Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Worst Kind of Tourist

There is this tradition in Luang Prabang. Every morning, the monks from all the local temples walk along the street collecting alms, or their food for the day. Residents wake up early to give their respects as well as some rice to each monk as they pass by their house.

This is the Luang Prabang I came for...

This ritual is why I went to Laos. I really wanted to see this and I heard that tourists can even participate too. I know it may not be for everyone, but the chance to be a part of something like this was supposed to be really special. We planned around this specific tradition. We arrived early the day before, went to bed early, and made sure to wake up well before dawn to not miss what was arguably the only reason why we went to Laos. This even took precedent over tubing down the river in Vang Vieng.

It was awful.

It's not the monks' fault--they are semi-forced by the government to continue this facade. However, it is no longer the beautiful tradition that it once was. It is overrun with tourists... and not the good kind.

Do you know the tourist with an SLR around their neck, snapping "artistic" pictures, who claim to be a "world citizen?" That in itself is bad, but take that same person, put them inches away from a monk's face (often times children), flash on, taking picture after picture. The kind that has no shame. No remorse. No sense of dignity, and due to this lack of even the slightest strand of dignity, feels no need to respect the humanity anyone else.

He's so excited to shove his camera into these monks' faces, he can't even hold on to his umbrella.

It made me absolutely infuriated.

How can anyone treat another human being like that? It wasn't just European tourists or the Chinese tourists either... though they were admittedly the worst. But even at a zoo or aquarium, you turn off your flash for the animals. So why would you think it's ok to shove a camera into the face of another person? It's not a circus act. They aren't statues or artifacts. They are people. This is their home. You are a guest. Would you put a huge lens in front of a chef as they're cooking your dinner? At a respectful distance and as long as you aren't being distracting, it can be fine. But remember--you are NOT a professional photographer. These are NOT professional models. DO NOT treat another human being like an object. Why do I even have to say this? Don't most people from most countries claim their culture to be "civilized"? Don't most travelers love bragging about how "cultured" and "refined" they are? Have you no sense of decency or respect? Then, how can you turn around and do something so awful and heinous to a fellow human being?!? How can you wake up in the morning and look at your smug self in the mirror and feel good?

Me trying to keep up with the steady stream of monks

I did participate in giving alms, which made me thought, am I any better? Sure, I wasn't right in their face with my camera, but aren't I objectifying them just like these other tourists? Aren't I, by taking pictures to share, tweeting my thoughts, and eventually, writing this blog post, promoting the very thing that I hate? Won't more people come and in turn, perpetuate this shameful shadow of a once great tradition? Am I any better?

While we did had some great experiences while in Laos, this was not one of them. If you do decide to go and participate in this tradition, please remember to do so with respect. And if you go to Laos and decide to skip out on this, I would not blame you.

Here's to the monks. I'm so sorry.

At least I was able to get a Beerlao overlooking the Mekong River. One of the highlights of my trip was simply relaxing and reflecting while sipping on a cold beer. After this morning, I definitely needed it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Curse of the Traveler

I have a lot of posts left about my month of traveling, but before I get to them, I found a post by darien_gap on Reddit the other day. It really struck home with me and I wanted to share it as well as my thoughts on it.

"The Curse of the Traveler.
An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that's perfect (we all know there's no Shangri-La), but just for a place that's "just right for you." But the curse is that the odds of finding "just right" get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.
Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can't travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you've seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while."

I'm not so sure about Part A. Now that I'm back in the US, I realize that San Francisco feels right, right now. I do want to start a new chapter of my life. I know there may not be a "right fit," but being in California where I can meet people from around the world is pretty close. I can get good Mexican food next to authentic Italian, and still get tonkotsu ramen a few blocks over (though it's not Hakata Ramen, and there's no 替玉). To put it in perspective, I went to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore... and yet my first Burmese meal in my life was in San Francisco last week. Although I deeply miss traveling, my time abroad has really made me appreciate other cultures.

I would argue that unlike the times I spent in France or Paraguay, I have finally lost that jadedness that comes with being Californian. After 2 years in such a mono-ethnic country, I realize how lucky I am to have grown up in the United States, and in particular, the San Francisco Bay Area. Just the other day, while hiking up a mountain in the East Bay, I couldn't help but notice that English was the least spoken language around me--there was dialects from the Indian subcontinent, Mandarin (or Cantonese or some other dialect... it's hard for me to tell), Spanish, Tagalog... and a little bit of English. Some of my favorite cities, like London, Hong Kong, and Singapore, were the best in my eyes, not for their sights, but for their culture and people. Each was a melting pot in the truest sense of the word, and yet, this same love never really extended to California until I lived in Japan.

Part B is the most thought-provoking. My time spent abroad... or even just far away from home like LA... I've met a lot of people in my life. I would like to keep them in, but it's not easy. People drift apart. People change. I have friends scattered across the world. It's not just that the friends I had before have changed--I've changed too. I had my cousins over a few weeks back. I left for Japan, they continued on the fast track to the American Dream. Now, they talk about buying a house and the last dinner party they went to. What can I add to that conversation? Oh, that reminds me of the time I drank cobra venom in Hanoi? Admittedly yes, I may be jaded from traveling, but at the same time, when people have never even left their country or when the furthest they've been away from home is Las Vegas, how can I relate to that life? I know I'm extremely fortunate to have been able to travel. But if you're still doing the same things that we used to do 3 or 5 years ago, does it make me a bad person to say that I can't really relate to that life?

darien_gap goes on to mention his own thoughts about to what extent he agrees with this message and what can be done to solve it. For me, I have to agree with his one big takeaway. To solve this problem of drifting apart, you can travel with other people. I have written in favor of solo traveling before and this shouldn't take anything away from that. It's not just about being in a different place with someone--it's about seeing them in a new light. Traveling with other people makes your friendships stronger. You learn about each other in ways that you never would have thought. Seeing how you react to new experiences, culture shock, unforeseen hiccups, and becoming more cultured reveals more character about you than even living with another person. The most mind-blowing experiences for me were meeting my friends in countries so different to both of us--meeting my high school friend in Paraguay, my study abroad friend back in LA, my Japanese friends in Southeast Asia... It always occurs once the initial shock and adrenaline wears off, normally at night and you're hanging out. Catching up and reminiscing over a beer after dinner like normal, and somewhere along the way you realize--wow, this is weird... we're in Thailand/Macau/Berlin.

