Amy: Jewel Faded Too Soon

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Amy was a diamond. Shining bright in her powerful voice. She evolved from a raw talent who jams cheesy line yet catchy melody to an uncanny lyricist with characteristic jazz.

But Amy was clearly fighting depression. Nothing was well planned, she was a vulnerable young girl who went deep without needed protection system.

Amy wanted to get better. She got out of drugs, but alcohol was her only saviour. She wasn’t a recreational alcoholic or junkie. She wasn’t “being a rock star”. She fell in love. That could’ve saved her if it wasn’t with the wrong person. She needed psychological help. That’s what her system didn’t see.

Your voice still reverbrate today, Amy. I adore your talent. I’m grateful for this movie. It brought me to tears. It shows that you’re not that rebellious ungrateful pop star which some people might think you were. You’re a jewel gone too soon.

This film showed me how the industry turned a blind eye on her as a person. It should also remind us not to turn away from people who said they need you. Don’t turn your back even if they seem to be drifting away. That’s when they need you, more than you know.

Book Review: “All the Light We Cannot See”

It’s been a while since I last read a book as touching as this one. Anthony Doerr masterfully tells the story in short chapters – no longer than five pages each – flowing with detail. I found myself too emotional to flip a page at times, but I always did to answer my urgent question, “Then what happens?” The short fractions did not fail to catch attention and deliver overall suspense.

Characters are deeply described it’s difficult to pick a favourite. To Marie-Laure I can relate the questions I’ve always had about blindness: How does it feel to be in constant darkness? How do blind people see colours? Instead of melancholy, Anthony Doerr offers sensory: Marie-Laure senses the colour of each person at every moment. She hears the whispers of the sea. She sees the world in different layers, in much more light than our healthy eyes will ever see. In Werner I see ingenuity and wit. A boy with adorable quirky questions, intelligence wasted for militancy. A real man for his love and protectiveness of his sister. If only he had better choices.

True, this is fiction. But this novel troubles me by reminding me there are real wars happening in the real world at this very second. Wars that are made to look natural while actually crafted and supported. In those wars live thousands of real-life Marie-Laures, real Werners, real detained fathers, treacherous neighbours, raped and silenced teenage girls, brain-damaged war victims. We see Werners every day in the videos shared on the internet, the poor orphan boys ready to give their lives to what they thought were true, because they didn’t know any better. Or even have a better option. Human lives are being stopped and values are being stomped.

What is the difference between the current wars and the Second World War that happened 70 years ago – that we all condemn? It was for chauvinism and for xenophobia in the light of fascism. Now it is for greed and world domination and believe it or not, it is causing xenophobia. But what is the difference? There is no difference in the injustice and the damage they bring to the lives of people from all sides of the war. Not only to those whose eyes are hurt but also to those whose hands are used. War is war. Judgement should only be fair to be rightfully considered.

“All the Lights We Cannot See” deserves all the praises it is getting and more, it deserves to be a must-read for all the Generation Y’s and millennials. Seventy years ago the changes might be brought through underground radio broadcasts, codes wrapped in bread loaves. It is now being carried up through social media, mass media and open, collective actions. The forms change but the spirit never does. It is our voices, our words, our faith in humanity, of doing good, in time, that is going to change how the world works.

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Living Japan #3: Mission Apartment

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If you’re considering a move to Japan, be ready to get on board the major first mission. I didn’t have to do too much moving into Italy and Malawi, having found good places to live before arriving. But moving to Japan was different case because my company let us live in the dormitory while finding a place according to our taste. So here’s my advice on how to do it based on my experience. Not saying these are the only options, though.🙂

First, start with finding an agency that speaks English. It was tempting for me to contact the numbers on the vacancy adverts on exquisite buildings, but most of those “common” real estate agencies only provide services in Japanese. So if you speak sukoshi Japanese or none at all (like me when I arrived), choosing English-speaking agency is wise. I found UR Whitestone, UR Sumai, and LeoPalace21. There are many other agencies in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka (easy to google them), but they usually manage upscale apartments. If you’re on a solo mission, it’s not really worth your time and energy to contact non-English speaking agents. Trying to understand is tiring and risky, and you wouldn’t want to depend on someone’s help for all the conversation.

Say you got that anglophone buddy. Start off in the following order:

1. Decide where you want to live. Of course the city and area nearest to your work/study place is the best. But in my case, I work in a small town where only rich senior people live. Not really my crowd. The closest (slightly) bigger town is a beach town packed in summer, but with nothing to do the rest of the year. So I looked at other areas. I finally chose an area about 45 minutes from work (but that includes 30 minutes bus ride from the train station to office).

