Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Budget Geek's Guide to Sim Lim Square

As a techie, I am both a bit angry and sad at all the bad press Sim Lim Square (or SLS in short) is getting. Sure, SLS is notorious for scammers and inflated pricing, especially for the "more gullible" foreigners, but its really only a few shops that are being the black sheep among the rest of the (mostly) honest retailers that are doing honest businesses.

With all the big hoo-ha over Mobile Air and their treatment (or should I say... scamming?) of their customers, its understandable that the general public would want to keep away from SLS and do their electronics shopping at relatively safer places like Funan, Courts, Best Denki and so on.

But why stay away when there are bargains to be made?

If you are planning a trip to SLS but reconsidering due to the fear of getting scammed, here is a quick guide to surviving the place and walk out a happy customer!

Rule #1 - Research

SLS is an unforgiving place and can seem like a huge, confusing maze of shops, lights and Korean pop videos. To an unprepared and uninformed shopper it will be an absolute nightmare. So, do your research! 

Check out the shops which carry your desired purchase, do some background checks, scroll through the Hardwarezone and VR-Zone forums for advice and compare online with competing products. Always try to understand what the specifications mean and take the seller's "advice" with a pinch of salt. They are after your money after all :) 

Oh and most importantly - know what you want!

Rule #2 - Avoid the first 2 floors

I'm not saying that all the shops on #01 and #02 are bad, just a general guideline to adhere to when shopping. Its not a coincidence that all the shops on the CASE complaint blacklist are located on these 2 floors. Keep a lookout for salesmen who try to capture your attention, especially those who target Caucasians. "Hello sir, looking for cameras?" is a clear indication that you should steer clear.

What I normally do is head straight to the 5th floor and slowly work my way down to level 3. That said, not all the shops on level 3 and above are reputable - use common sense and remember Rule #1!

Rule #3 - Stick to a few familiar shops 

With less time to compare prices since I'm now a member of the working society, I nearly always head to the same shops every time I go back to SLS. Reputation and familiarity rank ahead of price for me. Good service is a plus!

The following is a list of shops I usually head to (in no particular order):
  1. Fuwell - for PC components and system building (friendly and knowledgeable staff)
  2. Bizgram Asia - PC components at competitive prices
  3. PC Dreams - for laptop repairs
  4. PC Themes - for PC components and system building
  5. SingInk - for 3rd party inks, printer modification and toners
  6. Tec-Drome - for the latest PC and console games, including limited editions and gaming gear (though with the popularity of platforms like Steam, business isn't doing too well. Feel kinda sad for the uncle)
Do note that I'm in no way endorsing the above shops, visit at your own risk (and remember Rule #1)

Rule #4 - Know what to buy in SLS

Maybe this is my own opinion, but SLS is really only worth a visit if you are:
  1. Looking to build your own custom PC
  2. Upgrading your PC
  3. Buying 3rd party inks/toners 
  4. Buying 2nd hand laptops
  5. Looking for connectors/cables/fans and other basic necessities
  6. Looking for cheap, China-brand phones/tablets/MP5 players (I LOL every time I see one)
  7. Looking for not-exactly-legal TV boxes, funky tech gadgets and cheap knockoffs
  8. Hungry for Northern Indian cuisine - the stall in the basement food court is awesome!
SLS is NOT worth a visit if you are:
  1. Buying a laptop/camera/monitor/router/printer/portable storage - wait for IT shows instead.
  2. Buying a brand-name smartphone/tablet. Seriously, if you want an off-contract iPhone with valid warranty, please get it from an official Apple reseller
With these 4 rules to follow, I believe the SLS experience should be a painless one! 

Monday, November 03, 2014

It's been awhile...

I was just looking through my list of posts and realised on top of that list was a draft titled "8 years, ありがとう、YUIさん" dated way back in January 2013.

I never wrote anything, just the title. I guess all the feels of YUI's "retirement" from music took over and I never got around to actually writing out that post. 

Who knew she'd surprise us all by forming FLOWER FLOWER? :D
But that's another story for another time.

As it turns out, I haven't written anything since then. If you noticed, my very last post (before this) was regarding the merits of custom ROMs on a HTC Desire S, which by today's standards, would be considered ancient technology.

Anyhow, while I'd love to do a tech-related post, such as rave about my current LG Nexus 5, or extol the virtues of my (sadly) stolen Sony Xperia Z, this blog has really become kind of a diary for my travels and a place to rave about my recent fanboy obsessions. Which, having attended my last concert of the year (probably!), is ultimately going to center on the amazing Japanese techno-pop trio that is Perfume.