That's the moment I live for. It's not possible without the traveler's curse.

So the question then is where to next? Who's down?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Last Hurrah

This past month has been crazy. If you include my trips to Korea and Okinawa, I was travelling for over a month and a half straight (with a few days of work here and returning to Kitakyushu here and there). August in particular was hectic--fun, but definitely exhausting. I have several blog posts and pictures I want to post, but for now at least, I'm going to give an overview of where I went.

7/13 Kitakyushu, Japan -> Busan, South Korea
7/14 Busan -> Boryeong, South Korea (by bus to Boryeong Mud Festival)
7/15 Boryeong -> Busan
7/17 Busan -> Kitakyushu
7/23 Kitakyushu -> Naha, Okinawa
7/27 Naha -> Kitakyushu
7/30 Kitakyushu (Kokura) -> Hiroshima, Japan
7/31 Hiroshima -> Tokyo, Japan
8/3 Tokyo -> Nikko, Japan -> Tokyo
8/5 Tokyo (Haneda) -> Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
8/7 KL -> Chiang Mai, Thailand
8/10 Chiang Mai -> Luang Prabang, Laos
8/12 LP -> 8/13 Vientiane, Laos (by bus)
8/14 Vientiane -> Siem Reap, Cambodia
8/17 Siem Reap -> Bangkok, Thailand (by bus)
8/19 Bangkok -> Surat Thani -> Ko Samui (airplane + ferry)
8/20 Ko Samui -> Ko Pha Ngan (ferry)
8/24 Ko Pha Ngan -> Surat Thani -> Bangkok (ferry + airplane)
8/26 Bangkok -> Singapore
8/27 Singapore -> Batam, Indonesia -> Singapore (ferry)
8/28 Singapore -> Penang, Malaysia (by bus)
8/30 Penang -> KL (by bus)
8/31 KL -> Tokyo (Haneda)
9/1 Tokyo (Narita) -> San Francisco, California, USA

Quick stats: 
  • 8 countries
    • 6 during the Southeast Asian trip, 4 new (3 for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos + 1 for day trip to Indonesia from Singapore)
  • At immigration 26 times, 22 times in Southeast Asia
    • Of those 22 times, 15 were unique immigration borders
  • 14 flights (one layover to Siem Reap via Pakse, Laos), 10 during Southeast Asia trip
  • Longest time with a friend: 11 days (Chiang Mai -> Siem Reap)
  • Shortest time with a friend: 24 hours (Bangkok airport -> Ko Samui)
  • Largest group: 8 total in Busan/Boryeong
  • Solo trip: 8 days (starting Bangkok 8/25)
  • Total Luggage: 1 backpack, 7-8kg. (New tourist shirt bought every laundry day.)
He came all the way from Fukuoka to spend 24 hours in Thailand.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ramadan in KL

Picture this. In Japan, everyone is waiting for the itadakimasu before eating. It's a rule: no eating or drinking before everyone has been served and everyone has been seated. This is particularly done at family dinners (parties are similar, except instead of saying itadakimasu, people cheers with kampai before drinking and then eating).

Now still within Asia, go to Kuala Lumpur. Although by population Indonesia has a larger Muslim population, Malaysia is much more strict in practice. Unlike a family dinner every night in Japan, this kind of waiting for food happens once a year for the month of Ramadan. And unlike Japan where one sits around the family table and partakes in an itadakimasu, it's the entire city--blocks and whole neighborhoods of people who have fasted all day and come together to eat a true "break fast." Rows of tables shared with your friends, family, or coworkers, everyone with their own food. It's like a festival. Down the block, there are stalls of various food vendors selling everything Malaysia has to offer, from curries to biryani to grilled meats to even fried chicken.

So it's actually against the law to break one's fast. I failed. Needless to say, it was a good thing I'm not Muslim

Keep imagining. People have been served already. Their drinks have been poured, already condensing in their glass. Food has been selected and divided onto individual plates. Sauces are already in strategic locations throughout the table. Some have already poured their seasoning of choice on their dinner. And people are still waiting.

Little by little, the tables fill. Vendors start running out of their most popular items. Sunlight slowly is being replaced by twilight. And yet, everyone is still waiting.

This has gone on for hours. Vendors have been set up since 3pm. It's still only 6:30. You can see the growing anxiety as the time approaches. Forks and spoons are being grabbed by some, others wield their chopsticks. Some children and elderly people have sneak a few bites. But as a city, they are waiting.

And then, what I would imagine to be the most amazing sound in the world, chanting arises from the nearby mosque. It's time. Laughter and chatter is soon replaced by dishes being moved, drinks being slurped, and utensils clashing plates.

Kuala Lumpur, August 6, 2012

7:30pm. Simply amazing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

SCUBA in Okinawa

I'm not really a SCUBA diver. Or at least, I'm a recreational diver at best. I can even still tell you all the times I've dived. Discovery dive in Cairns, Australia (2005). Open water certification at Catalina Island, California (2007). The two fun dives in Nha Trang, Vietnam (2010). A dive in Boracay, Philippines (2011). And this past week, two more in Okinawa.

Okinawa: Japan's answer to Hawaii

That's it, so I don't have much to compare it to. Even so, I feel there's a huge difference. I'm not talking about visibility, weather, or fish. They were nice, but in a good location, that can be anywhere.

The biggest difference is the little things that our dive master did. It retained its Japanese-ness. Driving us to the dive spot, just the two of us. Providing a sports drink before, between, and after our dives. Then driving us to a separate place to shower and clean up before lunch--even providing a towel and 100 yen coins for the shower.

