What To Do in Fukui, Gifu and Nagoya

Christmas in Japan is a working day like any other, but I wasn’t going to let it just go by. Jeremy, Patricia (my friend from Solomon Islands) and I had an all-you-can-eat lunch at an Indian restaurant in Kanazawa. But on New Year’s, we made plans to see a little bit more of Japan by visiting Fukui City in Fukui Prefecture (which is adjacent to Ishikawa Prefecture where we live), Gifu City in Gifu Prefecture and Nagoya City in Aichi Prefecture.

We only spent a day in each city so it was mostly touch-and-go, but at each city we made a stop that is worth recommending to anyone who wants to see these places.

Fukui: Dinosaurs, Ruins, Temples

Fukui is mostly famous for several types of dinosaurs whose fossils have been dug up there. Unfortunately, on the day we went there, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum was closed. We contented ourselves with taking pictures and watching the three dinosaurs in front of Fukui Station. They move and roar from time to time which is exciting even for adults!

dinosaurs at Fukui Station

Try-something-something-aus dinosaur at the Fukui Station

dinosaurs at Fukui Station

Pattie, J and the dinosaurs at Fukui Station

Fukui is a one hour train ride from Komatsu Station. We arrived in Fukui at around noon so naturally, the next stop was lunch. Luckily, our friend Sakana who is a photographer (if you need photos taken of your family for weddings, graduations and such, highly recommended), picked us up and took us to this ramen restaurant in Fukui City.

Ramen restaurant in Fukui. I can't read the Kanjis so I can't tell you its name..

Ramen restaurant in Fukui. I can’t read the Kanjis so I can’t tell you its name..

Allow me to digress a little and show this photo Sakana took of J and I sometime in October last year.

Jeremy and I

Jeremy and I

After lunch, we went for a drive to see the Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins. It is basically a beautiful valley in which a castle town existed from the 1470s to the 1570s. However, all that can be seen now are the remains of the town – hence the name Asakura Ruins. It may be better to go in autumn as the scenery will even be more beautiful.

Ichijodani Asakura Water Station

Ichijodani Asakura Water Station, that is what the sign says

The wall surrounding the ghost town

The wall surrounding the ghost town

Just further up the road from the ruins is a beautiful waterfall. We met some other tourists there taking in the view as well. It was quite cold and there was some snow on the ground, it hadn’t yet snowed in Ishikawa!

Pattie and Jeremy at the Ichijodani Waterfall

Pattie and Jeremy at the Ichijodani Waterfall. Note: I am not sure its actual name!

There was still some time left in the day, so we drove to Hokyoji Temple in Ono City. Quoting from japantravel.com, “Hokyoji Temple in Fukui is the second head temple of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It was founded by Jakuen, a Chinese Zen monk who trained in Zen with Dogen, who was visiting China at the time, and later founded Eiheiji Temple.” This is the website of the temple, all in Japanese though. We didn’t see any monks training. In fact, we saw no one. We didn’t enter the temple but admired it from the outside. It had snowed heavily in the mountains and we enjoyed the view, took some pictures and left. It is a quiet, tranquil and isolated temple.

Mummy, what's this snow thing?

Mummy, what’s this snow thing?

Hokyoji Temple

Hokyoji Temple

J's hand searching for warmth :D

J’s hand searching for warmth :D

On the way back to Fukui City, Sakana remembered a Kenyan couple who are also students living in Fukui, we have them a call and they welcomed us into their house, just like that. They had made yummy chapos that we washed down with tea brewed Kenyan style. I hope to see them again, very welcoming people.

Gifu: Mountain Views

The following day, we left Fukui Station around 10am for Gifu City. The limited express train (Shirasagi) takes about 2 and a half hours from Fukui to Gifu. This time when we arrived at the station, Pattie’s Solomon Island friends were waiting to pick us up. Since we arrived at around noon, the first stop was of course, lunch. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant near Gifu University (I also didn’t get the name). The food was delicious, the portions were HUUGE, and the price very fair. However, Jeremy refused to sit down. He also refused to let me sit down to eat in peace. Sometimes you wonder what 2 year olds want! Eventually, I had to ask for my food to be packed, and bought some food for J at McDonalds which he enjoyed.

If you are in Gifu, be sure to climb Mount Kinka for the views and for the Castle.

#GifuCastle #Gifu #Kinkazan

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

I think you can catch a bus from Gifu Station to Mount Kinka but thank God for friends and friends of friends with cars!

If you are feeling fit, and time and weather permit, you can hike up the hill and it will take you about 45min-1hour. However, we had J with us and the weather wasn’t that good and it was late in the afternoon, so we went up the ropeway. It costs about 1,600 Yen for a return ticket. You can take the ropeway up and then hike down or vice versa.

We went up Mount Kinka using this ropeway .. a little scary but it takes only 2 minutes

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Once on top, these are some of the views to see around you. You can see as far as Nagoya, which is a 30 minute train ride from Gifu.

#Gifu #Kinkazan

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Thaaaat there in the distance is Nagoya.. as seen from #MountKinka #Kinkazan #Gifu

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

#Kinkazan #Views

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

There is also a beautiful park at the base of Mount Kinka which is even more beautiful in autumn.

It was around 4PM when we finally came down from Mount Kinka and Pattie’s friends dropped us at Gifu Castle Inn where we had booked a room. It had free wifi in the rooms. We got a chance to relax, had long relaxing baths, turned on the aircon so we had tropical temperatures in a Japanese winter and bought our dinner from the convenience store a minute away.

Nagoya: Aquariums and Adorable Dolphins

There is a subway from Nagoya Station to Nagoya Port, although you may have to connect. The main attraction is the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium but there is also an amusement park at the port.

We paid around 2,000 Yen entrance and waited until 4pm for the Dolphins Show. The dolphins perform all manner of synchronized swimming, jumping, dancing, bowing etc and tricks such as jumping through hoops and jumping as high as 6 meters to touch a dangling ball. We all ooohed, ahhed and clapped at the end of each show as the dolphins bowed and waved their tails goodbye. Oh man, what a show. I will be sure to take J again when he’s older and able to appreciate the show a bit more.

