My first brush with all things Japanese involved an obaasan talking to me in Japanese at the airport yesterday. We’ve already checked in and were one of the first few at the gate, and from what remnants of Japanese that I could remember or muster, I gathered that what she was really asking was whether we were waiting there at the final room before the gate opened or not. Initially I couldn’t understand her at all and replied in English, “Sorry?”, and then finally with the Japanese “Aa hai hai”.

lol.

I also finished reading the book I brought for this trip called The Trap by John Smelcer. I started reading it a few months ago but only had the time to continue reading it from like page 30 or so till the end while on the aircraft. It’s a pretty good book—I was thoroughly engrossed in the shivering winter the author managed to encapsulate within 160 or so pages of the extreme Alaskan surroundings.

Speaking of the aircraft, it was rather empty—it was surprising to me as I had earlier asked the staff manning the check-in counter if the plane was full and she said yes. >_> So initially I got an aisle seat at 22C, but later when I saw the obaasan who was sitting at the aisle next to me went somewhere else towards the back and didn’t return, I did the same as well and picked a window seat. I was sitting right in front of this young Japanese dude who was sleeping across the 3 seats and had his left hand beneath his pants at his crotch nearly all the time wtf.

Oh, and a stewardess was talking to me in Japanese too, mentioning something and the only thing I caught was “okyakusama” wtf. Again the universal Japanese “hai” came in handy, and she proceeded to pull the blinds of the window and turned on my reading light lol. (I also find that the Japanese stewardesses are prettier and have a more genuine smile than the other stewardesses wtf.)
—-

As we approached Tokyo for landing, I stared outside of my window and looked directly into the darkness. The lights of our aircraft were gradually switched off and it was then almost pitch-black, only the city lights beneath us at the horizon twinkled white and gold. A few minutes later there was a sudden brightness from beyond us and it caught my breath—I realised that we were in the clouds just moments ago, hence it was shrouding much of the lights like a dark veil.

Much of the sprawling city below was dark, and then I remembered the recent earthquake and tsunami incident that necessitated energy saving throughout the city. There were swaths of blackness amidst the lights, and I figured it was either the forest or the sea, most likely the latter. Lights continued to peek out from the dark, and when I saw the boats, I just realised that Haneda Airport is rather close to the port.

I got out of immigration and customs without any untoward incident—I was asked to open my bags, prolly because I looked like a suspicious lone traveller wtf—and then headed straight for the information counter. The dude manning the counter told me in halting English (I refused to use Japanese for something as important as instructions out of the airport and into the city because my proficiency in the language was still lacking somewhat) that he’d really recommend me the bus, and not the much cheaper train, at this hour (it was already midnight).

So I went ahead and bought the bus ticket to Shibuya for 2,000 yen (~RM74 wtf), and about 30 minutes later we were all dropped off at Shibuyaeki (Shibuya Station). Perfect.

Walked around somewhat cluelessly, and I stopped a few people in uniforms—be they officers manning the bus station, a construction site, road crossing guards, etc—and asked for directions in my rather halting Japanese. Unfortunately their replies were in a quick torrent of a language that I’m still learning, but I managed to catch a rough gist thanks to sign language and me managing to catch key words like “hidari” (left), etc.

Eventually I found myself in a quiet, narrow alley, strolling alone and I felt really safe here, which would definitely be a no-no in countries like… Malaysia..

But finally I arrived at the Gran Bagus Internet Cafe that was recommended to me by someone on the Lonely Planet forum (had many fantastic suggestions there—thanks!). Figured it was nearly 1.30am—local Japanese time—by then, initially I had just wanted an 8-hour stay, but they didn’t have that in their Naito Pakku (Night Pack wtf). It was either 6 hours or 9 hours, so I went for the 9 hours for 1900 yen which was pretty sweet.

What’s pretty sweet however, I later discovered when trying to ask—again in halting Japanese—if I can buy water from there [which illicit a puzzled look from the counter dude, who then asked “Mizu… nomimono?” (“Water… drink?”)], and then he later pointed to a row of vending machines and a refrigerator containing what I thought was milky stuff, and declared them FREE.

Oh yes. Free Fanta (fizzy drink) and free mostly coffee-related products, but best of all, I discovered in their fridge there were a variety of free juices too (labelled in katakana, which I can proudly say that I can read). So I took a sip of their free orange juice and tried their “pain juusu”, which I then discovered was actually pineapple juice lol.