And at some point in our trip, a simple diving trip became a full on tour, with lunch at a famous Okinawan Soba house, pictures at Cape 万座毛, and a quick visit to another of the Ryukyu castle ruins, Zakimi.

To top it off--while everywhere else I've been to offers underwater pictures for a fee, sometimes an outrageous amount, our guide not only provide free pictures and plenty of photo ops underwater, but he even dropped off a CD of our photos with our filled out dive books for free the next morning in our hostel lobby.
This is called The Blue Lagoon... you can guess why

So although definitely the most expensive diving spot of my life, I was well worth my time and money. So if you have a license and happen to find yourself with a free day to spend in Okinawa, why not go for a dive?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What a Mess

Would I go back to the Boryeong Mud Festival again?

Not a chance.

The group I went with was great--so many jokes, laughs, and good stories. However, these could have occured anywhere, not just in Boryeong, so I stand by my word.

What made it so particularly awful?

I know I'm jaded after living in Japan for almost 2 years, but seeing how non-Koreans acted at that festival was downright shocking. Granted, it's not everyone. But it only takes a few really bad a-holes to ruin a whole experience.

The good:

-The group I went with. We had a great time despite the people we were surrounded by. Including before and after at Busan, they made me truly realize how lucky I am to have met them.

I'm surprised my camera survived the mud...

The bad:

-Everyone is drunk. This in itself is not a bad thing. However, by drunk, I mean messy drunk--sloppy, random hookups, passed out on the street, and puking everywhere. The amount of drunkards would put even Vegas to shame. Best (worst) example: drunk guy stripped down to his quite revealing underwear... at the highway rest stop. He didn't even make it to the festival.

The ugly:

-We were robbed. Our door was unlocked, and someone snuck in and stole 2 iPhones and the cash out of one of our wallets. It could have been worse (we could have lost everything), but it sucks. We should have been more careful, but it can be blamed on our Japanese naivete.


-Yes, it's fun. It can be a good time. But considering the amount of times I was embarrassed to be a westerner in this part of South Korea, I think I'll skip next time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last Hurrah

More for my own reference, I've decided to post my upcoming travels for July and August. If you or anyone you know will be around, let me know! (Anything in italics is tentatively planned but not booked yet. Bold means it's paid for already.)

South Korea

  • July 13, Busan
  • July 14-15, Boryeong Mud Festival (via Daegu)
  • July 15-17 Busan
  • July 23-27, Naha, Okinawa
  • July 27-29, Kitakyushu (Goodbye parties)
  • July 29-August 5, travel through Japan on the way to Tokyo
Southeast Asia
  • August 5, Tokyo - Kuala Lumpur
  • August 7, Kuala Lumpur - Chiang Mai
  • August 10, Chiang Mai - Luang Prabang
  • August 12, Luang Prabang - Vientiane (bus)
  • August 14, Vientiane - Siem Reap
  • August 17, Siem Reap - Bangkok
  • August 18 Onwards, ???
  • August 31, Kuala Lumpur - Tokyo
  • September 1, Tokyo - San Francisco!

Recommendations? What should I see? Eat? Go? 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fluent in Malaysia

What do you know about Malaysia? Do you know what's the national language of Malaysia? How about it's capital? Or that it's the largest practicing Muslim country in the world? What about even where is it on a map?

Before I went to Malaysia, I really didn't know much. It's not covered in our classes at any level of schooling unless you go into some sort of Asian studies (which I didn't). So after visiting, I went from practically zero knowledge to having so many different things I could rave about--the modernness of Kuala Lumpur, the cheapness, quality, and variety of food, or the friendliness of the people.

Obligatory picture in front of the Petronas Twin Towers

But the one thing that shocked me the most, more than that in a country whose official language is Malay, you can use English without any guilt.

To put it in perspective--in the Philippines, where English is actually a national language, I felt embarrassed speaking English. Being Asian in an Asian country, you get looks when you don't speak the same language locals do. This goes for China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam... pretty much anywhere (except maybe Hong Kong or Singapore), you get funny looks. Why is this local guy not speaking back to me? Oh... he must be from somewhere else. When I went to the Philippines, it's worse. Because a lot of Filipinos can speak basic to fluent English, but using it is a sign of  wealth/status, it's different than other Asian countries. Instead of asking where you're from, it's more, why aren't you talking to me in Tagalog because you clearly (look like) know it? Why are you acting so stuck up? It's borderline disrespectful to use English over Tagalog.

In Malaysia, I blend in. But instead of being talked to in Malay or even Chinese, it's English first. It's weird, but because there are so many different kinds of people in Malaysia, the default language to communicate in is English, no matter how rudimentary it may be.

I had the fortune of getting a behind the scenes look at a TV channel 8TV. Although its demographics cater to the younger generation (think along the lines of MTV), I couldn't help but be impressed by the use of English. Here, in Malaysia, where the official language is Malay, everyone uses English, both onstage and off. One of the shows I got a behind the scenes look at was called Showdown, like Malaysia's version of America's Best Dance Crew. The announcers spoke mostly in English with bits in Malay to keep the show's bilingual status. More surprising, though, was that most of the team interviews were in English except maybe 2 teams who felt more comfortable in Malay. Even the one team who was ethnically Chinese preferred English for their post-dance interview. This was no exception either--when checking out clips from some of the other shows during a studio tour, I couldn't help but notice all the English.

 Converted control room for the Season Premier of Showdown

I know it may not be like that in the rest of the country (I only visited Maleka/Malacca and Kuala Lumpur), but what a strange, neat, and new experience--to use English when I wasn't expecting it. I still want to learn a bit of Malay (especially since it shares words with Tagalog), but at least for this trip, I can safely say that with English, I felt fluent in Malaysia.