Worry not about long commute. (One of) the best thing(s) about Japan is its well-connected, reliable, stress-free comfortable transport system. Well the stories about packed subways and trains in Tokyo and the “pusher” (train company officers pushing people to fit into crowded cars) are no hoax, but that’s Tokyo. :p In the capital might be better to live as close as possible to office/school. In my case, in Kanagawa, transferring between train lines is easy and even the buses are crazily on time. Coming from Jakarta, where I used to commute 4-hours traffic-jammed round trips every day (it was my choice to live in the suburbs, though), easy commute between neighboring cities in Kanagawa is more than I could ask for.

Identify the train lines and stations that connects you to your daily destination and decide how far from the home station you want to live. Usually agencies define their apartment location based on ‘minutes’ to take to the nearest transport hub (“5 minutes (分) to the X train station”, “1 minute to bus stop which takes 8 minutes to Y train station”, etc.) Also consider how your host supports your commuting cost. Japanese companies usually pay for it.

 

2. Choose accommodation type. Generally, there are three types of housing for single young people: regular apartment, UR apartment, short-term apartment, and share-house.

I’m gonna tell you the most important thing about apartments: no matter which agency, most apartments come unfurnished. Most of them have no more than toilet, kitchen cabinet, and wardrobe. Sometimes you can get a set of stove and/or air conditioner. So you’ll need initial cost and time to find refrigerator, sofa, bed, tables, etc.

Regular apartments are rented out by landlord/owners through real estate agencies. It’s very common to see advertisements on the street, especially near train stations. Some big agencies website: www.able.co.jp , www.minimini.jp, www.chintai.net. Like I mentioned, however, expect to spend extra energy in communicating.

Plus side: wide range of apartments to choose from, nice building and interior design. Most are small as some people prefer. It’s easy to get car parking space if you need it (although expensive, it goes between JPY 12,000-35,000/month in Greater Tokyo, depends on the area).

Downside: most agencies and landlords ask for ridiculous amount of initial cost. There’s “key money” (it’s widely known as “money for thanking the landlord to allow your living in his/her property” :p, amount varies, you won’t get it back), “agency fee” (agency management fee, amount varies, of course you won’t get it back), “deposit” (amounts to 2-3 months rent, some of it will be returned when you leave the apartment, after some deduction for cleaning and repair fee). Lastly, “contract renewal fee”. Say, you have a one-year contract. After one year, if you want to stay longer, you have to pay for staying longer (amount varies, you won’t get it back either).

All in all, you can easily be asked to give up to 4, or even 6-months worth of rent. Although if you have time and patience, some agents don’t ask that much for some apartments. But I didn’t consider it further.

 ableA sample of apartment details from a regular agency. Too much kanji for a day.

 

And then there’s UR (Urban Renaissance) apartment (jyuutaku, じゅうたく, 住宅)
government-owned property marketed by several partnering agencies. You can look for the apartments first (based on location, train station, etc.) through their website ur-housing.com (Whitestone, I used their service), sumai.ur-net.go.jp, email them to ask availability. These agencies thankfully speak English.

Plus side: the initial cost for UR apartments is only a 2-3 months deposit (most of it will be returned when you leave apartment, after some deduction for cleaning and small repairs) and the rent for the amount of days in the month you are moving in. You can easily move in and out, with a 2-weeks notice.

Downside: many buildings are old and mostly high-rise (some people don’t prefer them). Some people might think it’s “cheap” and for “the cheap” for its affordability. But it’s getting more popular because the management has been renovating and maintaining the buildings well. There are even gorgeous apartments designed in collaboration with MUJI or IKEA. It’s difficult to get a furnished (stove and air conditioning-equipped) apartment in a good location. But you can use that money to buy furniture and appliances instead of paying administrative cost.

 

Share-house is for you who wants instant new friends and to immerse in a multicultural atmosphere and doesn’t mind less privacy. In Japan, share-houses mean huge buildings with 20-50 inhabitants with small rooms rented out for 1-2 persons each. In some cases you can find a smaller house, where 10-15 people live, and in rare cases, only 5-6 people. Tokyo Sharehouse and Hituji are good websites to find these houses.

Plus side: Meet people and make friends overnight. People from different backgrounds and characters. Dinner and welcome parties are held occasionally. In-house laundry, internet service, sometimes bicycle. Some houses provide cleaning service for your rooms, aside from cleaning the common areas. Kitchens and common areas are big and well-equipped. Really less hassle.

