Sunday, May 29, 2005

Diamonds or Pearls ?

Pearls and diamonds are two of the very finest gems and either would be a great gift. Basically, when purchasing pearls, one look for these 5 elements : size, lustre, surface, shape and color. Very large pearls, such as white South Sea or black Tahitian pearls are popular, but cost quite a bit more than the average size pearls. Meanwhile, when purchasing diamonds, look for the 5 C's : carat, cut, color, clarity and certificate (sometimes cost is also one consideration prior to purchase). Which to choose, diamonds or pearls? They say, 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend'. But, pearls are lovely and elegant, too.
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The art of pearl cultivation is a long and delicate process. Man had been trying to unlock the secret of the pearl's beauty as far back as 1000 BC, but it wasn't until the early 1900's that Kokichi Mikimoto (the Pearl King) successfully grew a pearl. Toba Bay and vicinity (Ise-Shima area of Mie Prefecture) is the birthplace of cultured pearls. A landscape blessed by the sea, the bay provides a serene view of little green islets arranged like stepping stones in the blue sea.
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The family-owned Ise pearl farm (above) supplies high-quality pearls - one of the largest pearl farm in Japan and has been cultivating fine pearls for more than 75 years.
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Surrounding Ise is the beautiful costal landscapes of Ise-Shima National Park (could have been better if not because of the gloomy weather).
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Next to the pearl islands is one of Japan's largest aquariums. Toba Aquarium contains more than 850 species of aquatic plants and animals. Above are the ferocious piranhas. How about some top-grade piranha sushi ?
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Northern of Mie Prefecture, one of the longest (8133 feet), tallest (306 feet) and fastest (95 mph) coasters in the world - Steel Dragon 2000 inside Nagashima Spaland can be a horrible experience.
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The grape vineyard - one of the most fascinating part of the journey in Mie, one can pick and eat all the grapes she wants (1000 yen for all you can eat !). Kobayashi-san was seen here demonstrating on how to eat a bunch of grapes.
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There are more to visit in Mie Prefecture. Being the most famous, Ise Jingu is the most sacred Shinto Shrine in Japan. To discover more about Mie, click here :

Back to the very first question, pearls or diamonds, which do you prefer ? Oh don't tell me pearl with DIAMONDS...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Everyday Buddhism Part 2 of 2

According to the Teachings of the Buddha, the fundamental cause of human suffering is due to greed, hatred and ignorance. Burning within us as lust, craving, anger, resentment and misunderstanding, these so-called poisons drive one blind and thirsty through the endless round of birth and death termed as samsara.
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Our greed is a burning desire; we want objects of our desire to provide us with lasting satisfaction so we feel fulfilled and complete. Many times, we mistakenly believe our happiness is dependent upon that goal, but once we attain it, we get no lasting satisfaction. Then once again, our greed and desire arise, looking outside of ourselves for the next thing that will hopefully bring satisfaction. Influenced by greed, we are never content.
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The symptoms of hatred can show up as anger, hostility, dislike, aversion or ill-will; wishing harm or suffering upon another person.
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Ignorance is our wrong understanding or wrong views of reality. Ignorance is our misperception of the way the world works; our inability to understand the nature of things exactly as they are.
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In addition to meditation practice, there are other antidotes to the three poisons.

  • To overcome greed, one learn to cultivate selflessness, generosity, detachment and contentment.
  • To overcome hatred, one learn to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, patience and forgiveness.
  • To overcome ignorance, one cultivate wisdom, insight and right understanding.
What is Buddhism view of God ? Here, when you speak about God, there are two types. One is the Creator God. Then there are what called the deities, or celestial beings. In Buddhism it speaks about the deities. They are not permanent or everlasting. The God that theistic religion speaks of is a permanent, everlasting God and it is this God who punishes the evil deeds and rewards the good deeds of the men of His creation. However, this concept is not in Buddhism. But, if you were to ask me whether if I believe there is the Creator God, I always avoid this question. Am I ignorant ? (I don't know myself). I wish I have the answer.
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The outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha in Kamakura is the second largest Buddha statue in Japan. The statue was completed in 1252 and originally was located inside a large temple hall. However, the temple buildings were washed away by a tsunami tidal wave in the end of the 15th century, and since then the Buddha sits in the open.
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In a local restaurant outside the temple, one can enjoy hot and delicious udon noodles (but it seems a little inappropriate with decoration of the Buddha's head).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Everyday Buddhism Part 1 of 2

I don't consider myself a staunch practitioner of Buddhism but I have great faith in the Teachings of the Buddha. One's religion is whatever one is most interested in. Today, I like to share with you about what I have learnt many years ago back in the university. The content of this post maybe too long and boring but bear with me, I'd say 5 minutes max, ok ?

