Wednesday, October 29, 2008


In this age of turbulence, I think we should all get back to basics and revisit the true meaning of capitalism.

What is capitalism? I like Mr Daryl Guppy's analogy:

In a traditional capitalism economic, you have two cows, you sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.

The key here is you actually produce something physical. You grow your herd from two cows to many cows and bulls.

Look at what our American friends did to their economy and you know why so many people are crying for the death of capitalism....

Monday, October 27, 2008

Osaka 1-day/2-day Pass

Osaka offers to tourists 2 types of unlimited passes, 1-day and 2-day passes. The only difference is, as the name implies, one is valid for 1-day unlimited use of city transport, including buses and subways; the other is valid for 2 days. Both will give you free access to 27 places of interest. The cost for 1-day pass is 2,000 yen, 2-day pass is 2,700 yen.

Before you decide to purchase the Osaka pass, you need to know how often you will take buses or subways. Keep in mind that for Osaka subway, it is minimum 200 yen per trip.

For the 27 places of interest included in the Osaka pass, you need to know whether they are your cup of tea. For me, they are ok, but for some, these 27 places are super boring to them. One man's delicacy is another man's poison, so you have to decide for yourself. I will share with you below how I used my 2-day pass.

1. Dotonbori Gokuraku Shoutengai (315 yen)

This is a food entertainment 'theme park'. Well, it is actually just a building in the Dotonbori area. I must say the idea is a bit stupid. Dotonbori area is the centre of Osaka's night life filled with restaurants and shops. While you can just go into any restaurant free other than the cost of your food, why do you want to pay extra to go to a 'food entertainment theme park'?

Grade: 1/5.

2. Osaka Bay Cruise "Santa Maria" (1,600 yen)

This cruise brings you around the Osaka port area, with a good view of the giant ferris wheel, in a replica junk ship. However, the view along the route is just so-so, unless you have a specific interest in the maritime/shipping industry. You have a spectacular view of the Osaka port.

Grade: 2.5/5

3. Osaka Castle Museum (600 yen)

This is in the Tenshu-kaku, the main tower of the Osaka castle. It is almost like the symbol of Osaka city. When I was there, they were having a special exhibition about the history of Osaka castle. There are static displays, and a lot of multimedia presentations catering to the visiting Japanese students.

In addition, you can get a good view of Osaka city from the top of the main tower.

They also give visitors a free post card of the castle. If you complete a visitor's survey with them, they also give you a golden bookmark as souvenir. So if you are a cheapo like me :), complete the survey and get your souvenir. The golden bookmark costs 200 yen at the souvenir shop there :D

Grade: 4/5

4. Osaka Castle Nishinomaru Garden (200 yen)

This garden is right next to the Osaka castle. A great place to visit when the cherry blossom time, and also a nice place for a family picnic on an Autumn/Winter sunny afternoon; otherwise, it is a bit boring.

Grade: Season dependent

5. Osakajo Park Tram (200 yen)

It is a tram ride around the Osaka castle park, along the castle moat. Again, it is nice during the cherry blossom season; boring otherwise. :D

Grade: Season dependent

6. Osaka Museum of History (600 yen)

This museum is just a stone's throw away from Osaka castle. I highly recommend you to visit this place. They occupy the 7th-10th of a skycrapper, and arrange the exhibites from old Osaka (Namba period) to modern Osaka from 10th floor down to 7th floor.

And, the reason I highly recommend this place is when you take the escalator down, at the corner landing, you have a spectacular aerial view of Osaka castle and the modern Osaka city.

Grade: 3.5/5

7. Shitennoji Temple (300 yen), The Treasure House of the temple (200 yen), Honbo Garden (300 yen)

This temple was built by Prince Shotoku (圣德太子) and said to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. However, all the temple buildings are actually replica constructed after WWII.

The treasure house of temple has some writings from many emperors. I think many of them are in Chinese. I remember I could actually read one of them in the whole. It says the power of the imperial court is directly related to the power of Buddhism in Japan. The stronger the power of the imperial court, more solid the foundation of Buddhism in Japan is. But I can remember which emperor wrote it. Sorry :)

The Honbo garden is a Zen garden with nice landscaping.

Grade: 3.5/5

8. Tsutenkaku Tower (600 yen)

This is another place where you can have a good view of the Osaka city from the top. They have placed a statue of Biriken on the observation deck too. What/who is Biriken? Google it, please :D You will be amused/surprised...

Grade: 3/5

Total cost of the 2-day pass: 2,700 yen
Total cost of all places: 4,915 yen

The pass does not include the more popular places such as the ferris wheel, the Osaka aquarium, the Suntory Museum.

You can get more information on the Osaka pass at this site:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lodging in Japan

Hotels, hostels, and Ryokans (traditional Japanese guest houses) in Japan have an annoyingly different check-in check-out time. The check-in usually is at 3-4pm, while the check-out is at 10am! They are also a bit rigid about the check-in check-out timing. To make it more troublesome, you may have a problem if you want to check-in late, say after 8pm, at the Ryokans or hostels. Many of them also have curfews. The door will be locked from midnight onwards until 6 o'clock the next morning. If you don't come back in time, you will be locked out, and sleep on the streets :)

I will share with you the accommodations I had for my trip below.

