Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Short Trip to Kobe, continued 2

I was, some thirty years ago, working in Tokyo full time for almost three years and had frequented Kobe then. Kobe was then the HQ of the Contractor that was employed to build the ABF Fertilizer plant in Bintulu and they had their project office in Tokyo. I was assigned to this Tokyo office to monitor their  Engineering Design and Procurement activities. In the course of my work I had made friends with many Japanese staff, two of whom had become very close family friends. One is the Ohtanis who remained close till this day. The other was the late Kodama who passed away due to heart complications more than ten years ago.

Most of those working in the Tokyo Project Office were from Kobe and had returned to Kobe at the end of the project or at the end of their careers. Many of them are retired by now. Ohtani tried to arrange a get-together with some of these staff and only managed to get two of them to meet up. It was holiday period at this time and many of them were away.

The planned meeting was at Awajima JR station on Monday, a public holiday and the third day we were in Kobe. Ohtani and I went by car to Awajima, a half an hour drive from the house, and met Maeda san and Tori san at the Railway Station. It so happened that there was a Chrysentemum exhibition at the grounds of Awajima Castle and the four of us proceed to view the exhibition. We had alot to catch up on. It has been thirty years. Viewing the exhibits was an excuse for us to be together. Did alot of talking and very little viewing, ha ha ha! Stopped at a kiosk where ochanimizu or Japanese green tea was served in the typical, colourful Japanese chawan or tea bowls. We sat at a corner of the rather large and decorated kiosk. The tea was long swallowed and gone and we had yet more stories to share amongst ourselves.

Tired of sitting down, we took a walk in the town and crossed the market place with stalls selling fresh seafood of all kinds. It was fascinating. There were some sea urchins or sea animals that I have not seen before. On display were varied staff from the tiniest of anchovies to the larger sized rayfish larger than a car!

Lunch was at a quaint little shop or restaurant, operated by a husband and wife team, serving only tamago yaki, roasted balls of egg in batter with a small piece of octopus meat as filling. This apparently was a specialty in this town. It is normally eaten after dipping it in sauce. It had a unique taste and I guess the sauce makes the difference. There were only five tables in this shop capable of seating only about a dozen people. While we were there I noticed many customers come in for takeaways. Each of us were served a dozen of the roasted balls, each ball slightly smaller than a golf ball and all of us finished up our shares washed down with ocha. We then went for coffee in another quaint little shop nearby. Over coffee we went through old photographs, with all of us having black hairs but have now turned all white!

Ram meanwhile was at home with Ayako. Ayako's friend, a former college mate and also room mate, came visiting on hearing Ram's presence and wanted to try English conversation. Ram showed them how to cook authentic Malaysian curry chicken. I think they had alot of fun cooking and also conversing, they in English and Ram trying it in Nihongo or Japanese language!

Dinner was chicken curry and rice with some salads. Ayako chan had also cooked something that was similar to the tamago yaki except that its the version with less egg. The tamago yaki had one whole egg yolk in each, making it rich in taste. Ayako's version was milder in taste and can be taken as it is without sauce and have no aftertaste. The real tamago yaki has to be taken with sauce to eliminate the rich egg aftertaste. Both were lovely anyway, and we could reminisce over it as we have tried it many years ago in Tokyo. While we enjoyed the food Ayako cooked, the Ohtanis were enjoying the chicken curry and Toshihiko had second helpings!


To be continued....

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Short Trip to Kobe, continued

After breakfast on the 2nd day in Kobe we went in two cars to Awaji Island, some two hours drive from Suma-ku where the Ohtanis live. Awaji Island is connected at both ends to the mainland by wired hanging bridges. The longest bridge is Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (Pearl Bridge) which is 4 kilometers long with the longest suspended span being 2 kilometers. The stay cable on which the bridge's driveway is suspended on is slightly larger than 1 meter in diameter, made up of smaller wires of about 5mm diameter bundled up together, and each 5mm wire is made up of smaller wires of about 1mm bundled up together. This bridge is lighted up at night, different colours for different seasons. Awaji Island is well known for its large white onions which are quite sweet to taste. Its very nice taken with hot rice after it is lightly browned in olive oil over a slow fire. I was introduced to it at dinner that night and I loved it. We walked into one supermarket outlet and true to Awaji specialty, there were onions and more onions, either raw, cooked, or made into sweet cakes and the likes. They were lovely. Another unique attraction of Awaji is the swirling waters at each tide change (twice per day). To view this one have to take a boat ride to one edge of the island where the waters of the Pacific Ocean meets the waters of Awaji bay. Because of the different levels of the two waters at change of tides, the water swirls in a cyclonic formation and then it breaks. It was fascinating to view this wonder of the Almighty's creation. A truly magnificent phenomenon. We spent about two hours on the double decker sailing boat that was modernised with diesel engines!, viewing this swirling waters. It was a fun ride. Lunch was at a restaurant on the cliff at the edge of one end of the Island. It being a national holiday the place was crowded with people and we had to wait a while to obtain a table that can accomodate the five of us. Food served were mostly Japanese fusion and very tasty too. An ice cream vendor just outside this restaurant was just irresistable! Amongst the many flavours they do have, yes you guessed it, they have the onion flavoured ones. There were several view decks around the restaurant and the view? It was fantastic. One can see the Pacific Ocean and the meeting point of the ocean and Awaji bay. We took a slow walk around the park in the vicinity of the restaurant and to the car park. It was getting dark then and we headed home. Did not haveor the opportunity to view the coloured lightings of the Akashi bridge though. Perhaps it was still too early then. For dinner, the Ohtanis prepared some 'yaki imo' that is stone baked sweet potatoes for us. I used to enjoy yaki imo when I lived in Tokyo about thirty years ago and for tonight it was nostalgia. The imo that Ohtani prepared were lovely. Nice, soft and sweet. Main course for dinner was tempura, which Ram likes very much. We just could not have enough. It was lovely. To be continued...... MKI Ramblings Unlimited, Kobe

