Japan 2014 Part 1: Hokkaido

KonnichiwaGREETINGS from Hokkaido!

As we traveled in Hokkaido free and easy for a week in Hokkaido, now I understand why a friend of mine as well as our family doctor kept
coming back to Hokkaido for holidays!

Here are some of the reasons why…

>>> Hokkaido is Spacious <<<

Hokkaido, being the second largest island in the north of Japan, is roughly 60% the size of Peninsula Malaysia. And yet, the entire population is only like that of Singapore, around 5 million in total. So, can you imagine the amount of space they have?

Just yesterday while walking around Hakodate, the third largest city in Hokkaido, around the size of Singapore, we spotted very few people but long queues of taxis!

Overcrowding? Are you kidding me? We can literally walk in the middle of the roads if we want to ๐Ÿ™‚

Hokkaido seafood>>> Hokkaido boasts of Yummy Seafood <<<

Seafood and sashimi lovers like me are in for a treat!

They are fresh and reasonably priced at the morning fish markets in major cities like Sapporo, Otaru and Hakodate… And we got to sample most of the yummy and a little ‘exotic’ seafoods such as:

– King crab: the huge ones cost over USD100 per crab while the average sized ones ranged between USD50 to USD80

– hairy carb: a little easier on the pocket as an average crab costs around USD20 to USD30. There’s a lot of meat and really fresh and easy
to eat! We tried this at Hakodate Morning Fish Market* and it was really nice!

– sea urchin (‘uni’): there’s nothing like eating uni sashimi directly and we managed to savour this delicacy at a sashimi outlet at Otaru

– clam & scallop: we tried the BBQ scallop and sashimi clam at Hakodate Morning Fish Market* and it was really yummy!

– oysters: we enjoyed fresh sashimi at the Sapporo Nijo market**

– cuttlefish (‘ika’): we tried the live cuttlefish at Hakodate Morning Fish Market** and essentially you get to fish a cuttlefish from the
pond if you want and they will prepare the sashimi for you

**Two highly recommended morning fish markets to visit are (1) Nijo market in Sapporo at the end of Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade and (2)
Hakodate morning fish market which is just 100m from the Hakodate JR Railway Station.

Hokkaido cheese cake>>> Hokkaido boasts of other Yummy Foods <<<

– rock melon: sweet and juicy and also pricey! 2 pieces of rock melon averages ยฅ350 or ยฅ500

– cheese cake: we savored this at Otaru’s Letao sweet shop as well as Hakodate’s Snaffle at the Red Brick Warehouse

– potato chips

>>> Hokkaido boasts of Excellent Service <<<

– taxi drivers: they are very helpful and loads and unloads our luggage with a smile unlike some we met elsewhere

– hotel service staff: they always have a ready smile and help as much as possible!

– airport service staff: like hotel service staff, they are generally helpful and explain things as much as they could in their limited English

TRAVEL TIP: One hotel that stands out is the one at Hakodate: LOISIR Hotel which is just 100m from the Hakodate JR Station.

>>> Hokkaido has lots of sightseeing and other pleasurable activities <<<

Hokkaido Otaru

– Otaru: visit the canal area (see pic on the right) as well as the many sweet shops there the most famous being LeTao sweets where the cheesecake is heavenly! There is also a Venetian glass museum for those who are keen.

– Sapporo: visit Tanokikoji, the famous shopping street in seven sections as well as the underground shopping (Pole Town and Aurora Town) and don’t forget to visit the Nijo morning market to taste their yummy seafood!

– Furano: see the lavendar farms and taste the lavendar ice cream… as well as visit the colorful flower farms

– Biei: see the most beautiful village houses in Japan there just outside the JR railway station!

– Asahikawa: visit the Asahiyama Zoo and hear the wolves’ howling! The Asahikawa ramen is also famous and very yummy

– Hakodate: visit the Morning Fish Market just 100 m away from the JR railway station and taste live ‘ika’ cuttlefish as well as take the ropecar up to the Mt Hakodate to enjoy an amazing view of Hakodate and the bay, which is considered as one of the top three views of Japan!

– Noribobetsu: enjoy the many ‘onsen’ there plus watch the fireworks during summer!

TRAVEL TIP: Whatever you want to do there in Hokkaido, make sure to book your hotels early as they get filled up pretty fast and the rates can skyrocket (eg. from $200 to $300 or even $500!)

