Sending Money from Japan to Kenya

When I first came to Japan, I left Jeremy in the care of my parents for about  a year. Naturally, I needed to send money for his upkeep from time to time. I also needed to deposit money into my Kenyan bank account to repay my credit card.. etc. Here are the options I have used before (I saved the best for last- WorldRemit, so keep reading until the end):

1. EFT Bank Transfer (using JP Post Bank)

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Image, courtesy

You have to physically go to the bank to fill the request transfer form, although you can set up a monthly standing order. This is by far the most costly option I have ever used. The minimum transaction cost is 2,500¥ for any amount (up to 500,000¥, I think). In addition, the currency conversation rates are so bad.. you lose money when converting from Yen to Dollars, and then again from Dollars to Kenyan Shillings. Furthermore, Standard Chartered Bank charged me Ksh. 1,000 to “process” the dollar transaction. It also took up to 4-5 working days for the money to arrive in my Kenyan bank account. I needed another option.

  • Pros: can send directly to a bank account
  • Cons: Extremely expensive transaction costs, terrible currency conversation rates, takes a long time to process, cannot send to mobile money e.g. M-Pesa

 

2. Western Union Transfer via 7-Bank

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7-11 ATMs at the convenience store in Narita Airport. Image, courtesy

A friend told me about 7-Bank, under the same corporation that runs the 7-11 convenience stores. It basically works by sending the money to Western Union agents anywhere in the world, and your recipient can pick it up from there. The transaction costs are way less than that JP Post Bank and the currency conversation rates are friendly. You can also send money online, or via the ATM at the 7-11 convenience stores. The money is received almost instantly.

First though, you have to sign up and be verified and this can take up to 2 weeks. I think you may also need to be in the country for at least 6 months, but I’m not sure.. just check the terms and conditions when signing up. It’s been 3 years and I don’t remember very well.

Another option is to just go directly to Western Union agents and send the money; but I live in rural Japan and the nearest agent is a 45-min drive away. So 7-Bank was very convenient for me. However, I could not send directly to a bank account (you can if you’re sending to the Philippines and China, but not any other country). I would send the money to my brother and have him deposit it into my bank account in Kenya.

I used 7-Bank for quite a long time, almost 3 years. I knew it wasn’t the cheapest option but I had become complacent, sticking with what works. It costs 990¥ for transactions of below 10,000¥, 1500¥ for transactions above 10,000¥ but below 50,000¥ and 2,000¥ for transactions above that.

  • Pros: cheaper transaction rates than EFT, better currency conversation rates, near-instant money transfer, ubiquitous 7-11 ATMs for sending money, online transactions possible
  • Cons: cannot send money directly to bank account or MPesa, transaction rates are still high especially if you’re sending small amounts of money

3. World Remit- You can send money to Mpesa from Japan, for free!

mpesa.jpg

Image, courtesy

You guys, I am not exaggerating neither am I getting paid to advertise WorldRemit, but I found my remittance solution. Just like 7-Bank above, it takes about one week to verify your account after you send your initial money (it is because of tough anti-fraud laws in Japan). After initial verification, subsequent transactions are handled immediately.

Let me just list the pros:

  • Transaction costs for any amount: (virtually zero!) 1¥ 
  • Can send to MPesa, Bank Account (KCB, StanChart, Equity, Barclays and National Bank), or Agent (Upesi Money Transfer, KCB, National Bank), or even airtime top up
  • Fair currency conversation rates: I find them comparable to 7 Bank/Western Union
  • Time to complete transaction: about 2 hours for MPesa, about 1 day for bank transfers
  • You can send money online (only online)

I cannot find any cons!

  • Alright, except for the initial verification which is required by Japanese law. This verification is only activated not upon signing up, but after you send them money for your first transaction. It would be better if they just verified you immediately after you sign up so that when you are ready to send money, you’re already verified but maybe they don’t want to waste resources on people who sign up but never use the service. So just be patient after that first transaction.
  • You need to sign up for online banking from your bank if you haven’t already. When sending funds, you need to go to your online banking and send cash to the WorldRemit bank account. It’s easy to sign up for online banking, use Google Chrome to automatically translate the web pages into English for you if your Japanese ability isn’t up to par.