The Ferris Wheel at the Nagoya Port

The Ferris Wheel at the Nagoya Port

Jeremy watching a dolphin

Jeremy watching a dolphin at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

A white shark at the Nagoya Aquarium

The dolphins show at the Nagoya Aquarium

Two dolphins bow during show at the Nagoya Aquarium

At Nagoya, we spent New Year’s Eve at an Air BnB house. The lady was very welcoming and she has 2 kids – one 5, one 9 months – and we had dinner together with her family. Later, Jeremy played with her son (Jake) until they both fell asleep. A little before midnight, they left to go to the temple and make wishes for the new year (read more about Japanese New Year Customs Aosindi’s blog). By then J was deep asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him, so Pattie accompanied them.

We of course, took several selfies.

A happy start to the year it was!

A happy start to the year it was!

The following day, on 1st, we got back on a direct, limited express train (Shirasagi) to Komatsu/Kanazawa. Felt good to be back home after seeing so much in so little time.

Looking forward to the next travel adventure. Crossing my fingers it is somewhere abroad.

Happy 2016 dear readers of this blog!

Culture Shock #98: The Mask Revolution

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no. But opon further reflection, there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell! That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA) so there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. So this has been literally, an eye-opening experience. Click on the hashtag for all the posts so far.

I have only worn a “surgical mask” once in my life. That was last week when I had a minor cold and was sneezing all over the place. I felt like a doctor ready to perform surgery. Move over everyone, enter Dr. Savvy.

Dr. Savvy, ready for surgery!

Dr. Savvy, ready for surgery!

(Stretches left hand out): scissors *cuts something*
(Stretches left hand out again): scalpel *cuts something, again*
(Stretches left hand out again): needle. Dammit, we’re losing the patient. Apply the defibrillator, 100 cc, stat. Stand back everyone, stand back! 1, 2, 3..

Back to reality.

In Kenya, only doctors performing surgery wear surgical masks. I have never seen anyone in Kenya put on a mask and walk about freely. If I were to do that, people would assume I have some deadly disease (like SARS or Ebola – never mind Ebola is not a respiratory disease and is not spread through the airborne route). Matatu conductors wouldn’t want me in their vehicles and no one will want to touch me with a ten-foot pole! At least that’s what I imagine would happen.

In Japan, eeeeeveryone wears masks.

surgical-mask

Scenes like these are not uncommon. Image from http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/

I was worried at first that maybe there is some deadly in the air and perhaps I should rush to get one. So I asked my Japanese and Chinese friends why they wear masks.

The most common reason why Japanese people wear masks is because they have a cold and they don’t want to pass it to others. It is a culture where it is important to maintain harmony with others, where “it will disturb others” is reason enough to do/not do something. It is considered polite to get a mask to stop spraying your germs around whenever you cough, sneeze or blow your nose. You would then think that infection rates are near 0 and no one gets a cold but the business of new cold infections goes on as usual, masks or no masks!

If you are wearing a mask to stop yourself from getting infected by those around you, it doesn’t work really as it is not a disinfecting mask. There is no germ filter.

If you have a cold though, there is another reason you should wear a mask apart from infecting those around you. My tutor (who’s Japanese) told me that it helps with keeping the air your breathe moist and warm so it reduces your coughing. This made sense and when I got a cold last week (actually the first time I was getting a cold since coming to Japan), I put on the mask.

It was totally uncomfortable. I am one of those people who never cover their heads with blankets when I sleep because I feel like I am suffocating. The mask made me feel the same if not worse, and it also fogged my glasses. I spent the day with the mask hanging from my ears but leaving my mouth uncovered which was totally pointless. To help my cold heal faster, I resorted to the classic Kenyan treatment: dawa. A potent brew of lemon, ginger, garlic and honey. I discarded the mask the next day. I must add though, that my 2 year old son J, has taken a liking to the mask and has no problem putting one on the whole day.

I was talking with an Egyptian friend whose kids spent several years in Japan and are now back in Egypt. His son had a cold and went to school in a mask to stop spreading it to his classmates. The teacher however, was having none of that. It was too disruptive and he (the teacher) would rather have the kid infect all others but he was not allowing a surgical mask in his class.

Perhaps different masks designs, not the typical white surgical mask, might help sell the appeal of the mask outside of East Asia?

Different styles of masks. Image from http://puu.sh/kFlU5/4c0a613f4b.jpg

Different styles of masks. Image from http://puu.sh/kFlU5/4c0a613f4b.jpg

In China too, they wear masks because the air pollution in some cities is just too much. However, I don’t know if they are scientifically effective as they are just pieces of fabric with no chemical filters included. It would perhaps work on dust but not for much else.

Some people in Japan wear masks as an accessory, even if they aren’t sick. Perhaps if you have allergies to pollen, cat fur etc, a mask would come in handy.

In Japan, people are polite enough and care about others/society to not spread a cold when they get sick so they will definitely wear a mask. In Kenya, it seems sometimes that people GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to disrupt others/society so I think a mask will be a hard sell! As a Kenyan reading this, would you wear a mask? (Where would you even buy one?!)

Asante Mwalimu

World Teachers’ Day is on 5th October each year. I’m, like most other people, caught up with the business and busyness of my present life that I hardly give a thought to my past, or to the teachers that shaped who I am today.

Image courtesy http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/

Image courtesy http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/

There have been many teachers in my life. In the primary school where I sat for my KCPE, there was a mathematics teacher who showed me I didn’t have to settle for 90%, with attention to details I could and often did get 100%. There was a dedicated retired teacher who was on contract teaching us Swahili and I owe my current level of fluency to him. There was the Geography teacher who wasn’t tolerating any signs of truancy from us.. However, it would be hard to trace all these teachers today given my former school is physically no more! It was a private boarding school, getting perhaps rundown by mismanagement, and I hear it is now a seminary.

