Ending and beginning

A year ago I was sitting home, watching outside to the darkness and shivering at the idea of going outdoors to the damp coldness. I decided that no matter what, next year I would not spend the winter in Finland. As I watched the New Year’s fireworks on a beach few nights ago, I was happy I made that promise to myself to change the circumstances that made me unhappy.

One of my favorite spots in Helsinki, Sandro. Many happy times (and food comas)!
One of my favorite spots in Helsinki, Sandro. Many happy times (and food comas)!

 

Two months ago I came to Bali, not having a clear idea of what was ahead of me; perhaps I was thinking of going to do yoga in Ubud, chill, enjoy the sun, learn how to be alone truly enjoying it, and be merry. Well, I did go to Ubud, only to find out that it was not the place I really wanted to spend my time. Luckily I had been thinking of Canggu, and the small, rapidly growing surfer town was more my spot. After a while I got anxious about what I was “supposed” to do in terms of being a backpacker – go and see as much of Bali as possible. I would prefer to continue my travels as it has been so far: staying put in one good place rather than spending days on different means of transportations, waiting, crammed, carrying the backpack with me everywhere, just to do it all over again after a few days. So I stayed. I met people, some of them for a longer, some for shorter time, I overcame my self-doubts regarding driving and the ocean, I allowed myself just to be (some day with more success, some with more anxiousness), go eat out at least twice a day, and to just enjoy the flow of time.

Livin' on the edge.
Livin’ on the edge.

 

When thinking of where to spend the end of 2014 and the first day of 2015, I had a few options. Despite my growth during this trip and otherwise, I am still struggling with indecisiveness, so making the simple decision of “where to be” cost a bit too many brain cells. I decided to do what I felt like doing, to go back to Canggu. I was staying in a different hostel (not as good as the previous one), and didn’t know but a few people around. At the end, I ended up going to the same villa where I spent my birthday, having a barbecue with the local men, then continuing to the same beach bar where I spent countless happy hours and just regular (yet also happy) hours. I managed to get one more surf session and to eat one more time at my favorite cafe, go for one more drive around the hoods, and to have witty company with someone with puppy dog eyes. All the fun made leaving a bit harder. And the fact that despite ordering 2 taxis for 7 am, none came. Luckily we figured that out, not that good service from Blue Bird taxi, though!

Ain't too bad for a Christmas.
Ain’t too bad for a Christmas.

I am now at the airport, where the wifi is better than anywhere else! Too bad I don’t have time to upload more pictures. Next 3 hours will be on the plane to Singapore, and there to Ho Chi Minh. Hopefully the lack of sleep from the past 3 nights will keep me occupied. We’ll see how the big city life is after all this relaxation and small town entertainments! Happy New Year, friends! I have a feeling its going to be the best so far.

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Gong hey fat choy – Chinese New Year

This year I am lucky to have experienced New Year’s celebrations twice – both of them completely different than anything I’ve experienced before! In Japan I missed the annual fireworks, but today my “loss” was made up in the Hong Kong’s Chinese New Years fireworks spectacle. Yesterday I, along with probably few million others, got to witness the New Year’s parade, and the day before that I was smushed in the crowds in Victoria Park’s market.

Enthusiastic shoppers in Victoria park
Enthusiastic shoppers in Victoria park

The Victoria Park (flower) market resembled the Finnish Vappu (mayday) market quite a lot, except that here you couldn’t really see any of the stalls since there was so many people. The flowers and fruit trees were beautiful, but pretty much everything else on sale was carnival crap. I am glad to have stumbled upon the market on my morning “jog” (which turned to walking and eating in the market area).

The (non-Chinese) carnival spirit
The (non-Chinese) carnival spirit

The Parade in Tsim Sha Tsui was rather popular, to say the least. We were there few hours early, and the streets were already packed. I have to say, that the parade was a slight disappointment, specially after such a long wait. It was interesting, and definitely worth it, but not that “Chinese” since half of the groups were from somewhere else.

Hong Kong Disneyland partying
Hong Kong Disneyland partying

The parade had some interesting costumes and talented performances, so it was nice to see. However, the subway ride afterwards was a “bit” hectic and cramped. It is funny how much I have been in crowds these past few days, although most of the shops and restaurants have been closed and the streets have seemed almost deserted. Almost!

Blasting in the air for 30 mins
Blasting in the air for 30 mins

Today’s fireworks were spectacular, and definitely made up for the ones I missed on our new year. I am not that familiar with the Chinese traditional customs, but I doubt Gagnam style as background music for fireworks has not been that common for celebrations. I wish I knew half as much about the Chinese New Year’s traditions as I know about the Japanese oshougatsu, but this weekend was interesting as it was, everyone was happy and festive and we got an extra day off! Looking forward to the next festival, which seems to be in few weeks!

Mother of all Mochi

I could make an entirely new blog for mochi, it seems like I have so much to say about it. Maybe this will be my last post about the rice cake, however I cannot promise anything.

As a break from recapping my winter holiday trips, I wanted to share the real, old school mochi making experience I finally got to experience – after so many tryouts and different variations of mochi!

Old-fashion mochi making
Old-fashion mochi making

Traditionally mochitsuki (mochi making) is New Years’ event. The mochigome (glutinous rice) is pounded with kine (wooden mallet) in usu (mortar made of stone). I got to try the pounding today, oh man it was fun! Not to mention the taste of the fruit of my labor…way better than any of the other mochi methods or variations I’ve tried before.