I hope this post will be helpful to someone!

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Posted in Blog, Japan, Technology, mobile, internet | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Ishikawa Speech Contest

On the 27th of January, I participated and won 3rd place in the 36th Annual Ishikawa Speech Contest for Foreign Residents! By being 3rd place, I was awarded the Executive Director’s Prize, Ishikawa Foundation for International Exchange. I also got a trophy and certificates, and a generous bookshop gift voucher.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite expecting it because I don’t have confidence in my Japanese ability. However, I can tell a story in 5 minutes (in 4 languages now) and that’s what I did.

One thing I can say that helped my confidence was practice. I actually got inspired by this post written by Mbithe Nzomo. She won the annual speech contest in 2015 and got a chance to visit Japan! So if you are thinking of giving speech contests a go, check out the website of the Embassy of Japan in Nairobi (or just Google, you’ll find the appropriate info). In the post by Mbithe, she says that the first step is to give it a shot. Literally, half the battle is won by making the effort to apply. I had some help correcting the grammar from my Japanese teacher, my friend Harumi and also my academic supervisor (he’s cool like that) and then it was up to me to practice. We were allowed to read from the script so it was cool that I didn’t necessarily have to cram it.

Here is the speech I gave. The English translation is below it.

日本にきてから、もう三年が立ちまして、今年は四年目です。この三年間は日本人と会話をしている時に、色々な質問を聞かれました。その中でよく聞かれる質問は「好きな言葉は何ですか。」それで、今日は答えます。夏の一日の話をしながら、十の好きな言葉を伝えたいと思います。

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2018 Goals

We’re already 3 weeks into 2018, how did that happen!

I have really simple but all-time consuming goals for 2018. I’m listing them as 2018 goals but I have actually been working towards achieving some of them for many years, and some are lifetime goals. Some will come to fruition in 2018 but months and years have been spent in the making. So without further ado, *drumrolls please*, these are the 6 things I want to achieve in 2018.

1. Take care of J

This is obvious, right? I’m a mother, it’s what we do. Yes it is, but I just want to acknowledge that it is important work that I do. Teaching, feeding, clothing, cleaning, entertaining, loving, bathing and dressing, nursing, shaking loose teeth, comforting, doing laundry, buying toys and books, reading to.. you get the picture. At the end of 2018, I shall celebrate and toast to a healthy and happy Jeremy.

2. Write my thesis, defend it and graduate
#EnoughSaid

3. Do Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N2 Level). Yes, N stands for Ninja 😀
I enjoy learning Japanese. I wish I had more time to immerse myself in the language.

Just got these books today #JPLTN2 #頑張ります

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4. Go to Las Vegas
I know it sounds random but my final conference as a PhD student might be at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.
This scene in The Hangover remains one of the best scenes in that movie haha

5. Get a job
I’m about to hit the streets tarmacking. I really want to get into Machine Learning/AI/Big Data/IoT Application Research. Fingers crossed.

Gotta get ready for the interviews!

6. Take care of myself
Sometimes I have to remind myself to get a little exercise and some sleep.

Bonus
Read 12 books. A book a month.

Here’s to 2018!

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2017 in Review

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2017 began with me planning to retire from blogging (No kidding!). But I’m still here, I don’t know what happened. Can’t stop writing even when I can’t seem to find the time. When I wrote the last post that wasn’t really the last post, I had just arrived back in Japan from Christmas/New Year vacation in Kenya.

No sooner had I arrived than I began to plan a conference trip to France. Being from a shithole country means I need to apply for visas way in advance before I can visit virtually any country, including fellow shithole countries. I got the visa and spent a week in the South of France, Nice to be specific. The views of the French Riviera were fantastic. Someday, I will return to cruise the Mediterranean. Jeremy and I also spent a few hours across the border in Italy, just because we could. And also to tick it off our list of countries we’ve visited. 2017 was the year I Went to 5 countries – France, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to go to Kenya for Christmas.

Countries I have visited. I'm hoping to colour more of Africa blue.

Countries I have visited. I’m hoping to colour more of Africa blue.