 

Looking back at World Cup 2014 and before…

2014 World Cup SoccerThis is a belated post almost two weeks after the 2014 World Cup Soccer ended in soccer-crazy Brazil…

I have always enjoyed watching World Cup with my friends once in every four years and the different tournaments marked a different period of
my life. Just to highlight a few:

>>> 1974 & 1978 <<<

That’s the time I am old enough to know what is World Cup and we were glued to the TV set at my home with friends cheering for Holland…

I still remember in 1974, Johan Cruyff led the Dutch team with the then innovative total football philosophy which landed them as Runners Up in the final!

And…it was also the first time I truly understand the meaning of ‘striker’ when West Germany’s centre forward Gerd Muller made an unbelievable turn and scored a goal to win the final at 2-1 against Holland to clinch the World Cup title!

In 1978, Holland again qualified for the final but this time was beaten by the Argentinians 3-1 after extra time!

>>>1982, 1986 & 1990 <<<

These three World Cup tournaments span my years as an employee where we go round betting with colleagues as the matches progressed, culminating in the final matches where we usually go to a colleague’s house and play mahjong till the wee hours of the morning to wait for the games to be played!

Wow… I still remember the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal that Argentina’s Maradona scored against England on her road to victory in the 1986 World Cup!

And those were the days that Singapore Pools had not offered sports betting yet so someone always organized a pool whereby each person staked a small sum like $10 and backed a score. The winner could end up winning over $200 which was a big deal in those days ๐Ÿ™‚

>>> 2002 <<<

This is the first time ever — still the only time as of the time of writing now in 2014 — that the World Cup is played in Asia, specifically in South Korea and Japan! That time, I was already running my own small computer business.

This is the most unique and memorable World Cup for me as my business partner and I typically finished our IT system integration work for the day at our clients’ premises and then stopped by at any pub usually at Far East Square and watched the matches live during ‘humanly’ hours in the evening like 8pm and not during ‘unearthly’ hours like 2am or 5am when other World Cups were hosted in either European or the American soils!

>>> FAST FORWARD to 2014 World Cup <<<

Now I’m semi-retired building as much passive income and making as much investments as I can… and have more freedom of time to watch the matches ๐Ÿ™‚

This is the first year I realized that not only we can bet legally at Singapore Pools, we can also go its premises or to MBS, RWS or Kranji Sports Buzz to watch the matches live as well as bet live as the matches progressed!

And the best part was… I found a friend who is as ‘World Cup soccer fanatic’ as I and we literally watched and betted all of the matches of 2014 live at the Singapore Pools Building for the entire football fever month!!

Anyway…

Germany won the cup for the 4th time and its record now equals that of Italy and just behind Brazil who won the highest soccer trophy for five times.

Frankly, it was a boring World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina which ended in a goalless draw after 90 minutes of full time play. It
was only during Extra Time that favorite Germany managed to put in the only goal of the match to win the cup.

>>> LOOKING FORWARD to Russia in 2018 <<<

By GOD’s grace, by then if I’m still around I would love to watch some of the 2018 World Cup action not only live but live in Russia! See you then… From Russia with love ๐Ÿ˜‰

I finally got started with the ukelele…

2014_roger_ukeleleLife is unpredictable!

And I mean it in the positive sense…

What do I mean?

Well a few years ago, I first saw a ukelele in KL while I was in MidValley Megamall shopping for an acoustic guitar and had absolutely no idea what this little creature is all about! And the best part was… it was a PINK little thing which I thought it was just a little toy ๐Ÿ™‚

FAST FORWARD a few years:

>>> March 2014 <<<

I went to a friend’s place to jam on the guitar and his digital piano… after the happy jam session, he showed me his new toy: a ukelele — by that time I already knew what it is but had not much knowledge about it besides its name — as well as some songbooks and instructional song sheets…

One look at the ukelele C chord diagram which looks exactly like the G chord on the guitar with only the ‘bottom’ four strings and I freaked out and exclaimed, “I’m NOT going to learn this instrument because I will be totally confused!”

And I meant my words but…

… for only less than two months. Here’s why:

>>> May 2014 <<<

On the evening of Tuesday 6th May, I had to pass my friend some stuff that she needs urgently…

So she asked me to meet her at a HDB area after her ukelele class. I said why not and since we meet, we might as well have a quick coffee… and she agreed.

And then when I met her, and after having a light supper and in the midst of my usual midnight coffee, I asked to see her ukelele and what she had learned. Oh yes, I told her what I just told you above… that I will NOT touch a ukelele as the chords are so confusing to me!