Sitting at the judges' table for Showdown--friendly judge and mean judge

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Aoshima, Miyazaki

As things start winding down on my time on JET here in Japan, it's time to start saying my goodbyes. And as the JET returner's guide says, it's important to not only work on your goodbyes to your friends, but to your favorite places as well. Bars, restaurants, local haunts, they're all important to make one last visit to.

For me, Aoshima will be the first of these goodbyes.

A small, sleepy town a short bus ride south of the city of Miyazaki, Aoshima is one of Kyushu's best secrets. More like Hawaii than Japan, when you step off the bus, it feels... different. The air is noticeably warmer and heavier. The sun is brighter and stronger. And the vibe is surprisingly chill.

Unlike some fashionistas in Fukuoka, the locals in Aoshima look remarkably more relaxed. High heels are traded in for sandals. And those annoying umbrellas to block the sun are instead replaced by spaghetti straps and halter tops? This is still Kyushu?

This stark contrast in culture can be attributed to one popular, local pastime:


Let's not get into how many attempts it took to get a photogenic picture of me actually surfing...

It's not like any resort town. Sure, it still has busloads of tourists that make the visit to the shrine or check out こどものくに. Yet, because they stay in their own all-inclusive resort/hotel and don't stray out of their own neighborhood, it doesn't feel like Aoshima's sold out. The beach, and more importantly, the waves, are still for the locals. While Japanese tourists from elsewhere rest in the shade, the locals are out in the water. Men, women, children, it's anyone's sport.

Another, perhaps the most shocking characteristic of Aoshima--there's no party. There are no bars outside of the big hotels. Definitely no clubs. Restaurants are hard to come by after 5PM. Stores will have been closed by then as well. People hit the water before work, open early, close early, and repeat the next day.

That's not to say the locals can't throw a party--the few times we managed to stumble on one, whether it was at an International Beer Festival or a concert/fashion show/fireworks, it was true celebration. Less like a drunken Spring Break mess, it was more like a block party. The whole town came out to celebrate. And in true, small town feel, everyone was friendly--we met locals and made friends with Aoshima-ites and would continue to see them each time we went.

We stayed at the same guest house each time--the Aoshima Pension. Instead of feeling like a hotel, it was like visiting Grandma. The owner would fuss over us each time, making sure we knew where to go, got enough sleep, and didn't go hungry. Even though we didn't pay for the meal plan, she would provide snacks when we arrived, rice balls for the trip home, おつまみ with our drinks, and even would give us back some of the money we spent for our room to buy ice cream and drinks for our return trip.

August 2011 - Aoshima, Miyazaki

In total, I've been to Aoshima 5 times within the past year, each time with a different group of people. This weekend, trip number 6, will be my last for a while. And while bittersweet, I can safely say that it's only a matter of time before I go a seventh. It may take 2 years or 20, but I will definitely be back.

But at least for now, it's time to say goodbye.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Malay Wedding

I had the fortune of being invited to a friend of a friend's wedding while in Singapore. It was a traditional Malay wedding, and it was incredible. It was unlike anything I've ever seen before. This is also the most confused I've ever been in a while and... well, see for yourself.

April 29, 2012, Singapore

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My First Durian

I figure it's appropriate after my foodie post of all the great food I ate in Singapore. Here's the only thing I wasn't exactly thrilled about eating.

You can almost smell it through the video. I know I still can taste it...

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Foodie's Nightmare

I know, I know. I had a post earlier about how "Hong Kong is truly a foodie's paradise." And it is--with exceptional Chinese/Cantonese food everywhere in every form, from the Michelin-starred to street food.

But if HK is a foodie's paradise, Singapore is a foodie's nightmare.

I'm not talking about nightmare in the sense of lack of food, a world with bland food that all looks and tastes the same. No, I'm talking about a different kind of nightmare.

One where there's no end. One where there's too much food.

The first and last time I'll be hungry the whole trip...

As a traditional melting pot of Chinese, Malay, and Tamil Indian cultures, Singapore has a wide variety of food. Add in more recent immigration from the rest of Asia, as well expats from the Western world, and you can find authentic food from just about anywhere.

Next, throw in the "Hawker Centre," a Singaporean government-sponsored institution to bring street food off the streets, sanitize it (but not too much), and sell it under open-air food courts. Mix in an influx of world renown chefs with these humble stall owners, as well as everyone in between, and what do you get?


Too much to choose from. Too many flavors, styles, variations, dishes, cultures, and simply put, too much food.

How much is too much? Let's break down my brief sojourn day by day and you decide.

Day 1:

Starts out late as my flight got in around 10. Breakfast at a hawker center in Chinatown. Go for a tasty, yet touristy Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel right after. (Tip: Definitely a tourist trap at an overpriced $30, but with a Citibank card, it's 25% off, plus free peanuts that you can throw the shells on the floor!) Lunch at a hawker stall, Tian Tian Chicken Rice at 1pm, the version featured on No Reservations. Some fresh fruit before a quick game of roulette, and up $50 later at the Marina Sands Casino, it's time for an early afternoon cocktail at Ku Dé Ta on the top of the Marina Sands Hotel. Quick stop for boba (Bubble Tea) right after, which happens to be just before dinner--the world-renown Chili Crab. And still not done yet--a nightcap of Tiger beer and satay at one last hawker center before going to sleep.

I want to point out--this is the first time ever I went to a restaurant seen on No Reservations that hadn't gone out of business when I tried to go.

Notice in the background--other people taking pictures of the food (and updating their status as well)

It's time for a Tiger.

All day 1.

Day 2:

Breakfast of kaya toast and runny eggs at Ya Kun Kaya Toast before taking the MRT to Eastern Singapore for a Malay Wedding. Lunch? A buffet of various foods and flavors I've never tried in my life. Gorging ensues for a few hours until it's time to go to Little India. Before the Mustafa Centre, it's a "small" snack of roti prata at Teka Market, another hawker center. A quick pre-dinner drink and snack by the bay, followed by  dinner of various pork goodies, such as skin, intestine, stomach, chitlins, and the like, soon followed by a second dinner of hor fun (like chow fun, like chow mein, but with flat rice noodles) and frog porridge in Geylang, the red-light district. Dessert? The king of fruits, the ubiquitous durian.

