This was Ryan, giving you clouds another splendid travel log.

See you at the next silver lining!