She gladly showed me her song sheets and also how to play C, F and G plus A minor chords on the ukelele… It took me a few moments that guitar and ukelele chords are either a fifth or fourth apart depends on how you look at it… which means:

– If you play the ‘bottom’ four-stringed ‘Guitar G’ chord on the ukelele, it is actually a C chord

– If you play ‘bottom’ four-stringed ‘Guitar C’ chord on the ukelele, it is actually a F chord

– If you play ‘bottom’ four-stringed ‘Guitar D’ chord on the ukelele, it is actually a G chord

Once I realized that, I was strumming away on her ukelele singing songs like Amazing Grace, All I have to do is dream and she was shocked!

And then I was hooked…

Over the weekend I borrowed her ukelele and instruction book which I literally gobbled up overnight… And soon, I will get my own ukeleles and that will add immense fun to my jamming sessions as well as with friends who want to get started learning to play a musical instrument because

The Ukelele is an EASY Instrument to get started…

Can you imagine that to play these two chords C or A minor on the ukelele, you only need to press one string and strum?

To play F, you press two strings, and to play G, you press three strings…

And that’s it, you’re off to strum 80% of the pop songs out there in the world!

And the BEST part is… it’s affordable as the budget models start from even below SGD20… and it’s so portable as it is so light and small, I will leave one next to my bedside and probably carry two in the car to jam any time, any where!

Perhaps, I might join or start a ukelele interest and jamming group soon in Singapore, so if you’re keen, please PM me in Facebook www.facebook.com/rogerloh or email me at rogerloh.sg@gmail.com and we will have loads of fun!

Now, my target is to play this wonderful song ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ like Jake Shimabukuro (I’m kidding LOL!):

 

Do you believe in MIRACLES?!

20140225_roger_yukiA MIRACLE just happened to me this morning…

… as I sat down at the Coffee Kaki Cafe at AMK Hub, ordered a coffee and about to do a bit of work.

But before, I usually clear my messages on my phone…

So I fired up Whatsapp and checked that one of my many chat groups was rather active. I participated as usual… and messages just went to and fro in these days of social and mobile media.

A friend, Yuki — Singapore’s top belly dancer who owns a dancing business and studio — just got into the chat and was surprised that there were dozens of messages this morning, perhaps 50 in just 2 to 3 hours, and some were even in Chinese.

As I was replying to one of Yuki’s messages in particular, I saw someone walked past me and oops… that looks like Yuki… And YES, it’s her!!!

And I stopped texting in mid-sentence as the REAL Yuki appeared miraculously and I shouted to her, “Yuki!” She looked around and was astonished!

And guess what?

That’s NOT the first miracle between me and Yuki… which happened during the end of last year before Christmas… I will be sharing about this in my next post. Please stay tuned ๐Ÿ™‚

 

When Valentine’s Day meet Chap Goh Meh (also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day or Lantern Festival)…

valentine2014How often does Valentine’s Day meet Chap Goh Meh (also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day or Lantern Festival)?

I really have no idea as I’m neither a numerology expert nor a historian though I’m really good at Maths (as I still remember I topped the school back when I was only 12) and loves history…

When Valentine’s Day Meets Lantern Festival

But TODAY, 14th February, these two special dates of the heart intersect! Here’s an interesting article:

 

http://goo.gl/pjIQOS

 

Put it this way, I’m glad to live to see today as it’s really special and interesting which spawned me to do a little research…

The Story of Valentine’s Day

And guess what I’ve found? A really touching story about a little girl who was born blind and wanted so much to see the world… And a humble Christian martyr Valentinus helped and enlightened her. Read the full story — it takes 0nly a minute — at:

 

http://goo.gl/CRqpTq

 

Well, then… how did the Lantern Festival comes about?

About the Lantern Festival

Falling on the 15th day of the first lunar month, Lantern Festival is the first significant feast after Spring Festival, so called because the most important activity during the night of the event is watching various wonderful Chinese lanterns. And because every household eats yuanxiao… Read more at:

 

http://goo.gl/yFWjvd

 

What to do this weekend for Valentine’s Day?