In March 2017, Jeremy turned 4 while I turned 29 in April. I couldn’t believe I really was a parent to a whole 4 year old. Spring brought forth new friends with whom we shared many happy times having picnics in the park, hanging out at the butterfly museum and having barbecues and beer in the summer. We swam in the oceans and pools, visited the zoo and aquarium and had some more BBQs. It is no wonder I gained 4Kgs that have since stuck. We watched fireworks explode in psychedelic patterns in the sky. We made new, and beautiful, and hopefully everlasting friendships.

I went to an English camp for kids that same summer, mostly for Jeremy’s benefit. The heat was unbearable, I’m thinking I actually prefer Japanese winters to their summers. I also drove for about 9 hours to Niigata to apply for a visa to South Korea, and drove another 8 hours back. That was the straw that broke my Suzuki Wagon R’s back. It already had over 220,000Kms of mileage logged. In September that year, I had to let it go and acquired a second hand Nissan Note.

View from tallest building in Niigata

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The summer ended on a high note, with a visit to VISA-FREE Malaysia. Yes, I will shout about NO-VISAS! Earth belongs to all of us Earthlings. Only an accident of birth led to where we were born, we are privileged but it’s not a right. We need to learn generosity and love towards one another. Do the best you can. Be nice.

Malaysia is lovely. I’d go back for a holiday any time. But really, any country on Earth is beautiful and lovely if you’re just visiting for a few days. So I don’t know what real life there is like.

Autumn came around, the leaves turned red and golden and we went for drives, searching the mountain raods for crimson leaves. Only to encounter snow. It was definitely a foretaste of the coming coldest winter that I have experienced.

Instead of #autumn foliage, we found snow! #雪 #ゆきだるま

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I attended another conference in New Zealand. Again, it was a lovely country with friendly people and cute, fluffy sheep. I didn’t actually see the sheep but I did buy Jeremy a fluffy stuffed sheep, and if it’s anything like the real thing..

I read books in 2017. I was reading Cold Fire by Dean Koontz when I missed my flight back to Japan in January. I don’t remember much but it was quite the thriller. My aim in 2017 was to read a book a month, which is also what I hope to achieve in 2018. In February, I read Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on The Shore. I’ll definitely never forget the book. Highly recommended. On a high from Kafka’s adventures, I read Norwegian Wood by the same author, a more subtle but still highly enjoyable read. It drags a bit though, in the middle. I think. I would have to re-read it to be sure. I was beginning to enjoy Japanese writing and presumably thought Kazuo Ishiguro is Japanese too. His writing is as British as can be, because well, he is British. I enjoyed The Buried Giant, but it wasn’t an easy read. He won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature so I guess my reading tastes are validated. I followed that with The Great Gatsby, an American classic. I wasn’t reading it for study purposes so I enjoyed it for the novel that it is.

This is my Golden Week plan.. #holiday #goldenweek

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In August and September, I finally finished reading the last book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. It is a young adult novel and I really struggled with it because I am now an adult adult. A teenager (boy) would love the books. I was up for light reading in October, with only “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie. It took about an hour. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari was my book of the year, and I saved the best for last: Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

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I’ll probably won’t get time to review all the books I read so this post serves as a book review post as well.

2017 was quite busy, but 2018 will be the defining year for me and not just because I turn 30 while Jeremy turns 5.

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Dec 2nd – 10th: Sunny Days in New Zealand

Day 1- Saturday 2nd Dec: Flights – are all Men Created Equal? 

I am not sure how many hours it took from Komatsu, Japan to Christchurch, New Zealand, because of all the transit. We  (Jeremy and I) flew from Komatsu to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, then from Haneda to Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. After that, it was another flight to Christchurch. It was a long journey down South.

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While in this day and age, we seem to abhor that anyone should be descriminated against in terms of age, gender, race, sexuality, colour or creed, we seem to accept the reality of discrimination against nationality as well as economic status. At Auckland, the immigration queue was long by any standard but when you have a 4 year old who can’t stand still, it’s not an exaggeration to say it feels like the queue stretches to infinity. However the announcer came on to say that UK, US or Canadian residents could go to the fast track queue. Luckily, when those were cleared, we parents with young children were shepherded to that fast track queue so I guess all’s well that ends well?

