Personal | Stories | Travel

A Stranger’s Kindness…When I Lost My Phone in Kyoto

By on June 4, 2016

A few weeks ago, I landed in Osaka airport and hopped on a train bound for Kyoto.

Along the way to our AirBnB apartment near Karasuma Oike station, my boyfriend and I bought bento sets at the nearby convenience store to satiate our post-jetlag hunger.

It was approximately 20 minutes from Kyoto station to our apartment when I had a brilliant idea of documenting our first meal in Kyoto with my iPhone.

But here’s how shit unfolded: It went from “Eh? Where’s my phone?” to “Hey is my phone in your bag?” to “WHAT THE FUCK I LOST MY PHONE!” real quick.

To my horror, I realised I had failed technology…for once. My phone was lost in transit when it fell out of my bag I had placed on top of my luggage while rolling through the terrain.

Me being me, I said “die lah” and embraced my unfortunate fate of losing my phone for the first time, on the first day in a foreign land. Well, at least I did not curve into a fetus position and cry my problems away.

My partner, however, preserved his sanity with logical decisions hardwired in him.

As I was ready to prepare for my iPh-uneral, he grabbed the portable wifi, called my phone, slipped half his feet into the shoes and ran down to comb the area. I joined him soon after, not to find my phone, but to assure him it was okay to ~~let it go~~. 

Pretty sure modern-day Elsa would’ve frozen her words if she had lost her phone. Dat bish ain’t gonna be Zen.

After 50 meters of hyperventilating inside, I prayed to Steve Job’s soul and a miracle happened: someone picked up my boyfriend’s call.

I couldn’t remember the exact conversation I had in broken English and Japanese but it went something like,

“Hello? This is my phone. Yes. Can you speak English/eigo ga hanasemasu ka?”

“Eh..hai..Where you? I give… you back.”

Karasuma Oike eki (station) desu.

“Give me 20 minutes… you wait for me there.”

“Thank you so much!” x 20

As we waited at the gantry area and watched salarymen tap in and out of the station, my inner cynical Singaporean started questioning if he would return it.

Every second felt a hundred times longer than it took.

But minutes later, I felt Guan Yin Ma sprinkle water on me as a slim bespectacled boy in a polo tee and baggy jeans ran towards me with beads of perspiration glistening on his forehead.

Although I was standing beside a huge heavily-tattooed man who forgot to cover his inks with a jacket when he ran out of the house, the boy flashed us the most genuine smile and handed me my phone.

There was nothing I could do but bow repeatedly, saying, “Oh my God thank you so much, thank you so much. This means so much to me. I don’t know how to thank you.”

He told me he was three stations away when he saw my phone on the floor near Nijo Castle. Till today, I’ve no idea how it ended up there because I only travelled from the airport to Karasuma Oike. He also told me he was a student in Kyoto and his name was something along Kenshiro.

Lost in disbelief, I forgot to take a picture with him.

I told him I had just arrived from Singapore and he shook my hands saying, “Enjoy your stay in Kyoto” with the warmest smile.

There are things in life that we learn to be grateful for; we say thank you, we pray, we find the good in bad days. But there are deeds of kindness far greater than we feel we deserve that hit us on days we never expect.

The small deeds stop us in our tracks, so we can evaluate ourselves and remember how one tiny action can make a huge difference for another

So along with many others who make a lifelong impression in someone’s life, he will just be another kind soul, never to cross paths again.

My kind soul was just a stranger in a foreign place who took a train three stops away to return a phone on the floor while perspiring in the 17-degree weather to make sure he met me on time.

I doubted him because we all know people who cheat/lie to others and it’s sad how our culture snowballs the good and bad.

But each time we receive a kind deed by those who expect nothing but the personal choice to do the right thing, all we can do is simply pass it on.

To K,

Domo Arigato!どうもありがとう

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Japan | Travel

Inside Abashiri Prison: Housing Japan’s Dangerous Criminals Since 1890s

By on February 20, 2016

Up the winding roads of Hokkaido to the northernmost tip of Japan, I spent a day in Abashiri, tucked in the eastern part of Okhotsk Subprefecture. The Sea of Okhotsk divides Japan from Russia.

During my stay, I visited one of Japan’s earliest maximum security prisons since the Meiji era. Built in the 1890s, 1200 prisoners across Japan were sent here to build the roads today that was meant to be a military path to counter Russia.

Over 200 prisoners died due to overwork, malnutrition and extreme weather. One of the hardest prisons to escape from, Abashiri is surrounded by sea that would freeze in the -20 degrees winter (along with tears) that I’m sure even Sylvester Stallone would freak out.

The old prison sector has morphed into a museum, but the city’s new maximum-security prison is still in use.

As ‘high level’ as Asians can be, it’s no surprise there were inmates like Gosunkugi (dubbed the king of prison breaks during the Meiji Period) who had a moniker of ‘Long Nail’.

Halfway through one of his six breakouts, he stepped on a nail 15cm long, pulled it out and ran for 12km. Ironically, he chose the Zen life and became a model prisoner entrusted with cleaning outside the gates.

Another escape artist Shiratori could break handcuffs with bare hands, dislocate joints to slide through and run 120km in a day. He escaped 4 times.

Entering Old Abashiri Prison


This is the Former Gate of Futamigaoka Farm. In 1891, for the purpose of ensuring Abashiri Prison’s self-sufficiency, construction began on what would be Japan’s largest prison farming project.

