From Tokyo to Toronto.. and Back.

First of all, that title is misleading as it implies that I live in Tokyo. I actually live in Nomi City, a small town of 47,000 residents. Which is very far from Tokyo.

Nomi City, Ishikawa, Japan

Nomi City, Ishikawa, Japan

The Canadians I met in Toronto were actually quite friendly; an opposite face to the coldness with which one is treated when applying for a visa to go there. They didn’t like the idea of Jeremy (my 3 year old son) going with me to the conference which I was attending, so I had to leave him behind to fend for himself in our university apartment. He’s a big boy now, after all, how hard is it to look after oneself? We spoke on Skype each night and he proudly told me he never once missed the school bus.

So let’s talk about Toronto. I was in the city from July 17th to July 23rd. Being 13 hours behind Tokyo , the time zone was totally reversed; day was night and night was day. We hardly had enough time to adjust before we were again on a plane hurtling through the sky back to Tokyo.

Sunday 17th – Day 1: The Handsome Beggar and Pigeon Droppings
From Toronto Pearson International Airport, we got into a cab driven by a sullen Indian who told me not to touch his dashboard. I was riding shotgun because the 3 of us – PhD supervisor, fellow lab member and myself – shared a cab to the hotel we were staying at.

The guy I saw looked close to this, I swear.

The guy I saw looked close to this, I swear.

While we sat in traffic as we entered downtown, I spotted this 20-something, shirtless, handsome guy whose upper arms were covered in tattoos walking towards us. Now in rural Japan, there aren’t many of those around. By “those” I mean tall, tanned and walking shirtless kind of men. Okay, I admit it. The thirst is real.

Thirst is real people.

Thirst is real people.

So this guy was walking towards our cab, and I’m just sitting there enjoying the view. And then two cars ahead, he takes off his baseball cap, turns it upside down and starts begging for change. I’m still not over the (culture)shock. Most beggars in Nairobi pretend to have some sort of disability and/or sickness. If you’re young and fit, people will tell you to go get a job. There are literally no beggars in the city I live in although I have seen some homeless people in Tokyo and Osaka who are mostly old, haggard men.

The traffic opened up and the handsome beggar was lost in the rear-view mirror. I didn’t give him any change – I’m sorry but there must be some irony in an African giving a donation to a Canadian; money that I could guess was going to go into drug use. Okay, I shall stop being judgmental here.

We arrived at the hotel on 22 Spadina Avenue; the pigeons fluttering around in the afternoon heat leaving droppings on the street that were augmented by litter – cigarette butts, chewing gum wrappers, that sort of thing. After staying in Japan continuously close to a year, I was “shocked” by the dirty street. Japan is literally spotless. Everywhere. And Nairobi CBD? It’s actually clean. Well, West of Moi Avenue is cleaner than that street. But after two days I stopped noticing.

Don’t even get me started on the McDonalds two blocks from the hotel where we had our dinner. Some drinks had spilled on the floor just near the entrance and remained un-mopped the entire time we were there. The tables were also littered and not a clean table was to be found anywhere. I missed Japan that first night.

Monday 18th – Day 2: Savvy The Tourist and Metropolitan Toronto

We roamed Toronto to see the sights – including Toronto University and Center Island, and the people. There were Africans, Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Koreans, Japanese, Whites, Caribbeans… and they were all probably of Canadian nationality as well. It was nice to just blend in. To be a part of the crowd. To be assumed to belong. No stares, no curious looks from children. No one asking to take a photo of you or if they can touch your hair. Being black in Japan is like being a minor celebrity.

A view of Toronto while on the ferry from Center Island

A view of Toronto while on the ferry from Center Island. Click to see larger size.

Tuesday 19th – Day 3: Niagara Falls

Who goes to Toronto and doesn’t visit Niagara Falls? It was the third day straight that I was on a diet of sandwich/burger/wrap, fries and soda. The trip to Niagra is about 2 hours by bus. The view was totally worth it. We also got onto a boat in order to see the falls up close but all you get is a ton of water sprayed in your face. Being summer, it was fun because you know, the cooling effect!

The calm before the plunge..

A photo posted by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on

We also attended an opening session of the conference, listened to the keynote speech after which we went for dinner. There was an open bar. Just lovely.

