Tokyo Getaway: In Shinjuku

The skies were overcast and gloomy when we arrived in Tokyo on Monday. The morning air was slightly chilly, a wonderful change from the muggy Singapore heat that we left behind. Wearing a cardigan and a thin scarf sufficed.

It has been nearly 4 years since we last set foot in Japan. We were looking forward to some good eats and lots of walking in this trip. I felt the impact of the rising Japanese Yen when buying tickets for the 100-minute airport limousine ride to our hotel in Shinjuku. The cost of two tickets, each costing ¥3,000, was approximately the equivalent of S$100…!!

This time, we chose to stay in the Keio Plaza Hotel, a business hotel located in Shinjuku. I selected the hotel based on three criteria.

One, the hotel has to be a scheduled stop on the airport limousine’s route to and from the airport. Our previous experiences of dragging luggage up and down long flights of stairways and/or across busy crossroads in search of the hotel were not ones which we cared to repeat.

Two, the hotel must be conveniently located within walking distance from a JR station on the Yamanote Line to minimise having to change trains to go to the places that we wanted to visit, especially during peak hours!

Three, the hotel should have rooms which are of a decent size and has bathrooms that have more than just elbow-to-elbow standing space.

We were very pleased with our choice of Keio Plaza Hotel (well, the room could have been bigger…). We managed to get reasonable rates for a double-room on Agoda. While the Agoda rates did not include breakfast, the room came with a Nespresso machine, four complimentary coffee capsules per day and in-room wifi. Good enough for us. I choose Nespresso over breakfast anytime!

Keio Plaza, a huge hotel complex split into several towers, is located in a “skyscraper forest” in Nishi-Shinjuku (west of Shinjuku station) where the business district is. Surrounded by office buildings and skyscrapers, the hotel is a skip-and-a-hop away from the train station, eateries, restaurants and cafes. Service was impeccable too.

We love the hotel’s location – quiet, away from the crowds, neon-lights, billboards, shops, pimps, and madness that make up most of Shinjuku. Convenience without the noise and congestion (except when we were battling with the human traffic into and out of the Shinjuku train station). Perfect!


^ View from our hotel room on the 25th floor. The futuristic-looking Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (shot through the window in the hotel room).


^ Just round the corner from our hotel is this super cool and “curvaceous-looking” Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

I love the look and architecture of the building. I was a little surprised to learn that the Cocoon Tower is an educational facility, housing three schools – a fashion vocational school, a design and technology college and a medical college. It looked like it housed hip companies in the creative fields.

Itekimasu: Running Off To Tokyo

How fast time flies. At this time last year, I was winding down at work and preparing to start my 6-month sabbatical with a five-week trip to Korea.

Fast forward one year, I am packing my bags to go to Tokyo for a short one-week vacation with the husband. This is my usual birthday trip, except that we have to do it in advance this year due to work commitments. Damn, I am going to be turning a year older. Again.

As usual, besides booking my air-ticket and a hotel room, we haven’t figured out what we are going to be doing there. Making a trip to Kamakura and Enoshima is definitely on the cards. I also want to visit the Ghibli Museum if I can figure out how to buy tickets in Japan. I am looking forward to taking photos with cute models of Totoro, the cat bus and Jiji the cat!

I am going to try to practise speaking as much Japanese as possible during this trip. And find some time to put up those out-dated posts in my draft folder.


Baikoken: Shoyu Ramen


Right after I said that I do not eat any other type of ramen besides Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, I went to Beikoken at North Canal Road today and ate a bowl of shouyu ramen for lunch.

I was supposed to have gone to see my dentist during my lunch hour today but he cancelled the appointment in the morning. Since I had no lunch appointment and was craving for a bowl of hot ramen, I decided on Beikoken. I would have preferred my usual tonkotsu ramen but there wasn’t any decent tonkotsu ramen joint that was within walking distance from my office.

Beikoken was close by but unfortunately, sold shouyu, shio and miso ramen and not tonkotsu ramen!