Kopi O and Runny Eggs--Simply Delicious 

Buffet at the wedding. An incredible ceremony followed, and unlike anything I've ever seen. Video coming soon.

Mmmm... unrecognizable pig parts...

Never tried durian? It's... quite the experience. 

Still one more day.

Day 3:

Runny eggs and toast again at a local coffee shop. Morning at the Singapore Zoo, so a slight (and much needed) reprieve before lunch of fish and chips. Some more boba to top it off, and then off to Newton Circus Food Centre for an early dinner of sea snails, grilled stingray, calamari, and seafood hor fun. Updated my blog about Singlish, and then a well-deserved snack of praata and a paper-like version of it before off to see the Avengers (no room for popcorn, though I did think about it...).

Baby Squid. Crunchy and satisfying.

A sort of prata, paper thin and rolled into a cone. 

Wow... really? All that in 3 days? After typing it out, I'm kind of disgusted with myself. Granted, it was my Singaporean friend who sent me this list, with the goal of trying as much as possible before I left. And though I felt like I ate a lot, and I did... I didn't eat nearly enough. I left with restaurants left un-visited and food left untried. For example, I never went to the biryani place in Little India, ran out of time for sisig in the basement of Lucky Plaza, or didn't even make it to Golden Mile Complex for some Thai food. Hence, a foodie's nightmare--you're never satisfied. It's an addiction, always trying to get your next fix, from one taste to the next. I'm not even exaggerating when I say there was always talk about the next meal before even finishing the one in front of us.

Maybe the word nightmare is too harsh--I mean, what kind of nightmare would you voluntarily live through again?

Because when it comes to Singapore, I'll be back for seconds.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Same Same But Different... Lah

The first thing you notice. It's not the stifling heat--I mean, yeah, it's bad, and sure, it's the worst humidity I've ever experienced in my life. It's not the smells--whether it's jasmine in Little India, or that distinct Chinatown aroma of roasted pig parts and duck fat. It's not even the cleanliness, which is, by all means, kinda creepy in a Disneyland sort of way.

Clarke Quay... confused.

Nope, it's the English.

Actually, to call it English is sort of a misnomer. It's 'Singlish.'

What exactly is Singlish? Short for 'Singapore English,' it's technically still considered an accent of English. I'd argue it's more of a dialect. The first conversations I had with my friend were... interesting to say the least. Interesting in that I could understand about 80% of what she said. When we met of up with friends and they started speaking at their normal speed, that number dropped to about 40.

But what exactly makes it different? I'm not sure. There is a clear set of rules that proper English uses. Verb tenses, pluralizations, and enunciations that must be uttered to be considered "proper." Take a lot of those and remove them. Drop S's, swallow consonants, add inflections and intonations, and skip verb tenses--and that's a start. Word order? Matters only if you feel like it. Then throw in words borrowed from Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and you get Singlish.

That is not to say it's "bad" or "improper" English. This, I want to be clear. You can't just go and make a stereotypical "bad Asian" accent and call it "Singlish" because it's not that. There are defined rules to breaking the rules of proper grammar. There is a distinct way of pronouncing words differently.

But as a native speaker of English from California listening in to a group conversation, I can't help but wonder if it's me who's broken. I considered myself a fluent speaker of English. And yet, I can't understand someone else's daily speech.

Take this conversation as an example.

"Eh, you wan' oh nah'?"

"I dunwan. No good lah. But dis one, is good, izit?"

"Yah, I oso like dat one."

("Hey, do you want it?"
"No I don't. It's not any good. But this one's good, right?"
"Yeah, I also like that one.")

And this is an easy example. It's English... but not. I mean, what the heck is, "lah?" And there are more of these phrases like "leh" and "meh." What do they mean? And when do you use them? I was told and I looked it up and I still don't really know.

I guess this is one of those times when you can't beat them, you might as well join them. And I do like learning about languages, especially when it comes to slang. It's still English.

Even if, as they say in Singapore, same same but different... lah.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Learning Tagalog?

I have been studying Japanese off and on throughout my time here in Japan. I am by no means fluent, but I feel as I have hit a plateau. I've read it's common among intermediate level speakers.  It's good enough for basic, everyday conversations and I can communicate my general thoughts and feelings. Anything more substantial, though, and I'm lost.

It's not for lack of grammar--it's just vocabulary. I simply don't know enough words.

How does this relate to Tagalog?

Well, frankly, I need a break.

I've been trying to master so much kanji that learning Japanese has lost its fun. I no longer get the simple joys that come from speaking Japanese. There's no more reward from ordering food without embarrassing myself. I no longer feel good about being able to work a ticket machine and subway in a city I've never been to. It's now solely building vocabulary, and it gets tiring.

With Tagalog, it's a fresh start.

I get the simple pleasure from asking a basic question and understanding the response. There is immediate and noticeable improvement. Who cares if I know words relating to Japanese government if I don't use them on a daily basis? There's no clear threshold on whether I've learned them or not.

I miss that.

I mean, I 've been in UCLA's Samahang Pilipino Cultral Night... and all I can say is"Ako si Justin"? For shame.

Being friends with people who use Tagalog as a first language, or grew up using it at home, means that I have a clear way of seeing improvement. I am going from zero language ability, to something. And that difference is substantial. Having native speakers as friends not only means I have a means to learn, but they provide a chance to test what I've learned. Traditional methods such as books and CDs may be difficult to come by for Tagalog, but I can always test a new grammar point by running a sentence by a friend.

Perhaps more importantly, though, I have the motivation. Unlike, say, Korean (which I've been trying to bring myself to study for a while now), I can use it daily. It's useful right away, versus other languages that I can't practice or use. It's an access to a hidden world. Being able to talk without people listening in (unlike English, where there's always that chance) is kind of like being in on an inside joke. Learning even the basics gives me ability to speak "Taglish" or Tagalog-English.