Gautama is the key figure in Buddhism. According to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama was a prince. His father Suddhodana was the king of the Sakya people, and ruled in the capital of Kapilavatsu, today within the border of Nepal. Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini under the full moon of May. As the boy reached the age of 16, his father arranged a marriage to a cousin of the same age, Yashodhara, and she gave birth to a son, Rahula.

Although his father ensured that Gautama was provided with everything he could want or need, Gautama was constantly troubled and internally dissatisfied. At the age of 29, Gautama was escorted by his attendant Channa on four subsequent visits outside of the palace. There, he came across the 'four sights' : an old crippled man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and finally a monk. Gautama realized then the harsh truth of life - that death, disease, age, and pain were inescapable, that the poor outnumbered the wealthy, and that even the pleasures of the rich eventually came to nothing.
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Inspired, Gautama left his home, his possessions and his family at age 29. He chose to become a monk. Abandoning his inheritance, he dedicated his life to learning how to overcome suffering. He began training in the ascetic life and practicing vigorous austere (morally strict) practices. After 6 years, and at the brink of death, he found that the severe ascetic practices did not lead to greater understanding, but merely clouded the mind and tortured the body.

Once discarding asceticism and concentrating on meditation, he discovered the middle way (The Eightfold Path), a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. The Buddha claimed he had realized complete Awakening and insight into the nature and cause of human suffering, along with the steps necessary to eliminate it. At the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment under the full moon in May. This understanding manifested itself in the Four Noble Truths. For the remaining 45 years of his life, he taught his doctrine and discipline to an extremely diverse range of people. At the age of 80, Gautama passed away on a full moon day in May.

Wesak Day is the most holy time in the Buddhist calendar. It commemorates the birth, Enlightenment and passing of Gautama Buddha on the one historical day, the first full moon day in May.
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Understanding meditation - it usually refers to a state in which the body is consciously relaxed and the mind is allowed to become calm and focused, discounting wandering thoughts and fantasies. Meditation does not necessarily require effort and can be experienced as 'just happening'. Meditation means to see things as they really are in their true perspective and nature. Meditation is not reserved only for people living in an ashram or a cave or for people whose sole interest is spirituality. The purposes for which people meditate vary - it may serve simply as a means of relaxation from a busy daily routine, or even as a means of gaining insight into the nature of reality.
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Meditation can be done with the eyes closed (as long as one does not fall asleep), or with the eyes open - physical postures include sitting (usually cross-legged), standing, lying down, and walking.
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Now, in sitting meditation, one just sit doing nothing, just breathing. After adjusting oneself in comfortable posture, you just simply concentrate on the breathing-in and breathing-out. As distractions and thoughts inevitably arise, simply notice that they are there - don't get caught up in them or get irritated by them - and then simply return to the observation of the breath.
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Walking meditation is walking up and down a fixed path with mindfulness. As you walk back and forth, find a pace that gives you a sense of ease. With your attention in the legs and feet, feel the sensations of each step. Feel the contact of the foot with the ground. Whenever you notice that the mind has wandered, bring it back to the sensations of the feet walking - this helps maintain a continuity of awareness.
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Mantra recitation is the most widespread form of meditation in the Buddhist world. Part of the power of chanting meditation is that it unites body, breath, voice, and mind as these aspects of our existence become focused through the activity of chanting. The mind itself experiences a high degree of unification when chanting.
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In the recent years there has been a growing interest within the medical community to study the physiological effects of meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute reported that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the 'relaxation response' - changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry.
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Life seems to be a perpetual struggle, some enormous effort against staggering odds. And what is our solution to all this dissatisfaction? We get stuck in the ' If only' syndrome. If only I had more money, then I would be happy. If only I can find somebody who really loves me, if only I can lose 20 pounds, and on and on forever. There is not a thing wrong with this. It is the nature of the universe. But no matter how hard you pursue pleasure and success, there are times when you fail. No matter how fast you flee, there are times when pain catches up with you. And in between those times, life is so boring you could scream. Our minds are full of opinions and criticisms. We have built walls all around ourselves and we are trapped with the prison of our own lies and dislikes. We suffer.