We had like a 4 hour layover at Auckland so we had lunch at McDonald’s before proceeding to the domestic terminal. When we arrived at Christchurch, I couldn’t find an Uber to take us to the hotel. The other option was to take a cab – I had been warned that prices are expensive in NZ – or to take a bus. Google Maps said I could take the Purple Line at a bus stop 1 minute away. It was around 7pm but it was still light out and I didn’t have much luggage. So I took the bus and met this friendly bus driver. She had slightly purple hair and sang along to all the songs on the radio. The bus ride cost 8 NZD. Jeremy rides free because he’s 4. The paying age in NZ  buses is from 5 onwards.. in Japan it’s from 6, even for trains.

Oh, before I forget, I cannot describe what it felt like seeing New Zealand from the air. So I’ll just leave a picture.

New Zealand is so beautiful 😍😍

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Day 2, Sunday 3rd Dec – The Christchurch Botanical Gardens, Christchurch Gondola

Okay I admit my choices of what to see and do in ChCh were heavily influenced by the search “Top 10 things to do in Christchurch” on TripAdvisor. But the gardens are really beautiful and worth spending a morning or afternoon. It’s a botanist’s dream I guess, with plants from all over the world. Jeremy and I had a guided tour, so that’s how I know. We saw trees, flowers including roses, there was a restaurant where we stopped to get snacks on our tour etc. The weather was just beautiful.. sunshine all over but it wasn’t that hot or humid, it was like 24 or 25deg Celsius. So when the driver of the “caterpillar” commented “this must be comfortable for you”, I was like, “yes, yes it really is.” (See previous posts about some people in Japan saying the same comment to me in 38deg Celsius, humid weather)

#Chirstchurch #botanicalgardens

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It rapidly got hotter as noon approached and it wasn’t so comfortable anymore. Luckily, there was a playground and a paddling pool. Unfortunately, I hadn’t carried J’s swimming shorts so I let him swim in his underwear – hey, there were plenty of fully clothed kids in there and some adults too.

The Uber Story

Uber in NZ really is uber expensive compared to say, Uber in Malaysia. I didn’t know that until I got impatient waiting for the bus to the Gondola base from the botanical gardens. It was hot, we were thirsty and hungry, but I wanted us to eat at the restaurant at the top of the hill (mountain). The main reason I couldn’t wait was because I was with Jeremy, and no one seemed to know the exact bus schedule so I decided, why not uber. This time I found a cab and uber just states the *price range* where the final price is calculated after arrival. It cost me 44 NZD instead of the 5 NZD it would have had I waited an extra 20 minutes.

Anyway, our driver turned to be an Ethiopian! He said he was there mainly for missionary work. There is this thing Africans in the diaspora do when they meet: comparing notes on the livability of our host countries. We all agreed NZ is beautiful and friendly (to visitors); but that’s the same of any country. He said living there wasn’t so easy though and advised me to go back to Kenya after my graduation. I nodded because..  Growth in Nairobi seems unstoppable if we judge by the skyscrapers coming up. I mean, look at Upperhill! It wasn’t like that when I left 3 years ago..

Upperhill rising

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As is typical of the friendliness of many Africans, he invited me to his house to meet his family if I got the time. Sadly, I never did get the time because I would only be in NZ for 6 days.

Christchurch Gondola

Sorry for the digression. Where were we? Yes, Day 2. Went up Christchurch Gondola to beautiful views of the bay and of Christchurch city. Lunch up there was good too. Went a bit crazy at the shop, buying souvenirs for friends back in Japan. (By the way, for a moment there, I had a really hard time trying to remember the English word for souvenirs. Omiyage, the Japanese word, kept popping up in my head. My stay in Japan may be having a negative effect on my ability to think and write in English. I literally had to type into Google “omiyage in English”)

Below is a view of Lyttleton Harbour from the top of “Gondola” Hill.

#lyttletonharbour

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Jeremy and I going up the hill in a gondola

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Day 3, Monday 4th Dec – Chilling, Conference Registration, Beach

The main reason for going  to New Zealand was to attend and present at a conference (ICCE2017). The actual conference wouldn’t start until Wednesday but I wanted to check out the venue, register for the conference and check out the room I would do my presentation in.

That day was particularly scorching and we went to the beach only much later in the evening. Luckily, the sun didn’t go down until around 10pm so we did enjoy some beach time.