Besides, who doesn't like having a new language to eavesdrop onto other people's conversations? At tapos, pwede naman ako magreturn to Japanese.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Travel List Challenge

Let me be the first to say that I never do these lists. However, after seeing them pop up on Facebook enough times, I figured I'd look it over. The food list seemed pretty extensive, so I figured I'd try out the travel one. 

"How well traveled are you?"

See if you notice anything weird with this list.

  1. Alamo San Antonio, Texas, USA
  2. Alhambra Granada, Spain
  3. Andros Island, Bahamas
  4. Angel Falls, Venezuela
  5. Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia
  6. Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
  7. Ayers Rock, Australia
  8. Big Ben, London, England
  9. Bora Bora, Polynesia
  10. British Museum London, England
  11. Canals of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  12. Cathedral of Seville, Seville, Spain
  13. Cave of Crystals, Mexico
  14. Christ the Redeemer, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
  15. Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
  16. Colloseum Rome, Italy
  17. Crater Lake National Park Oregon, USA
  18. Dead Sea, Israel/Jordan
  19. Death Valley National Park, California, USA
  20. Devil's Tower, Wyoming, USA
  21. Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel
  22. Easter Island Statues, Polynesia (Chilean)
  23. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
  24. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
  25. Empire State Building, New York City, New York, USA
  26. Forbidden City, Beijing, China
  27. French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  28. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  29. Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  30. Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA
  31. Glacier Bay Basin, Alaska, USA
  32. Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
  33. Glowworm Cave, New Zealand
  34. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA
  35. Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
  36. Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
  37. Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
  38. Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
  39. Great Mosque of Córdoba, Córdoba, Spain
  40. Great Wall of China, China
  41. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
  42. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, USA
  43. Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, Califonia, USA
  44. Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
  45. Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
  46. Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
  47. Lake Titicaca, Peru
  48. Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain
  49. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nevada
  50. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
  51. Louvre Museum, Paris, France
  52. Macchu Picchu, Peru
  53. Matterhorn, Switzerland
  54. Mayan Pyramids of Chichen, Itza Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
  55. Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City, New York, USA
  56. Mount Everest, Nepal
  57. Mount Fuji, Japan
  58. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
  59. Mount Rushmore Keystone, South Dakota, USA
  60. Napa Valley, California, USA
  61. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
  62. Niagara Falls, New York, USA
  63. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
  64. Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia, Canada
  65. Pebble Beaches of Nice, Nice, France
  66. Petra, Jordan
  67. Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  68. Portland Head Lighthouse, Portland, Maine, USA
  69. Puerta Del Sol, Madrid, Spain
  70. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
  71. Redwood National Park, California, USA
  72. Rock of Gibraltar, Gibraltar
  73. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA
  74. Ruins of Athens, Athens, Greece
  75. Ruins of Pompeii, Pompei, Italy
  76. Sagrada Famila, Barcelona, Spain
  77. Sears Tower Chicago, Illlinois, USA
  78. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
  79. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Italy
  80. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., USA
  81. Space Needle Seattle, Washington, USA
  82. St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Italy
  83. Statue of Liberty, New York City, New York, USA
  84. Stonehenge Wiltshire County, England
  85. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
  86. Taj Mahal, Agra, India
  87. Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan
  88. Teotihuacan, Mexico
  89. Tian Tan Buddha, Hong Kong, China
  90. Times Square New York City, New York, USA
  91. Varanasi Uttar, Pradesh, India
  92. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
  93. Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel
  94. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida, USA
  95. Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., USA
  96. White Cliffs of Dover, Dover, England
  97. White House, Washington, D.C., USA
  98. Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England
  99. Yosemite National Park, California, USA
  100. Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Did you notice it? 33 are in the United States. 33! Really? Since when does well traveled mean traveling to the United States? 3 places in Washington D.C. alone? And places like Gettysburg? Or Mt. Rushmore? How is that relevant to anyone not into American History, the Civil War, or the defacement of a once sacred Native American mountain?

There are 27 in Western Europe (being generous too, not using Europe as a whole by taking out The Czech Republic, Russia, Turkey, Gibraltar, Jordan, and Israel). So between the US and Western Europe, "How well traveled?" are you? 

60%. This challenge gives you 60% for just Western Europe and the US.

Let's break down this list even further. "Well-traveled" should mean places as well as objects, right? But is it well traveled if you went to Notre Dame, and then "traveled" all the way to the Eiffel Tower? It's a freaking metro away for crying out loud. And there's the Louvre on this list too? The Louvre? How is that well traveled? It should list, "Visited Paris."  You get 3 for Paris alone.

Want an easy 6? Visit Spain (2 for Barcelona). 1 more for Gibraltar but don't worry about Portugal. 7 for Italy! But Germany? Nothing of interest there.

How is Asia represented? Japan? There are 2 for Kyoto. Basically, you can visit Kiyomizu Temple, spend the morning there, take the bus across town to the Golden Pavilion. Done. 2 checks. Next door Nara or Osaka? Too far for this list. With Mt. Fuji, you get 3 for Japan. But nearby countries? Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand... you get the idea. Nothing there more important than the Washington Monument. Grand total for Asia (including Pacific Islands, and even Easter Island)--12.

Don't get me wrong--this challenge is a good start. For people who have never owned a passport or even left their home state or county, there are a lot of good trip ideas on here.

But you're not well-traveled if you've been to all 100 places on this this. Yes, you've seen a lot. You are not well-traveled if you have 14 from the East Coast (of the US), and 3 from your study abroad in Paris.