Sides and toppings for mochi: shoyu (soy sauce), kinako (soy bean powder) and daikon with sauce
Sides and toppings for mochi: shoyu (soy sauce), kinako (soy bean powder) and daikon with sauce

As my friend was trying to get rid of her soon-to-expire mochi, I started thinking of different ways to use the cakes. I have earlier mentioned about the usage of mochi. Apparently it is ok to fill mochi with anko (bean paste), kabocha (squash) or satsumaimo (sweet potato). However, it is considered odd to fill it with chocolate. Well, that didn’t stop me – and the Western friend, who usually doesn’t appreciate the bland chewiness of mochi, was rather pleased with the result! Fusion cooking at its’ best. I have not yet found a mochi that I actually like, but the interesting mochi journey continues…

Home-pound kinakomochi in a cup
Home-pound kinakomochi in a cup

Due to its’ sticky consistency, every year there are a number of unfortunate chocking deaths. Funny enough, since mochi represents several generations. This years’ number of casualties was 14. So, if you ever get to eat mochi, remember to chew!

Ichigo dango (strawberry mochi) in Tokiwa
Ichigo dango (strawberry mochi) in Tokiwa dept.store

Traditional oshougatsu and osechi ryori

Back in Beppu, I now can only dream of the holiday season which was filled with good company and cooking exiting foods that have a long history and each represent something important. This year was my first new years’ eve to miss fireworks and it was all in all quite unlike any other; in a good way to say the least. In addition to eating toshikoshi (New Year’s) soba and other treats at midnight, I added a small Finnish twist to the holiday: sparkling wine at the turn of the year.

Cozy way to welcome the New year
Cozy way to welcome the New year

The traditional Japanese way to spend the New Year includes going to a shrine, but since it was cold and I was tired from all the cooking, we decided to watch the New Years’ show on tv. Good decision! I also missed the first sunrise of the year, which is another popular tradition. On the first few days of the year, millions of Japanese pilgrimage to temples to wish luck for the new year.

Jubako filled with home-made onishime, traditional osechi ryori
Jubako filled with home-made onishime, traditional osechi ryori

After getting lost in the super market with all the last-minute osechi grocery shoppers, we started cooking for some of the various Japanese osechi ryori. In our table, there was for example the pictured nishime to represent good foresight, and many other dishes for other purposes.

Sashimi and various osechi ryori in the jubakos
Sashimi and various osechi ryori in the jubakos

Kuromame (simmered black beans) to work hard; “mame mame shiku hataraku”
Kazunoko (salted and marinated herring roe) for fertility
Kuri kinton (mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts), the golden color of which is a wish for wealth and good fortune
Tai (sea bream) to bring luck due to its’ name, which resembles medetai: auspicious and joyous
Kamaboko (fish paste cakes) also ward off evil, and cleanse the spirit
Tazukuri (tiny crunchy fish) for abundant harvest

We also had a version of the ozoni soup, which varies from region to region.
I was in charge of making few dozen not so traditional harumaki (Vietnamese fresh spring rolls), which turned out quite well! For dinner we had oden made from scratch, which was definitely better and healthier than any oden I can imagine: in stead of the deep fried fish paste, the stars of this dish were daikon radish, shirataki noodles, fresh tako (octopus) and boiled eggs, among other less-processed ingredients.

Oden, onishime and buri shabu shabu
Oden, onishime and other “left overs”

In a way, this holiday resembles Finnish way f celebrating Christmas: it’s all about family and food. This food was thousand times better, though! I was constantly told that I could be Japanese, which for a foodie like me is of course a big compliment. After eating this well for a week, it might be a “slight” shock to come back to the dorm life…

More travel treats to come, there are loads!

Old fashion (Oshogatsu) activities

In the good old days, long before people got occupied and carried away with anime and manga, people had fun activities and spent time together rather than with machines! Other than making mochi together (without the magic machine, it takes one to pour water while another pounds the rice), Japanese people played card games, for example. The following examples used to be popular during Japanese New Year’s.

Hanetsuki bats
Hanetsuki hagoitas

Hanetsuki is a game similar to badminton though it doesn’t have a web. The wooden paddle is called hagoita and there is also brightly colored shuttlecock.

Fukuwarai “Lucky Laugh” is the Japanese equivalent of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, which is usually played by children. In Fukuwarai, blindfolded players pin different face parts onto a blank face, making funny results.

Iroha-garuta and other games
Iroha-garuta and other games

Iroha-garuta is a card game that requires only the ability to read hiragana. One person reads a proverb, while the others try to find the corresponding card.

Origami made by someone other than me
Origami made by someone other than me

Last but not least, the mother of all things Japanese: origami, traditional art of paper folding. I had true masters, the Japanese obaasan instructing me on making boxes from old advertisements and newspapers. Of course we also made the famous crane, 1000 of which are called senbazuru. One who folds 1000 cranes is granted a wish, such as long life and recovery from illness and injury. (I am 995 cranes short!)
The crane is a symbol of long life in Japan, and they are presented as offerings to a shrine or temple.
The thousand origami cranes also symbolises world peace, since a girl radiated in Hiroshima atom bombing believed that creating thousand cranes would cure her leukemia.

Skilled sensei
Skilled sensei

I have admit, that my results in origami was only thanks to the great instructor. I doubt I could make them again. Previously I have looked some instructions online and in books, but it is definitely different to have someone guide you through it, even in a foreign language!