Downside: No privacy. People come and go, not only residents but also their friends so it will get noisy. Less sense of propriety including in the kitchen. The rooms are small (can go down to 6 m2), usually comes with bed and wardrobe. Some are dormitory type rooms. The amount of bathroom (and whether you’ll need to queue every morning) depends on your luck. Not all people are clean or tidy. Most houses don’t allow sleepovers (or ask you to ask permission to the manager first, and Japanese rules are not made to be broken).

I saw a small 4-room share-house in Zushi and I liked it, the other girls living there were calligraphist, yoga student, and waitress. But I decided not to choose share-house, choosing privacy and my own space over making friends overnight. So old school? :p A colleague assured me that I’ll meet and make friends through other ways. Also, I want to be able to host dinners, gatherings, friends, family, or Couchsurfers at home. I do feel, sometimes, that it would be nice to live with people. But people who are sharing houses are telling me they are planning to move to their own places, more than those who says otherwise.

 

Short-term furnished apartments is a category I made. I was informed about Leopalace21 agency before coming to Japan, and I was interested because they have furnished apartments. They offer monthly and even daily contracts for people who often visit Japan for short trips. You can save money on hotels and have a private space with equipped kitchens and television.

Plus side: no need to buy kitchen appliances because they provide stove, refrigerator, and microwave. They help installing services like TV and internet (at above apartments you need to set up your own). If you’re in Japan for a short-term, like a few months, but need a private space, I think this is for you.

Downside: initial cost is quite expensive, although not as expensive as regular apartments. A lot of people are staying for a short-term, so some can be quite careless. I heard and read some reviews about many of its buildings being a bit poor in soundproofing.

3. Say you decide to get an apartment. You’d have to choose layout and size. The Japanese system is based on the number of bedrooms and room functions. For example:

2 DK : 2 bedrooms, with 1 other room big enough for dining room (D) and kitchen (K).
1 LDK : 1 bedroom, with 1 other room big enough for living room (L), dining room (D), and kitchen (K).
1 K : 1 bedroom with 1 other room only for kitchen (this means your bedroom will also be used as living and dining). This is the most common layout for single people especially in crowded cities like Tokyo. Most Leopalace21 apartments are 1K.
1 R : 1 room (everything done here). This is small “studio” type apartment.

The size of apartments are in square meter or sometimes in “tatami size”. Tatami is the grass mats which comes in panels of about 6 m2. Don’t be surprised to see tiny-sized apartments. Regular apartments in Tokyo, especially, can go as small as 10 m2. Land is luxury in To-ki-o.

So I first tried LeoPalace. Their agent spoke excellent English and I saw two nice places in Totsuka and Ofuna but they were too far of walk from the station, plus the initial cost was a bit high.

DSC_0146LeoPalace21 apartment in Ofuna

DSC_0143Living room of LeoPalace21 apartment in Totsuka

DSC_0139Furnished kitchen

I also was in a short contact with able (アベル)、who didn’t speak or write English. We didn’t last very long. :p Finally I settled with UR Whitestone, and after three attempts, settled in an apartment near Kamakura (but technically still in Yokohama :p), on the top floor of a high-rise building just 5 minutes walk from the station. A gorgeous newly renovated wood-floored 1LDK unit in gray and white palette. In autumn and special occasions like New Year, the municipality organize fairs and festivals. Quite a perfect place really.🙂

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DSC_0383That’s my apartment in the background of autumn dance festival!

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After choosing, I had to go with my agent to the UR office to sign contracts and pay the initial amount (only 2 months deposit and the rent for the first days – this is by far the best I heard you can get). I spent almost 2 months to look for home. It wasn’t easy. I felt like accomplishing one big mission when I finally moved in. I slowly furnished my apartment from refrigerator to sofa, which was another process of careful considerations and calculations. :p I’ll save that for later.

How was your experience in finding apartments in Japan? Or other countries? Please tell me!

Book Review: “Kitchen” (and “Moonlight Shadow”), Banana Yoshimoto

Just finished a book by another Japanese writer, this one with young people set in the more recent years. I was actually reading another book of speeches, but it was left behind when I moved so I can’t finish it yet.

Banana Yoshimoto’s style is contemplative and fresh. If you like Murakami, most likely you’ll like her.

Here’s My thoughts on “Kitchen” : Goodreads.

Kitchen

Next review: “Go Set a Watchman”.

Another post on Eating with Chopsticks is coming, of course!