Sleeping was actually more comfortable than I expected with this reclining chair in a very claustrophobic booth that was given to me. There were rows of these private cubicles that were furnished with my specific reclining chair (I was given a menu of choices earlier—either a high-seated chair, a reclining chair, or the floor wtf, from what I can tell judging by the picture and what the dude said), headphones, a computer, and a leg rest which is pretty awesome in assisting sleeps.

I’d say I had a pretty good 6-hour rest, although I awoke multiple times throughout the night as people came in and a female staff was explaining loudly to said okyakusama wtf. The reclining chair can really, really recline, and I had to switch sleeping positions throughout the night but I must say I’m still pretty well-rested. Not a perfect sleeping arrangement, but I’ll still live lol.

The only negative aspect that I can think of is that if I’d like to use their shawaa, I’d have to pay like 500 yen for 20 minutes, and I think something extra for other amenities (I stopped listening carefully when I found out that shower isn’t free). Well I’m not going to dish out 500 yen which I can use for food.

Well, it:s 9.18am now at the time of writing, and I have to exit by 10.17am or risk paying exorbitant extension fees by the minutes wtf. Most probably I’ll be checking in at my original accommodation at Asakusa Smile—or at least just leave my huge backpack as I believe their check-in time is at like 3pm or something, and then head to Narita Airport.

Ja ne.

Reconnecting

In: General

5 May 2011 11:17 pm

Badminton at SuperCourts USJ 1

A general theme for me during the past 2-3 weeks and possibly in the coming ones is reconnecting—I described it to Andy as a reconnecting rampage, and it certainly felt like it. Apart from my now weekly Sunday badminton session (save when my company’s in its production period) with a pretty rad bunch, I generally have not seen most of my other friends as we’ve disintegrated into our busy lives.

It first started when Matt Ong—a good friend from college, and we’ve a pretty cool story to tell about how we met—messaged me on Instagram commenting about my badminton photo, followed by an SMS that I couldn’t reply to when I was in Hong Kong and another when I was in Singapore. It probably took us a few weeks before we finally met when the busy period of my company is over, when we met up over a game of badminton when he played with us for about an hour.

And over the extended weekend period last week (Friday-Monday), we met up again for Thor at Pyramid with two of his friends on Friday; went with Jeremy and friends and Matt to indulge in Broadway Academy’s Two-Way (duet) session directed by an acquaintance of mine, Dom, on Saturday night, before we chilled at Sid’s Pub at TTDI; our first ever late night (10pm) badminton session followed by Murni USJ 9 with the same gang; and then a board games evening/night suggested by Matt where we played a few rounds of Saboteur, Bang!, and Cranium (cards edition).

I’ve also been trying to reconnect with Alvin, whom I consider to be a good friend too and whom I got to know through an unlikely avenue—playing DotA with Ding. Perhaps similar interests and philosophies kept us together, and one thing I’ve noticed is that we easily trade harmless insults even after months of not communicating with each other, as if we’ve always been in touch. We almost met last Friday over drinks but he had to withdraw as his bro has just returned to his house.

Next Monday night I’d possibly meet Carol, a good friend whom I knew through Plurk and some mutual friends, for the first time ever, and then followed by Heng at paintball next Saturday!

I also still need to get on a Skype session with both Ethan and Desmond in Melbourne, whom I haven’t talk to in ages now apart from the occasional message on Facebook and MSN.

When you could talk to someone just as easily again even after months or years of not keeping in touch, you know that’s a friendship that would last through the tests of time.

Grains of Independence

In: General

26 Apr 2011 11:35 pm

It was after work yesterday evening—the first in what feels like many months when we could leave at 6pm as opposed to busy work-ridden 7pm or 9pm—that I went to Sunway Pyramid on a resolve to achieve two and only two things: switch to DiGi’s Smart Plan Lite from my current Hotlink Youth Plan that I had initially used when I was in Melbourne because I wanted to keep my mobile phone number and it’s the only plan that would last up till when I’m 25-26 years old or something without expiring or needing to reload.

And speaking of Melbourne, this (rare Pokemon) post would be full of it.