1. Narita Airport Rest House

I spent the 1st and last night in Japan at this hotel. Not really a choice, but for practical reasons. I originally wanted to stay in a Ryokan in Asakusa area on the first night, but when I contacted the Ryokan, they said my flight was a bit late (landing at 8.20pm), and not very practical to get into Tokyo. So they recommended Narita Airport Rest House.

The hotel is right next to Narita Airport terminal 1. It is just 2-min by shutter bus.

The rooms are quite decent and big by Japanese standards. The facilities in the room are basic but in good conditions.

This hotel is good choice if you arrive late or need to leave early in the morning from Narita airport.

Their website:

2. Shin Osaka Station Hotel (Osaka)

The hotel is located about 5 mins walk from the JR Shin Osaka station. The rooms are small, but decent and clean. It also has this automatic toilet in the room. :)

They don't have their own website, but you can make reservations at the following site:

3. Ryokan Shimizu (Kyoto)

This is one of the best I had stayed in for the trip. It is a traditional Japanese ryokan tucked into a small site street in Kyoto's old street lanes.

It is a two-story building completed constructed by wood in the traditional Japanese style. The rooms are in Japanese style too with all the sliding doors and tatami. The feel is very good.

In addition, the ryokan also has a private traditional Japanese bath that you can book to use.

The staff there are young and can speak pretty good English. They are also very helpful if you need any information for sightseeing, food or onsen/sento.

This place is highly recommended.

Their website: However, to make a reservation, you need to go to this site:

4. Toyoko-Inn

I stayed in the Toyoko-Inn chain of hotels for Himeji and Tokyo. Toyoko Inn is a budget business hotel, catering to traveling business people. Their rooms are on the small side, but decent, clean and have all the needed facilities available. Internet access is free in the lobby. If you bring your own laptop and LAN cable, you can also have free internet access in your own room.

You can make your booking through their website:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Japan Travel Myths

There are many myths about traveling to Japan, which really scared me a lot before my trip. Now that I am back in Singapore from a pleasant trip to Japan, I must say many myths are simply untrue.

First, traveling to Japan is expensive. If you are going for the top-end stuff, then wherever you go, it is going to be expensive, but if you plan well and go for the ordinary Japanese stuff, then it is not any more expensive than living in Singapore.

Just to share with everybody the various costs of my trip to Japan, I have listed down my costs:

1. Air ticket: I took the Cathay Pacific promotion of SGD$850 (including taxes & fuel surcharge) to Tokyo with transit in Hong Kong. The timing is not exactly perfect. The flight to Tokyo is at 10.15am, and the return flight is at 9.45am. Basically I wasted about 2 days flying. But cheap tickets, what to do?

2. 7-Day Japan Rail Pass: 28,300 yen. It covers most of my transportation needs in Japan. Below is a break-down of all the travel costs related to the Japan Railway:

a) Narita Airport -> Shin Osaka: 16,250 yen
b) Shin Osaka -> Kyoto: 2,730 yen
c) Kyoto -> Himeji: 5,130 yen
d) Himeji -> Tokyo: 15,210 yen
e) JR trains in Tokyo: 160 yen(ave)/trip x 3 = 480 yen
Total: 39,800 yen

So I basically got back what money's worth of the 7-day JR pass. However, please don't have the false impression that traveling by train in Japan is this expensive. In my case, as I have the JR pass, which covers the use of Shinkansen (Bullet train) except NOZOMI, I always traveled in Shinkansen from city to city, and I had seats reserved, which is more expensive. If you don't have the JR pass, and don't want to spend too much money on trains, you have other cheaper options. For example, travel from Shin Osaka to Kyoto, you can take a local train at the cost of 540 yen, but it takes 28 mins. In comparison, Shinkansen will cost you 2730 yen (with reserved seats) and it takes 14 mins.

For food, logding, admission, and other transport needs not covered by the JR pass, the total cost is 80,000 yen.

So in total, the cost of my trip is SGD$850 + 108,300 yen. Based on SGD$1=66 yen, the total cost in Singapore dollar terms is SGD$2491.00 for a 10-day trip to Japan, covering Tokyo, Kyoto, Himeji & Osaka.

Second, you must know Japanese or have a Japanese friend to show you around. This is not exactly true. No doubt Japanese in general don't speak English well, most of them don't speak English at all. It is really a challenge to people who know neither Japanese or Chinese. However, if you have some knowledge in Chinese, it really a lot. Look at the Tokyo subway map, everything is actually in Chinese, although strictly speaking, it is in Japanese Kanji, which is a variation of Chinese characters. Many maps in Japanese have Chinese indications. If you are ethnic Chinese yet you can't read Chinese characters, shame on you!