But in the meantime, a little entry into the tech-diary for 2013-2014 (have I really been away that long?!) would be in order.


  1. Upgrading from the aforementioned HTC Desire S to a Sony Xperia Z...
  2. ...and promptly had it stolen from me T.T
  3. Having just re-contracted, I ordered the LG Nexus 5 from Google 
  4. Running stock Android Kitkat 4.4.4, rooted with Xposed Framework and am happy with it for the moment (waiting for Lollipop!)


  1. Upgraded to Singtel Mio fibre from Starhub cable broadband (yay for 200mbps!)
  2. The ol' ASUS RT-N15U became a print server of sorts, replaced by the more-than-capable RT-N56U
  3. To boost speeds to my desktop PC in another room, I got a pair of Sineoji powerline adapters - cheap and work as advertised!
  4. Received a spare 2TB WD MyBook Live from an uncle and is currently running as a home server for music, videos and stuff. 


  1. My graphics card (an XFX GTS 250) finally died 
  2. Replaced it with an ASUS GTX 750 together with a Corsair CX500M power supply because I was afraid my old PSU couldn't handle the new card. Turns out it could -.-
  3. Sometime in late 2013, the first games that would only run on 64-bit OSes were released. Then in 2014 came the horrible, horrible news that I was dreading... FIFA 15 also required a 64-bit OS (I was running 32-bit Vista - I know, laugh all you want)
  4. And with a heavy heart, I upgraded to 64-bit Windows 7, together with a new hard disk because why not?
  5. To date I'm counting down the days I have left before I need to change my motherboard, processor and RAM in order to play the latest games. Already, Assassin's Creed Unity is out of my reach T.T

... Well, that felt good, reminiscing about all that techie stuff.

Next post will be about my recent 5 day solo trip to Japan to catch Perfume's 5th Tour "Gurun Gurun" in Tokyo, followed by their World Tour 3rd Live in Singapore :D

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Android and me

Well, it comes as a surprise to me that I haven't really done a post about my (1 year, 4 months and counting) experience with my Android-powered HTC Desire S smartphone and the Google Android ecosystem. It's been a long while since I posted anything geek-related so this shall be a little biography of sorts, to commemorate 1 year and 4 months of Android and me. 

(A mostly subjective post on Android - if you're a fellow 'droid, someone considering taking the plunge, or just an Apple user interested in "the other side", read on)

The Beginning

It all started back in August 2011, during a time when the smartphone revolution was in full swing. Apple's iPhone was THE phone to get, while I was still tottering away on my 2 year old Nokia E63 (physical buttons ftw!). It was about time for a re-contract, and as almost everyone does nowadays, a re-contract equates to a new phone. I knew long ago that the iPhone 4 and the Blackberries weren't for me, mainly due to the nature of their highly restrictive ecosystems. I was impressed by the user-interface of Windows' mobile OS, but baulked at the lack of apps, so I settled on Android.

The Phone

At the time, the two major Android phones in contention were the newly released Samsung Galaxy S2 and the HTC Sensation. Both were equally matched in terms of features and specifications, but I didn't like the S2's plasticky look and preferred the nice, hefty feel of the metal-encased Sensation. Of course, being the budget geek that I am, price was the deciding factor - both were going for around $300-$400 for my preferred plan, which was way above my $200 budget.

I settled on the next best alternative - the Sensation's little brother, the HTC Desire S, which was on promotion. At that time I thought, "Why the heck would I need a dual-core processor? A single core would do fine! And besides, battery life would be so much better!". Little did I know that in just one year's time, quad-cores would be the industry standard (lol). On the bright side, I ended up paying only $48 after trading in my old Nokia.

The HTC Desire S
I won't do a review of the DS here simply because many sites have done it, and the fact that it is a very, very outdated phone by current standards. I still love it to bits though, for its compact 3.7" screen, aluminium body, the subtle "lip" at the bottom, and the fact that it still remains relevant in today's iPhone 5, S3, Note 2 and One X dominated world.

The Early (and dark) Days

It was a little hard getting used to a touchscreen after a decade of using physical buttons. Still, thanks to the matte screen protector that I slapped on it (I hated the squeaky smoothness of clear ones), I was soon swiping my way with ease. Unfortunately, HTC's Sense 2.0 user interface wasn't as user friendly and smooth as I expected.