I spent about 20-30 minutes at the DiGi centre at the LG2 floor waiting for my turn, and the modern Malay girl who attended to me remarked with surprise that I was originally a DiGi user (because of my 016 number), switched to Maxis (because most of my friends use Maxis and it’s economically logical to make the switch before some of them switched back to DiGi… wtf…) and here I am, switching back to DiGi’s data plan. I mean, RM28 per month for 300MB is a pretty sweet deal imo – I paid only like AU$5 (RM15-ish) per month for a 75MB data plan which fit my usage at the time.

But I digress.

So I walked over to Marks & Spencer to look for my favourite Bourbon chocolate cream biscuits (which happen to be lactose-free btw =D) that cost only like RM6 per pack which could last me for 3-4 days (depending on how many I pour down my throat…). There was a deep stillness and quiet calmness in me as I browsed for the items (and I heart Marks & Spencer for labelling properly for allergy —it reminded me of the days when I went grocery-shopping nearly every few days in Melbourne at either Woolies on Swanston St or Aldi on Franklin St, and it reminded me how good and liberating freedom and independence feels like. I think the day you undertake grocery-shopping for yourself is the day that you’ve grown up a little—you no longer depend on anyone for anything anymore.

Perhaps it was something that I’ve taken for granted and overlooked during my brief 6-month stint in my favourite city in the world, but grocery-shopping—especially in Melbourne’s brilliantly cool weather (when it’s not a sizzling 40C summer)—can be quite therapeutic.

An Idle Mind

In: General

27 Mar 2011 1:00 am

Since I borrowed Jon’s dad’s iPhone 2G, I finally realised what the hype was all about. The multitude of extremely useful apps have since dominated my life, and I found myself using it all the time even though there isn’t a SIM card in it.

My initial purpose was to use it as a PDF reader to immerse myself in the various investment books I have.. acquired. And soon curiosity over the other apps took hold of me—plus from recommendations of various iPhone owners that I know—soon led me to the wonders of apps like Instagram, Word With Friends (Scrabble-esque game), FlightTrack, Shazam (record a snippet of song, upload it to the Internet and instantly get to know the song and the artist’s name of the song! An absolute lifesaver as I’ve been using it a lot when I listen to BFM from my commute to and from work—you can’t imagine how many times I’ve tried to memorise bits of the lyrics, jot it down in my phone, and then later google the lyrics up which is a bit of a bother), Anki (to improve my memorisation of the kanji), and a whole lot more.

Thinking of getting the upcoming iPhone 5 this year for realz. I was debating internally whether to get an iPad or an iPhone (purely for the PDF reader functions), and I realised that using the iPhone to read isn’t that bad after all.

---

An idle mind is the devil’s workshop—or so the saying goes. And it’s just as so that with the iPhone, I found myself having no time to let my mind wander, as every possible free time of mine—be it in a traffic jam or in the loo—was spent immersing myself in my investment books or practising my kanji via Anki. In retrospect I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing—so many stories are waiting to be conceived, to be born in the womb of my mind, to be brought to life from the hidden crevices of imagination.

And I’m far too busy putting indirect contraceptives all over it.

Starstruck – Michael Bublé

In: General

9 Mar 2011 8:41 pm

Fresh off from a Saturday night of chillaxing with Jerm, PY and Mei Ling (and Choy and his friend) at Alexis where we were soothed by a jazz band (although we only got to listen to the final half of the performance as there weren’t any seats anywhere), I was doused with some sort of lethargy the next morning perhaps due to the two glasses of wine that I had. I briefly contemplated forgoing that afternoon’s badminton session but forced myself to attend, and had an hour of excellent workout (I was even persuaded by a trio of very good players playing at the court to our left to join them when I was sitting down to rest, and lord was the game intense—thankfully my new partner and I managed to win it). In fact, after discovering that Jeremy and co actually plays badminton quite regularly every weekend, I resolved to join them to get some needed exercise as well as to unwind and let loose.

At about 5pm I had to leave, after an hour and a half of playing, as I had a concert to attend. Earlier in the week I was given two tickets by my boss (not directly, but he already told me about it and he along with most of my colleagues were going to Tokyo for an event and was caught in the seismic activities of the recent 8.9 earthquake that devastated the country), and I was flabbergasted to see the prices attached to each of the two tickets: RM898.

I had a quick shower, and Andy came to pick me up where we decided on McDonald’s in Taipan for a quick dinner before setting off via a shortcut near USJ 4/USJ 3 towards Shah Alam’s Stadium Malawati. We arrived at about 7pm right before the rain set in (which was awfully lucky) and waited for a while at our exclusive seats.