Now onto high school. It has been a decade since I last walked out of Loreto High School, Limuru. I haven’t been back in as long because I feel my business there was quite done when I picked my KCSE and leaving certificates. I have many memories of that place. Who doesn’t? There were good teachers, there were so-so teachers, and there were some great teachers.

One of my most memorable and influential teachers, although he probably doesn’t realize it, is one Mr. Obuong. Everything else aside, he was a great biology and chemistry teacher. I owe the As I got in those subjects to him. To this day, I can remember some of the essays we had to write in the biology exams word for word; and the experiments we carried out in the biology lab on weekends are stuck in my head. He was one dedicated teacher with clear, unambiguous notes that he sometimes had those students with good handwriting make copies for his well-organized files. Everyone in class had to have a separate biology file and although we weren’t the easiest class to teach (4B class of 2005!), we all complied with rules.

When it comes to Chemistry, I can’t even remember quite clearly who our teacher was. I think it was Mrs R. But I knew I was going to fail the subject if I didn’t do something; I wasn’t grasping the mole concept and those chemistry calculations, organic chemistry and what not.. so I joined Mr. Obuong’s tuition class. Because he was organized, and explained the concepts clearly, then everything fell into place and I finally loved and understood chemistry.

Now that I have been forced down memory lane, we were to pay for those extra tuition classes (considering he wasn’t our Chemistry teacher). To this day I don’t even remember how much but I know I owe him a debt bigger than any few thousand shillings (I shall make this right the next time I am back in the country).

For now, I would like to say, thank you. Thank you to all the teachers who’ve taught me over the years, and especially, thanks to Mr. Obuong for being a great teacher.

By the way, Jacaranda Africa will be giving out the magazines to schools around the country in their effort to say thank you to their teachers.

How Celebrating the Holidays has Changed Over the Years?

Christmas is a special time. It’s a period where families get to spend precious time with their loved ones. In addition, plenty of gifts are given, and people’s dreams come true, even if it is just for one day.

But can you imagine in Japan, Christmas is not a public holiday and people still go to work? I mean, the decorations are up and people will tell you Merry Christmas but it’s like Valentine’s in Kenya. Somewhat celebrated but not official and is not really a family affair but a couple’s affair!

Central - Christmas Decorations #4

Photo Credit: Konrad Krajewski via Compfight cc

History
Looking back through history, there’s no actual evidence that Jesus was born on December 25 or that he and his disciples celebrated his birthday on said date. In a report by the World Bulletin, it was Valentinus, a Roman Christian scholar, who made the first documentation about the holiday being celebrated on December 25 in the year 354. During this era, a Greek Saint called Saint Nicolas, who is known for giving gifts to children, also became popular.

Common celebration
Currently, the most common way of celebrating the holidays worldwide is by erecting a Christmas tree with gifts aplenty surrounding it and having a traditional dinner with family members. Often, those living in far away places book their flights ahead of time so they can stay close to their family during the festive period.

It’s still traditional to sign Christmas carols to our neighbors. In fact, holiday songs are the most common signs that Christmas is just around the corner. In the Philippines and other countries, some stores start building their decorations and playing Christmas carols as early as September, according to the Discipleship Ministries.

High-tech holidays
Some families have relatives living abroad, who aren’t capable of leaving their work or homes during the holiday period. Making it almost impossible to enjoy Christmas the way they used to when they were younger. Thankfully, technology has made it easier for us to stay in touch with our loved ones even if we are thousands of miles away from them. Skype and other video calling services allow people to stay connected. Smartphones also have the same features, which help to keep family members close and connected.

Ownership of mobile devices has increased over time, outdoing other computing devices. In fact, Gaming Realms, the developer of Spin Genie states smartphone usage has now accounted for up to 50 percent of the overall tech consumption worldwide. This is mainly due to people now being highly dependent on mobile devices in their daily lives and even at work through the bring your own device (BYOD) scheme. So, it’s not at all surprising to know that we now rely on incorporating technology to stay connected with our loved ones during the holiday season.

Hopefully in 2016, technology will help to keep us close to our families regardless of distance. Make sure to keep up to date with the latest tech trends so that you never lose sight of family members during the holidays throughout 2016.

Culture Shock #99: Japanese Beauty Standards

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different, so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no, but on further reflection there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell? That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA), there is little in our media/entertainment from Far East Asia .. not many Kenyans know much about The Far East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. Here is the previous post, #100 and the hashtag for all the posts so far.

  • Small Head, Small Face

I was in the bus with my Ethiopian friend who’s married to a Japanese guy and she has been living here in Japan for over 15 years. I was of course, actively avoiding eye contact with a few curious people who stole glances at me. I couldn’t however, avoid eye contact with my Ethiopian friend whom I was chatting with, even if she was looking at me a tad too intensely before remarking:

“You’re very pretty. And you’ve got a small head, and a small face..”

I was puzzled.

Here is a picture of me wearing an Ethiopian dress. Is my head small? What about my face?

Here is a picture of me wearing an Ethiopian dress. Is my head small? What about my face?

She then explained to me that Japanese people usually have big heads (her words, not mine) and that they desire small heads and small faces. Up until that point, and really even up to now, I had and have never given a thought to the ratio of the size of Japanese heads to their bodies. It’s simply ridiculous but perhaps that’s the Kenyan in me talking. No one gives a thought about the size of your head, and width of your face as a standard of beauty in Kenya.

I thought maybe it is just something foreigners observe. Until another time I was in the car with a Japanese friend who was dropping me off in campus. He spent a year in the US and is obsessed with basketball, rap and basketballers. He remarked wistfully, “They are so tall and they have such small heads.” So I turned to look at him and earnestly told him, “Hey, your head is small too.” He was like, “really? thanks!”
Now you know what compliment to give next time you’re talking to a Japanese guy. “You’ve got such a small head, and your face is small too!”. Say that to a Kenyan at the risk of being thought insane.

Oh look at the size of LeBron's head.. so small!