I read that the joint is well-known for its shouyu ramen and charsiew. I decided on a half-bowl of shouyu ramen which comes with two slices of pork and a sprinkle of spring onions. I also asked for an ajitama to be added to my bowl of noodles.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the shouyu broth alot! It was flavourful without being too salty, and the pork was very tender. I didn’t like the texture of the noodles and thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of noodles in a half-bowl portion so I managed to eat all of it. Sadly, the ajitama overcooked.

After a quick lunch, I headed to Kinokuniya to browse through some books. I am so unproductive on Mondays.

Hakata Ramen: Ikkousha At Ramen Champion


Back in 2006, TBH and I spent three days in Hakata city, Fukuoka during a trip to Japan. I don’t remember very much of the city but the one thing that has stayed in my mind is Ramen Stadium located on the top floor of Canal City, a shopping mall in Hakata.

Ramen Stadium has the same concept as Ramen Champion in Illuma at Bugis – famous ramen stalls all over Japan were selected to set up shop in one spot.

At that time, I was so fascinated by the concept of a one-stop ramen restaurant where one could choose to eat specialty ramen from various parts of Japan – Tokyo, Sapporo, Hakata – in one place. You decide on which stall we wanted to eat from, buy a food ticket from the vending machine and place your order at the specific stall. It was really cool.

I remember that Ramen Stadium also had a souvenir shop which sold pre-packed ramen gift boxes and I brought back some to give to friends.

My favourite ramen is Hakata-style ramen. Unless I have no choice (which is rarely the case), I almost never eat miso, shio or shouyu ramen. I like Hakata ramen for its milky-rich pork bone broth and noodles. Unlike the thick, chewy and (in my opinion) somewhat starchy noodles from the other regions, Hakata’s noodles are thin and smooth. IMO, the texture is not very different from somen or meesua, which I love to eat.

I have been to Ramen Champion twice now. Both times, I had the Hakata-style ramen.


The first time I was there, I ordered a bowl of spicy miso ramen from Menya Iroha. Just for the sake of trying something different! I took two bites of the spicy miso ramen and decided to head out to Ikkousha for the Hakata-style ramen. Although the pork bone broth served by Ikkousha wasn’t as good as I would have liked it to be, still I enjoyed the bowl of noodles a whole lot more than the spicy miso ramen.

Maybe I will try something different during my third visit. If I don’t chicken out and go for what is familiar to me.

Even when the ramen sold in Singapore is touted to be cooked by Japanese chefs from the best ramen stalls in Japan, I find that they just don’t taste half as good as the ramen sold in Japan. No oomph or like how my friend puts it – “no opium”!

And wouldn’t it be nice if Ramen Champion had those ticket vending machines which are ubiquitous in Japan instead of the Marche-like cards used to record one’s food purchases.

Jeju In Full Colour

Sometime back, I read that The Jeju Weekly, an English newspaper in Jeju, was planning to publish a photo special of Jeju and was inviting readers to contribute photos for this spread in several categories: Coast, Mountains, Seasons, People, Food, Jeju City or Seogwipo City, Travel and Patterns.

I decided to submit eight photos that I had taken of Jeju last November to the newspaper. Apart from this being a fun thing to do, I was curious to know how it feels to see something that I created in print.  I wanted to have a new experience, or whatever one calls such feelings.

Of the eight, four managed to make their way to print together with photos of 12 other contributors.  The online edition of the spread came out today and it is available here and I am waiting for a hardcopy of the newspaper to be mailed to me.

The photos of Jeju are really not my best.  When I was sifting through my photos to shortlist some for the submission, I wished I had done better.

I find myself lamenting: If only I had used a neutral filter….  If only I had tilted the camera a little to the right….. If only I had bent down a bit more… If only I had adjusted the exposure, If only I had moved back five steps…and the ‘Ifs’ are simply endless.  I find myself thinking “if only I had a chance to redo this shot, I would have….”

That’s the thing about photography: you only have one chance, most of the time, to capture a specific moment or a particular scene and if you don’t make the best of it, that moment disappears.  For instance, you might experience the loveliest light at one point in time but once the clouds move a wee bit, the lighting alters and that moment seems alot different from what it appeared to be just a minute before.