Meditation is intended to purify the mind. It cleanses the thought process of what can be called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred and ignorance. It brings the mind to a state of peace and awareness. The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. Meditation sharpens your concentration and your thinking power.
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As the Buddha said, 'I only point the way. I am not God. I am not special. I am awakened. I point the way of awakening. You yourself must walk it, as I have, if you choose to'. It is a path to travel.

Note : Two years ago, I attended a morning meditation session in Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto as the abbot of the temple taught Zazen meditation to the general public.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Words Women Use

I got an e-mail (without the pictures) today from a friend entitled 'Words Women Use'. Eeerrrr.... I have no intention to insult or offend anyone, the only intention is just to share this piece of information and to understand more about women. Indeed, I am a little nervous because majority of my blog readers are female.

miss universe3

Fine. This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

Five Minutes. If she is getting dressed, this is half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given 5 more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

Nothing. This is the calm before the storm. This means 'something' and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with 'nothing' usually end in 'fine'.

Go Ahead. This is a dare, not permission, DON'T DO IT!

miss universe2

Loud Sigh. Although not actually a word, the loud sigh is often misunderstood by men. A 'Loud Sigh' means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you over 'Nothing'.

That's Okay. This is one of the most dangerous statements that woman can make to a man. 'That's Okay' means that she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

Thanks. This is the least used of all words in the female vocabulary. If a woman is thanking you, do not question it, just say you're welcome and back out of the room slowly.

Famous quotes :

Behind every successful man, the saying goes, there's a GOOD woman. Behind every successful woman is herself.

A woman is like a tea bag... you don't know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.

If you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen.

miss universe1

Well these pictures are of course not mine. I copied them from the official site of Miss Universe. The last three are my favorites to win. Check here :

Monday, May 16, 2005

What is your concept of living in the city ?

Born and raised in the city of Kuala Lumpur until the age of 19, I used to think that I have grown accustomed to the fast-paced, hectic city lifestyle. While there is everything you could need provided in the city center, one could not escape from major problems of a metropolitan city - population concentration (traffic congestion) and significant rise of environmental deterioration.

What is your concept of living in the city center ?

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Some may argue that the city provides a wealth of opportunities - better education and self-improvement, desperately-needed job openings, access to entertainment and nightlife, the list goes on. And it is in the city that one gets the opportunity to become rich and successful.

What is your definition of a high quality living environment ?

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As in the movie (Under the Tuscan Sun, 2003), have you ever imagine yourself living in the villa in the lush Italian countryside ? In the morning light, a herd of cows slowly moving out to pasture after the morning milking. Away from the hustle and bustle of modern living and you make a living in the slow pace of the rural. Do you crave for peace and tranquility in your life ? Would the slow pace of life a potent trigger of depression ?

I wanted to but I eschew the idea of living in the countryside. Can one choose to keep away his talent from better opportunities ? A clerk in a city definitely earns more than clerk in the countryside.

Is living in the city better than living in the countryside ?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Human Body Adventure

While I don't feel comfortable saying I enjoyed writing this post and I felt pretty scared looking at the images over and over again (camera not allowed in the museum actually), but, I thought it might be interesting to mention about the place I recently visited. Please do not continue if you feel uncomfortable. Unlike other postings, here you will see unpleasant images of the human structure.

Did you know that an ostrich's brain is smaller than its eye? Do you know the size of the human brain ? How heavy is an adult human brain ? You can't always tell how big someone's brain is from the size of their head. And larger brains do not necessarily imply higher intelligence. This means that someone with a larger brain may be less intelligent than someone with a smaller brain. However, larger brains do correlate with higher intelligence. Did you know that the large intestine is about 5 feet long but the small intestine can be as long as 23 feet depending on the size of the human body ? Do you know when the fetus begin to assume the human form - the development of the fetus through its various stages ?
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The human body is the most wonderful and complex machine in the world. A visit to the Mysteries of the Human Body Exhibition allowed me to have a closer look inside the human body - an anatomic display of plastinated real human specimens, including whole bodies as well as individual organs and body slices.