Oh look at the size of LeBron’s head.. so small!

In my opinion if you ask me, I think having a big head would imply a big brain and that’s a good thing, no?

Perhaps nothing can be done about the size of the head but fear not if you’re a broad-faced Kenyan woman wanting to look beautiful in Japan, there is an invention called the facial corset that promises a tiny face. You might think I am joking but this product is available on Amazon from as low as $10 and has a 3.6/5 star rating..

The Absolute Tiny Face Corset from Amazon

The Absolute Tiny Face Corset from Amazon. Image from Amazon

  • Small, Straight Nose

As an African, my nose is probably on the broader, flatter side.. Here I would terribly fail the Japanese beauty test for the desired small, straight nose. Being in a land of technological innovation, there is a list of gadgets available to help shape my face, including The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener (see image below), The Eye Slack Haruka, The Eyelid Trainer, The Rhythm Slim Chin Exerciser, The Face Slimmer Mouthpiece etc..

The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener

The Hana Tsun Nose Straightener. See link above for source

  • Double Eyelids

Let’s not even get started on this one. I had no idea what “double eyelids” were until I got to Japan. 100% of the Kenyans I know have double eyelids so it’s not something you’re “aware” of until you meet people who want it. You can read an article about it on gaijinpot.com.” Blepharoplasty, also known as the double eyelid surgery is one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries in Japan. The surgery is performed to transform the Asian “monolid” into a Western-style [edit African-style too!] “double lid” thereby making the patient’s eyes look bigger.”

Source: gaijinpot.com

Source: gaijinpot.com

  • Crooked Teeth

There are reports of Japanese women getting surgery to make their straight teeth crooked because it is seen as more attractive. But it’s not crooked teeth per se but slightly longer, vampire-like canines.. I don’t think it is a very popular trend among the general population. However, I have made one interesting observation: all the women I’ve met so far with (naturally) crooked teeth are beautiful. I don’t know if there’s a correlation there.

Japanese twins

I met the Japanese twins above at the Tokyo Sevens, they were supporting the Kenyan team. They’re beautiful and coincidentally they also have slightly crooked canines. I hope they’re okay with me using their photos, I don’t remember their names/contact!

Physique
Ah.. let’s not go there today! But a definition of “slim” by Kenya standards is “average” here.

Culture Shock #100: Japanese Men and Their Wallets, Manbags

I am going to be doing some posts about my experience as a Kenyan in Japan. I’ll count down from 100 but in no particular order. Of course I expected Japan to be different, so when people asked me if I experienced culture shock, I’d say no, but on further reflection there are so many things that have me asking, Japan, what the hell? That would never happen in Kenya! (and vice versa!). If that isn’t culture shock, then I don’t know what is. As an English-speaking nation and a former British colony, we are heavily influenced by the West (Europe and the USA), we watch lots of Western shows and yes, we also do watch lots of South American and Filipino soap operas .. but the point is, not many Kenyans know much about The East and many confuse Japan for China or vice versa. Anyway, without further ado, presenting post #100. Here is the hashtag for the posts

The first time I saw someone with a huge wallet popping out of his back pocket was in a crowded bus on the way to campus. I couldn’t believe it. Just like below:

This would never happen in Kenya. When in Nairobi, I keep my wallet inside a smaller bag inside my handbag, which I walk with under my armpit while always on the lookout. If you see someone with an exposed wallet in Nairobi, I am sure even thieves wouldn’t pinch it. It’s clearly a trap! Even with our wallets hidden deep inside our bags/bodies, pickpockets still manage to get at them or just take the entire bag with them. Japan would be a goldmine to them (pickpockets).

Now China is more like Kenya where they have this anti-theft shoulder strap bag thing for men.

This Anti-Theft-Hidden-Underarm-Shoulder-Bag-Holster is available on Alibaba

This Anti-Theft-Hidden-Underarm-Shoulder-Bag-Holster is available on Alibaba

Manbags
They are everywhere in Japan. They are such a big deal almost every guy you encounter will be carrying a bag ranging from a formal briefcase to a casual, as feminine-as-can-be handbag. Most of the manbags are more stylish than any bag I own! Very few men in Kenya carry manbags and some people think it is gay to be seen with one!

The images below are sourced from the web but they are everyday scenes.In fact, there is a pininterest page just dedicated to Japanese men and their fashionable manbags. Here is another blog talking about the same thing.

The stylish manbag

The stylish manbag

The stylish manbag

The stylish manbag

Nairobi men would rather be dead than carry their girlfriends’ handbags, let alone their own. This thing about men being too macho to carry handbags is just in the mind guys, it’s a culture thing. A culture shock thing? Haha I live for the day the stylish manbag will be a common scene in Nairobi.

The Book Review Post – 6 Books You May Want to Read

Books are an escape into another reality, a chance to live and experience and enjoy what the limits of human imagination has to offer.

1. The Secret History of Vegas by Chris Abani

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this particular book by Chris Abani. I got to know about this book from James Murua’s literature blog. The book has been shortlisted and won several awards. See other glowing reviews here (The Washington Post) and here (The New York Times).

My copy of the book, The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

My copy of the book, The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

I read the book back in May and I am just reviewing it now, six months later. I have either become lazy or I am losing the blogging mojo or both. Anyway, this is not a conspiracy book about the current Las Vegas and its secret past; rather it is a story about twin brothers who are conjoined into adulthood. One is Fire and the other is Water. They are homeless “freaks”, Water is tall and handsome while Fire grows out from his side.. little more than a head with two arms projecting out of Water’s side. They are caught with a container of blood near Lake Mead where bodies of homeless have been dumped before. It is also a story about a certain South African called Dr. Sunil, who lives in Las Vegas and is conducting dubious experiments for the US government, reminiscent of other experiments he carried out for the apartheid government back in his home country. There are many other characters as well, such as detective Salazar. As the story unfolds, we get to see the backstory to the characters and realize just how much, in the words of the Washington Post review, “the world can be horrid on a grand scale, and we’re all at risk of being downwind of the worst that humanity has to offer.” This book will be worth your time.