The former gate of this farming facility was moved here and restored to serve as Abashiri Prison Museum’s main entrance gate.

Agricultural practices were also established and the prison became a centre for soy and miso production apart from the labour behind the development of infrastructure work, including the main road connecting Abashiri and Asahikawa.


Jacket: Pull & Bear, Paris | Hat: Muji | Bag: F21


Aside from exhibits on the history of incarceration and punishment methods, the museum also has a cafeteria (above).

One can opt for inexpensive options (ramen, rice bowls, etc) to complement a bottle of Abashiri Prison Stout beer, but most people come here for the Prison Food Set Meals. They are recreations of the meals served to actual prisoners in Abashiri’s prison today.

Here’s a glimpse of what their menu looks like:

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My first reaction: win liao lor, even my mum doesn’t make me bento sets.

Modern day facility:


Among the 1,200 prisoners sent to Abashiri, a town which had a population of only 630 in those days, 69 served life terms and 362 served indefinite prison terms.

As the road construction was urgent to counter Russia, which was seen as pushing aggressively southward, work quotas were four times larger than normal.

Inmates were tied in a pair by chains and forced to work all day till midnight. More than 200 died due to overwork, lack of sleep and poor food.

Many other roads in Hokkaido were also constructed by prisoners. Under the prison’s principle of self-sufficiency, prisoners made commodities such as miso and soy sauce, cultivated fields and constructed buildings in which they were imprisoned.


The Prayer Hall

The original prison buildings, excluding some parts, were burned down in a forest fire that spread to the prison.

There are 22 building areas in all. Some have been completely restored while others are reproductions. The prisoners could come to this chapel to hear visiting chaplains speak and receive guidance towards rehabilitation.


And this is just a mandatory creepy picture…



The Solitary Punishment Chamber

An unruly prisoner could be confined here for up to seven days with only rice-water to drink and punishment could be increased to include light deprivation. Imagine being here, alone, in pitch black darkness…wtf.


The Bathhouse

For >1000 prisoners to bathe efficiently, the men were divided into groups based on their duties.

In lockstep, upon receiving the guard’s command, each group would take their turns at each station:

  • 90 seconds to disrobe in the dressing room
  • 3 minutes in the first bath
  • 3 minutes to get out and wash their bodies
  • 3 minutes in the second bath,
  • 3 minutes to get out and shave
  • 15 minutes to towel off and get dressed

Despite having only 15 minutes to bathe, the prisoners looked forward to it more than anything else.


The Radial Five-Winged Prison House

The Meiji government promoted the construction of modern prisons, such as this radial prison design that originated in the United Kingdom. In fact, it was a carbon copy of the one in Leuven, Belgium.

Five buildings of the “Radial five wings prison house” surround a watch tower that resembles a human hand from an aerial perspective.

Constructed in 1912 and used for over 72 years until 1985, this design allowed efficient management of 226 cells from a single watchpoint. Prison break, anyone?


Visitors can enter some cells to see the scratches and names carved on the walls.


This bell was used to warn of emergencies such as fires or escapes.

The Indoor Penological Museum


This building displays historical materials that explain why Abashiri Prison was constructed. In the centre, there is a “Sensory Theatre” (pictured below) that transports one back to 1891 during the construction of the Central road.


To understand the pain these prisoners went through, you can try walking with an iron ball tied to the ankles while lifting these gravel.


Admission price:

The cost for admission is ¥1080 for an adult ticket, but I read that if you stop at the information centre at Japan Rail’s Abashiri Station, you can get a discounted ticket for ¥940. Their website also offers a 10% discount.

How to get here:

From Abashiri Station, you can take a bus from stop No.2. The bus trip is only five minutes long, but you must tell the driver that you want to stop at Tentozan (costs around ¥230 each way). After you alight, it is a 1km walk up a gradually sloped hill.

For more information, visit the website:

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Japan | Travel

Ishiya Chocolate Factory, Sapporo Japan

By on February 19, 2016

If there’s one thing better than the crunch of butter cookies, then it has to be visiting a factory where all the magic’s baked.

I finally location tagged-off Hokkaido during my last Japan trip and the iconic Ishiya factory was a mandatory pit stop to unveil Sapporo’s chocolatey pride; Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人) cookies, the flagship product of Ishiya company.

There were no oompa loompas sadly, but there was a little bit of magic behind this mandatory souvenir gift one would gladly receive from 80% of friends who visit Japan.

Apart from the cool weather, which makes any location instantly attractive to sunny-side Singaporeans, Shiroi Koibito Park is a gorgeous European-inspired theme park. More than just a chocolate factory, there’s also a rose garden, museum, cafe and sweets shop.
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The interior was dressed in rococo decor, with frilly dolls and porcelain teacups you would find in a Ghibli film.

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Besides windows where visitors can observe the production process, there are chocolate-related exhibits to learn about how it was made in the olden days.

Part of the Shiroi Koibito Park is a soccer field, the practice ground for “Consadole Sapporo”, the local J-League soccer team. There is also a small collection house about the team’s history.


At first, I was a little sceptical about how this adorable cat would taste like because a lot of cute looking desserts just mask an awful recipe. But all my doubts melted away with the delightful taste of… Tiramisu! It’s one of my favourite desserts.

With my new Tiramisu cat, I headed out to the rose garden and enjoyed the last bit of it in a white glasshouse.


Address: Miyanosawa 2-jo 2 chome, Nishi-ku, Sapporo

Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm daily

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