One of the first obstacles I faced was migrating my contacts from the SIM memory into the phone. Somewhere along the migration process I screwed something up and promptly (and accidentally) deleted every contact I had. I had to rebuild my contact list the hard way, but thankfully I had an existing Gmail account which helped tremendously.

Next was the frustratingly lag-infested crap that HTC called Sense. Mind you, the current Sense 4.0 coupled with Android's Ice-Cream Sandwich/Jelly Bean has come a long way since those dark days of Sense 2.0 (and even 3.0). Visually, Sense was beautiful - widgets were well designed, menus were attractive, even the icons matched the whole theme well. Unfortunately, the poor single core processor couldn't handle all the visual goodies, which also negatively impacted battery life tremendously.

The iconic HTC Sense clock widget
I also had a minor scare when the phone refused to boot up and got stuck at the HTC logo, despite repeated attempts of removing the battery and rebooting (which I later learnt was actually a very dangerous thing to do). The problem solved itself after a few hours though, thankfully.

Delving into the world of root and custom ROMs

Things started looking up after I made the decision to go turbo (if you've watched the movie Wreck-it-Ralph, going turbo refers to going rogue lol). Thanks to the amazing community at XDA Developers, I found easy to understand instructions for rooting the Desire S, along with loads and loads of custom ROMs undergoing development. The forums contained many newbie-friendly guides for just about everything Android-related, including the seemingly crazy world of ROM flashing.

XDA Developers
Just in case you're the owner of an Android phone, and like me have decided to go turbo too, just a quick reminder that rooting your phone voids the warranty, so only do it if you're absolutely sure (well, there are ways to reverse the root process, but I won't talk about that here).

And so with the help of XDA and YouTube, I rooted my Desire S and promptly installed my first custom ROM - Saga LBC mod. I'm not sure what made me choose that, but I believe I was watching a tutorial for flashing a ROM on the DS and it just so happened the guy used that as a demo. Of course, I was still a total n00b at custom ROMs back then, so I didn't really know what to look out for when choosing one.

Saga LBC Mod, based on Sense
One of the first things that I did, having rooted my phone and installed a custom ROM which supported it, was to overclock the processor. The euphoria of having overclocked the stock 1 GHz processor to 1.5 GHz  lasted just 4 hours (lol), having drained 50% of the battery. Other stuff I did was to install awesome apps like Tasker and Titanium backup, which needed root (I'll elaborate more on the apps in a separate post).

Even with the added functionalities that came with root and the custom ROM, I still wasn't satisfied with the performance without compromising on battery life. And then I discovered CyanogenMod, or CM in short.


If you've ever done a search on custom ROMs, inadvertently you'd have come across CM, considered one of the most (if not THE most) popular custom ROM for Android.

CM7 on the Desire S
In a nutshell,
CyanogenMod is an aftermarket firmware for a number of cell phones based on the open-source Android operating system. It offers features not found in the official Android based firmwares of vendors of these cell phones. -
In other words, CM is stock Google Android, with added awesomeness! One of the first things I noticed after flashing CM7 (Gingerbread) was the whole cyan theme embedded into every nook and cranny of the phone, which felt so natural as if Android was made to be blue - I loved it! (And Google too, for they also incorporated a bluish-cyanish theme for Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean).

The second thing I noticed was the added smoothness CM actually gave my lag-plagued phone, which was no longer a pain to use. Part of the reason for this was the fact that CM based itself upon the stock Android operating system which was lean and optimized for use the way Google intended it, unlike the lumbering beast called Sense.

One of the additional features in CM that I found indispensable was the ability to tweak the settings for auto-brightness - I could adjust brightness levels for specific ambient lighting conditions - which did wonders for my battery life (screen brightness is usually the number one culprit of battery drain). Other not-so-functional-but-still-awesome features included customizable lockscreens, embedded power toggles in the pull-down notification menu and (in CM9 and later versions) sweep2wake!

Sweep2wake basically enables you to turn on/off the screen just by swiping across the four physical buttons at the bottom of the phone (the home, menu, back and search buttons). Sweep left to lock, sweep right to wake (hence sweep2wake), no more pushing of the power button! This function very nearly became a lifesaver when I dropped my phone a few months back, denting the power button and causing it to cease functioning. Thankfully it popped back out after a few hours (my phone seems to have mysterious regenerative powers lol).