Me and Andy.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Month of Passive Investment

In: General

26 Feb 2011 12:41 pm

February has been somewhat of a busy month—my birthday has passed uneventfully as I had to work on a public holiday (sharing the same birthday as Prophet Muhammad himself), and so I’ve gotten a little older. Chinese New Year was spent in Penang with my family and in the subsequent horrendous traffic on the way back home to Subang, and our previously infamous gambling sessions that spanned multiple days (or perhaps even a week long) have been reduced to two different weekends on different weeks. We have indeed grown up with more responsibilities—mostly in the form of work.

Since early this month I’ve researched and read extensively about investing, and stumbled onto a lovely forum with like-minded individuals who hold true the philosophy of passive investment (aka buy-and-hold). And since Jon has kindly lent me his dad’s iPhone 2G to me, I’ve since used it mostly to read and started to carry it around—I’ve finally become one of those guys who carries two phones with him. And it’s a pretty damn good tool to pass the time, whether I’m stuck in traffic or dropping a D (classy Americanism I picked up, I know) or queueing up in bank.

Thus far, I read the following investment books in the following order and I highly recommend any of you to read at least the first one:

1. A Random Walk Down Wall Street (10th edition) by Burton Malkiel
2. The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio by William Bernstein
3. The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, and Michael LeBoeuf
4. The ETF Book: All You Need to Know About Exchange-Traded Funds (1st edition) by Rick Ferri
5. All About Asset Allocation (2nd edition) by Rick Ferri

The beauty of passive investment is that anyone can do it—you don’t need a financial planner or a broker to chip away at your earnings with commissions and fees and you certainly don’t need mutual funds (or known as unit trusts in Malaysia) that charge ridiculous front-load (sales fees) each time you dump your money into them.

So the next logical choice would be index funds, most notably Vanguard’s index funds as they’re extremely low-cost (no sales fees) and have a Total Expense Ratio that is unbelievably low (about 0.15-0.3%, compared to the usual 1.5%). How is it possible for them to achieve such low fees, you may ask? Well, index funds track the broad market index that contain a vast range of stocks so you’d achieve instant diversification across the board, and this passive management does not require them to buy/sell stocks all the time.

Unfortunately in Malaysia, the variety of index funds is a pathetic amount of 2, and even so, they charge sales fees and has a high Total Expense Ratio. The amount of ETFs we have is a grand total of 3 (compared to hundreds, if not thousands, in the States).

With such a sorry index investing condition here, I had to look towards the States and this is exactly what I did—after careful research and considering the costs, etc. The costs of investing would still be low (depending on how often you dollar-cost average) even when considering the trading fee charged by a US discount brokerage ($2.50/trade) and bank transfer fees.

Pro-tip: Don’t bother reading the financial news in most newspapers/magazines as they’re known as “financial porn”.

Oh my—signs of growing up. Actually talking about srs bizness in my blog.

Goodbye Purple Hills

In: General

27 Jan 2011 12:35 am

For the first time in my life, I found myself needing to clear my mind desperately last Friday night. I was stifled with a rush of emotions that left me wanting to leave the world temporarily and be on my own, and the only place that came to mind that would satisfy my solitude-seeking criterion was Purple Hills at Putra Heights, where my mates and I used to hang out on celebratory occasions to watch the fireworks bursting over the skyline of distant KL.

And so I drove there. BFM’s repository of music from the 70s and 80s soothed me, yet I continued to push myself forward towards that much-needed respite that solitude promised. I pictured myself standing by the road side overlooking the faint glittering lights from the capital city, letting serenity wash over me.

Having not been to Purple Hills for several years now, I was shocked to see so much development has went on to the detriment of the base of the hills where you can no longer chill by the roadside anymore. Instead, that old bend around Purple Hills has vanished and its place was a straight road that bypassed it altogether.

I was disappointed and made my journey back home and found myself lying in the car for 10 minutes or so—thinking, introspecting. And it was the calmest 10 minutes of my day.

Zooming out of the universe

In: General

20 Jan 2011 10:55 pm

Is this a part of growing old that my sudden introspective contemplation of the universe seized me by the neck? It is one of those rare few moments where you look at your place in the universe from a bird’s eye point of view, and then you zoom out—as if you’re looking from outside the universe and peering down into Earth right onto your individual being—and then the Earth gets tinier as you zoom out further from the Solar System, the galaxy, space, matter, the universe.