Wednesday 20 – Day 4: The Human-Computer Interaction International Conference

I attended a few sessions I was interested in, checked out the room where I was to do my presentation come that Friday. Ate a hotdog on the streets and spilled mustard on my shirt. I managed to get some of it out and hoped the rest wasn’t noticeable. In the evening,following google map directions, I went to an organic food store to buy some millet flour and ended up getting on the right train but wrong direction. Finally got back to the hotel, got McDonalds takeout and had dinner on my hotel room bed as I watched TV. Oh, what luxury. Before I went to sleep, I skyped with Jeremy who told me he was getting ready for school. He had just had his breakfast and was now preparing his lunch box. I wished him a good day as he told me to sleep well.

Thursday 21 – Day 5: The CN Tower

What’s a city without a tower or a tall building with an observatory? After the conference, we headed up the CN Tower. It was a long queue to get in, over an hour. But the queue is hidden from sight so you buy the ticket thinking it’s short but once you get in you can’t even see the head of the queue because it snakes into hidden nooks and crannies. The view was breathtaking. I couldn’t do the skywalk; every time I looked down I saw death. With just glass beneath me, it felt like it could give way any moment.

We went to the very top observatory, 446 meters. Dizzying heights. Those towers you see are over 66 floors high. Probably more.

Looking down on some of Toronto's tallest buildings.. #cntower

A photo posted by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on

Friday 22 – Day 6: The D-Day

My presentation was at 10:30am. I was nervous but I think I was mostly understood. I may have rushed towards the end, I only had 15 minutes! I got asked some questions and offered some suggestions, it means someone was listening to me!

To celebrate at lunch, I had fried chicken, fries and beer. Went back to the hotel room, packed and lay down for a nap and woke up at almost 6. Went out for dinner and checked out a few watering holes.

Saturday 23 – Day 7: The Fiasco at the Airport and Back to Tokyo

Well it wasn’t much of a fiasco. I forgot my passport at the checkin counter and was going through security when someone came to me and asked me if I had my passport. The kind lady behind me on the counter said she had noticed I was going to Tokyo so they found me at the gate queuing! How could I forget my passport? I think it’s because I was hungry; I hadn’t had breakfast and the queues were so long at the airport.

I was so glad to be back home. Home is where the heart is and Jeremy is my heart. The first thing he said when I came home was “mummy, you found me!”. “Yes, I’m here now and I will never lose you again”, I answered with tears in my eyes.

Taking Stock at 28

It’s the eve of my 28th birthday.

For some unknown reason, when I was younger, I always pictured myself at this age on the balcony of my apartment overlooking the ocean in California, a glass of wine in hand contemplating my successful career. Think Gabrielle Union’s character in any movie she stars in.

Instead, I find myself on the balcony of my apartment in a university dormitory in Japan. Okay, I am not at the balcony at this very moment but I plan to go there to take in the fresh spring air after I hit publish on this post. It’s 8:40pm and I’m listening to my son singing himself to sleep. He turned 3 years old about 3 weeks ago. He’s incredibly smart and I’m not just saying that because I am his mother. He is also incredibly handsome, incredibly talented, incredibly kind and loving, and can raise incredible hell when he wants his way. When I am done with this post, I shall probably have some time to think about Prince who died today at the tender age of 57. If you don’t think 57 is young, he could have had 3 more decades, like The Queen who just turned 90.

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

A recent photo of Jeremy and I

So what have I been up to since I last blogged almost 2 months ago? Or since my last taking stock post a year ago?

Making : Plans for a picnic with friends from campus by the riverside tomorrow. Because of seasonal changes in Japan, good weather (warm and outdoor friendly) doesn’t last that long so it’s kind of a big deal when winter clears, spring comes and we can finally have outdoor activities like barbecues, picnics, whatever..

Cooking : Githeri. No, it doesn’t taste the same as I am using sweet baby corn rather than our usual Kenyan white maize. The taste might not be the same but it’s still delicious.

Voila! Presenting the results of my #githeriInJapan experiment!

Savvy Kenyaさん(@savvykenya)が投稿した写真 –

Drinking :
A glass of the cheapest wine (2014 Vintage, LOL) I could buy at Costco. It’s terrible. I couldn’t even afford the 2nd cheapest wine!