Breaking the upgrade cycle

Cid, the (new) mascot for CM
And so here I am now, in 2013, holding onto my HTC Desire S flashed with Andromadus CM 10.1 running Jelly Bean 4.2, when many of the S3s, Note 2s, One Xs and whatnot out there are still stuck on ICS or even Gingerbread (gloating time lol).

And herein lies the reason for flashing a custom ROM, especially if you're not using a Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 4 - you won't get upgrades until your phone manufacturers say so, which is often several months after the official Google release. Nexus users don't have this problem as they get upgrades the instant Google announces them (lucky them!)

And if you're using an outdated phone, destined to be relegated to the scrapheap? Tough luck trying to get an official release.

One of the things I love about Android is the dedicated developer community that keeps 2 year old phones like the Desire S viable in today's quad-core, 5 inch screen world. After trying CM7 for a couple of months, I got the itch again when Alpha builds of CM9 were released, promising an upgrade to ICS. Then came CM10 which brought Jelly Bean and Project Butter to the Desire S, followed most recently by CM10.1 with JB 4.2. Amazingly, CM9, 10 and 10.1 weren't even official releases, just test builds by a handful of extremely dedicated developers (shoutout to Nexx, nk111 and Flinny from XDA, you guys are awesome!). Sure, I'd get a couple of random reboots in a day, but that's a small price to pay for having the latest Android OS on an ageing phone :D



How long will I keep this up, I always wonder to myself. Will I upgrade my phone to a Nexus 4 if/when it becomes available locally? Will I be tempted to get a new phone when my line is up for recontract in August? Will I stick with the Desire S until it finally dies?

Sorry A-chan and Kashiyuka >.<
In the meantime, I'll be happily munching on jelly beans until the time comes to make a decision ;)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perfume World Tour 1st live in Singapore! パフュームワールドツアー:シンガポール!

Yes, I'm a closet Perfume fan. 

Last Saturday was the last leg of Perfume's 1st ever overseas tour, held in Singapore at *Scape Warehouse. This was following performances in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and choosing to end their tour here in Singapore meant that we had honor of hosting the event to be broadcast live to cinemas all over Japan and Taiwan!

Big thank you to J-Live Asia and Sozo for bringing Perfume here!
Well, before going into the details of their awesome performance (if you've been reading my twitter), I'll do a quick introduction of Perfume and how I started listening to them :D

From Wikipedia (where else?):
Perfume (パフューム) is a Japanese pop girl group from Hiroshima, Japan, consisting of Ayano Ōmoto (Nocchi), Yuka Kashino (Kashiyuka), and leader Ayaka Nishiwaki (A-chan). They debuted locally in 2001 and made their transition to a major label in 2005. As of January 2012, the group has released fourteen major label singles on the Tokuma Japan Communications label. Since 2003, Perfume has been produced by Yasutaka Nakata, founder of the group Capsule and the man responsible for their electronic dance-pop music. 
 My first brush with Perfume was a few years back (probably 2009), and like many fans I believe, it all started with the single "Polyrhythm". I remember viewing it on Facebook or YouTube (the beauty of social media), and was quite entranced by their techno-pop music and that addictive "poririzumu poririzumu poririzumu izumu izumu izumu" refrain. I started listening to their albums "Game" and "Triangle" and fell in love with the rhythmic melodies and thumping beats, characteristic of their sound. I wasn't that huge a fan of their dance routines, preferring to immerse in their music instead (which incidentally worked wonders for concentration during exam periods).

Then came news earlier this year that J-Live Asia were bringing Perfume to Singapore as part of their first World Tour, and I just had to go for it! Right, on to the concert proper. Forgive me if I can't remember the playlist or details here and there as I was so absorbed and really enjoyed myself :D
The girls started off with matching shimmery, silvery white outfits and did some of their earlier songs as well as songs from their just-released Global Compilation "Love The World" album, including Night Flight, Computer City and Electro World. It was my first time seeing them dance (well, with the exception of Polyrhythm), so I was really enthralled by their dance steps. Electro World in particular got the crowd all hyped up! I loved the part where each girl took turns to do the fist punches!
This was followed by an MC section during which Nocchi complained (jokingly of course) of the heat and the sweat. A-chan then identified many guys wearing black-framed spectacles and chatted about her favourite type of guy (black framed glasses, headphones, V-neck and skinny pants lololol). This was all translated helpfully by an audience member called Ume-san (?). Incidentally there was one member of the audience who fitted that description! They talked about eating chicken rice, arriving at Changi at 5am, thanking the fans who went to receive them, as well as a hilarious interview session with a local photographer.
A-chan then split the audience into 3, each with a unique chant - "Ma", "Rai", and "On". I didn't notice what it meant until she called for all 3 together -"Ma-Rai-On = Merlion!" LOLOLOL Japanese and their obsession with our Merlion (and chicken rice). STB, you're doing a great job!
Super High Part
I'm not kidding when I say this was the super high part. They did all their heart-thumping songs in one go, including my favorite song from the JPN album, Laser Beam. The laser light show for Laser Beam was absolutely top class. Half the time I was dazzled by all the laser beams instead of the girls XD. This was followed by Spending all my time, where they did all the complicated hand movements, and a very appropriate track for the tour - Love the World. 