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I am glad I hadn’t watched this movie because I could then realize why the book had to be made into a movie.

That is how I felt while reading the book. It was full of suspense from the beginning to the very end. There are two sides to every story has never been a truer statement.

The story starts when Amy, Nick Dune’s wife, has gone missing (she is the Gone Girl). From the journal entries from her past, she tells the story of how she and Nick met five years prior, their marriage that has been steadily disintegrating since then until she finally goes missing on their 5th anniversary. Nick starts looking for his wife and after reporting her missing to the cops and calling her parents, he quickly becomes a suspect in the case. Overwhelming evidence seems to pile up and Amy’s diary entries make us suspicious too. The question now is, is Amy still alive? Where was she? Is Nick innocent? The story has an interesting twist at the end that I don’t want to give away, but Amy could be lying in her journal, or Nick could be the one lying, or both are lying. You find out.

3. The Weight of Whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Well, this isn’t exactly a novel but the award winning short story by Yvonne. You can get the pdf here. The story won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing.

The weight of whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The weight of whispers by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

It’s a story about Rwandan genocide survivors. War robs people of their homes, their livelihoods, their security, the innocence, their status and material possessions, their lives and that of their kin, but most of all, war robs people of their DIGNITY. When you are alive and you are refugee, you lose your dignity as you try to jump over a fence other human beings erect to keep you out of “their country”, as you beg for bread and water so your children won’t starve, as you push other refugees to get into a train that’s going to destinations where no one wants to see you, where they don’t think of you as a fellow human being but as a REFUGEE.

It is in this state that a royal Rwandese family finds itself in Kenya, living in one room in Nairobi’s back streets, hoping to get out and go to Europe as some families were able to do. They must find their way out by any means necessary, sometimes ways that strip them of any little dignity left. The cost of their actions may be too high as they are about to find out. It was such a melancholic read for me. I think I shed a tear once or twice.

4. Call of the Wild by Jack London
If you have read White Fang by Jack London, then you might be familiar with his style of telling a story from a dog’s point of view.

 The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

It tells the story of a large dog stolen from his home and sold to gold prospectors in the mountains of Canada. Here, the domesticated dog’s true nature is awakened from torment by his new masters, and as soon as he is trained he is put to work hauling mail through the snow. The dog Buck, meets and makes friends with many among men and among the dogs. The ending is a little bit sad but the story is every bit involving. It’s also not as long and is perfect for a laid back indoor weekend. You could also watch the movie from which the book was adapted.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I read this book when I was young and when I found a free copy in my e-reader I decide it was worth re-reading it. The character is so famous there is no need to reintroduce him here. Dr. Watson, who is Sherlock Holmes’ best friend, is the narrator. There are twelve stories in the collection. One of my favorites because it was so funny was “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”, in which there is a league recruiting men with red hair – but there is no such thing as it is merely a plot to lure a certain red-headed man from the scene of a would-be crime. “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” was also interesting in the many twists it had. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” was a little chilling, as was “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” but overall they were both entertaining reads. If you have never read Sir Arther Conan Doyle, you are doing yourself a great injustice. There is nothing as interesting as rediscovering your love for a good mystery and marveling at Sherlock’s brilliant ways of discovering the truth.

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This is another classic that I also hadn’t read previously. Here, I add that I also haven’t read Wuthering Heights by the sister, Emily Bronte. Saying it is a classic reminds me of the quip I read somewhere “a classic is a book that everyone praises but no one reads”. But pick up such a book, have a little patience and you will soon see why it is a classic.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a little, plain but passionate girl. She is orphaned while very young and goes to live with her aunt and cousins, who make it obvious they don’t want her there and send her away to a boarding school for girls when she’s about 10. After a strict education, she stays on at the school for two more years teaching and then decides she is ready to face an adventure in the real world. She encounters friendships, love, and kinship; as well as loss. A bittersweet ending to the book is what you will find in the story of Jane Eyre, for whom I have boundless admiration. It is the book I read the most recent and it’s still fresh in my memory; so well written and the characters are so alive. When their memory is blurred by time, I am sure I shall then reread the book. Great stories are not about big, larger than life characters having an extra-ordinary adventure; great stories are about ordinary characters that we can relate to, but their story is told with such beauty and such elegance that their ordinary story becomes a fascinating adventure.

Those are the books I have read since May, including the children’s book, Matilda. I have hardly read in November but in December I must read at least one book and I am scouting my (e)library for an easy read.

I Was Hacked and Other October Stories

In many ways, October was a trying month for me.

To begin with, there was the drama with Jeremy’s ticket, which I have already blogged about.

The journey to Japan was long and tiring. We first flew from Nairobi to Doha, Qatar, a 5 hour journey that was mostly smooth because Jeremy slept through most of it. In Doha, we had about a 2 hour layover, after which we boarded the plane for a 10 hour journey to Osaka. Jeremy slept for maybe 3-4 hours but the remaining hours were spent going to the toilet – to flush it, apparently it is very exciting for kids to hear the sudden flushing sound in airplane toilets – and back to our seats. We probably visited the toilet at least 15 times before J finally tired of the “game” and after eating a whole packet of crisps – hey don’t judge me, he had refused to eat most of what was served even if it was mostly rice, which he likes. So after eating a whole packet of crisps, he relaxed and even watched a bit of Dora the Explorer. He however, refused to sit down during landing and attempts to make him sit were met with wild screams – I am sure the Japanese people in the plane wondered if I was doing something “bad” to him. We finally landed safely, at 5;30pm in the evening but we had another 3 hour journey to Komatsu from Kansai to go through.