Observe the subtle colour changes in subsequent photos..

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Day 4 Tuesday, Dec 5th – Lunch, Shopping and the Container Mall

We stayed in the room all morning because I had to make some final changes to my presentation and also just to rest. In Japan, we’ve been relying on Weetabix cereal for a quick breakfast and I found an equivalent in a convenience store next to our hotel. Only, the name wasn’t Weetabix but Weetbix. Did the job though!

Later, we walked through the town admiring the street art, sampling the food (okay, I lie. We did no sampling. Except for the days we had lunch at the conference, we basically survived on burgers and fries. Ugh, if I never have another burger again, it will be too soon. Another lie, I am already back to eating burgers).

So sunny and hot here #containermall #christchurch

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Day 5 Wednesday, Dec 6th – Conference and the drama at the Margaret Mahy Playground

Attending the conference with a young child is quite tricky especially if you didn’t bring along someone to mind him. But Jeremy has these moments when he’s focused on watching Cartoon where he is literally in that cartoon world. I took advantage of this to catch a few talks ( he was also plugged in during my presentation). After a free lunch at the conference, I decided to skip the afternoon talks – I can always read the papers online later – and took him to the famous Margaret Mahy playground. It was just a 5 minute walk away. Jeremy enjoyed running around, climbing up, sliding down, while I watched and tried to keep an eye on him.

Helps that our hotel is near a famous playground

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So there is a tall slide, and a kid has to go up using climbing nets. I kept warning Jeremy not to go so high up because he’s kind of scared of heights. Of course he didn’t listen so up and up he went, until he was halfway through and got scared.. he didn’t want to go up nor come down. This lovely girl from Australia who was also visiting with her family offered to go help him (I was in a dress and it wasn’t really suitable for climbing). She thought it was easier to just get to the top and slide down rather than come down the same way he went up. Just as they got to the top, Jeremy refused to step into the slide and started crying.. he literally froze in place. I had to abandon all decorum and go up there and coax him down. Two days later when we went back to the playground, he wanted to go back up again! Kids forget so easily!

Day 6: Thursday, Dec 7th –  Botanical Gardens (Again) and Christchurch Tram and a Missed Banquet

At the conference, I ran into friends from JAIST who had already gone back to their respective countries (Indonesia and Thailand). We had lunch together and talked a bit. I also ran into a Kenyan studying at Canterbury University.  In the afternoon, I joined my supervisor and another alumnus from our lab in another tour of the botanical gardens, this time no guided tour but a lovely stroll around it. We combined the tour with a tram tour as well, just going round the must-see spots in the city center.

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Image, courtesy

That night, probably from fatigue (trying running after a 4 year old around all day), I was feeling a bit under the weather. I ended up missing the conference banquet  that I was really looking forward to attending (would probably have been my first banquet).  I heard from reliable sources the following day that traditional dancers performed the haka. But my presentation was also on the following day so the more reason for me to take it easy and rest.

Day 7, Friday 8th Dec – Presentation and back to the Margaret Mahy Playground

I presented my paper at the conference. It really went well, the audience even asked me questions I couldn’t successfully respond to (that’s when you know it’s a good conference because it challenges you and gives you an opportunity to learn more).

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That’s me doing my presentation at ICCE2017. Yes, there is an audience I promise, from the 2nd row backwards!

After lunch, I took J back to the playground, we had one last walk around the city, and then I packed our belongings. Our flight on Saturday morning was to depart at 6am(!) so we had to leave the hotel at 4am! I decided not to sleep (big mistake!) for fear of missing my alarm. I spent the night finishing Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

Day 7- Saturday Dec 9th: No Flight Out? Plus a Night at Auckland

At 3:30am, the alarm went off. I hadn’t slept a wink. I put a book in the book, rose up, washed my face, dressed Jeremy, got our luggage downstairs.. you get the picture. I got ready for the airport. Once at the airport, we checked in, got onto the airplane, slept through a 30 minute delay for some mechanical reason, taxied to the end of the runway ready for take off, only for the captain to announce that the engines weren’t turning on so we had to go back to the terminal and disembark.

