Flying in to the Land of the Rising Sun

Having caught a red eye flight to Tokyo from Singapore, how appropriate is it that one flies into the Land of the Rising Sun at sunrise?

As an added surprise, my flight flew directly over a volcanic island about 30 minutes outside Narita airport. I’m told that this is Nishinoshima island, and it is an active volcano that appeared a few years ago.

My flight was right on schedule. It took me under 20 minutes to pick my luggage up from the conveyor belt, clear customs and immigration, and get booked onto the 8:56 Narita Express to Shinjuku. The Japanese take great pride in their efficiency and the rest of the world could learn a thing or two from their ethics.

I purchased my JR pass online. This 7-day pass gives me unlimited rides on all JR lines, and the Shinkansen (bullet trains).

A word of advice to future travellers… if you’re only planning to visit Tokyo and Kyoto, you won’t get your money’s worth and are better off paying as you ride.

Grocery shopping made easy

Grocery shopping is one of those things that must be done in life, but is not the most enjoyable of chores. . When I discovered the ultimate online grocery store for Singaporean residents, I was all over it.

RedMart is an online grocery store that will deliver groceries to your doorstep for you. If you exceed $50 on your purchase, the delivery charge is waived. They even allow you choose a two-hour window between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m during which your groceries will be delivered.
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Maiden Drone Voyage

I’ve gone airborne!

It was only a matter of time. I had been contemplating getting a drone for several months now. Last week, I finally took the plunge and ordered a DJI Mavic Pro. It arrived on Tuesday. I promptly unboxed it, and charged all the batteries.

It wasn’t until yesterday, Saturday the 28th of October, when I finally got a chance to take it for a spin. I headed down to Clarke Quay where they have a nice open field. I’ve seen other people fly drones here in the past, and knew that I would be on the right side of the law if I flew here.

I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to fly one of these things. I spent the next 25 minutes launching and landing the device, and sending it up to 60m before bringing it down for a safe and soft landing. It is a ton of fun. This short video shares some of the footage that I shot.

Singapore has some regulations that have now come into effect when it comes to flying drones. These guidelines are clearly documented on the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore’s official website. In a nutshell, as of Sunday the 29th of October 2017, the rules are that you do not need a permit to operate a drone if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The Total mass of Unmanned Aircraft, including payload is 7kg or below
  • The Unmanned Aircraft is flown at 200ft AMSL* or below
  • The Unmanned Aircraft remains outside of restricted, danger, protected, prohibited areas and not within 5km of an aerodrome / airbase.

They also have a map marking restricted, danger, protected, and prohibited areas, and areas within 5km of an aerodrome / airbase on their website. In order to operate within these areas, one needs to secure a permit for which they can apply for.

Maison Libanaise

I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants, especially while travelling. In October 2016, during a work visit to Hong Kong, I’d met up with an old friend of mine. She’s a bit of a foodie, and she took me out to this Lebanese place that is halfway up the mid-level escalators.

Maison Libanaise is the name of the place. It’s really popular on Thursdays and Fridays and it gets really full by the time at 7pm. I’d personally recommend that roast cauliflower and their lamb kibbeh.

They’re at 10 Shelley Street in Sheung Wan, and are online at maisonlibanaise.com.hk.

Making friends in Japan

A few days ago, I was in Tokyo. It was mid-morning, when I’d visited Asakusa. I was shooting time lapse footage outside the Senso-Ji shrine. A young Japanese girl dressed in an elaborate kimono was trying to shoot a portrait of herself with her friend’s help. Even without being able to speak Japanese, it was clear that she was less than happy with the results. I called out to her, and asked her if she would like me to take a picture of her with my tripod mounted camera. I had a neutral density filter attached, and my intention was to keep her and the gate of the temple in focus while allowing everyone else to blur out. She understood, and obliged.

Once she saw the results, she was impressed and called out to her friend, who was also dressed up in a kimono, to see the results. Her friend immediately wanted one of her own. (No translations were required to convey the message). She happily posed for her shot, and was happy with the results. The two girls then insisted that I pose for a shot with both of them. They both went home with images that they were happy with!

This is a common theme that I came across in Japan, and something that I would venture to say, stems from both the low crime rate in Japan, and the homogenous nature of its society. Japan is one of the safest countries in world. This is perhaps why the locals here tend to have a low level of mistrust towards strangers, and are generally open to making new friends.