Jeremy watching Dora the Explorer on the way from Doha to Osaka

Jeremy watching Dora the Explorer on the way from Doha to Osaka

I had two suitcases, two carryon bags, and Jeremy to look after, but somehow I made it. Jeremy “helped” by holding onto one suitcase so he thought he was pulling it but that was how I was able to “hold his hand”. We made it to Komatsu at around 10pm and I knew he must be hungry because he was asking me for chocolate. A friend picked us up from the train station and we went to MacDonalds where he refused to eat the burger but ate the fries and drank the milk. We finally got to the campus after 11p,m, our home for the next 3 years, and slept long and hard after a hot bath.

The first week was spent at the local city hall filling hundreds of forms – the Japanese are famous for their bureaucracy -, filling forms at the university, I was officially changing my status from research student to PhD student, settling into the new 1 bed-roomed apartment at the university dorm, shopping for necessities, and taking Jeremy to the preschool (called Hoikuen) where he would spend his daytime as I studied.

It was trying being his “mother” and sole caregiver for the first time since he was born. See, I was living with my parents when he was born so my mother took care of the both of us. In addition, he had a nanny and we always had an array of cousins, aunts and relatives to give him care and attention. Of course he also received attention from my brothers and my dad. So now it was up to me to provide all that attention, and it was difficult for both of us because sometimes I could not discern why he was crying. Sometimes he cries because he wants to go to the toilet instead of just saying it (he is toilet trained), or he is hungry but isn’t sure what he wants to eat (you have to present all options you have then he will choose what he wants or you choose for him), or he needs to sleep. The need for sleep is the hardest because he may not want to sleep although he is tired, so he will be irritable and you have to hold and sooth him and “create conditions suitable for him to sleep”. I have since learned his needs – which are the basic food, toilet, sleep – but he also craves entertainment/stimulation and now most days are smooth sailing.

I had a schedule set, I would drop off J at the Hoikuen by 9am, come back to attend classes and do assignments, pick him up at 3 or 4pm, play with him, give him a bath, dinner and he would be asleep by 8pm after which I would continue with my research. However, it took a while for him to get used to going to preschool and he would want to play outside when it was time for lunch, would push other kids as a form of “play” as he was used to playing with older kids back in Kenya, and the Hoikuen would call me to pick him up early. Usually, 12:30. However, by the third week, he was finally staying until 3pm or even 4pm without fuss, he was following rules, he was eager in the morning to go to school and would leave me at the entrance as I removed my shoes and run to his class to play with “my children” as he calls them in Swahili, “watoto wangu”.

Jeremy and I taking a walk at around the campus one evening. We stopped to rest and take selfies!

Jeremy and I taking a walk at around the campus one evening. We stopped to rest and take selfies!

Everything was starting to “settle down”. Having begun the month in a state of debt, I was planning on how to settle these debts, how to adjust my schedule so I could have more research time (I find myself going to bed at 8pm together with J!) etc. The city hall document requests were almost complete, and I was planning on my next blogpost about reviewing 2-3 books I had read recently. I was checking my emails when I saw an announcement from Stanchart telling me the loan rates were increasing, yet again. Yes, I took a bank loan from Stanchart two years ago at an interest rate of 16.9%, but the rates have now increased to 25.4%, possibly increasing my blood pressure as well. I was mad at the stupid economy that is Kenya right now, and the banks that must make a profit whether it rains or shines. Where they expect us to get more money from in the “prevailing economic conditions” as they said in the email is a mystery to me.

Then I got hacked, and anyone attempting to access my blog was faced with a dire warning: “reported attack page”.

I must admit, this warning scared the shit out of me.

I must admit, this warning scared the shit out of me.

Actually, the attackers had been around my blog for some time now. I found weird PHP scripts in my WordPress folder, such as kill.php, sulky.php, sly.php etc.. and my blog would be inundated with DoS attacks and would be inaccessible for some time. Updating WordPress and plugins and themes, changing passwords wouldn’t work.. until finally the dire warning came and even I could hardly access my blog. So now I was in the midst of figuring out how to start afresh, without infected files but while retaining all my 4 years’ worth of blogging content.

Suspicious php scripts in my previous WordPress folder

Suspicious php scripts in my previous WordPress folder

The clearing of the debts and loans, the cleaning of the blog, my assignments – every week I got new assignments for the two classes I am taking – my major research, my minor research project, where I was going to find time to study Japanese, Jeremy and how he was adapting to the school; these were among the many thoughts going through my head as we sang “The wheels on the bus song” on Wednesday morning last week as I drove Jeremy to school.

We had just got to a 4-way junction next to the university campus with no traffic lights but stop signs for the drivers on the “minor road”. I was on the main road and was going straight, and therefore I am not required to stop. I observed a car on the minor road that had stopped, so I merely slowed down and was almost through the intersection when I saw another white car bearing down on us from the left; I saw that it was not going to slow down or stop so I put my hand on the horn and my foot on the brakes. But it was too late, the next thing I heard was the crunch of metal against metal, and the sound of metal scratching against the road as both our cars went in different directions.

I cannot explain what the my state of mind was at that point but I was calm enough to oddly switch on the hazard lights, put the car in parking and switch off the engine, and then pick up J from his child seat that was strapped to the back seat. He was safe from injury and neither had I been injured. Carrying J, I went to see how the other driver was fairing as he got out from his car that had somehow climbed over the curb and come to a rest a few meters into the grass park. He was also fine.

This was my first accident. It was minor accident, when it comes to injuries. However, the condition of the cars is another story. At the point of initial impact, the front left wheel of my car was bent inward and suspended a little in the air, the axle having been bent into an awkward angle. The other guy’s car also looked terrible, with the glass on the passenger side shattered, and the hood gaping open revealing the piping and engine &co. The cops were called and wrote their report, the insurance company came, the guy admitted he was at fault etc… All this time, Jeremy was growing impatient as he wanted to go to school and luckily another student (she’s also a mother whose child goes to the same Hoikuen) who was passing by offered to take him to hospital for checkup and later to school, and I was left to deal with the formalities.

Now I feel like I am back to zero. Carless and broke as I wait for the insurance company to pay me for the damages even as they offer me the lowest amount possible.