I know I'm not well-traveled. The thing is, the more places you visit, the less you've seen. You realize that the world is a much bigger place than you could have even imagined. Each time you meet a fellow traveler and hear new stories, places get added to your own, personal list, until your list gets out of control, and you realize: there is simply too much. Too many places, too many people, too many experiences to be had. Because you realize that traveling with different people, interacting with different locals, visiting at different times, everything factors into your trip. You can visit the same place 100 times and each experience will be different. It no longer matters to check off your bucket list because you know the best experiences and the best stories come from the times you didn't plan. The places you never heard of or read about in a book.

Maybe that's what it means to be well-traveled--well-lived.


Or maybe I'm just bitter that I've only been to 30.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

インターナショナル Power Hour

"Ok, round 2."
"Ready? This is 8."
"17 already? Are these minutes getting faster or something?"

What a mess. If you don't know, the main screen on G+ switches to whoever is speaking. However, considering one of the cities represented is having a party... it switches to one person speaking, and then jumps back to LA. Back and forth. Then to someone else. And then it's LA, again.

About 30 minutes in, and even after LA has been muted, conversations are still hard to follow. Between the one conversation on the surface, people talking over each other, and then the side conversation on chat, it's growing increasingly difficult to keep up.

Around minute 56, Las Vegas decides to make an appearance. Finally. Took long enough, and now he has to play the game of catch up.

At around 1 hour 15, it's pretty much game over. Chaos has taken over. LA has realized they can un-mute themselves, and has taken full advantage (i.e. abusing) their speaking privileges. The side chat is flowing freely with its own conversations. Too much is happening at once to follow.

Notice it was easier to keep the main scree on LA than whoever's speaking...

And yet... there is something simplistically surreal about it all. Though we are all in different cities, LA, SF, SD, Oaktown, Vegas, Sendai, KitaQ, we were, at this moment, all in the same room. It has reached that point in the night where a casual kickback has turned into a full blown party. One main conversation to follow. The side conversations on the chat. The whispering, private conversations off the screen, be it texting, instant messaging, or the like.

And maybe it's the drink speaking, but despite the hundreds, even thousands of miles separating us, it might as well be mere feet.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Time Spent

Saturday, March 17, 2012

  • Bicycle to Kokura Station: 15 minutes
  • Kokura Station to Saiki Station: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Walk to Ferry Building: 20 minutes
  • Ferry from Saiki to Sukuomo, Kochi Prefecture: 3 hours
  • Public Bus to Saiki Train Station, walk to hotel: 30 minutes

A ferry with slots, instant ramen, and a view of this? There are worse ways to travel...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

  • Shuttle from hotel to race site: 25 minutes
  • Shuttle bus from race site to Sukumo Ferry building: 30 minutes
  • Ferry back to Saiki: 3 hours
  • Walk to Saiki Station (+waiting time): 30 minutes
  • Saiki Station to Kokura Station: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Bicycle to apartment: 15 minutes

Total travel time: 14 hours

29 seconds... let's blame the uneven course, heavy rain,
and finish line on a hill, not my lack of training.
Sunday, March 18, 2012

4th Annual Sukuomo Hana Henro Marathon

Total Time: 3 hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds

Worth it?

The Sukumo Marathon has its own mascot? Of course. This is Japan, after all.

Every minute.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Refill - Issue 8

So I submitted one of my blog entries as an article for Fukuoka JET's e-magazine, The Refill. Check it out!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Kicks in Korea

There is something distinctly different about the fashion found in South Korea versus that found in Japan. Some of the most noticeable is a more North Face or other typically "outdoors" jackets, less layers of makeup on girls, and more baseball hats on guys.

Another: the sneakers.

In Japan, guys don't really care too much about shoes. This is a culture where wearing a suit is key for work as well as social functions. Yet, men will wear sneakers, crocs, and other non-dress shoes while in a suit and tie. (This happens more often than not when you need dress shoes for outside, but you need to change into indoor shoes for school or some other institutions.) So in informal settings, shoes don't matter--any sneakers will do.

Women in Japan wear heels (let's say, as a made up statistic, 90% of the time). That's it. As a man, it makes me spoiled--in the US, heels are reserved for special occasions, so seeing women wearing heels all the time is a huge plus. As a woman, though, it must be terrible on your feet day in and day out, even in casual settings.

This is where Korea is different for both sexes. Men and women both dress to impress, but also for comfort. There's a weird take on American fashion that goes on with all the puffy jackets and rain gear. But with shoes, they get it right. Everyone wears sneakers. All the popular brands are represented--Nike, Adidas, Converse, Vans, as well as much more expensive names. Sizes, shapes, styles, and even colors are so much more diverse than the usual black and brown in Japan.

I'm not even into shoes. But after a few wins on roulette at Seven Luck Casino...

Only 2 are mine, I swear.

In 2 days, the 3 of us bought 7 new pairs of shoes... just doing it like the locals.

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Favorite Part of Sapporo

The second week of February, Sapporo, Hokkaido, hosts an international snow sculpture competition as a part of their Snow Festival. In addition to sculptures, there are performers, food stalls, and parties. In other words, there's something for everyone. This festival is one of the reasons why I came to Japan in the first place over a year ago.

But I have a confession: the festival wasn't my favorite part of Sapporo.

Aizu Tsuruga Castle

Don't get me wrong--they were just as awesome and breathtaking as I had hoped.


The true stars of the festival were the sponsored sculptures. Unlike the ones that were competing which were of a much more reasonable size, the sponsored sculptures were absolutely stunning. It's not just due to their attention to detail either. The sheer magnitude and size of them is not something that can easily be captured on picture--some even towered over nearby buildings!

The Taj Mahal out of snow

But again I must emphasize, they weren't my favorite part.

Sorry, no picture of the slopes (too cold, try around 5°F/0°C), so only the aftermath...

It also wasn't traveling to nearby Niseko, arguably the snowboarding capital of Japan. I'm not a snowboarder by any means, but even I as a beginner could appreciate the heaps of powder on Hirafu. And the open-air onsen right after finishing? You know how much I'm a sucker for onsens (why I love onsens), but even this much deserved and best onsen of my life wasn't my favorite part of this trip.

