Sunday, 23 May 2010

Giving Shanghai a second chance

[Image from Wikipedia]

I've been extremely slow in finishing my travelogues for my Japan trip in April! Between work and play, I haven't had much time to write, and for that I apologise!

But happy to say that I'll be leaving for Shanghai (上海) in 2 days! While the trip is going to be a relatively short one as I'll be there for 5 days only, I am hoping that it would be a much better experience than my previous trip in March 2007.

If you have noticed based on all my past holidays and my writings, I am one who enjoy culture and nature. And so, a city with almost 20 million people may not really be my cup of tea. I felt overwhelmed by the people and drained by the energy of the city on my last trip, but I am determined to try, find and enjoy the culture and the uniqueness of Shanghai. Of course, I'll be visiting the World Expo as well, so hopefully, I'll be enjoying the culture and the uniqueness of a whole lot of other countries too!

So, wish me luck, and I'll report back after the trip. In the meantime, enjoy reading my travelogues.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Walk around Yokohama

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 5 - Yokohama }

After spending the last few days all around Tokyo - Shinjuku, Roppongi Hills, Shibuya, Central Tokyo and Odaiba - we decided that it was time to visit the Japan's second largest city, Yokohama. We spent some time walking around Minato Mirai before going to Chinatown for dinner.

Walk around Minato Mirai

Minato Mirai's full name is Minato Mirai 21 (みなとみらい21) which means Future Harbour 21. The 21 in the name indicates the 21st century. It was built on reclaimed land and housed Japan's tallest building, Landmark Tower. We took a walk around the area, starting from Minato Mirai Station.

Right outside the station was Cosmo World with a large ferris wheel. The ferris wheel which doubled as a clock is the tallest in Japan with 112.5 metres in height. Personally, I prefer this type of ferris wheel compared to the Singapore Flyer in Singapore (click here for the photos). The amusement park looked pretty big with lots of rides, but we did not go in.


Before long, we reached a small park by the harbour. As usual, there were sakura trees and many people were having picnics around the area. The sakura in the park has already started falling.


We continued walking along the harbour and finally reached the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse which is known as Yokohama Akarenga Sōko (横浜赤レンガ倉庫). There were 2 buildings that were originally completed in 1905 and used to be warehouses at the pier. They have since been converted to a complex that housed shopping mall and other event halls.


When we were there, there were a small display of flowers between the two buildings.  I believed it was in celebration of the spring! After having coffee under the amazing blue sky and the great weather, we took a train to Chinatown.


Chinatown

The Yokohama Chinatown or as they called it in Japanese, yokohama chūkagai (横浜中華街), is the largest Chinatown in Japan and one of the largest in the world. We walked around the area, visiting the Chinese temples and had our dinner there. We thought that after having Japanese food for so many days, we should have Chinese food. Unfortunately, the Chinese food here were not authentic and was more like a fusion between Japanese and Chinese food. After dinner, we went home to pack and get ready for our trip to Kyoto and Osaka early next morning.


::: Footnotes :::

{ Minato Mirai } The full name is Minato Mirai 21 (みなとみらい21) which means Future Harbour 21. It can be reached on the Minato Mirai Station. Cosmo World, a theme park with Japan's largest ferris wheel, is just right outside the train station. Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse which is known as Yokohama Akarenga Sōko (横浜赤レンガ倉庫) is within walking distance. 

{ Yokohama Chinatown }
Called yokohama chūkagai (横浜中華街) in Japanese, it is the largest Chinatown in Japan and one of the largest in the world. It can be reached by the train.


Improving your vocabulary while fighting hunger

Help end world hungerWho would have thought that by playing a word game you would be able to donate grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme?

All you have to do is go to Free Rice website and play a game testing your vocabulary. For each answer you get right, Free Rice will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme. Apart from the vocabulary game, there are other subjects to choose from - Famous Paintings, Chemical Symbols, Countries on the Map, World Capitals, Mathematics and even foreign languages like French, German, Italian and Spanish.