Or sometimes, you hanker after getting the perfect shot that you completely miss out on experiencing the beauty of your surroundings.

At the risk of sounding cliched, I feel that photography is in many ways like Life: I tend to forget to savour the little moments of what life has to offer us because I am always focusing on something else that seems more important.

It is weird.  Until a couple of years ago, the camera was just something I used to document my travels: me and/or TBH posing for photos at places we were vacationing at.  The fact that I enjoy photography as a hobby still bewilders me today.

I shall try to add a gallery of the Jeju photos tomorrow.  Too tired right now to figure these things out.

Before I go to bed tonight, I have to remember to vote for Jeju to be named as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. 🙂

Happy Day

I woke up feeling very happy today.  I don’t particularly know why but I am guessing that it has someone to do with sleeping very well last night.

Or maybe I am a lucky winner in yesterday’s Mid-autumn Festival’s Special Toto Draw…..?

My friend bought a S$10 pack of Toto tickets on my behalf but I have not checked the numbers on the tickets against the draw yet.  So I am still hopeful that I could become an instant millionaire through gambling.

I haven’t been feeling that great lately.  And no matter what I do, I can’t seem to improve the situation.  It doesn’t help that I have been deprived of the joy of watching Korean dramas since I switched to Starhub’s fibre broadband and there have been some problems with my connection.

No point wondering why.  I should just enjoy the happy mood while it lasts.

Even the thought of having to fly to Shanghai for work on Tuesday didn’t dampen my chirpy mood.  (Arggghhh.  The pollution..! The awful food…!  Smoking indoors…!)

I spent the day pottering around the house.  I did my Japanese homework.  I also went to the hair salon to get a haircut and colour.  We had ramen for dinner and it was surprisingly good.

Now, I am at home – drinking sake and revising Japanese.  今、日本語をべんきょうしながら、お酒を飲みます。

Crossing my fingers that I wake up tomorrow feeling the same.  And Monday too (though highly unlikely…)


Hanoi: Odds & Ends

Some random shots.

^ Hoen Kiem Lake. Those cage-like things hanging on the dead tree are light-holders. This scene would have been so pretty with a clear blue sky, instead of a smoggy-grey one.

^ Opera House. Hanoiの道は 車とオートバイがおおいので、あぶないです。

^ Lovely street murals.

^ Don’t talk on the mobile while you are motorbiking.


^ TBH in the Green Palm Gallery.

Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My Heels For A New Life In France

 photo tout_zpsa6f7ef15.jpg

This book, written by Karen Wheeler, a British, was being reviewed on several book blogs that I subscribe to and reviews of the book were positive.  The book is about Karen Wheeler, a fashion and beauty editor based in London, who bought and renovated a house in rural France following a break-up with her French fiance/boyfriend and eventually, moved to live in rural France.

I was not very keen on the book at first. I am a little wary of such books because they invariably make me feel lousy about my life. But since the library had the book, I reserved a copy, thinking that I could read this on the plane to Hanoi. Afterall, if I did not like the book, it would cost me only $1.55 and some reading time.

I liked the book.  I read it twice.  It was delightful and fun.  It has been a couple of months since I enjoyed reading something. I appreciate her simple and direct writing style.  Some parts were funny, some parts were introspective, some parts were sweet.   Her tone of writing had none of the pretensions and self-importance underlined by a thin layer of smugness which I find annoying in several books of the same genre: “Do what I did and you’ll find happiness, like I did”.

I like how Karen Wheeler focuses the story not entirely on herself but on the friendships and love that she gained and lost in France; that despite uprooting her life and relocating to another country, all the things that went wrong in her life did not automatically become right.