I took that time to take a nap while jerking awake every few minutes to check on J. He managed to take this photo of me.

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After a 3 hour delay, we arrived in Auckland to find our flight for Japan had long left. We were put up at a nearby hotel and given meal vouchers as well. The hotel was so lovely, I even wished we were staying longer. I slept for almost 12 hours!

Day 8, Sunday Dec 10th: Back to Japan

Finally, at 9:30am, we departed from Auckland and landed at Haneda in Tokyo that night. We went from 28 deg to -2deg in 24 hours. Took a few days to adjust but now that I have resigned to the cold, you will see me rejoicing whenever the weather is sunny at 6deg. I will even go outside without a jacket (for up to 5 minutes!).

Happy New Year Loyal Readers! It’s gonna be an exciting one for me (and you of course, by extension.)
Here’s to more travel adventures in 2018!

 

Posted in New Zealand, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Could This be my Last Winter in Japan?

Hello? It’s me.

I was wondering if after all these years, is anyone still reading this blog?

Can you believe I am already 2 months into my 4th year in Japan? Yes, I came here after my 26th birthday, I am facing my 30th next year. This is my 4th winter and I can tell you one thing for free, you never get used to the cold.

I just came back from NZ. Took about 2 days to adjust to the cold. I was kinda of angry those first two days as I stomped through the snow, I think winter puts us in a bitch mood, no? I have to contend with perpetually cold toes (I think I may have poor circulation in my legs) until Dec, Jan, Feb, March and April fade away.. it’s still cold in April over here. It only starts warming up in May, and June is perfect, and then July and August are stifling hot and this is when I get questions like, well it’s hot in your country, isn’t it? So you must be comfortable in this weather. arrgh fuck off already. No one is comfortable in the 36deg, 100% humid Japanese summers. I am tired of explaining my country’s weather to everyone. Just look it up on Google, unless you were not really interested in it, in which case, please let us not talk about it.

The one thing I do love about the weather seasons is the stunning change in the landscapes. When in Kenya, it’s the same view year round.. plus you kind of don’t really notice the flowers, etc. Someone asked me if Kenya is a country of flowers and I’m like er.. uh.. I have never really noticed. I don’t even know which month Jacaranda flowers bloom (probably around October). They are the “sakura” of Nairobi.

In Japan, there is an association of each season with food, flower, fashion.. So it forces you to start paying attention. I’m not much of a photographer, but as I begin what could be my last year at JAIST, I have begun to pay attention to the beauty of this campus. I’m going to try and capture the same view from the 7th floor of the building where my lab is located. Here it is back in autumn and now in Winter. I hope to remember to capture the view in (my last) spring and summer. No doubt there are better photos out there, just Google JAIST. There is even a drone video. In the video, I can definitely tell it is summer because it’s so green.

JAIST in autumn. Photo by me. No filters.

JAIST in autumn. Photo by me. No filters.

JAIST in winter

JAIST in winter. Photo by me. Again, no filters.

So back to the first question, could this be my last winter in Japan?

I am scheduled to graduate on September 21st, 2018. I am working as hard as I can to try and finalize my research and write my dissertation in time, while of course looking after Jeremy, who’s 4 now. Somehow, I am supposed to also find the time to apply for a job. Let’s face it, even if I wanted to start my own business, I need capital and contacts in the business industry, an industry that I left 3 years ago. So I need a job first to enable me to land on my feet after graduation, and then I can think of a hustle. I have ideas already but they have taken a backseat at the moment. My plate is overflowing.

On the other hand, I am a well organized person. I plan things. I have daily, weekly and monthly to do lists, in addition to yearly goals. Nothing lofty, but I write everything down. Maybe I just like writing.  So it’s a little unnerving not to know what’s going to happen next year. I have given it some thought ..

PhD Plan

PhD Plan. Image, courtesy. Of course, I secretly want to be a writer.

First of all, what kind of job am I looking for? Well, my options are:

  • postdoc/assistant lecturer position at a university with the aim of working up in the academic ladder to lecturer, senior lecturer… up until Professorship. Hopefully, I get to do research in addition to teaching.
  • postdoc/researcher position in the research division of an IT company, with the aim of climbing up the corporate (industry research) ladder.
  • abandon lofty research ideas and just work as a software engineer/data analyst in any company that will take me

Right… but where on Earth?