Saturday, November 09, 2013

A Short Trip To Kobe

One fine evening, as I was resting in bed with my ipad in hand checking emails, a promotional message from MAS came through offering cheap discounted tickets to various destinations around the globe. These offerings were to end precisely at midnight and it was then slightly passed 10pm. One of the destinations on offer was to Osaka at RM739.00 return, which was very cheap indeed. I clicked 1st to 7th November, keyed in Ram's and my details, chose the seats and checked the total price. It came out to RM 1806 return for the two of us. I asked Ram whether she wanted to go to Kobe on those dates and told her a quick decision is in order. She agreed. I keyed in my credit card details and voila, we were confirmed straightaway for KLIA - KIX - KLIA.

Sometime later I emailed a very close Japanese family friend living in Kobe, the Ohtani's, whose two children, Ayako and Toshihiko, were like our children and they, were very close to our own children too. Informed them of my flight details and got an immediate response from Ayako-chan, welcoming us and offering us to stay in her 3 room apartment. She lives in the apartment alone and it is also close to her parent's house just about 5 minutes away by car. That settled it and we were all geared to go to Kobe come 1st November. There were excitements both sides and emails were interchanged with advices and informations for us. Although the Ohtani's have been to Malaysia many times, they also attended all of our childrens' weddings, this will be our return trip to Kobe after a very long time. About thirty years. Much must have changed in Kobe and we were excited. Also, November will be the season for Khaki or persimmon, which is my favourite and the Ohtanis' have set aside some time for us to go persimmon picking, which was thoughtful of them.

We got some Malaysian food ingredients, including curries and korma, which the Ohtanis like, to bring along with us. Packed our stuff and luggage in two bags and ready to go in the late evening of 1st November. Sita sent us to KLIA and we proceeded to check-in, went throuh immigration and on to the boarding gate all in due time although there was a very long queue to drop off our bags at the check-in counter. The flight was on time and arrived at Kansai airport at the scheduled time of just before 7.00am. Checking through the Japanese immigration and customs was easy. Tadasu and Miyuki Ohtani were waiting for us just outside of the arrival gate.

I was fortunate to be sitting by the window on the right side of the plane. As we were preparing to land into Kansai airport I observed the magnificent rising sun in the horizon. It was a beautiful sight. It was preparing to shine over the Land of The Rising Sun, as the saying goes. The rays of light emitting, getting brighter and brighter as the clock ticks on, colouring up the distance skies in various hue that left me in peace of mind. I was lost in my imagination of the beauty displayed for my eyes. So tranquil easing the soul into submission to the Will of Allah, the Almighty, the creator of this magnificent daily phenomenon.

We were also surprised to have met my cousin with his wife and son on the same flight with us. They were on holiday to Osaka and would proceed to Kyoto and later to Tokyo. They will be flying out of Tokyo back to KL.

Kansai airport stood on a man-made island on the east side of Osaka bay while a smaller Kobe airport was on another man-made island across the bay nearer to Kobe on the west side. A ferry took us across the bay in half an hour. Ohtani had parked his car at Kobe airport. It would have taken about two hours by car to go around the bay from Kansai airport to Kobe, and that too if there was free flow traffic.

Twenty minutes out of Kobe airport Ohtani took us to Kobe mosque on our way to Ayako's house. It is an old mosque, the first in Japan and built by the muslim traders who came in the early 18th. Century and has seen several refurbishment over time. It has a main prayer hall that can seat several hundred people at one time and an upper hall for ladies. Annexed to it is a utility hall with an attached kitchen and other amenities. Across the mosque is a shop selling halal food, a majority of which are imported from elsewhere, so the prices can be quite expensive comparatively. We bought some halal chicken to go. We had tea at a quaint little shop in a building near the mosque ithat was once a school and which had been turned into a food court of sorts. This little tea shop was once the school's Supervisor's office!

Another twenty minutes by car we arrived at Ayako's apartment. Lucky for us it was on the ground floor of a four storey walk up building. Comfortable. Ayako was at the community area playing tennis when we arrived and we went there to watch her. When done we went back to the apartment for lunch of rice, soup and Japanese otak-otak, some fish and vegetables fried in flour, a larger version of the popular Malay jemput-jemput or chokodok. Rice was typical sticky Japanese rice which I had missed alot. It was reminiscent of my time living in Japan some thirty years ago.

Then it was time to go persimmon picking at a persimmon farm not too far away from Ayako's house, about twenty minutes by car. For a fee, one can go into the persimmon farm, that stood on the hillside (Ram had to climb the hill with some difficulties, and so do I), eat as much persimmon as we like, and anything that we take out will be weighed and paid for accordingly. It was fun. I had six whole persimmon and Ram had five! more than enough to satiate our appetite, ha ha ha! I was like a child in a candy store, mouth agape, at the many persimmon trees each full of persimmon at various stages of ripening. It gets dark pretty early here at this time of the year. Sundown was at about 6.00pm. We spent our time in the farm until it was almost dark. No dinner that night after all the persimmon we had!!

To be continued......

MKI Ramblings Unlimited