Date : 2nd April 2005 - 22nd May 2005
Venue : The Museum of Kyoto, Japan
Entrance Fee : 1400 yen

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Attached here were a few of the many specimens. Almost half the body's weight is muscle. The heart has a claim to being the muscle that performs the largest quantity of physical work in the course of a lifetime. Skeleton is a collection of bones that holds the rest of our body up. The skeleton changes composition over a lifespan. When you were born, your skeleton had around 350 bones. By the time you become an adult, you will only have around 206 bones (the numbers can vary slightly from individual to individual).
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A typical person has around 4 - 5 litres of blood. All of us know that human blood is red. Blood is never blue, but veins appear blue because light is diffused by skin (look at the veins of your wrist).
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This is the most interesting part of the exhibition. Here the head was seen sectioned at 1 - 2 centimetre intervals. The head was frozen in a special material to preserve the tissues and organs. And sagittal sections (Y-Z plane) follow from one side of the head to the other. The nervous system is the most complex and delicate of all the body systems. At the centre of the nervous system is the brain. The brain, along with the heart, is one of the two most important organs in the human body. Loss of function in this organ fufills some definitions of death. In the exhibition, one can also view the whole human body sectioned into three different planes. The transverse sections (X-Y plane) slicing the body from top to bottom (head to feet).

There are much to see and, it is definitely worth a visit to this exhibition (during weekdays to avoid the crowds) despite high entrance price.
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According to Buddhism, birth as human is truly rare. Birth need not be considered particularly joyful, nor a great danger. Likewise death need not be sad. Everything depends on attitude. There is actually very little needed to make a happy life. The universe changes, our life is what our thoughts make it. Create a healthy lifestyle that you deserve - maintain a healthy mind and body.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Path of Philosophy

Since morning, I have been cracking my head, thinking how I should write this posting. According to Merriam-Webster, philosophy is a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means. Its meaning requires further elaboration if you are able, but the subject of philosophy is just too vast for me to handle. Meanwhile, the Path of Philosophy (or Tetsugaku-no-Michi) is a 2 km traffic-free public path beside a canal, once frequented by monks, priests and scholars, as a perfect place for long walks spent in quiet reflection. Nishida Kitaro, a significant and influential Japanese philosopher of the 20th century, used to walk this path to meditate - thereafter the path is called the Path of Philosophy. Lined with cherry trees, be prepared for large crowds of tourists during early spring.
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Well, the Golden Week holidays came and went so fast, but I was still in a total holiday mood. I left the lab earlier than usual on a saturday and decided to take a walk down the path. Slightly before dusk, a maiko - a geisha in training was seen strolling down the Path of Philosophy. Behind the closed doors of exclusive teahouses and restaurants, these women of exquisite grace entertain gentlemen - they pour drinks, light cigarettes and engage in charming banter. Please be reminded that geisha are not prostitutes.
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The path does not only lead through a quiet neighbourhood but also allows visits to several important temples along the way.
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The western word 'rickshaw' is derived from the Japanese term jinrikisha, a mode of human-powered transport, where a macho-man draws a two-wheeled cart which seats one or two passengers. Many tourists explore parts of the city in jinrikisha.
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I was hoping to see a variety of beautiful flowers blooming but it seemed that I have missed them. Here is one nice flower picture dedicating to my net friends - ai ling, kuishinbomeow, primrose, angel, arglene, emotionalistic, charlene and nanmetta (sorry, girls only).
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There are both japanese-style (top) and western-style (bottom) tea houses, where you can sip tea and quietly converse while admiring the surrounding beauty.
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Walking alone sometimes makes us feel awfully alone, especially when you see romantic couples walking around holding hands. But sometimes it is good to be alone in contemplation - not all the time. Oh God, I sound so sad !
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Koinobori - the colourful fish pennants which wave over countless home in Japan in late April and early May, in honour of the household's sons. People express hope that each boy in the family will grow up healthy and strong by flying koinobori. Kodomo no hi (Children's Day) is generally said to be a 'boy's day'. Meanwhile, the girls have their own festival called the Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival).