The way the website work is that each time the game is played, sponsor banners appear on the bottom of the screen. The money generated by these banner is then used to buy the rice. Since it started in October 2007, it has generated 79 billions grains of rice and provided meals for 4 million people.

1 in 6 people do not get enough food to be healthy

With 1 billion undernourished people in the world, isn't it time that each of us help out as much as we can? So, go on - click, play and feed someone who really needs it.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Walk around Marina Bay

The Helix Bridge was opened officially on Saturday, 24 April 2010 as I wrote in my previous post. We were there on the Sunday after the official opening and went for a walk on the bridge and towards the Esplanade.

We took the train to the new Circle Line's Promenade Station. From there, it was a short walk to the Helix Bridge and the Singapore Flyer. The Singapore Flyer is currently the world's largest observation wheel. There are 28 capsules on the flyer, and you can even dine in one of the capsules!


My comment when I first saw the Helix Bridge was how steely the bridge looked! The design was definitely interesting and not something that one would expect on a bridge. However, after awhile, the practical side of me started questioning - what would happen when it rained? There were some glasses on the roof, but it was just on part of the bridge. With the tropical weather that Singapore has, it would definitely be more practical to have a bridge that would shelter the pedestrian from rain and shine. That aside, I couldn't believe the number of people that was there just to see the bridge (and of course, I couldn't believe I was there, as well!). The atmosphere was definitely one of celebration and fun with music, lights and even a "clown" on stilts!


The night view around the area was pretty amazing. I have to admit that I seldom, if ever, took the time out to appreciate the modern Singapore. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore's second casino, was opened a few days after I was there. Apart from the casino, there would be theatre, restaurants, shops and even a skypark right on top of the building. It should be a pretty interesting place to be once it is fully opened. 


The Fullerton Hotel (photo above) right across the Singapore River is an amazing building in its own right. It was initially opened in 1928 as the Fullerton Building. There are various restaurants, cafes and clubs in the hotel that is worth spending some time in.

We walked towards the Esplanade and decided to have dinner in the Gluttons Bay. As the name suggests, there are lots of good local Singaporean food to try there, sitting right under the stars with the view of Marina skyline. The food is good and I would definitely recommend this place to any new visitors to Singapore.

Walking towards the Esplanade, there was a performance in the outdoor theatre. It was part of the Esplanade's A Tapestry of Sacred Music event. We sat and enjoyed an amazing performance called Sacred Sounds of Japan by Fuku No Ne Ensemble, a musical ensemble that played Japanese traditional and sacred music. Some of the music were haunting, but some, like the last piece they played, was extremely energetic!


After a great evening out, we called it a night. It was definitely enjoyable walking around the area. I told myself that I needed to start seeing Singapore with tourists eyes - trying to see and enjoy everything around me and not taking anything for granted. I believe that if I do that, the city would definitely open up.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A rainy, wet and cold day in Tokyo

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 4 - Central Tokyo and Odaiba }

Our initial plan was to spend our day in Hakone - a national park about 100 km from Tokyo famous for its hot springs, lake with views of Mount Fuji and natural beauty, with interesting ways to travel around via ropeway, cable car, trains, boats and buses. I had the whole day trip planned. However, the weather forecast said that it was going to rain that day. It would be wet and cold in Hakone, and there would definitely be no views of Mount Fuji. And so, we had to cancel the plan.

We decided to bring forward some of our Tokyo plans, and spent the day around Central Tokyo. It was a wet, rainy and cold day in Tokyo. 

Tsujiki Fish Market

Our first stop in the morning is the Tsujiki Fish Market (築地市場 Tsukiji shijō). We did not leave early before dawn to attend the tuna auction which usually start at around 5am. We heard that there had been complaints from the traders about irritating tourists snapping photos and disturbing the auction in the morning, and determined not to be a pest, we did not visit the auction. The fact that it started extremely early may have contributed partly to the decision too!