Image, courtesy.

  • Kenya – I can get a nice job in Kenya (IBM Research Africa, I’m looking at your Nairobi offices 😉 ). I will be surrounded by family and friends. I will have a house-assistant/nanny/maid. I can contribute to building the nation. It’s a fact that developing countries like ours are losing talent/brains to the richer nations. I’ll not have to ask myself questions like, do I owe it to my country to go back home?
  • Japan – well, I am learning Japanese but I will probably be lost in (Google) translation for a while before I can truly master the language. There is also a cultural barrier. J is learning just fine because he wasn’t even speaking when he left Kenya. He is learning both English and Japanese at the same time. I don’t know if I will ever have the time/chance to teach him Swahili (and Kisii). But can I really adjust to the working culture in Japan? Well, there are international tech companies in Tokyo/Osaka so maybe the working culture there is more like the one in Kenya. It’s not just about putting in long, empty hours, but about productivity.
  • US – er.. well, we all agree the US is a world leader when it comes to tech innovation. Hey, it is a big country, lots of people emigrate to the US every year. If I do go, it will probably be California, maybe San Francisco.
  • Canada – brrr.. so cold. Unless it is Vancouver. It doesn’t snow so much over there.
  • The U.K. –  I have always wanted to go to London.
  • English-speaking countries
  • The rest of the world

Ha! My I’ve certainly got my options narrowed down.

But I am dreaming again. By dreaming, I mean daydreams. Imagining myself in the future. I had kind of stopped daydreaming so I stopped writing (there is a connection somehow, believe me). Blogging is therapeutic. I hope it’s not too late to capture what’s left of my time in Japan through this blog.

Posted in Japan, PhD, Travel | 7 Comments

5 Days in Malaysia

The choice to go to Malaysia in early October was influenced by many factors, one of them being that Kenyans don’t need visas to visit the country (we all know how hard it is for Africans to appease the visa gods). Another was because the cost of things is relatively less than say, Japan. Also, the apartment we found on airbnb had two beautiful pools, one on the 5th floor and an infinity pool on the 32nd floor with a view of the Kuala Lumpur skyline (amazing views day and night). The apartment cost us about 6,500 Yen a night, but we were four of us so the cost was just over 1,500 yen a night. Flights from Japan to Malaysia are also in the affordable range especially if flying with AirAsia.

The infinity pool at the apartment in Kuala Lumpur

The infinity pool at the apartment in Kuala Lumpur. The view at night was actually better than during the day.

And below is the 5th Floor Pool:

We left Osaka, Japan on 6th October and returned on 11th. This was basically a leisure trip. I’ve always wanted to travel to more places and I seized the chance to meet up with an old friend from undergrad days in Malaysia. She was celebrating her 30th birthday, as is every friend on Facebook putting up posts of “3rd floor here we come!”. We have officially become old, with our 20s firmly behind us, and our 30s thrusting us into the shackles of marriages, careers, families… Traveling is momentarily freeing.

Day 1, Saturday October 7th: Petronas Towers and Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek Mosque

We started the day by the obligatory visit to Petronas Towers and the KLCC park behind them. It was sunny but not too hot, a perfect day to spend outdoors. That morning Jeremy had forced me to carry his swimming trunks in my purse, he had insisted we go swimming. Luckily for him, there was a water park with lots of kids running around and I let him join in. After taking several unsuccessful selfies with the towers in the background, we decided to have lunch. All the restaurants on the ground floor were quite expensive so we asked some of the locals there where we could have lunch and they told us of the food court on the 3rd(or is it 4th floor). Lots of cheap options were available so we dug in!

My view of the Petronas Towers

My view of the Petronas Towers

In the afternoon, we took the subway (which was really cheap) to Masjid Jamek Mosque. Our primary means for getting around was actually Uber, but when we didn’t have far to go and it was convenient, we took public transport. The mosque was beautiful but we arrived after 4pm so we couldn’t enter. We could only take photos from the outside. I think that Islamic architecture is so graceful, and the gold and white colours make the buildings a sight of breathtaking beauty.

View of Kuala Lumpur from the train.