Reading:
The second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eldest. It’s a tale of a boy, a dragon, magic, elves, dwarfs, shades, oguls.. you know, fantasy. Don’t ask me where I get the time to read, between taking care of Jeremy, keeping my apartment habitable, doing my PhD and other part-time work in the university.

Wanting:
What do I want? Of course I want many things, like a car whose brakes don’t make a hissing sound when I step on them. But these days I am happy with just what I have and with just who I am.

Looking: At the picture below and how it represents my crisis point at this moment. Why am I even doing a PhD when all I’m doing is reducing my chances of employment? My career choices just got narrowed down to academia and industry research.

Why am I doing PhD?

Why am I doing PhD?

Playing: this song. Translated lyrics are here.

Wasting:
My time in the evenings watching Sex and the City. The show was banned in our home back then because of the sex scenes. I can’t really relate with the characters but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

Sewing: sewing? Sure, I do have a sewing kit but I’m waiting for the loose button on Jeremy’s shirt to first fall off before I fortify it.

Wishing: there was a magic word to put children to sleep at bedtime. If you think you can just let kids play around until they are too tired and fall asleep, you’re wrong. The longer they stay awake, the more wired up they get, the harder it is for them to fall asleep and the worse the quality of sleep they’ll get. Then they’ll suffer bad moods the following day.

Enjoying: Tortilla chips + ketchup. It’s a Friday night, and it’s the eve of my 28th birthday. I can do/eat whatever I want.

Waiting: eagerly for July. If all goes well, Jeremy and I should make our first international conference appearance in Toronto, Canada.

Liking: the 45 minutes of exercise that I manage to squeeze into my schedule from time to time. I’ve however reduced from 5 times a week to barely once a week; but I am trying to up it up to at least 3 times a week.

Wondering: what’s the role of God in the 21st century? To those who believe in a God or gods, how/why?

Loving: the “moments” I have with J. Like we’d be singing in the shower (nursery rhymes, what else) and I forget the lyrics but then he reminds me. “Say goodbye, mummy, say goodbye!”. Or when reminds me to wear my jacket when we’re leaving the house. Or tells me to make sure I turn left so we can go home when I pick him up. Or when he follows me to the toilet like how dare I make a visit to the toilet and not invite him?

Hoping:
To get shortlisted in some kind of competition I am participating in so I can get a free trip to Tokyo. A trip away is always a good break.

Marvelling:
At just how far Jeremy and I have come. I think we sometimes need to take a break from our daily routine just to look back and just see how much we have achieved. When you have big goals, like I do, you can sometimes feel like you’ve done nothing so far. But even staying alive thus far, is something worth appreciating yourself for. *sips wine. dips a chip in sauce. fuck the calories.*

Needing: a plan to include studying Japanese into my schedule. I refuse to be one of those people who spend decades in Japan and yet can’t speak the language. So far, I have to wake up at 5:30am in order to study for an hour before starting my day. I am still amassing the willpower.

Smelling: his scarf. He forgot it here the other day. This is probably insane behaviour.

Wearing: Clothes with little thought to fashion. I always thought I would be better at this fashion thing when I got older or when I got money but I would rather spend any spare cash I get on books. When I’m famous I’m gonna need a full-time fashion staff.

Following: in the footsteps of many who have gone before us. We may think we are unique but we really aren’t. Not so much anyway.

Noticing: That finally, I’m 1Kg away from my ideal weight according to the BMI calculation. But it’s really an outdated method of calculation that doesn’t take into consideration African curves 😉

Knowing: that life is fleeting. It’s hard to accept that there will be a time when I will not be here anymore. That the people I know, the people in my life, won’t always be here forever.

Thinking: that I’ve spent far too much time writing this post. Cheap(est) bottle of wine is nearly empty!

Feeling: awesome. I’m 1 hour or so away from 28 and I feel awesome.

Bookmarking: sammydress.com. I like to look at the clothes even when I’m not buying.

Opening: my mind up to new, un-imagined possibilities.

Giggling: I don’t think I giggle. LOLing (Laughing out loud), yes. Giggling, no.

Happy birthday to me. It seems like it was just the other day that I was an 8 year old little girl. Time flies. RIP to all my friends who never made it to 28.

Culture Shock #96: Valentine’s Day & White Day

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 .. for instance, 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.