The screen from one of the cinemas broadcasting live! Awesome fans XD
Then came my favourite part of the concert - the giant LED screen at the back split into 3 separate screens, and the girls walked out wearing red outfits! This was followed by edge which ranks among my favourite Perfume songs for its sheer untz-untz-untz-ness. The girls danced in front of themselves (on the screens) exactly in sync, and I loved the part where they started swaying and acting all confused. Amazing choreography.
This was followed by Secret secret which again used the lighting to great effect, especially for the opening few seconds. The girls then ended off the segment with Dream Fighter, another crowd favourite! I remember screaming "先まで!" together with the audience whenever the chorus came about. Really inspirational song!
P.T.A Corner
I wasn't familiar with their lives/fanclub so I was scratching my head with regards to P.T.A, until A-chan answered my question - Perfume to Anata - the Perfume official fanclub, which they will be opening to the world next year! A-chan then got everyone to sing along to We Will Rock You (why that, I wonder lol). The girls then proceeded to teach us a dance to be used for one of the later songs! And A-chan actually "tekan-ed" us because we were waving our hands non-stop (i.e. Buddha clap style) and she was asking "You wanna learn the next dance? You wanna?". Nocchi and Kashiyuka were "pleading" with her to teach the next move which was hilarious XD. I wasn't laughing though, my arms were tiring quickly - which says a lot about the girls' fitness levels. They're damn fit!
They started off the segment with my favourite song off the Global Compilation album - Fake It! The girls really hyped the audience up and Nocchi came over to my side of the stage to urge us on! This was followed by the impossibly cute Nee, where everyone did the hand signal in sync during the chorus! Only after watching the PV for Nee did I realise the awesome tap dance sequence that I missed out because I was at the back :(
On hindsight, I realised I totally missed out on their footwork for all the songs D: Reminder to self - get VIP tickets next time!
Crowd favourite Chocolate Disco was next! It was fun singing along to the infectious chorus of neverending "Chocolate Discos" :D
And of course, they had to end it with Polyrhythm.  
A-chan started off by giving a short, touching speech about the obstacles Perfume had to overcome to stand on the stage in front of us. Perfume never knew of their overseas fans until they attended the premier of Pixar's "Cars 2" movie, for which Polyrhythm was used as a song, and were surprised to learn that people knew their songs outside Japan. They made a decision to switch record labels (from Tokuma to Universal) so that they could go global to reach their international fans (so brave of them, respect!!). A-chan then teared up as she described how they had to bid their staff goodbye (T.T). I was really touched by her speech.

Love their matching outfits! Photo credits to
They then performed their first single released under Universal, Spring of Life, which was really appropriate :3. I loved the dance routine for this song, especially when each girl took turns to do a mini-catwalk cum hair-flip (Nocchi, in particular XD).
They then did Kokoro no Sports, followed by a special announcement

So much cuteness in one photo! Pity about the gloomy skies though 
A-chan announced that a special guest from Japan came along for the tour - Doraemon! And Doraemon actually walked out! She announced that Perfume's next single, Mirai no Museum, would be used as a theme song for a new Doraemon movie (Nobita's Secret Museum Adventure) next year! 
 The funniest part came when Doraemon said he had to go back to Japan to check on Nobita, and he walked off stage. The Perfume girls then wondered how he was going back, before shouting that they saw Doraemon pull the "Dokedemo (Anywhere) Door" from his pocket and use it! So cute XD!
Perfume ended the show with My Color where the dance moves they taught us came in handy! 
After they exited the stage, the fans started singing an acapella version of Polyrhythm, to which the girls (off-stage) replied "Thank you! See you again!" 