But each day offers a new return to normalcy and mundanity, which is what I wish for. We are now using the school bus on most days and borrowing a car from a friend when needed. The most exciting thing I look forward to is when Jeremy has learned a new Japanese word or mastered the name of a new friend. The most satisfaction I look forward to is sending in my report just before the deadline. And when I manage to get enough time to type out a 2,000 blogpost and upload it to my now newly re-launched, clean blog (how I cleaned up is a story for another blog post). I am grateful for these small things. I also happen to have one of the most understanding professors for my major research which is a bonus.

The other day, some tweeps with pea-sized brains looking for some entertainment unearthed and started retweeting some tweets from 2010 (5 years ago!) when I had a twitter bout with a certain gentleman, then nicknamed “The Corporate Gangster”. I simply had no time to indulge them, I am literally and figuratively at another (superior) place and have more important issues to deal with. Like how calmly to navigate the 4-way junction each time I drive through it.

October was a long month, and all I ask for in November is normalcy, consistency, mundanity. I am simply glad to be alive so I can watch my son grow into the fine young man he’s already showing signs of.

(Edit)P.S.
To complete the October misery, I came to back to Japan only to learn that while I was in Kenyan in the summer, the only Japanese musician (and actor, photographer, radio host, Japan’s -well, formerly- most eligible bachelor etc) whose music I listen to, secretly got married but not to me as I had hoped :-(

So anyway, you can listen to his playlist below.

Jeremy in Japan

Jeremy almost didn’t come to Japan!

I don’t know how to write this post so let me start from the very beginning.

I was born 27 years ago.. okay no, this is too far back. I graduated from campus 4 years ago and in those 4 years I lived in Rwanda for 3 months, I did my master’s degree, I worked at EY Kenya for 2 years, I bought my first car, I gave birth to my first baby (Jeremy) and I got a scholarship to do my PhD in Japan. That about summarizes all the posts in this blog between 2011-2015. While this paragraph could be mistaken for vanity, sometimes I write to “encourage myself” to hang in there, there is much more to be done.

When I got the scholarship last year, I had two major decisions to make. Quitting my job (it was a private company with no extended study leave unlike the government jobs) and leaving behind my young son who was then one a half years old. The former decision wasn’t so hard, while the work was good and promising, I wanted to travel and could always find another job when I got back. Leaving my son was hard, but I knew he would be well taken care of by my parents. His father and I are not together so he – the father – wasn’t a factor in the decision. Had I been married, perhaps the decision to leave would have been harder.

When I made the decision to come to Japan, I decided I would settle down then bring Jeremy to stay with me. I know many people who leave their kids to be brought up by their parents but I wasn’t going to take the easier road. Seeing Jeremy clinging to my mum at the airport, a bored expression on his face because he wanted to sleep, was a sad sight because poor J didn’t know he wouldn’t see his mum again for a year. The moment I landed in Japan, I put a countdown timer on the blog, it wound down to 0 on October 1st 2015, the day of the flight.

To prepare for J’s coming, I made all the visa formalities while in Japan. Because he’s my dependant getting his visa wasn’t so hard. I applied to move from the university dorm’s single rooms to the family room, I applied to the daycare center/kindergarten where J would spend his day etc.. and then I booked two return tickets from Japan to Kenya. Why return tickets? Well, the return tickets were cheaper so I thought I was being clever by booking two return tickets for Jeremy and I, to and from Japan. He wouldn’t fly with me from Japan but after my September summer vacation in Kenya, we would fly back together.

Return ticket

Return ticket

Buying a return ticket (originating in Japan) for J was a big mistake!

It turns out you can’t fly only the “return” journey on a “return ticket”; you can get away with just flying the “to” journey but not the “from” only. Which is not in the terms and conditions; I read them. And what’s this about return tickets being cheaper than one-way tickets?!

Anyway I didn’t know about this until 30th September, the day before the return journey from Nairobi to Japan. I got an email about my return journey itinerary but it only showed my name and not J’s. It was around 9pm, and I started to panic. I made a call to the Qatar offices in Nairobi and got a recorded message that their offices are open from 8:30 am to 5pm. The flight was the following day at 5pm. I hardly slept that night waiting for 8am when I would make the call.

It’s 6am on the day of the flight. I have already gone over the worst case scenario, where I would have to buy a new ticket and if there wasn’t a seat available on the same flight I would have to delay my journey until we could travel together. At 8am sharp, I called the Qatar line and got the recorded message again. I realized I was 30 minutes early and waited to call again at 8:30, only to yet again get the recording and this time it added that they were closed for the day! After consulting with my mum, I decided to try the ticket/checkin desk at the airport and so after a quick breakfast, I was at the airport at 10am, trying to find a way.

The desks were open and luckily the first guy I approached turned to be a supervisor or something, and he told me..
“oh those return tickets? No, you can’t fly out of sequence on a return ticket. Just forget about it.” Well, he didn’t put it that abruptly but that was the summary. He checked the details again and told me yes, there was space available and a one-way ticket for a minor to Japan would cost about 800 USD, or 88,000KES or 97,000Yen. I gave him my Japanese credit card to swipe. “Card cannot be not read” error. I tried to purchase the ticket online because then I could use the card, but you can’t do online booking for a minor alone, and most flights closed their online booking 3 days in advance. I even made calls to the online booking sites and they confirmed that they too, cannot book for a minor alone.

It was now past 11, and I called home and told them to give J a bath and to dress him, I was “almost sorting out the issue”. I refused to give in to the urge to sit down and cry.

The state of my finances is not great, being a student generally means no savings and sometimes lots of debt (e.g. in form of credit cards). My Kenyan credit card limit wasn’t enough to swipe, but I could withdraw a maximum of 25K. I now had a 75K deficit. It was then approaching 11:30am. 6 hours to take off.

Thank God for M-Pesa, and friends. I called my friends and within 30 minutes I had raised the deficit. By this time I had walked around the airport at least 3 times, making phone calls, withdrawing cash from MPesa agents and from ATMS, and had been in and out of the check-in terminal so many times that the security guys just nodded to me asking me, “bado?”