Valentine’s Day in Japan is just like Valentine’s Day in Kenya: a non-official, largely commercialized day for celebrating love. But there is one key difference! In Japan, it is the women who give men chocolates (and any other gifts)! So come this Sunday, the Kenyan woman in a relationship with a worthy man will wait to be treated like a queen. She will expect flowers, preferably red roses, chocolates, several other gifts -or at least one expensive gift, and then dinner at a romantic restaurant. For the luckier ladies, they will be whisked away by helicopters or by other vehicular means to romantic locations such coastal or lakeside resorts or even exotic safaris. For instance, the Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi has a 5 Million Kenyan Shillings (about $5,000USD) Valentine’s Offer that includes roses, champagne, helicopter rides, and the presidential suite etc.

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

The Villa Rosa Kempiski in Nairobi, Image from http://www.nabiswa.com/

Now, I am not sure how Kenyan couples split their Valentine’s Day bills, but I can bet the man foots the bill on this particular day. He is also encouraged to come up with creative gifts (in addition to the chocolates and flowers) and ideas for the “surprise” dinner at favorable restaurants. When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, at least the man can get away with the bare minimum but since this year it falls on a weekend, men in relationships have to put in more effort to impress or prove their love or whatever reason couples celebrate Valentine’s.

The Japanese woman on the other hand, can’t afford to sit back and relax. She has to present chocolates to the man in her life, preferably prepared by themselves “as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the ready made chocolate at shops”. That is not to say commercially prepared and packaged chocolates don’t have a market, they do! Read more about it here. Apparently, this practice may have started as a way for women, who are traditionally shy(are they?) to express their feelings. I shall now inform you that yours truly has also joined the bandwagon and bought some chocolates to ahem, express feelings with!

japan-valentines

Lots of commercials and guides showing women who to make chocolates for this special day. Image from tastymiso.com

If you are a Kenyan man thinking of immediately applying for a visa and permanent residence in Japan, know that there is also White Day. On this day, the men reciprocate the gifts they received to the women they received gifts from on Valentine’s Day. It comes exactly a month after, on March 14th. Oh, there is no special day for the man to receive gifts in Kenya, I think White Day only exists in Japan. Where is the justice in this?

P.S. While this post is not about the need to celebrate Valentine’s Day, allow me to say that there is nothing wrong with celebrating romantic love. There are always those couples newly in love, or forever in love, who don’t mind a special day to celebrate their love. That this can be done every other day of the year is besides the point. Of course, it has increasingly become commercialized, just like Christmas (and maybe soon Easter as well as other holidays), but it’s not going to go away any time soon.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! What plans do you have with your loved ones?

Culture Shock #97: The Onsen Experience

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.

So your boyfriend has a better handbag than you, yet he walks around with his wallet sticking out of his back pocket. Meanwhile, you are glad you have double eye-lids and have recently been utilizing a small-face corset so your face may have now shrunk to acceptable standards. But just in case it hasn’t, you have been wearing a surgical mask daily even if you’re not in danger of catching a fatal disease. But you’re not yet fully integrated into the Japanese culture until you are comfortable going to have a shower in a public bathhouse, after which you get into a giant bathtub, fully naked, with other strangers.

Okay, so there are onsens and then there are public bathhouses. (This is my understanding/categorization). Onsens are/were (natural)hotsprings, set in a backdrop of beautiful scenery. Sometimes they’d be in the mountains overlooking a beautiful valley, or the scenic view of snow etc. The main bath would be outside as you soak in the view and relax in hot water which is luxurious especially in winter.

An onsen in winter. Image from http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/111231.html

An onsen in winter. Image from http://www.japan-guide.com/blog/schauwecker/111231.html

To soak in the above inviting onsen, anyone can overcome any shyness or reservations they have about public bathing.

Then there are bathhouses. I didn’t understand why anyone would leave their bathtub at home to go bathe and soak in public. Most people do this on a daily basis or on several days a week.

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Men bathing at an onsen. Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/464926361502378098/

Before getting into the bath, you must first wash yourself. The shower area has these plastic stools where you are supposed to sit so as to properly scrub yourself. After which you can enter the pool of sometimes scalding water, which you get used to after a few minutes.