A beautifully written passage describing the experience of living in rural France:

I love the feeling that I am living in sync with nature.  In London, I measured the passing seasons in terms of bare legs or winter boots and whether or not to wear a coat.  Here, the markets are more elemental and I’m much more aware of the passage of time.  Even in the dying days of autumn, I have found much to love about my new life: the sense of space and timelessness, the new baker’s melting chocolate macaroons, and the fact that no one cares about whether or not I’m carrying the latest ‘It’ bag.  I have even learnt to love the church bells, jolting me awake at 7.00a.m. every morning.  I love driving along deserted country back roads surrounded by flat, open fields, past dilapidated stone barns and houses with pretty blue-grey shutters.  I also love the old-fashioned courtesies that mark everyday life here – the fact that when you walk into a shop or restaurant you are expected to greet everyone with a friendly ‘Bonjour, Messieurs, Mesdames,’ (it’s considered the height of bad manners not to).  I get a buzz from the fact that, just crossing the square to buy a newspaper in the morning, I will recognise and say ‘bonjour‘ to at least half a dozen people.  In London, I would step out of my front door and be told to ‘get out of the effing way’ by a cyclist speeding up the road the wrong way.

Another lovely passage describing her enjoyment of the simple pleasures in her new life:

Despite the fact that I am nearly forty and on my own, my life feels that it too is in a state of ‘epanouie‘. This is partly because I have decided to scoop up all the sad feelings I have been travelling around with for so long and pack them away, like old clothes. Rather than wait for happiness to drop down out of the sky, I have decided that I am going to find it in small ways. I find pleasure in the simple, daily rituals of French life: waking up to the peal of church bells and birds singing above the high stone walls; throwing open the shutters first thing to the sight of sunshine and geraniums; walking up to the bakery on the square to buy freshly baked croissants. And then, after a day working at my computer, the early evening ritual of watering the roses and the potted herbs – basil, sage, chives and rosemary – in the courtyard signifies that it’s time to relax. My favourite ritual of all, however, is hanging out the washing. Having lived in a top-floor flat with no outside space for most of my last ten years in London, being able to peg my clothes on a washing line and watch as they sway seductively in a subtle breeze is a real luxury. There is no bottled scent as lovely as that of just-washed cotton sheets hung out to dry in the sun. Finally, I have found pleasures that do not involve a credit card.

She says in the penultimate chapter of her book, after losing the opportunity to start a new relationship with someone who changed his mind about her for no apparent reason:

So much has changed it seems, for so many people, in just in the space of a few weeks. Alone in front of my log fire in the evenings, I think back to how much I have achieved in the past year or so; my French house, which was unloved and falling apart when I found it, is now completely restored. And as I have rebuilt the house, I have also rebuilt my life. I have learned that I can move to a place where I know no one and create a new life for myself. It is very empowering to know that.

If only I could express and convey my thoughts as simply and clearly as she does…

Hanoi: The West Lake

TBH has been to Hanoi twice for work before this trip, staying in hotels located in the city. His experience with the hotels in the city was that they can get quite noisy with the street traffic.

So we decided to stay at the West Lake area which is about 10 minutes away from the city by taxi. It was a good choice because this area is much quieter – no honking and tooting – and the only noise I hear from my hotel room is the screams and shouts of children splashing around in the swimming pool directly below my room. We could live with that.

^Around the West Lake.

^Seeing these shopfronts at the West Lake, I imagine that I am somewhere else. The French Riviera, perhaps?

The hotel is also a short walk away from a number of restaurants and cafes at the West Lake area where one can relax and enjoy the view of the lake while nursing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

I like strolling along the perimeter of the lake in the evenings when the weather is cooler, watching locals fish in the lake and just enjoying the area for what it is. Ahhh, wouldn’t it be nice to own an apartment overlooking the lake..? Or any huge body of water for the matter.


We discovered Don’s Bistro on our first day in Hanoi and was charmed by the Chinoserie-style interior. The food is quite good, with a wide selection of Western and Vietnamese courses.


Best of all is the view of the lake that the bistro affords its diners.

We had brunch at Don’s today and will probably head back for dinner later on. If we don’t get too lazy which we probably will.

^Oysters served in the conical Vietnamese hat.

^ Mr Tan’s steak-something, can’t remember what this is called.