The trend followed even more strongly when I was in Kyoto. Unlike Tokyo, which is relatively cosmopolitan with a fair number of expats, and the vibe of a big, modern city, Kyoto is very traditional. My first encounter with another set of friendly locals was while I was on my first trip to the Arashiyama bamboo grove. A young couple were walking ahead of me, again, trying to take a picture together with their mobile phone with very little luck. Once again, I offered to shoot a portrait for them and transfer it across using my Sony A7R. They didn’t have a second thought about posing for the shot, and were immensely happy to have a shot for their memories that they were happy with.

Later that evening, after my tour of the forest, I was trying to make my way back to the train station, and had lost my way. It was already dark, and I hadn’t realised that I was walking in the wrong direction. I asked the first person whom I met, who happened to be a young lady, if she could tell me which way the station was. She actually walked me to the station – a good 10 minute walk (though it helped that she was catching the same train as well). She didn’t speak much English, and my Japanese is non-existent, but we managed to have a half-decent conversation using Google Translate on our phones.

The following day, I found my way to the Heian Shrine. I was taking pictures, when a group of 4 children asked me to take a picture of them with their camera, which I did. They said thank you, and then went away… only to come back 10 minutes later. They were a little shy when they asked me if they could take a picture with me, which I obliged.

Later that evening, I was at the Kiyomizu-dera temple, taking photographs, when a young Japanese gentleman began having a conversation with me, and then asked me to pose for a picture with him. It was a decent enough conversation where both of us had to work a bit to overcome the language barrier.

As I continued my tour of Kyoto, I went back to Arashiyama the following morning. While taking more photographs, I met another tourist – a young man from Germany – who wanted to get his portrait taken in the bamboo grove. I posed him in the image, and shot a few exposures. As he was standing there, a group of seven young girls in their brightly colours kimonos walked up and surrounded him. They wanted a picture with him, and then, asked us to change places so that they could get a picture with me too. The language barrier existed, but we overcame it using Google Translate, and a lot of hand gestures. At the end of it all, we all came away with a few laughs and some good memories.

This aspect of visiting Japan is not a trait that one is likely to come across in the Western world very much. I realised that as a foreigner, I’m somewhat of a novelty for locals. It was a refreshing sense of being able to briefly connect with complete strangers for long enough share an experience that left me with a sense of being both welcome, and valued as a visitor.

Nerd culture in Singapore

I can fit into this place! Singapore definitely has a nerd culture, and is proud of it!

It is not entirely surprising. The Lion City has gone through a series of phases of reinvention over the last few decades. In the absence of any natural resources, it had become a service-based economy. It is now going through a transformation of becoming a knowledge based economy.

Singaporeans place a high value on education. It is hence quite normal that a nerd culture is alive and well in this city. I have barely scratched the surface, but among the things that I have discovered are

  • a decent number of table-gaming establishments (like Dungeons and Dragons and the more elaborate games),
  • a high popularity of video games and computer stores aimed specifically at gamers,
  • shops dedicated to a range of different genres of comics,
  • stores with all sorts of memorabilia from your favourite sci-fi and superhero comic movies and TV shows,
  • and LAN parties hosted in a big way with cosplayers to boot!

If you’re into this sort of thing, this city will definitely not disappoint.

And on a day when you’re feeling like building the ultimate PC, the sheer selection of establishments that will offer you parts will leave you spoiled for choice!

Nerds are definitely well represented here!

Online takeaway delivered!

As a busy professional, I sometimes just do not have the time to put a meal together. In Singapore, there is an awesome food delivery service called Deliveroo. There app is available on the app stores for both iOS and Android. Based on your delivery location, they’ll allow you to place an order from local restaurants which will deliver freshly cooked food from their menu to your doorstep in approximately 30 minutes.

Get $10 off your first order

Sign up for Deliveroo now!

I’ve had a really good experience with Deliveroo so far. They have been my go-to option every time I have been under the weather, or just too busy to stock up for groceries.

My most pleasant interaction with them was on one evening when they were 9 minutes later delivering my food. I got a call from them minutes after receiving my delivery where they apologized for being late, and voluntarily offered me a $15 credit towards my next order. Now that is what I call service!

If you’re new in Singapore, I highly recommend using their services. They also operate in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, , Spain, the UK, and the United Arab Emirates.