In case you are not celebrating overseas and still want to celebrate, check this Valentine’s Day Special out where more Singapore couples opt for staycations this festive season:

 

http://goo.gl/MgQtgT

 

Gong Xi Fa Cai, CNY 2014… I visited Melaka again…

Roger Loh @Melaka

At Restoran Nyonya Makko, Jalan Merdeka, Melaka, 4th Feb 2014

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

It’s Chinese New Year or CNY once again… in 2014…

And… It seems to be a new tradition for me to take a short trip overseas starting from the last CNY where we visited Bangkok for several days. However, this year, we opted to do a short road trip to Melaka.

Melaka — once known as Malacca — is a charming city of both old and new that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008 which possibly led to more traffic jams snarling in the narrow streets.

The OLD includes lots of historical sites to visit (most of which I’ve done some thirty years ago) since the Portuguese colonial days a few hundred years ago as well as the narrow and winding Sungei Malacca River (which I was told a cruise there will be nice!). However, I have yet to take a cruise down this romantic river ๐Ÿ™‚

The NEW in Melaka includes a number of malls like Mahkota Parade, the Dataran Pahlawan Mall as well as the upcoming Hatten Mall (inside Hatten Hotel) as well as dozens of boutique hotels and cafes sprouting up all over the city.

In addition, what I enjoyed most is eating in Malacca. There are simply lots to eat, some yummy some so so (which I’m not going to tell you because taste is highly subjective!) like:

  • Nyonya food (you can find dozens around Jonker Street and Jalan Merdeka); the one is the pic above is taken at Nyonya Makko along Jalan Merdeka and the kangkong belachan (veggie) is really superb, one of the best I’ve eaten!
  • Chendol, a very yummy dessert with their Gula Melaka sugar (available at Jonker Street as well as at most nyonya restaurants)
  • Pork satay plus pork innards (a nice term for internals and intestines)
  • Mille crepe cakes at Nadeje Cafe (there are three outlets there and these cakes are my absolute favorite and I have to have them whenever I visit Melaka in the recent years! It’s that good!!)
  • Lots more like satay celups, ikan bakar, etc!

So, now you know why I can make trip to Melaka once every few months and I don’t get tired because I love to eat! ๐Ÿ™‚

Reflections from Melaka, 16 Dec 2013…

Traveling to this beloved city of Melaka once again, I had lots to reflect upon for the last two weeks of my life…

They are probably the most memorable and meaningful as I was never involved in more charity than I can remember…

Having my buddies’ band sing and play for some 50 senior citizens at AWWA was a great thing for us as they enjoyed and some even sang with us! Most of these folks are in their 70s or 80s and they enjoyed listening and singing the English OLDIES! In a way, this is like a dream come true for me personally as well as for my ‘daughter’ Averylene Ang. Well that’s a story for another day ๐Ÿ™‚

Also, last Thursday, 12th Dec, I met a good friend for coffee and she told me she needed some volunteers to be adult befrienders for a ‘Baking with
Love’ workshop for some underprivileged kids… It was really last minute but I promised to help her so I managed to gather five friends who had a lot of fun baking cup cakes together with these kids.

2013 CHRISTMAS CHARITY PARTY

And talking about kids,ย  we had a lot of fun during the Christmas Charity Party on 6 Dec and I really want to THANK those of my friends who
came, donated andย  supported the children. We had LIVE music (and I get to play the piano and guitar) to entertain the guests as they arrived. And two of my buddies, Averylene Ang and Jean Chua really wooed the audience with their renditions of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ respectively! We haven’t done the sums yet but should have raised at least $5K to $10K for the underprivileged kids in PJ, Malaysia. (For more info, visit www.tccpj.com.my)

And now, sitting in the cafe of this wonderful Mio Boutique Hotel, I’m enjoying this wonderful moment and soon will be off to KL to participate in a charity camp for these kids organized and spearheaded by my buddies Dwight Agnor, Jacqueline Wong and Karen Yee. They are really great samaritans that brought joy and blessings to these children (with GOD’s favor, of course)

Well, I’ll be off for some Bak Kut Teh in the streets of Melaka before heading off to KL in a couple of hours… Catch you and we’ll talk again soon ๐Ÿ™‚

 

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Featuring Agnes Chan

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Featuring Agnes Chan from Hong Kong… who began singing and playing guitar in her junior high years in Hong Kong, as volunteer work for fundraising events. She had a chance to record a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” with her elder sister, actress Irene Chan, and it became a hit song in Hong Kong. She became famous throughout southeast Asia through several of Chang Cheh’s movies, including Young People and The Generation Gap.