Of course... bragging about ramen on Twitter is just as important as eating it. #OnlyInJapan

It wasn't even the ramen (my love of ramen). Sapporo is famous for it's Butter Corn Ramen. Rightfully so--it is fantastic. We even had it twice while there. Once at Tokeidai, a Hokkaido-only chain that started in the heart of Sapporo (next to 札幌時計台, Sapporo's Clock Tower, which is rated one of the top 3 most disappointing attractions in all of Japan). The second time was at ラーメン横丁, or Ramen Alley, a narrow street lined with small shops all specializing in their own version of Sapporo's finest (as featured on No Reservations, as well as many other travel shows).

Yet, this was still not my favorite part of Sapporo.

Damn, that's (a) sexy (beer)...

My absolute favorite part of Sapporo was Sapporo. The beer, that is. And to be clear, this isn't your normal Sapporo.

Let me explain.

Japan is into making various products limited edition, whether for a limited time or within a specific area. Limited edition America Burgers at McDonalds, seasonal Kit Kats, and guide books telling you were to find the local 名物 (specialties) are just a few of many examples of this "limited edition" craze that Japanese consumers go crazy for.

Sapporo has their own version of this.

Sapporo Beer Museum. 500 yen. 3 Beers. 10 minutes until closing. No problem.

You may know Sapporo Draft as one of the big 3 beers from Japan (Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo). What you probably have never heard of is its sexy and mysterious sister, Sapporo Classic. The Sapporo brewery produces this golden elixir in addition to their normal domestic and international brew. Except this version, you can only find in Sapporo.

飲み食べ放題 madness at the Sapporo Beer Garden

The thing is, though, the beer itself is not what I loved the most about Sapporo. It's not about taste. (Though at the beer museum, there is a ジンギスカン or loosely translated Ghengis Khan Barbecue, which is an all-you-can-eat lamb-fest that paired with the beer, is simply bliss.)

No, my favorite part of Sapporo is an idea: loyalty. It's about how loyal Sapporo-ites are to their namesake. They only serve Sapporo at most establishments. Even in such a short time, we grew to expect it everywhere we went. It got to the point where we were confused and even a bit irked when we went to a club and they only served Asahi Draft. (Though should've known with a name like 'Booty'...)

To be a Sapporo-drinker isn't an exclusive club either... We were taken by a friend of a friend to a 390 yen bar with karaoke. That's not 390 yen a beer--I mean 390 yen for 30 minutes of 飲み放題 or all-you-can-drink. It's an every-man beer.

I swear this post is not sponsored by Sapporo.
(Though @Sapporo, if you need a spokesperson, my contacts are to the right...)

It could end there, but this loyalty goes both ways--in return, Sapporo takes care of its customers and its city by providing them with a beer exclusively for them. It's not just any old beer either. I'd argue that this is better than their more popular, Sapporo Draft. Although they could easily distribute, sell, and market this beer throughout Japan and the rest of the world, they've chosen to keep it only for their most loyal customers: those in Sapporo.

Found in any convenience store for the same price as a normal beer--assuming you find yourself in Sapporo

So cheers to you Sapporo. Not only do you have an exceptional Snow Festival, located next to some phenomenal slopes and onsens, and serve as a foodie's paradise, you have unlimited, exclusive access to an amazing brew.

And though I may be jealous, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, February 13, 2012



I passed N3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency test!

How did I do it?

Well, the first time I took it in July 2011, I studied really hard. I didn't just use a textbook either. I read One Piece daily with a dictionary to look up every word I didn't recognize until I completed and now current with the series (60-something in total). I watched Japanese TV whether stupid game shows or the news. And of course, I studied from my N3 grammar book. Like a good student, I went to class every Tuesday for tutoring. I'd practice what I learned (my sober-Japanese) at taiko practices Monday and Wednesday (and practiced my buzzed-Japanese at izakayas afterwards).

I even took the time every weekend to study at my local Joyfull (like a Japanese Denny's). I would get brunch and drink bar (meaning all-you-can-drink soda and coffee...) while I took practice tests and graded them myself, all the while noting any questions that were particularly difficult so I could restudy them later.

And come July, I failed.

Not by a lot (10% or so), but failing's failing. I remember stepping out after taking that test and thinking to myself, "Well, damn. I tried. It wasn't good enough. I'll study more for the test in December and nail it." And a month later, I signed up for the December 2011 test.

Except this time around, I couldn't bring myself to study. Partly due to denial/anger about failing the first time, partly due to being busy, I just didn't study. I know I probably could have made time, but unlike first year when I didn't have a schedule or group of friends, the start of second year was much more hectic. With the near-weekly traveling, taiko practices and performances, marathon training almost daily, and other hobbies taking up my life, studying Japanese fell on the back burner.

My Japanese was good enough for everyday life. It's neither fluent nor academic, but that's just it--it's good enough. There wasn't the same urgent need to study and learn Japanese like when I first arrived.

And before I knew it, it was already December. The amount of studying I did since July was minimal at best (nonexistent is probably a better word... I didn't take a single practice test once). I still took the test. I had paid for it already and so there was nothing to lose.

But this time was different. After finishing this round, I couldn't help but think, "Man, I totally knew those answers... if I only remembered that '情報' wasn't 'じょうほ' and '過去' wasn't 'かこう'... I mean, there was kanji that I actually knew. If only I had studied even only a little..."

So I knew if I failed this time, it wouldn't be by much. If I failed, I'd only have myself to blame.

But even if I did, I was pleasantly surprised at how much my Japanese had improved passively in 6 months. I knew more kanji, the readings were comprehensible (or at least, I could make educated guesses). And the listening portion was, do I dare say it, it was easy?

Was it enough to pass, though? Had I improved a full 2 levels from last year, December 2010, when I took and passed N5?

The moral of the story: getting lucky > studying ?

And after receiving my certification in the mail yesterday, I can safely answer, "Yes, and yes." Which leaves me thinking...

N2 this July?