And then you think of life as an exercise of trials and tribulations and the very follies of living. What does it matter to learn, to love, to write, to photograph, to travel, to do all those things that you love when you think of the end of time, nothing actually matters? Certainly the human race doesn’t matter, when all that we love to do collectively is to kill and hate in the name of race and religion—which, by the way, is the best fiction in the universe—and the cycle repeats since the dawn of humanity.

I think there’s a word for what I’m feeling right now—insignificant, compared to the grand scale of the universe.

All because I watched the 9th episode of Doctor Who Season 2…

I’ve been reading a lot about investment lately—I think I’ve just found a newfound love, or it’s the process of learning that I’ve always loved to do.

Oh there I go again—going off tangent just as easily, my age of 23 is catching up.

By the pricking of my thumb

In: General

16 Jan 2011 11:55 pm

Pain has kept me company for the past week or two—my undesirable oral surgery in which two of my wisdom teeth on the left jaw were removed, and I underwent a minor laser procedure to remove a wart on my finger and a cyst in an unmentionable area—and strangely I occasionally relish it. It’s a reminder of my existence, my being, and perhaps I can understand why some people physically injure themselves—it reminds them that they’re alive.

I am slowly and surely recovering—if time can mend a broken heart, it can surely mend my wounds.

The past few weeks have been a blur of medical-related cocktails I had to endure—a dislocated shoulder (that quickly healed and wasn’t that painful), a bump on my head (blame the wine), an excruciatingly bad diarrhoea no thanks to Chilli’s Empire and perhaps that can of 100 Plus taken after a badminton session was to be blamed, followed by several days of constipation, then the oral surgery that render my face semi-paralysed and a hole in my left index finger.

To be honest, amidst my Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood gaming (where I totally rock with the multiplayer component) and work life, I’m not exactly sure what exactly I’m looking for this year. There’s a growing disconnect between me and the real world, and what I love to do.

I can see myself wandering off on a Working Holiday Visa to either Australia or New Zealand few years into the future.

I can’t see what any of these mean anymore.

From the Hotel Room #2505

In: General

3 Jan 2011 1:28 am

The second day of the new year ticked into being and there I was, standing on the 25th floor of the Berjaya Times Square Hotel by the glass window as I peered at the lives that ticked beneath me, snaking past the creases of a quiet Sunday morning when the crazy KL traffic eases with nearly the majority of the denizens reel from the hangover of the new year. There is a quiet contentment nesting in me—the world is quiet and room 2505’s guests slowly departed into their real world: Jeremy had just left, Mei Ling and PY were swimming at the pool, leaving me and Choy behind.


I’ve never realised it till now, but Kuala Lumpur is a walking example of the disparity between the rich and the poor—not unlike my experiences in Cambodia. From the towering heights of the luxurious hotel room I was in, I could see the haphazard zinc rooftops beneath me and the egregious condition the buildings are in.

There is something awe-inspiring about staring and zoning out of your hotel room window, shielding yourself from the unbearable heat and noise and polluting stench of the city while you remain in the security and comfort of your room, thinking about the several cans of beer drunk, a dislocated shoulder popped right back into place, Twilight and Finding Nemo watched the night before and Confessions of a Shopaholic (movies that I’d never dream of seeking out to watch, with Finding Nemo as the exception) the morning after. It has been a wildly awesome night, as excellent company and alcohol and inane laughters would bring.

Oh the shenanigans we were up to. I wish we will never grow up.

Clem


- demands a string of hearts, several seasoned travellers, and two pairs of sloppy sandals. More »

e-mail: saigoheiki[at]gmail[dot]com

Plurk

  • piano lessons online: These are in fact impressive ideas in about blogging. You have touched some nice factors here. Any [...]
  • John L: Hey man, I read William Bernstein's The Intelligent Asset Allocator. How did you buy US index funds? [...]
  • Clem: Hey Ashley! The bus is the only service that still operates past midnight -- and I'm not sure whe [...]
  • Ashley: Hi Clem, may I know if the bus still operates at 1.30am in the morning? I'm in the same situation as [...]
  • Alvin Kuan: It was last year so make that 2 years after. :P [...]

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