To quote my twitter reaction after the concert:

And some Japanese news reports about the tour:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mitsubachi Fest 2012

Well its been some time since I last posted :/ Guess I should at least complete my long overdue Japan trip journal xD

22/6 Day 7 - Mitsubachi Fest

That evening, I met Jun to travel to Linus's home to get the tickets for the event. We then rushed down to a live house in Omotesando, Harajuku for Mistubachi Fest!

Short introduction to Honey Bee Management, the guys behind the Fest:
Honey Bee is a Japanese talent management company, under Sony Music Group Japan. They do a host of stuff, from music production, composition, to live production and providing backing musicians. And of course, they have a stable of really great musicians. For many of us (fans of YUI, that is), Honey Bee became "famous" due to, which is YUI's live band consisting of bassist Backy, guitarist Kuro-chan, drummers Chris and Mai Mai, percussionist Sakura and keyboardist Arisa. YUI's producer Hisashi Kondo is also from Honey Bee. 
How did I get the opportunity to attend the Fest? Well to cut the long story short, Jun and Linus, the YUI-Lover "foot soldiers in Japan", attended several Mitsubachi Kaigi (meetings) in which Honey Bee met with fans and asked for their ideas and suggestions. This led to that, coincidences led to opportunities, and I ended up with a ticket! (Big shout out to Jun and Linus, thanks you guys!)

It was my first ever visit to a live house so I didn't know what to expect. I ordered a beer at entrance and promptly gulped it up on an empty stomach (didn't have time for dinner). No wonder I felt a little tipsy during the first few acts.

I was looking forward to catching Chelsy, but a few other groups and singers were pretty good too! I liked Moss Green in particular, she had really captivating vocals and sounded really good live. And of course, the highlight of the show was Chelsy!

Oh wait, before I continue, more on Chelsy:
Chelsy are a 4-girl band (3 now that their vocalist left, but I'll keep it at 4 for simplicity's sake) under Honey Bee Management, consisting of leader Arisa (keys), Mio (vocals/guitar), Shizuka (bass) and Ami (drums). 4 cute, bubbly girls in a band, playing YUI-influenced music? What else can you ask for? :DD
I was squashed in the front together with a bunch of YUI/Chelsy fans, and was quite amused by the crazy stuff they did while Chelsy were rocking on stage. As for the perfomance? I really enjoyed their songs; they played all originals which were friendly to the ear, including a couple of really rocking numbers. It was quite interesting to see the contrast in personalities - Arisa was cheerfully prancing about her keyboard, Ami was smiling all the way (but you could see the concentration in her expression), Shizuka was coolness personified (I love her backing vocals) and Mio sang with lots of emotion.

I confess that I wasn't too impressed by Chelsy the first time I heard their music (I thought they sounded too similar to YUI), but after that live my impression of them changed :D It also helped that Shizuka was starting to grow on me xD

First, some pics of Chelsy,  (I brought my camera, but I forgot to insert the SD card, so I was stuck with 5 internal memory photos -,-)

Chelsy's Ami, Arisa, Shizuka and Mio!
No points for guessing my favourite member!
The line-up for the night! Great talent on display :D 

After their set I hung around at the back to catch some of the other acts, which were equally impressive and polished too! To my surprise, staff and members of Honey Bee started streaming in, including Hisashi Kondo, Backy, and the Chelsy girls! We managed to steal a picture with Hisashi, while I got a pic taken with Shizuka and Mio thanks to Jun! (the following photos were taken with Linus' camera).

Linus, me, Hisashi Kondo and Jun! (lol @ HK's expression)
Shizuka and Mio!
The crazy YUI fans!

After the event ended, we took the chance to meet some of the performers for a chat and took lots of pictures! It felt really surreal to be face-to-face with people you've been seeing on stage during concerts, much less talk to them! They were all really nice and approachable, and I managed to exchange a few words with Backy :D

Big sister Mai Mai :D
Super nice guy Backy!
Chelsy/e.u. band keyboardist and MC for the night Arisa! 
After Mitsubachi Fest I realised that Honey Bee really tries to connect with the fans, which I think is awesome. There were no barriers between us and the artistes, and they were all very willing to interact with the fans. Of course, credit goes to the fans who were exceptionally nice and respected the artistes (can't say the same for fans of other, more popular groups)

It was late by the time the event ended and I hadn't had dinner so I was famished. Together with a bunch of Japanese fans we headed to a nearby Ippudo outlet for some ramen supper and beer :D Had a long, YUI-and-Chelsy-related chat before heading back to the hotel. On the way back I passed by the live house, and nearly bumped into Arisa and Shizuka rushing out with their bulky instruments (trying to catch the last train, probably?). Guess its tough being a musician eh?