^My first bowl of Vietnamese pho in Hanoi. Oddly, at Don’s Bistro and not one of the local street stalls.

I am not a big fan of Vietnamese food because I find it a little too bland for my tastebuds. But the broth in this bowl of pho tastes different from the ones that I have tried previously. It had a very robust flavour, somewhat similar to the Hainanese beef soup that we have back home.

Hanoi: TBH’s Birthday Dinner

27 August 2011.

This Hanoi trip was to celebrate TBH’s *erm* 4X birthday. Prior to the trip, I did some research and decided on having his birthday dinner at La Badiane, a modern European restaurant located in an alleyway in the city.

We ordered the 3-course dinner. The food was pretty good, prices were reasonable and service effusive. The only complaint that I had was that service was a tad too slow. They took ages to serve each course. The problem when food takes too long to turn up is that it gives my stomach time to chat with my brain about how stuffed it is, resulting in me losing my appetite. Like right after the appetiser.

Photos are a bit orange-y ‘cos of the lighting and ‘cos I didn’t pay much attention to the camera’s white balance.

For no really good reason, I shall start with dessert, a course which I never fully enjoy because I am usually too stuffed by the time it is served.


^Chocolate-Cointreau mousse on shortbread cookie & raspberry delicacies; “Crème brulée” delicacies (peach-thyme, banana-cumin & mint-Baileys)


^Grilled Australian beef tenderloin, roasted cherry tomatoes, green beans & onions, pepper sauce

^Fried scallops, mashed potatoes with garlic & Persil butter, beans & carrots, lemon leave emulsion


^Crab remoulade on dill mimosa, kumquat dressing & sesame biscuit

^Red tuna tartar with fresh coriander & herbs, passion fruit juice, fresh coconut & spices

We literally rolled out of the restaurant holding our bellies looking for a ‘Taxi Group’ cab to take us back to the hotel. Then we stayed up till 1am in the morning watching CNA for updates on the Presidential Election. Yes, there is CNA in the Intercontinental!

Hanoi: Old French Quarter

We did the Lonely Planet walking tour of the Old French Quarter. It was blistering hot, very noisy and crowded. The walk took us almost three hours to complete; by which time, we were driven half-mad by the constant honking and tooting.

I felt a little bad making TBH do this walk with me on his birthday.

We strolled along the narrow streets with shops packed tightly next to each other, taking in the street sights and smells of the Old French Quarter, and constantly rejecting cyclos wanting to offer us a ride.

Mid-way through the walk, we made two stops to rehydrate. At one of the stops, I decided to order a mojito. I figured that a mid-day alcohol was essential in providing me with the motivation to resist hopping onto a cab and heading back to the hotel where there is air-conditioning. And shade. And a bed.

We started the walk at the Ngoc Son Temple located on the Hoan Kiem Lake and ended at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

^The red-coloured timber wooden bridge leading into the Ngoc Son Temple.




^I find it very fun crossing the Vietnamese roads, darting around scooters, motorcycles and cars. It is like playing a game of dare with no rules.



^ Love the architecture.

^Bought a stick of deep-fried dough fritters from this hawker. The fritters look like doughnuts but unlike doughnuts which are chewy, these fritters were very hard.


^Walked through the fresh produce section of the markets and saw hawkers skinning frogs (argh..!).

^Marketing on a scooter.


^I was tempted to get one of these conical Vietnamese hats to give me some shade from the sun.

^ St. Joseph Cathedral.

End of walk.

I don’t think I will repeat this walk again unless it is at temperatures below 20 degrees Celcius. The weather is just too hot for the walk to be fully enjoyable.


We visited the famous Hanoi ice-cream parlour, Fanny, for a much-needed ice-cream to cool down.

Arrived in Hanoi

Day view of the West Lake from our hotel room. The weather is very hot and the skies are foggy.

The Intercontinental is a bit old, service is spotty and the room has NO Wi-fi. Geez.

We haven’t ventured around much on our first day here. But I like Hanoi already. Alot more than Ho Chih Min.

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