Ok, I will just stop here today. Tomorrow, I will share with you the accommodations I had in Japan. All of them are decent and nice, and don't cost a bomb.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Traveling in Japan

Spending a week and a half in Japan, will be back soon :)

Japan is an interesting country. Their service is outstandingly good. And by visiting Japan, I somehow have a better understanding of the Chinese culture. Japan preserved more Chinese culture than the Chinese themselves.

Will write more soon....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spilled Milk

Stock markets across the world went through another round of roller-coaster ride. DJIA went up 900 points in a single day, the largest ever single day gain since 1930s. But that is after DJIA dropped to ~7000 points for the 1st time since many many years....

The DJIA and the rest of the world gained because people are optimistic about the concerted efforts by governments across the world to save the financial industry. Being a skeptic, I am not very sure how effective those concerted efforts will be, and what kind of seed it will sow.

The current problem lies in the fact that people are spending beyond their means. The toxic securities lying in the bank balance sheets are said to worth a lot a lot more than what the markets say they are worth.

It is like you think you own an asset that is worth 1 million dollars, and you happily spend half a million. Now you realised your asset is only worth half of what you thought, which is only 0.5 million dollars, but you have already spent that half a million. You are penniless!

The injection of credits into the ailing financial system only penalise people who are prudent in managing their own money. Why? Because the injection of credits means you need more money to buy the same stuff. Effectively, you lose money!

In my personal opinion, once the current finanical crisis settles down, we will go back to high inflation, commodities and precious metal will again become hot. Mark my words, it may take another 5-10 years to see that happening, but it will happen. The trillions of dollars won't just lie quietly in some corner of a bank vault.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recession - Now It Is Official

Recession, now it is official that Singapore has entered into a recession with 2 consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

The stock market is terrible. It is like a tape rewind to the Asia Financial Crisis days back in 1997/98. Share prices are plunging, but the prices now are still not as low as 1997/98 levels yet. So you figure, is it time to bottom fish? Mmmh, better do your homework, otherwise you may be fishing at the wrong time.

According to some analyst's report, next support for STI is 1800, then followed by 1500, then 1400 is the 161.8% retracement level based on the Fibonacci analysis.

Foreign banks are failing one by one from US to Belgium to Iceland, to UK. Globalisation is good, it brings business to the whole world; and it drags everybody down too when there is a screw-up. Singapore banks are also sold down drastically, with all the preference shares trading at discount to its liquidation value.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Don't judge a book by its cover, don't trust a man by his looks. That's my conclusion after watching the movie Painted Skin.

The demoness, Xiao Wei, in the movie, is such a beautiful woman, and she appears to be caring, gentle, understanding, etc. She seems to have all the virtues of a noble lady, but then under her skin, the painted skin, it is disgusting. She eats human hearts the shasimi way to maintain her youthfulness and beauty. Her body is full of nothing but worms, all the disgusting worms that will make anyone who sees to puke.

However, it is easy said then done. Research shows that beautiful people tend to be more successful in life. They have this natural advantage of being beautiful. How many great heroes fell victim to beautiful people who eventually gave them the fatal blow.

You can still be generous and kind-hearted, but you must know certain principles that you must uphold under all circumstances; otherwise, you will become the next victim. And remember, the more beautiful it looks, the more poisonous it is...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Painted Skin (画皮)

The movie Painted Skin is a movie adoption of a story from the book Liaozhai Zhiyi (聊斋志异), authored by a Qing Dynasty scholar Pu Songling (蒲松龄).

The cast is great, including big names such as Zhao Wei, Zeng Zhi-dan (Donnie Yen), Zhou Xun, Chen Kun & Qi Yu-wu.

Costumes and stylying are not bad either. I like the costumes they wear in the movie. However, the story is a bit plain, and to make things worse, there are times the movie will just 'freeze'.

In terms of acting, Chen Kun, Donnie Yen, Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei are all very great. They took up the challenge to act those difficult characters. Qi Yu-wu is only a supporting actor in the movie, and his character has very limited room to show off his acting skills. Too bad. This is also the first Qi Yu-wu movie that I have watched. I missed all his other movies, such as 881, 12 Lotus, and Home Song Story.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Microstock: Concepts

In microstock, quantity is important, but what is more important, as many other things in life, is quality. Concepts, ideas, creativity play an utmost important role in a sccuessful microstock photographer.

Keep in mind that you are doing stock photos, not pure arts. Your photos must fit into some commerical use.

With good concept photos, you don't need to have a very large portfolio for you to do well.

Take a look at this lady's portfolio in ShutterStock. Her portfolio is not that big, small compared to many, but she has got the essence of stock photography.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


400! That's the number of photos I have in my portfolio at ShutterStock. It took me 2.75 years to build that small little portfolio but I finally reached there today. It is small, and it took too long to build, but then at least I am happy.

My next target is to reach 800 photos. I hope it will not take another 2.75 years to add 400 more photos.