Apparently, “‘Sento’ or public baths have long been part of the Japanese culture and dates back to the time when not all houses have their own bathrooms and some want to experience the soothing feeling hot springs water gives.” But actually, even if you have your own bathtub, it is just not possible to maintain the temperature as well as the bathhouses do, and of course you have plenty of room to stretch and relax at the bathhouse instead of a cramped bathtub.

No, there are no onsens or bathhouses in Kenya. That would seem a strange idea indeed.

I thought it made sense to go to bathhouses in winter and I have been going at least once a week with J. It is very relaxing afterwards and you sleep like a baby. So J and I like to go after dinner.

However, Japanese people go to onsens/bathhouses even in summer, when temperatures are in their late 30s! They say they feel very refreshed afterwards, but I am yet to muster the courage to enter a scalding hot bath in the summer heat!

Most onsens (I think over 95%) have separate sections for men and women. There are some mixed gender onsens but I am yet to go to such (although I hear they be mostly full of men hoping to catch a glimpse of any women joining them). Girls and boys under 8 years old are allowed to go either way! So it is not strange to see 7 year old boys, who of course understand the physical difference between the genders, bathing and soaking with their mothers in the women’s side. Young girls of up to 8 may go with their grandfathers to the men’s side. It’s a little bit unnerving at first because in most Kenyan communities, gazing upon the nakedness of your mother/motherly women is probably a curse-inviting offense. But really, there should be no shame in or any need to hide the human body. I think it is okay now that J is almost 3 and still young, but I am not sure I can still take him with me after he’s turned 5 and over. We’ll see.

In the meantime, we are loving the bathhouses and can be seen there at least once a week. It’s one of the things I am sure we will miss about Japan if and when we return. Never mind there is no winter in Kenya.

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 😀

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?!)

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.

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.

Book Review: Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

Without Mercy by Lisa Jackson

I am one of those people who does whatever it takes to finish a book one has started. That is not to say I struggled with this book, I didn’t. The author clearly is a master at writing a flowing story line, even if the plot had a few gaping holes and the entire ensemble and its premise were as interesting as watching grass grow.

It starts well. Jules Farentino’s half sister, Shay, is a troubled teenager. When she commits some crime or other with her boyfriend, she ends up getting arrested and presented with the option of detention or a (correctional) boarding school that is fancy and up in the mountains. However, something is up with Blue Rock Academy and Jules has a bad feeling about it. A student disappeared and has not been found, 6 months later. So Jules applies to be a teacher in the school so she can watch out for Shay.

At the school, Jules starts to discover there is something weird going on in the school. Religious fanaticism? There is an allusion to a sex-crazed religious man prowling the campus in the shadows of the night. Could he be one of the teachers? Jules also gets surprised to meet her ex at the same school, he too is working undercover to try and find the lost girl. Jules reminds me of Sarah, a similarly lackluster main character in the book Broken by Karin Slaughter.

And then a snow storm arrives in the mountains, shutting out the school from outside communication for a while. This is when all the characters come out to play in a final showdown, with a surprising twist in the end that is as believable as the plot about religious fanatics. There are just too many things that don’t make sense, even if the book is an easy read so you end up flipping pages and can finish reading it quickly.

Only later when I finally looked up online did I find that the author has done over 50 novels, and is quite famous. How she ended up on New York’s Best Seller List is a reason you won’t find in this book. She is like Danielle Steele writing one of the weaker plotted novels but tries to squeeze every ounce of emotion out of each scene in the character’s lives (crying because the toast did or didn’t burn, for example) in order to fill the pages, send it to the publishers and it will sell anyway because of the name. Stephen King could publish his groceries list and it would still sell, but I like Stephen King because he puts effort into all his books, none has been a disappointment so far.

If you want to kill yourself with boredom, go for this book. Yawn. It was my companion during my local train ride that has me staring at rice fields and small town houses. This is when I wasn’t keeping my face down trying not to catch the gaze of the old Japanese people stealing glances at the strange black girl with purple hair wondering what I was doing in their sleepy little corner of Japan. The train ride is only 30 minutes long but it makes 15 stops. It feels like you’ve been riding it for 12 hours when you finally get out.

But not to worry guys, the next two books I am going to review will show once again that reading is an immensely enjoyable hobby. They are Matilda by Roald Dahl and The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani.