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Monday, January 18, 2016

Tales of A Malaysian Children's Writer

The story about the Malaysian writer who talked about using storytelling to preserve unique cultures in other lands...
Before Christmas 2015, Caroline Godfrey, from Lantana Publishing (the publisher of Phoenix Song ) suggested the possibility of talking to students in a few UK primary schools via Skype, an initiative of the National Literacy Trust, UK.
Nothing happened until the first week of January and I assumed the idea was shelved. Then I received another email from Caroline - the talks were going to be next week, starting 11 January. I was in a bit of a panic as it was about culture and storytelling. We thought it was a good idea for me to make a video to play to the students first before proceeding to Q & A. After two days of filming, with the help of Shona Yean, and the best part of 48 hours editing the video - I found it almost impossible to email it. Caroline suggested that I use WeTransfer. When the 1.4 Gig video finally uploaded on WeTransfer (after 8 long hours), it was already 5.30pm, Malaysian time and it was time for me to face the students on Skype! Well, never mind, I'll just have to wing it.
When I turned on Skype, to my horror, I found that I could hear the teacher (a young woman from the sound of her voice) and students from Abbotsmeade Primary alright, but the screen was blank! Luckily they could hear and see me. So I launched into my talk... and then had a panic attack in the form of a coughing fit. I rushed into the kitchen to drink a glass of water, took a deep breath and came back to continue. Not too bad really, despite being 'blind.' 
I was determined to cover everything I recorded on the video and started to read, Phoenix Song. And then it started to rain (no worries, I'm indoors) but the dogs who have been locked out, to stop them from distracting me, started banging on the door loudly to be let in! I doggedly continued with my reading, raising my voice higher and higher to drown out the loud banging... luckily the dogs gave up after a few minutes...

Best questions: 

* How do you pronounce all the names?

*Does it have to be a bamboo plant? 

That evening, Caroline emailed me again, and suggested I upload the video on YouTube for the next school, Gladstone Primary. My daughter's comment, "You mean you're going to put yourself on YouTube just like THOSE PEOPLE who make videos of themselves putting on make up?" (Implying I'm too old to appear on YouTube, I suppose. Apparently, one either has to be 'hot' or ' cool' to make it on YouTube; ' lukewarm' will not do...)

More stress. But I checked out YouTube and found out that you can use settings such as Unlisted or Private to prevent trolling. So another 24 hours of editing to bring it down to 1.2G before uploading on YouTube at 2pm, 13 January. This was surprisingly trouble free and quick (less than an hour.)
At 6pm, 13 January, Gladstone Primary called me on Skype and I was relieved to be able to both see as well as hear them.
After the greetings, I asked them, "So you have all seen the video and..."
Teacher ( a young man), "What video? No we have not seen any videos."
Me, "Oh..." Our voices were drowned the sound of a passing locomotive. I made the astute deduction that Gladstone was located close to the railway line.
Teacher, "Now who is going to ask the first question?" Almost every single child in the room raised their hands.
So I spent the next 30 minutes fielding questions from 7 - 8 year olds and it felt like a full fledged press conference:
"What inspired you to write books?"
"Did you always want to be an author?"
"What do you do when you're not writing books?"
"What was your childhood passion?"
"What is your favourite culture?"
"What is your next book about?"
"Have you met Roald Dahl?"
One question tipped me off "What was it like at Hajimemashte when you there?"
I said, "Oh you mean, Tokyo?" I then knew they must have looked up my profile on my blog grin emoticon
But the question that floored me was the simplest one, "Who is the most famous person you've met?" I had to ask them, "Who would you consider a famous person?" I have a feeling they were thinking of Roald Dahl. I'm still thinking about this. Most probably, Shashi Tharoor. Anyone heard of him? 

Best question: Do you talk about nature in all your books?
Comment from the teacher (conveyed by Caroline): "The children thoroughly enjoyed it and we feel that they got a lot out of it. It has certainly inspired them to start their own stories!"

Nine Days in Japan - 20 November 2015

Negoro Shrine

We had breakfast after the morning walk (photos in the previous post), and then the tour bus took us to the Negoro Shrine. Negoro-ji is temple no 82 in the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage route. The scenic location and the wonderful autumn colours of trees which surrounds this temple, make this visit of the highlights of the trip (at least for me). Soon Kuan and Roger even met a young American, who was undertaking the Shikoku pilgrimage on his own...

Ritsurin Garden
Ritsurin Garden exemplifies the daimyo  (a Japanese feudal lord) strolling strolling garden that were characteristic of 17th and 18th Century Japan. A daimyo strolling garden is a traditional Japanese garden where ponds, rivers and hills are expertly constructed to simulate a landscape over a tract of land, so that you get the impression of walking through a vast landscape during a leisurely walk.

The original part of the garden is the South Pond, which was constructed around 1620 by Takatoshi Ikoma. The garden passed into the hands of Yorishige Matsudaira in 1642. The garden was invigorated and expanded by successive generations of the Matsudaira family until it reached its present form in 1754. It was a part of the Matsudaira Family Villa for 228 years until it was opened to the public in 1875.