23/6 Day 8 - Tokyo University, Meiji-jingu 

The next day I met up with Kevin who gave me a short tour around his town and Toudai (Tokyo University), and got introduced to the delights of tsukemen, which came with an impossibly hearty seafood broth. Think of the thickest, tastiest prawn mee stock, and multiply the shiokness by 10.

Just noodles, an egg, and a bowl of wicked broth
Toudai's clock tower, made famous (to me) by Love Hina XD

I took a train down from Toudai to Harujuku and took a short hike to Meiji-jingu shrine, taking a break from all the heat. Bought a good-health charm for the girlfriend and just enjoyed the peace and cooling breeze blowing through the shrine grounds. I was feeling a little ambitious and walked all the way to Shibuya to pay a visit to the gigantic Tower Records store there. Bought Fukuhara Miho's latest album "Best of Soul Extreme" :D

Spent the night at Haneda Airport, where I discovered the awesome Itoen green tea. Yes, I discovered it only during the last few hours I had left in Japan. Sad that I didn't think of buying a whole crate to ship back home.

Well, that concludes my June 2012 Japan trip! Apologies for taking so long ><

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Japan: The Northern Alps #6

21/6 Day 6: Karuizawa to Tokyo

The next morning was mostly wast... I mean spent at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Arcade outlet mall. There wasn't many things that piqued my interest, other than a LEGO store and the adidas and Nike shops. I decided to chill out in a Starbucks while the parents did their shopping.

I was surprised when the Starbucks staff asked me after taking my order of macha latte:「どこからですか?日本人ですか?」(Where are you from? Are you Japanese?). Well of course I replied 「いいえ、シンガポール人です。」(No, I'm Singaporean).

The reply I got? "NOOOOO waaaaaaay!! Get out of here!"

She said it in jest of course. Turns out, the cashier was a Singaporean working in Japan! She said my pronunciation sounded Japanese, but I didn't look Japanese so she was curious. And another Japanese staff told me she lived in Singapore for a few years as well. Judging from their reactions, I guess Singaporeans don't really go to Karuizawa that often XD

We took a Shinkansen back to Tokyo and arrived shortly before dinner. After spending a week or so in the Japanese countryside, I was having trouble trying to navigate the hordes of people at the station and on the streets, especially during peak hour. It didn't help that our hotel was in Tokyo's notorious Kabuki-cho district in Shinjuku D:

Shinjuku by day...
Shinjuku by night
Kabuki-cho, bustling with people
 Dinner was a hearty seafood hotpot in a smoky restaurant filled with suited salarymen and their bosses, all chatting over beer and cigarettes. My mum was the only female in the restaurant, apart from the waitresses (who were all from China).
22/6 Day 7: Tsukiji, Ueno 

We headed to Tsukiji fish market for some early morning munchies and to search for fresh uni (sea urchin) to eat. Mainly my parents, because I don't eat uni (looks strange and creamy D:).

First stop was my favourite gyu-don stall that was facing the road. You order a bowl, sit down and just eat it in front of the stall :D And if there's no seats? Stand and eat of course! Much, much better than the crappy beef bowls you get in Singapore (especially the local Yoshinoya). Heck, the Yoshinoyas in Japan serve gyu-dons a billion times better than those you can find here.

Piping hot gyu-don!
The gyu-don stall
 Next stop - a simple bowl of shoyu ramen! Just a few stalls down the row you'll find a ramen stall that is perpetually flooded with customers and tourists - its that popular. Just a hearty, simple bowl of ramen that warms the stomach with its delicious soup stock.

Super thin pork slices!
In Tsukiji, you eat standing up 
 We walked around the market, looking for things to eat and buy. Plenty of fresh seafood stalls, sushi bars and dried goods stores. My dad finally managed to get his hands on a tray of fresh uni. Expensive stuff D: For a snack, I spotted a couple of tamagoyaki stalls selling freshly grilled tamago.