With the cash in hand, I went to the guy who told me to go wait for them in their offices behind the counters as they were readying to send off a plane. I went round the counters to the office and met this lady at the door; she was like, “yes?”

“I need to buy a ticket.” said I, wallet bulging with cash.

She narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips and said in the most patronizing tone ever, “We don’t sell tickets here.”

“What? But.. but.. where do you sell them?” I wasn’t even in a mood to negotiate, I just wanted a solution.

“Our town office.” She had this expression on her face that just begged to be smacked. I did not give in to the urge. Just then, the guy I had been dealing with appeared and said, “she’s with me.” That settled it, I was left to wait while they went to “wave goodbye to the plane.”

At around 1pm, he finally came back, he typed details here and there as I waited with bated breath. “Tuko na time, don’t worry”. As I handed over the cash, turns out it was 10K short. I had the rest in Mpesa but I had withdrawn less 10K. He told me don’t worry, just bring the cash during check in, which opens at 2:30pm. He handed me the freshly printed ticket and I rushed to the car and drove home just within speed limits. It was then almost 1:30pm and the last thing I needed was to be stopped by a [hungry] cop for over speeding. Luckily, we live about 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. A quick lunch, shower and change of clothes, last minute prayer from mum’s friend and I was finally driving back to the airport. We arrived at 3:30, checked in, said bye to family, sambazad all remaining bundles/airtime and finally boarded the plane.

Jeremy slept immediately we took off from Nairobi. He slept peacefully most of the trip from Nairobi to Doha. From Doha to Osaka was a totally different story, but what does it matter anyway? Jeremy is in Japan.

P.S. There is a possibility that I can ask the Qatar guys in Japan to let J reuse the now hanging ticket, perhaps by adding some fee. I just haven’t the energy to face any airline or their agent at the moment.

My RCPT Receipting App Update

I am going through a hiatus in writing this blog. I decided to take a break until October when hopefully refreshed, I shall resume regular blogging. Today’s post is a guest post about the updated version of a very useful app that I have reviewed before.

[Guest post by Victor]

When I was requested to do a guest review on RCPT(pronounced receipt) an android mobile Application that produces Mpesa receipts by Disruptive Technologies LTD, I was skeptical anyone would want a receipt other than the SMS notification from Mpesa. The app is now available on Google Play whereas previous it was only available on the Safaricom App Store.

My RCPT logo

My RCPT logo

After installing the app, it read my Mpesa Paybill and Lipa na Mpesa (buy goods) text messages and produced virtual receipts arranged by date with the latest payments first and so on. I also noticed that it does the same for Nairobi water and services LTD although I did not test the feature since I am not their customer. I was impressed by the simple and crisp new design.

Home:

My RCPT app

My RCPT app

Payments made:

All payments organized as receipts in the app

All Mpesa paybill payments organized as receipts in the app

The app certainly addresses the main headache users will face if mobile payments are going to be the norm rather than exception. The SMS receipts currently in use are restricted to mobile devices and people will want to use the receipts in other platforms. You want to print a receipt, you want to email a receipt, but all you have is a text message! This app offers you a way to generate virtual e-receipts and PDF receipts which you can then print/email.

The Virtual Receipt and PDF Receipt

The virtual e- receipts are free to use and they are used from within the App by scanning the QR code which is the Mpesa transaction id encoded into QR code format. The app incorporates a QR scanner and this is genius since to verify an Mpesa transaction id currently requires you to type – not cool at all.

MyRCPT virtual receipt

MyRCPT virtual receipt

By scanning the QR, you can verify whether a receipt (from your customer) is genuine or not, rather than manually checking the transaction Id. The QR scanner can be used to admit or allow access to concerts, virtual vouchers, members clubs, sports and games e.t.c. I loved this feature the most since I have seen concert organizers print paybill number for their events and people can start showing up with printed receipts from the App or just show the virtual receipt and the concert organizers can scan to verify authenticity.

The developers are trying to build an ecosystem that will in future include API for other developers to tap into their systems, so they can be used by concert organizers etc.. anyone who needs such a service (authenticating mpesa transaction receipts). They have also created a Lipa Na Mpesa payment module for open cart – for those who want to use the lipa na Mpesa option on their websites etc- and are giving the code away for FREE check out.

Receipt exported to PDF

Receipt exported to PDF

However, scanning the QR code on receipts and generating PDF receipt is a premium service that you activate by paying Ksh 20 via Safaricom M-PESA within the App. I was happy to pay the ksh 20 because this is the first App that has used MPESA for in app payments and I was curious to test if it works. To pay you simply enter your mobile number on the provided text field and click on the button then wait for USSD prompt from Safaricom to pop up on your phone to complete the transaction. To complete the transaction, you use your Bonga pin (Which I think is lame from Safaricom-not many people know their bonga pins so they need to change this). I give the developers (Disruptive technologies LTD) A+ for having figured out in-app payment which will be a revenue source for many developers in Kenya who have been left out in the cold for long by Google and have no way of Monetizing via Google Wallet.

Activating the premium service on My RCPT

Activating the premium service on My RCPT

Applications of this App

Today I heard my colleague who is a landlord complaining that since Nairobi Water and sewerage company went digital, there is no way he can verify whether the tenants are paying for water or not since the SMS receipts they forward to his phone could be doctored. I recommended the App and he rang to thank me for solving that small trust issue with his tenants. Surely there is need for this App. I can foresee more people finding other uses for the app but first the developers really need to educate people that they can use the app to make their transactions better and easier. I hope this review kick starts the education.

This is what the app can be used for:

  1. Produce virtual E-receipts
  2. Produce printable PDF Receipts
  3. Send PDF receipt via Email as attachment
  4. Scan QR code to verify receipts payments and authenticity
  5. Manage bills and utility payments
  6. Eliminate counterfeit receipts via QR scanning for authenticity verification e.t.c
  7. Virtual vouchers
  8. Manage admissions to concerts,games,plays, theaters e.t.c