Chan was brought to Japan by Japanese singer/songwriter Masaaki Hirao. In 1972 she recorded her first Japanese pop hit, “Poppy Flower (ใฒใชใ’ใ—ใฎ่Šฑ).” Her clear voice, pretty looks, and imperfect Japanese made her a teenage idol.

Here are some latest updates about Agnes Chan:

http://www.unicef.org/media/media_66349.html

http://bookhaven.stanford.edu/tag/agnes-chan/

 

Here are some of my favorite songs by Agnes Chan:

FOCUS is the key to success…

Follow One Course Until Successful

In his classic ‘Think And Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill mentioned this:

โ€œSet your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass.โ€

The key word there is ‘definite goal’

But the problem is… many people do not even know what they want in the first place.

So, in order to be successful in whatever you do, you first need to have a definite goal in mind and then keep following through by focusing on it till you achieve success!

Let me relate to you this amazing personal experience that happened about twenty years ago before I started into business…ย  (I hope I don’t sound like blowing my own trumpet but this is to share with you that anything is possible.)

At that time, I was still working as an employee but life got so bored so I started looking out for something to do besides my job. So one thing I did was to take up a computer diploma course. During the course, one of my classmates asked me if I’m interested in a freelance programming project.

So, together with a colleague then, we went to see the client who wanted us to write a software for them that works through voice response much like those you hear in your phone banking interaction that goes, “Press 1 for this, press 2 for that…”

This software will allow their customers to call in through the telephone and book delivery dates for the products they ordered during exhibition and at their showrooms. It sounds so easy but mind you:

  • Both my colleague and I are engineers, and not software programmers or computer people
  • We never had any real world programming experience except some textbook knowledge
  • We had absolutely no idea how to write such an interactive voice response program
  • That was over 20 years ago and there was NO internet!

However, when asked if we can handle the project, we confidently said YES!

And then the moment we left the meeting room, we looked at each other and laughed uncontrollably!

Well… guess what? Since we have given our word, we started to research and I still remember having to send IDD faxes to the U.S. to source out programming kits that allow us to create such a program.

Long story short, we focused on it, ordered the necessary programming kit and sound board, started to learn the programming language, designed the program and in just few months, created the entire system and earned ourselves a 5-figure sum!

Well, that is the power of F.O.C.U.S. – to follow one course until successful. So, I hope you will set your goals for 2013 and follow through until you are successful be it to lose 20 kg, or to earn a 5-figure income and I wish you every success in your journey.

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Featuring Anita Mui…

DOWN MEMORY LANE: Almost exactly a decade ago, a legend passed away, leaving behind considerable legacies in music and film as well as in charitable work and humanitarian causes (such as establishing a nursing home in San Francisco and the Anita Mui True Heart Charity Foundation). In Causeway Bay, an Anita-mui themed cafe called “Happiness Moon” (ๅ›ๆœˆ) is also dedicated to her legacy.

During her short 40 years (10 October 1963 โ€“ 30 December 2003), Anita Mui ๆข…่‰ท่Šณ– a Hong Kong singer and actress — made major contributions to the cantopop music scene, and remained in the spotlight for nearly 20 years and was only halted in 2003 by the surprising diagnosis of cervical cancer. She died at the early age of 40 after giving her classic 2003 farewell concert!

In the above video, Anita Mui talks about her missed opportunity to be just an ordinary woman, to get married and be loved by a man – a wish so simple which is achieved by billions of women on this planet and yet so evasive to one so successful! Well life is indeed unpredictable *sigh*

Anyway, she set attendance records with concert series in 1987 and 1991, and her 40-plus albums sold more than 10 million copies. Her fanbase reached far beyond Hong Kong into much of Asia, such as Taiwan, Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as the international market where she once held a sold-out concert at Hammersmith, London, England, where she was dubbed the “Madonna of Asia”.

Personally, I was blessed to have attended a few of her concerts LIVE in Singapore in the 1980s sometimes even sitting right at the first row where she was famous for her outrageous costumes (typically seven changes of outfit in a concert) and high-power performances in combination with contralto vocals, which are rare in female artists.

Last but not least, it is also worth mentioning that during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Hong Kong, she initiated a fund raising concert titled the 1:99 Concert to raise money for SARS-affected families. In 2003, she wrote and published the book The Heart of the Modern Woman (็พไปฃๅฅณไบบๅฟƒ). Profits from the book went to the “Children’s Cancer Foundation”.

Here are some of my favorite songs by Anita Mui: