Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tokyo Trip Afterthoughts...

Like all business trip schedules, this recent trip to Tokyo consisted of the usual routine of movement between hotel, office and restaurant. But this time, six reasons made a great difference to the trip.

Firstly, this visit to Toyota Tokyo Office provided me with the opportunity to meet up with several ex-colleagues when I was in the Asian operations. It was great to see them again, especially Ms. Satake, my Japanese counterpart for several years.

Secondly, I got to eat puffer fish for the first time! That evening I visited my ex-colleagues, Ms. Satake, Ms. Hirai and Ms. Kono invited me for dinner at a nearby restaurant that specializes in puffer fish. The dinner course was served with puffer fish skin appertiser (it tasted better than it sounds), sashimi and the main course,'nabe'(raw meat and vegetables cooked in a pot of boiling soup). We finished the meal with a cup of sake flavoured with grilled fin. The dinner was really good.

Third and surprisingly, I could still carry the entire dinner conversation in Japanese, although not without much help from my hosts. I'm out of practice for months.

Fourth, a colleague fron African operations invited some of us to Karaoke on our last night in Tokyo. We did horrible off-keyed renditions of English pop music but had a great time.

Fifth, we had a few hours of free time before our departure flight back to Lebanon on the last day. We decided to ride the roller coaster in the amusement park of Tokyo Dome City. After which we visited Shinjuku for shopping.

Sixth, I had the chance to shop for stuff for cooking like tsuyu, wasabi, soba noodles, and morinaga chocolates. Now I can prepare some donburi and noodles for my meals.

In Shinjuku, I learnt that the game 'Final Fantasy 12' is due in the stores soon. I stopped playing since Final Fantasy 8. Now, it really started to sound oxy-moronic, just when are they going to release the final 'Final Fantasy'?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

(Tokyo) Displacement Disorientation

After 1 hell of a rush packing @ the last minute, with 2 luggauges,
3 in-flight movies later, going through 4 airports altogether (Beirut, Dubai, Osaka, Kansai) and
17 + hours of flight time later - I've finally arrived in Tokyo.

Travel notes...
Movies watched:
Walk the Line (Great performances from Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix)
Sky High (fell asleep watching it....duh)
Elizabethtown (Kirsten Dunst looks very good in the show but someone tells me the point of the movie???)
Confirmed: House MD is a good series (Kudos to Terence for the recommendations!)
Reading "The Time Traveller's Wife" grabbed from Dubai airport bookstore. Engaging story so far...
Drank: 5 cl of JD on the rocks! Taste great but what's 5 cl anyway?

Travel notes today is proudly brought to you by: ... Morinaga Milk Chocolate ...

Yes, it tastes great...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Controversial Cartoons...(Deux)

Some in the Islamic world have opted for a "freedom of expression" in response to the publication of the controversial cartoons under "freedom of speech"

The headlines of Aljazeera.net today quotes:
A Pakistani Muslim cleric and his followers have offered rewards amounting to over $ 1 million for killing the Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that have enraged the Muslim world.

Cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi, said in his interview: "If the West can place a bounty on Osama bin Laden and Zawahri, we can also announce reward for killing the man who has caused this sacrilege of the holy Prophet"

Denmark has already shut its missions in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Indonesia.

Art of Living Abroad

Living abroad requires a sense for adventure and the will to try and err. Important lessons are always learnt (oft times must pay school fees)...

Lately I've learnt that...

...when it gets really cold, I like to wrap myself in the quilt like a "popiah" (Chinese wrap) when I sleep
...even if my bed is super-single sized, I should have gotten a queen-sized quilt
...I'm getting fat
...I should not have bought the ceramic portable heater because it lights up like a Christmas tree at night when I want to sleep!!!
...it feels terrible to crawl out of my nice warm blanket/quilt in cold temperature
...luncheon meat costs triple here
...beer is very cheap (SGD 0.80/can)
...I own two knives, two ladles, two pasta scoops because I forgot that I bought them before
...because I don't speak Arabic so when I want to buy a green pepper, I ended up with 1 kilo
...1 kilo of green peppers is very cheap compared to Singapore (less than a dollar)
...I can eat green peppers like I eat apples

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Owen & Mzee

Nope, this isn't Brokeback Animal Planet. It's a tale of a friendship between two animals - a hippo and a tortise. I remembered that I first came across their story from a national geographic magazine onboard an SQ flight in early 2005. It's nice to know that they are still the best of friends today.

Owen, the one year old baby hippo, was separated from his mother during the Tsunami in December 2004. He was rescued and placed together with a 100 + years old tortise, Mzee ("old man") in a wildlife preserve. The wildlife rangers believed that Owen was initially attracted to Mzee because the tortise is of a similar color as that of an adult hippo. But the amazing fact was that Mzee was gradually got used to the presence of Owen. Since then they have became inseparable pals in their daily activities and even developed a unique way of communicating with each other. Owen's keepers are now trying to introduce Cleo, a female hippo, to be his girlfriend.

Owen and Mzee's keeper has a blog

Monday, February 13, 2006

February 14th in Lebanon

To the world, February 14th is Valentine's day. Perhaps everyone is trying to blog about their love experiences so close to V-day, which is why I had so much difficulty logging into blogger today.

In Lebanon, February 14th this year marks a full year since the ex-prime minister, Rafik Hariri was assassinated (just 400 m from my apartment!) Last year's post V-day saw the largest ever demonstration by Lebanese calling for the withdrawal of Syrian control over Lebanon. I expect a repeat demonstration to take place this year as well and I would not be surprised if it takes on a religious overtone. After all, its been less than a month since the prostest sparked by the Danish cartoon controversy here.