Living in Japan: Eating with Chopsticks #2 – Non-Alien Registration

Today after lunch, a department staff kindly took me to the Hayama Town Hall to register myself as a resident. The building was familiar; I remembered seeing its image when googling about the town. There, I was comforted by the system and people’s efficiency. Registering as a new long-term resident is convenient. Let me explain from the start.

Weeks before my arrival, I was asked to fill in a form to create an “eligibility certificate” at the Ministry of Justice. I proceed to the Embassy of Japan with the certificate (which I received quickly) and after four days, my visa was ready. At the airport, I just had to show both the certificate and visa at immigration desk, registered my fingerprints, and waited five minutes for the card. Today, my colleague helped me fill a registration form and my address was printed on the back of that card in five minutes. This card and the registration proof will be required for opening bank account, subscribing to phones, and signing housing contract. I know it sounds a little tedious, but the service to support this system is efficient. Staffs were eager to help and instructions were clear, even if English was not the first language. Even English instructions are getting more common.

I can’t help comparing this to previous experience in Pavia (Italy, in the G7, OECD, so-called developed countries group with Japan), where I had to make three trips to the Town Hall, each with one hour queue and observing people rant to obtain my residence card. In addition to that, the card could only last one year even though we were registered to a master program that needed more than a year to graduate from. However, Italy’s phone subscription only needed a copy of passport (and you can easily put new sim card in your phone, unlike in Japan). Banks are the same.

In Indonesia, I queued at district office without number and the officer eventually lost my new citizen identity card. In Malawi, short-term visa just required a stamp on the passport (no other document was produced, this was in 2012) and waiting some days when it needs renewal. But the instant visa-on-arrival process in the latter country wins over the usually long queue at the Jakarta airport. Well Malawi’s maybe a little alarmingly too instant.

Coming back to Japan, its visa process still wins over Schengen’s – big time. Not even mentioning free visa policy for some countries, provided an “electronic passport” is used. Japan is obviously in bigger need of people than Europe (its society older than Europe – another interesting topic). This registration system I’m lucky enough to go through was newly established in 2012. In fact they abolished the term “alien registration system” and replaced it with “residency management system”. Japan is opening up to the foreign world – it needs to. And everything possible is being done to do so.

So which one wins? I’d say it’s one for Japan!

Hayama Town Hall (Wikipedia)
Hayama Town Hall (Wikipedia)

 

In Hayama Town Hall
In Hayama Town Hall

Living in Japan: Eating with Chopsticks

A few months ago I got an offer to work at an international research-based NGO based in Hayama, Japan. Yesterday night, I landed safely at Tokyo Narita airport, took a 2,5 hours regular train ride to Zushi (the nearest town from Hayama), and officially started my new adventure in the sushi homeland.

A dinner was prepared for me in my temporary room. Starving, I automatically reached for the chopsticks instead of the spoon and fork. It was probably a sort of ‘automatic prompt adaptation’ (couldn’t find any term that defines this instance on google. Might be an interesting research topic!) that I found quite amazing!

So here comes to mind, a subtitle for my future blog posts on this topic: “Living in Japan: Eating with Chopsticks”. How does that sound?

Australia Harus Menyelamatkan Great Barrier Reef, Sekarang

Australia dituntut keberhasilannya menyelamatkan Great Barrier Reef yang terancam kerusakan berat akibat pengerukan, limbah industri, dan rencana pembangunan pelabuhan. Kampanye berbagai lembaga dunia, termasuk WWF yang berhasil menarik dukungan lebih dari 500.000 orang di seluruh dunia, mendukung dikeluarkannya keputusan UNESCO World Heritage Committee yang menuntut keberhasilan program Pemerintah Australia dalam menyelamatkan kawasan sistem koral terbesar di dunia ini.

Great Barrier Reef tidak dimasukkan dalam daftar “dalam bahaya” (“in danger”) UNESCO, namun rencana Australia harus menunjukkan hasil pada 2016 dan membuktikan bahwa kerusakan berhasil dihentikan pada 2019. Tuntutan masyarakat global harus terus berjalan!

Sekarang bagaimana dengan kawasan Bunaken bahkan Raja Ampat yang mulai menghadapi pengeboman ikan dan menghindarkannya dari pembuangan limbah? Kegalakan Bu Susi harus didukung!

Lihat indahnya Great Barrier Reef disini: http://reef.wwf.org.au/seeit

Book review: “The Life of a Stupid Man”, “Testimonies”, and “Death Register” (Little Black Classics #56)

I’m starting a new routine of writing a review on every book I’ve finished. So far I’ve produced 2 reviews.