We spent our time around the outer market where there were retail shops selling dried seafood, fresh seafood, knives and all sorts of kitchen and cooking materials. We sampled the various dried seafood and seaweed that were sold, bought finger food like unagi (eel) and bought bits and pieces of dried food to bring home. After being surrounded by all these food - fresh, or otherwise - we decided to step into a small little local restaurant for lunch. There were lots of raw food being sold and cooked food too. The raw oysters were big and juicy and the sashimi (raw fishes) were fresh and amazing!


Sensō-ji in Asakusa

Our next stop was a Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺 Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji) in Asakusa. The temple was dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon, or known as Guanyin or the Goddess of Mercy. Guanyin is a bodhisattva that I am familiar with. There is also a temple dedicated to Guanyin in my hometown Penang, Malaysia (found a blog by Jamie Pang with great photos of the temple). Although both temples were dedicated to the same bodhisattva, the temples were different.

We walked through the main gate with a big lantern that was the symbol of Asakusa. Walking pass a row of shopping streets with people holding on to umbrellas to shelter from the rain, we walked to the main hall. The main hall was, unfortunately, under renovation when we were there, but it was still open to public. Similar to the Meiji Shrine that we have visited the day before, there was an area for people to wash their hands before going into the temple. There steps to pray were also similar. Right outside the main hall, incense were burnt. I saw the Japanese trying to fan the smoke from the incense to themselves, and of course I did the same!

For a 100 yen, one could make a wish and asked for a fortune, called an omikuji in Japanese. If the fortune was good, one could bring it home, but if the fortune was bad, then it was customary to fold and tie the piece of paper on a wall with metal wires. Lucky for me, my fortune was a dai-kichi (大吉) which meant great blessing and I kept it for good luck.


We spent some time walking along the shopping street right outside the temple. There were a row of small stores with lots of sakura trees along the street. There were lots of shops selling souvenirs and trinkets for tourists and locals alike to buy as gifts for their family and friends. It was unfortunately raining during that time, ruining the experience a little. Or maybe it was a blessing in disguise, as I did not spend much money there!


Tokyo Imperial Palace

We took the train to Tokyo Station and walked towards the Tokyo Imperial Palace or kōkyo (皇居). We walked among the buildings around the business district before reaching a huge park full with interesting looking trees. The palace grounds were huge and most of the area were open to public. Many people would actually jog around the park in the evening after work.


We could only walk around the outer area of the palace and looked at the palace from afar. I loved palaces and all things royal, but it would definitely be more enjoyable if we could spend time inside the palace.


Odaiba

We went to the large artificial island of Odaiba in the evening. We crossed the Tokyo Bay on the Rainbow Bridge (the bridge in the photo below) to get to Odaiba. The island was built to protect Tokyo against attacks from the sea, but had since developed into a major tourist spot. There were many places and things to see around the island, and it looked like a pretty interesting place to visit in the day. However, due to the time, we only had dinner and took a short walk around the bay. There was a huge shopping centre called Aquacity Odaiba and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.


After spending a rainy, wet and cold day in Tokyo, it was time to head home. I hoped that the weather would be better tomorrow as travelling in the rain was never fun.

::: Footnotes :::

Tsujiki Fish Market } The Tsukiji Fish Market, or written as 築地市場 (Tsukiji shijō) in Japanese, is in Tsukiji, Tokyo. It can be reached via Tsukijishijō Station. The tuna auction is closed to tourist right now. So, do check before you go! There are many shops in the outer market that is worth a visit. 

{ Sensō-ji in Asakusa } Sensō-ji, or written as 金龍山浅草寺 (Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji) in Japanese is in Asakusa, Tokyo. It is a few minutes walk from the Asakusa Station. 

{ Tokyo Imperial Palace } Tokyo Imperial Palace or kōkyo (皇居) is a 10 minute walk from Tokyo Station. The palace is not open to public but there are guided tours in Japanese, with English pamphlet and audio guides which has to be requested in advance.

{ Odaiba } Odaiba is a huge artificial island on Tokyo Bay and can be reached on the Yurikamome - an unmaned elevated train with rubber tires. The Yurikamome uses the Rainbow Bridge to get to Odaiba and offers spectacular views of the harbor and the Tokyo waterfront area.

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