View of Kuala Lumpur from the train. Image courtesy of my friend

Masjid Jamek Mosque. Image, credit

Masjid Jamek Mosque. Image (courtesy)

At night before tucking in, we spent time in the Infinity Pool. It was to be the only time we visited it. I’d go back to KL just to spend more time in that pool. Preferably with an SO as a traveling partner… this could be us.

A #noFilter view of KL from the Infinity Pool.

A #noFilter view of KL Skyline from the Infinity Pool. (Image courtesy of my friend)

Day 2, Sunday October 8th: Lost in the Train and Batu Caves

We slept in on Sunday and had only time for one activity in the afternoon. We opted to visit Batu Caves by train but on the way to KS Sentral Station from our apartment, we didn’t know which station to transfer at so we got a bit lost and took a detour in the city train. We eventually found our way to KS Sentral where we got the train to Batu Caves. These huge caves are amazing to behold but you have to go up several steps to access them. At the base of the steps is a huge golden statue of a Hindu god – don’t ask me which one. There are several monkeys around who will snatch any food you have out of your hands, so be careful. After coming down from the caves, it suddenly started raining and we took shelter at a local cafe where we also had dinner. The curries were a bit meh- but the rotti (chapati) were freshly burned on the stove. They reminded me of chapos in Kenya.  By the time we were done,  it was dark and we were tired so we took an Uber back to the apartment.

Which Hindu god is this? Image, credit.

At the entrance to the Batu Caves. Which Hindu god is this? Image courtesy of my friend

Day 3, Monday October 9th: Train to Penang Island (Batu Feringghi Area)

I’m not sure why we thought it was a good idea to go to Penang Island. I think we wanted to see more of Malaysia in the limited time we had, plus we wanted to go to a beach. We took the 1130 train from KS Sentral, having just missed the 9am one because of confusing directions by the staff there. They would tell you to “go there” while pointing in the general direction of like 5 different ticket vendors. And when you got “there” they would tell you to “go up”.

Anyway, we eventually got on the train and 4 hours later, arrived at Butterworth Station. We got an Uber to an Airbnb apartment in Batu Feringghi, which was opposite the Hard Rock Cafe in the area.

We went to the beach to catch the sunset, then had a meal at one of the local restaurants lining the street. We also had a chance to watch a live band perform at the Hard Rock Cafe later that night.

Below are photos of Jeremy enjoying himself at the beach at sunset.

The boy vs the sea #JeremyInPenang #malaysia

A post shared by Savvy Kenya (@savvykenya) on

 

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Chicken with rice at a local restaurant

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The band at Hard Rock Cafe. They played various hits such as November Rain, Despacito, Hotel California etc. It was lovely. They also took requests and did birthday shoutouts. Unfortunately, Hard Rock Cafe closes at 2am.

Day 4, Tuesday October 10th: Back to Kuala Lumpur

We also slept in on Tuesday morning. When traveling, sleep becomes a luxury that you catch whenever you can. We had a photographer friend who woke up early to photograph Georgetown, the main(old) city in Penang Island. So I guess we will have to see Penang Island through the photos. We got another Uber back to the station and the train back to KL.

Day 5, Wednesday October 11th: Early Morning Flight Back to Osaka

We blinked and before we could open our eyes, 4 days had gone by. Our flight back to Japan was at 8am, which meant we had to be at the airport by 5am. We didn’t actually sleep that night, preferring to stay up until 4am when we hailed yet another Uber to the airport. It was time to say goodbye to Malaysia.

[Update] On the flight back to Japan, there was a crying baby. This update is prompted by Bikozulu’s post on babies on airplanes. You hear this myth all the time that Japanese babies are so quiet, that they don’t throw tantrums… but this tiny Japanese girl who sat with her parents two seats away screamed her heart out continuously for over 30 minutes. I was impressed by her lung capacity. I was feeling sorry for the mum who was trying to calm her down but silently glad my 4 year old was sleeping peacefully beside me.

All in all, I had a lovely time in the country. Would I go back? I’m not sure. Maybe if it’s a work trip. If I’m paying for it, and I chose to go back to Malaysia, it will be to see the Borneo Island side that I never got to see.  But there are so many countries to visit.. which one is next? We’ll see in December!

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