Tamagoyaki on a stick!
Many different favours of tamagoyaki
After breakfast, we headed down to Ueno to check out Ameyoko shopping street. Before that though, we wandered into Ueno park. Its amazing considering that I've never been to Ueno park before even though I've visited Tokyo a couple of times already.

A temple in the middle of a pond of water lilies
A duck and her ducklings :3
I really should come back during sakura season ><
We browsed around Ameyoko for awhile but couldn't find anything of interest to buy, other than a few packets of snacks to distribute to colleagues and friends, as well as a couple of bags of Japanese green tea. \

This reminds me of Times Square in NY somehow lol
That night, I met up with Jun and Linus to attend Mitsubachi Fest 2012, which I shall write about in a separate post :D

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Japan: The Northern Alps #5

20/6 Day 5:  Karuizawa

If you've joined any guided tours overseas, you'll know that there will be one day dedicated to shopping, to appease the womenfolk in the tour, just like there will be one meal consisting of Chinese food to cater to the stubborn people who insist on eating Chinese food everywhere XD

So we arrived in Karuizawa slightly before lunch. My first impressions of Karuizawa? Totally different from the other towns and cities we visited so far - Nagano, Matsumoto and Toyama. For one, I couldn't see a single high-rise building when I stepped out of the station. From the sprawling mega-outlet-mall to the summer villas, chalets and shops, Karuizawa seemed like a place in suburban America.

Karuizawa, viewed from the station
We decided to check into the hotel first before checking out the sights - and was treated to a 15 minute walk with luggage in tow D:

Cozy little cafe in the middle of nowhere
The hotel was a really nice place though, the receptionist/staff was extremely nice and helpful (plus her English was not bad either!). It was a small cozy 2-storey building that reminded me of a backpacker's hostel, except it had fully equipped. big spacious rooms. Its cafeteria (named the Beatles cafe) even had a mini-stage for band performances!

Hey Jude~

First stop was lunch at the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza, filled with overpriced eateries OTL. Still, the omurice (rice wrapped in omelette) I had tasted really good!

Endless rows of shops

Expensive but delicious omurice
Before starting on the shopping, we decided to visit a natural attraction - the Shiraito falls. The bus ride took about 30 minutes, taking us deep into the mountain forests surrounding Karuizawa. It wasn't that spectacular or anything since the falls were pretty low, but they were pretty unique looking! And the water actually flows out from the ground! Some kind of sub-soil flow, instead of an overland stream, feeds the falls.

A short walk to Shiraito falls
A wall of water! Pretty tiny though
If you look closely, the water is actually flowing out from the ground 
While waiting for the return bus, dad bought a fishy snack
With that out of the way, my mum could finally begin her retail therapy in earnest, starting with the locally coined "Ginza" area, also known as Kyu-Karuizawa (Old Karuizawa). In what was basically a shopping street filled with local specialties and random knick-knacks, I managed to find a Ghibli store! 

Ghibli store! <3
Cat bus and a huge Totoro plushie!
Costumed photography, anyone?
Kyu-Karuizawa shopping street
Since it was a weekday, the streets were pretty empty save for a handful of local tourists and residents milling about. I did notice a lot of Japanese taking their canine friends out for a walk though, and couldn't resist taking a few photos. They really do love their dogs :D

1 Shiba Inu not cute enough? Have 2 instead!
Corgi meets terrier!
The terrier on the right was actually at one of the shops we visited (where I bought a bottle of locally-produced. really fresh milk), lazing around at the entrance waiting to welcome customers. Guess its owner decided to take it for a walk :p

There wasn't much to see so we decided to take a slow walk back to the hotel, stopping by a small pond on the way for some peace and quiet. Along the way we noticed many summer cabins and cafes clearly devoid of any human presence - perhaps their owners only returned during the summer. Some looked as if they had been vacated for some time.

Tree-lined roads everywhere in Karuizawa
Quirky little French restaurant
A coffeehouse of some sort? Looked closed though
One interesting thing I noticed along the way was the numerous French bistros, Italian trattorias and restaurants randomly popping up along the road, and not a single Japanese eatery. The prices were not cheap either, clearly out of the reach of anyone looking for a simple meal. The Karuizawa equivalent to our Dempsey Hill and Bukit Timah enclaves, perhaps?

Kumoba-ike. Apparently it looks lovely in autumn, with the red maple leaves
Male duck :3
Since it was getting late, we decided to have dinner back at the outlet mall before heading back to the hotel early to rest tired legs. Dinner was wagyu beef sukiyaki!