Here’s one on a small compilation of a ‘Japanese modernist writer’ Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s pieces, written with a sangfroid: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1263146206.

Respect and Equality

In general cases, I believe respect is gained not asked. But for today’s special occasion, let me ask all my women and men friends reading this to join hands and fight for #respect for each other!

Dear Women,
protect each others’ backs instead of stabbing them. I know it’s sooo tempting to gossip but it’s not worth it. It won’t be her thrown into the bush, it’ll be you.

Dear Men,
if you see a fellow doing this to any women: whistling, cooing, calling names, offering (random women) a ride, please tell them that IT IS NOT OKAY. We get annoyed, offended, even scared. Please tell them, “Hey imagine if it’s your sister, daughter, or mother”. If they insist please do something punishing.😡

Dear Women,
be strong, look strong, always with composure. Be different, but always remember your values. Love and respect your bodies. We don’t have enough women leaders in the world, yet (although Ms. Merkel counts as more than 1). And we still need more rocking mothers (but maybe 2 kids is enough? Just my 2 cents). Know what we want and let’s be good at it.

Dear Men, you are human.
You’ve every right to be angry (but hitting a girl is still not cool), sad (and ask for a hug), to say you can’t, and to share your anxiety.

Dear Women,
be the gentle us. Global suicide rate is more than three times higher among male than female. It’s our privilege to be their support system. Go easy.

Dear Men,
you may start to feel overshadowed by us. I really wish we have an International Men’s Day. Or at least an International Father’s Day. I know many of you feel women has more job opportunities and nowadays they even heightened it by stating “women are strongly encouraged to apply”.

But the fact is more women than men around the world are still struggling for their rights. For higher education, to break stereotypes, to go out of the house alone, to be in the parliament, to stay away from HIV, to have peace with their looks. To feel safe while walking alone in midday and not threatened by anyone who call them names (hence back to my first point). However, we’re in this together.

And Dear Men,
although we fight for our rights to be equal with yours, we love you (some of us may not romantically, but generally yes). I believe the money you gained so hard are not only for our handbags. I believe you deserve that shoulder to cry on from time to time. We’re not fighting against you. We actually can’t imagine life without you. Oh how dull.😉

It takes two to tango.
Work on both sides to solve an equation.

Respect and embrace each other, and Happy International Women’s Day!

 

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/441563938439313728/
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/441563938439313728/

Words or picture, or both?

My soul mate recently asked me, “Where are the pictures on your blog? I miss them, it adds your sensitivity in your writings.” My natural response was that I lacked original pictures that represented the story, and I’ll probably add them in the future.

Later, her inquiry made me think, was it the picture or the writing that move people?
Does picture speak more than a thousand words, or do a hundred words illustrate an image which paint and lens can never generate?

She also reminded me of a film I saw on the plane a few months ago, called “Words and Pictures”, about a competition between an art teacher and an English teacher to prove which one is more important: words or pictures. The movie wasn’t popular, probably as it defies popular taste must-haves (romance with older women, poetic conversations and English class sessions), but I liked the idea of putting the two side-by-side to see which one affects people more.

A picture creates a thousand interpretations through different eyes, but don’t these interpretations leave out the real message?
Don’t you always need to put a name on the picture to huddle the rambling minds?
But a paragraph wears off readers’ attention, in this fast-moving ethics-eating media era we are living in!

I’m neither a professional photographer nor a prolific writer.
But I’m curious to know what you feel.

Let me invite you to join an experiment.
It’s easy – let me know (leave a comment or fill the poll) which captures your heart best:

   (a)

The Hopefuls

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(b)

The Hopefuls

The red trumpet buds peep shyly before my eyes. Not from below the abundant earth, not from under the rich soil. They greet me from top of a grey, arid bed of sand, where they trust their lives upon. Neat rows of rubber tubes, presumably as youthful, line intact with the baby flowers and the green leaves, feeding their hope with artificial freshwater. In this land of the gulf, the source of life is not only promised, it is created.


(c)

The Hopefuls

The red trumpet buds peep shyly before my eyes. Not from below the abundant earth, not from under the rich soil. They greet me from top of a grey, arid bed of sand, where they trust their lives upon. Neat rows of rubber tubes, presumably as youthful, line intact with the baby flowers and the green leaves, feeding their hope with artificial freshwater. In this land of the gulf, the source of life is not only promised, it is created.

IMG_4212