Investigations by the UN is still on-going as to who is behind the Hariri assassination. Some evidence pointed to the possible involvement of Syria but the evidence had been dismissed by critics citing ulterior motives. Several months after the Hariri bombing, some prominent anti-Syrian figures had been targetted and assassinated. Some public places had also been bombed but without serious casualties. The mastermind behind these political killings remain unknown today.

Hence, it's everyone guess what will happen tomorrow. Big demonstration? Bombings? Flag burnings? Political rallies? Hopefully the day will pass smoothly without any lives lost.

As for the rest of the world and to my girlfriend: Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

When Gay Cowboys Got To Pee...

They go to....

Brokeback Toilet Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 10, 2006

Atkins Wouldn't Have Approved Of This

Moroccan Coucous Lunch Posted by Picasa

I had an extremely heavy lunch on Couscous (kous kous). It's a traditional staple diet of the Arabic parts of Africa. Basically, the dish consists of coarse semolina granules steamed with a variety of vegetables such as onion, raisins, carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, potatoes, and meats like veal or beef. This fragrant dish is the Arabic answer to the Spanish pilaf.

The Couscous in the picture served 7 of us although its enough for 20! (Check out its size relative to the plate!) Yes, its a whole lot of bad carbs....

Stiff Immigration Checks @ Airports

Recently I seem to be facing stricter checks when I go through airport immigration checks. I've faced slight inconveniences when I went through immigration checks in Istanbul, Paris, Beirut and yesterday, Casablanca. Then I read this today:

Bush said that in October 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that year, had set in motion a plot for another attack inside the United States using shoe bombs to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.

Rather than use Arab hijackers as in the 11 September attack, Mohammed "sought out young men from southeast Asia whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion", Bush said.
(article from http://www.aljazeera.net)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wish List

I was looking @ my Blogger account and found out that I can create a wish list through Froogle (read Frugal: smart shopping through google). It's linked to a list of products on google, from which I can create a shopping list that is linked to my wish list. Sounds complicated?

Put simply, I pick a list of products from google. People who want to buy me gifts just need to click on items on my wish list and get me those gift via online shopping. The google people are damn smart lor!

But then my wish list very simple...

1) BCD
2) A 365D365N LiveAboard Cruise around the world so I can dive, dive, dive, dive, and dive until I look like Kiam Chai ! 

Controversial Cartoons...

The recent controversial cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed had sparked off a furore in the Islamic world.

The caricaturizations first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. One of the drawing shows Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. Another depicted him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islam prohibits any pictoral representations to prevent idolatory. Consequently, Muslims worldwide claimed that Islam has been deeply wounded by such derogatory depiction of their beloved Prophet.

Newpaper editors in question claimed that they published/reprinted the cartoons to support the principle of free speech.

...Which is a load of Crap!

Free speech without sensitivity to and respect for cultural and religious practices of others is a deplorable act. The controversial cartoonist and editors had simply demonstrated their incapability of reflecting on the impact of their actions on others.

Let's suppose if their mothers are depicted in another cartoon in the most deplorable and lewdest way. Let's also assume that they love their mothers as much as Muslims love their Prophet. Are they gonna shrug it off with a laugh because after all, its a practice of free speech. Or perhaps they will consider pressing charges for libel, thereby go against free speech?

In today's world of cultural diversity and religious pluralism, people should to try to respect and accomodate other people's perception or else it will easily lead to conflicts. One cannot claim national sovereignity as techology has made national boundaries porous. Obviously the readership of the Danish newspaper, that published the controversial cartoon, is not limited to within Denmark.

An innocent act has unintended consequences let alone irresponsible acts which cause big unintended repercussions. Action begets karmic reaction. A butterfly flapping its wings in Japan could cause a tornado in California (The Butterfly Effect). Sociologist Merton calls it the Law of Unforseen circumstances. Hence better be prudent and reflect upon the consequences before acting.

On another note, there is obviously an over-reaction on the part of the Muslims. While most Muslim leaders are using diplomacy to resolve the issue, which is highly commendable, others had taken to the streets in protest i.e. in Lebanon and Iraq etc.

One wonders how many of these protestors had actually seen the cartoons? Surely the cartoons are an insult to Islam as a religion but I'm sure that Islam isn't for violence and mob-mentality.

The violence that happened seems to suggest manupilation of the crowd by radical fundamentalist groups that have a deep rooted hatred for the western world. Hopefully, Muslim and Danish leaders can alleviate the situation in a non-violent way as much as possible without extra cost to human life.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Baalbek

UNESCO description of Baalbek:

This Phoenician city, where a triad of deities was worshipped, was known as Heliopolis during the Hellenistic period. It retained its religious function during Roman times, when the sanctuary of the Heliopolitan Jupiter attracted thousands of pilgrims. Baalbek, with its colossal structures, is one of the finest examples of Imperial Roman architecture at its apogee. (http://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=294)

I recalled a scene from the movie "Gladiator" where the black gladiator said to Maximus: " I cannot believe this is built by humans!" or something to that effect. They were staring at the Roman colosseum which they were about to enter. I probably felt the same when I visited the massive Roman temple complex of Baalbek.
The once proud Roman architecture now stands in ruins, damaged by time, nature and man
A glimpse of its former glory - some parts of architecture are still relatively well preserved
Of the 54 columns that used to hold the Temple of Jupiter, only 6 remained erect. (Suggestion: New idea for Singapore government's logo for Total Defence? =P)
Temple of Bacchus (god of wine) is extremely well-preserved.