The Ritsurin Garden is fantastic and well deserves its reputation as one of the best traditional gardens in Japan. I think we really need an entire day to appreciate it fully.

Hotel Kyukamura Sanuki-Goshikidai

Nine Days in Japan - 19 November 2015

Kousanji Temple
This magnificent temple complex was built by Koso Kosanji, an early 20th Century industrialist from Osaka, in dedication to his late mother. The temple complex was built over a 30 year period.

The main hall of the temple

The Kosanji Koyomon Gate is the entrance to the temple 

Pip, Denny and Soon Kuan pose at a picturesque spot

Tatara Shimanami Park
Tatara Shimanami is a roadside station where one can rest, have some food (the menu is limited but the food is not bad), shop for fruits, especially oranges and bicycle through a nearby park. For those of us who do not cycle, there are places to take a stroll.

Pip, Soon Kuan and Uma

Towel Museum Ichihiro
The Towel Museum is located in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. I was surprised ti find out that it was actually a large and rather posh departmental store filled with branded textile items - toys, handkerchiefs, bed linens and of course colourful patterned towels! The museum itself was quite interesting and there were art pieces made of towel materials - Moomins figured very largely in the design.

Hotel Kyukamura Setouchi-toyo

We spent the night at the KyuKamura Setouchi-toyo hotel. This is a traditional style onsen hotel set in a park. We were served food which were local to the region, for the non-meat eaters, this included six different types of fish and various types of seafood! Soon Kuan joked that we had the entire weeks ration of fish in one meal. We had a surprise visitor that night, Motoharu Matsukura, who was a student guide all those years ago at Sophia University, turned up to visit us!

Moto is seated between Chow Peng and Rich

Setouchi Toyo Park
Early the next morning, some of the members of the group went for a short walk through the park, which included the hotel grounds...

Nine Days in Japan - 18 November 2015

Uchiko City
One of the most memorable places we visited was Uchiko City or rather it's historical quarter known as Yokaichi Old Town. The elegant merchant houses lining this street were exactly as they were more than a century ago and the place gave us an inkling what life must have been like in the past. Although it was drizzling all the time we were there, our spirits were not dampened...

A memory shared by Soon Kuan...

"It was such a wet day. We braved the rain to walk through the charming old town of Uchiko with well preserved houses. After lunch we decided to rest our feet and set out to find a cafe to have coffee. We stumbled upon a small cafe run by a lady. She painstakingly brewed each a cup of coffee and a cup of hot chocolate for me. It was such a treat because each cup was made with tender loving care."

Uma gets ready to take a photograph

Notice the splendid garden in the background...

A store selling hand-made bags made of bamboo. The traditional handicrafts
were expansive. We learnt later that the cheap stuff were made in China and
actual Japanese handicrafts were expansive.

Streams and rivers flow through the town, unimpeded
Apparently, the merchants of this town enjoyed a luxurious and elegant lifestyle from the production of wax and paper. The Kamihaga residence exemplifies this tradition. The main attraction to the city is apparently the Uchiko-ja, a full-scale Kabuki theatre.

Lunch was at a place called Mother's Cafe. The food was Western style and quite delicious and the plating was perfect. Unfortunately, the woman running the place (Mother?) had to work single-handed as cashier and waiter. She even turned away customers (two Japanese ladies) who came in later. However members of our group had no trouble getting tables. We really get the feeling that labour is in short supply in these small towns in Shikoku, most of the talented young people probably having migrated to Osaka or even Tokyo.

Mother's Cafe served a fusion French-Japanese cuisine
Gladys had Japanese food at another home-run restaurant

Dogo Onsen

After Uchiko, our next destination was the Dogo Onsen, located in the city of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture. This bath house is legendary and is said to be over a thousand years old. Dogo Onsen is mentioned in the Man'yoshu (literally 'a thousand leaves'), reputedly the oldest collection of Japanese Poetry, compiled sometime after 759 AD. Ancient princes and poets are said to partake of this hot spring for inspiration and to ease the burdens of the day.  A part of the onsen on the top floor, is reserved exclusively for the Imperial family.

The legendary Dogo Onsen.
 However, we have to confess that we did not actually partake of this legendary bathhouse. We were staying at the Toyogo Inn at Matsuyama and did not feel like carrying our bath towels around with us all over town. Instead we were quite contented exploring all the specialty food and handicraft stores in a covered walkway of the shopping arcade known as Dogo Haikara Dori. Of course, Chow Peng was appalled to hear this but an onsen is an onsen... Centuries ago, the onsen was probably an outdoor hot spring set among splendiferous nature. Today, the water is diverted into indoor bath houses and we were satisfied just looking at the magnificent building just from the outside.

When I saw the the main building of Dogo Onsen it reminded of the bath house/inn depicted in the famous anime, Spirited Away, by Hayao Miyazaki. My suspicion was confirmed by Wikipedia.

The tea house/onsen in Spirited Away
We also met Uma along the shopping arcade and decided to take the tram to the Toyogo Inn. In was convenient and really cheap...

A shop in the arcade which sold merchandise based on Miyazaki's movies
Many of the shops sold traditional Japanese handicrafts