Friday, May 06, 2005

Golden Week - Part Three

There is not quite a list of books I have read this year. Some books that I bought this year, I didn't get to read until March. Maruzen Kyoto has its 8th floor solely devoted to foreign books. Last week, I picked up two books for holiday reading.
1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon.
2. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax - Liz Jensen.
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A friend of mine finally obtained her Japanese Driver's License after a few attempts. And she offered to drive us to Odai-ga-hara, in the south-eastern of Nara prefecture during the holidays. We drove along roads that wind along the crest of the mountains and pass through some twenty tunnels. We listened to Natalie Imbruglia's Counting Down The Days and other CDs that we had brought along. The mountain roads were steep, long and winding and I should've seen for myself as 'a little bit of a warning sign' (honk honk). It turned out to be a classic one. I didn't see it coming. I started reading, already having it set in my mind I wasn't gonna get car sick. Thirty minutes later, I felt dizzy and I got sick to my stomach. It was a horrible journey - my heart was beating really fast. The girls continued chatting but I stayed quiet.
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After three or four hours, after going in wrong direction a few times, we finally arrived at Odai-ga-hara. I felt awful inside the car although there was no real urge to vomit. The lemon drop that I bought slightly after arrival really helped me alot with the nausea, and in no time, I became ready to explore the mountain.
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Well, I have never climbed a mountain or jungle trekked with my dad. I don't think he could climb a mountain neither if he is interested to explore one. He likes fishing. The farthest I could recall, the first hill I conquered was the one near my university - Bukit Jambul. It was a hiking that took probably 15 minutes to reach its peak.
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Why do you go hiking ? In our hectic, modern lives it is easy to get lost, to lose a sense of who we really are and why we are here. It is easy to get so busy doing so many things that we loose track of why we are doing them.
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Hiking gives us a break from our ordinary routine and a chance to reconnect with the natural world and ourselves. Hiking can be a time to let your mind soar and contemplate the most difficult problems and abstract ideas. Hiking gives us a chance to leave our mechanized way of life behind for awhile.
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As one of Japan's rainiest spots, the high alpine plateau of Odai-ga-hara is famous for its mossy forests, composed of a wealth of different species.
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On all sides of the plateau, mountain walls drop away into deep gorges. The Odai-ga-hara to Osuni-dani Track starts from the peak of the moss-covered mountaintop and works its way down through a deep gorge and past a procession of waterfalls.
Time required : 2 - 3 days
Distance : 29.1 km
Standard : Medium-Hard
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We were quite surprised to see so many people up on the hiking trail. Our main objective was to reach the top of Mount Hidegatake. It was an easy hike, which took us about 1 - 2 hours.
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At the mountain top - the best place for lunch where one can enjoy the majestic view of numerous mountain peaks.
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But we didn't bring lunch. Just oreos and some peanuts. As we are all bloggers, we were more concerned if we have packed our cameras (plus extra batteries) into our bags. Next time, we need to make a checklist - 'What to bring on a hiking trip ?'
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Just before heading back to the parking area, a sharp right turn leads to the Moss Trail. But time constraints did not permit us to explore this part of the forest.
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Nevertheless, throughout our hiking adventure, we could still notice beautiful moss-covered trees and rocks - like a dense and green fuzzy carpet.
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What are mosses ? Mosses are part of a group of primitive plants called bryophytes. Mosses do not have real roots. Instead they have structures called rhizoids that may be only one cell thick, about as thick as a piece of thread.
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Mosses also do not have a system to transport water up their stems like other plants do (therefore they are called non-vascular plant). So mosses are usually small and low to the ground. They do have stems and leaves.
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After a late lunch, we rested for a good 15 minutes before heading to the car. We needed to head home early in order to avoid dark mountain roads. But I hesitated to get inside the car.
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Inside the car, my nausea resurfaced slightly and was wending its way through my system again. I took double dose of my lemon drops. I felt a greasy sensation in my digestive system.
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On our way heading back to Kyoto, a dip in the natural hotsprings didn't help at all. My nausea began to get more and more intense and was in full force. My head was spinning as the road started winding upwards and downwards. I wanted to get out of the car but there wasn't any copter to send me home. I thought I was going to die in the car - The girls were laughing because the 'tiger' has become a 'sick cat' but later, I guessed they started to worry about my condition. My face has probably turned blue - I sucked in as much oxygen as I could to minimize brain damage. But my nose was blocked and I have to breathe through my mouth. I felt like there was a balloon in my heart, getting bigger and bigger - about to burst just anytime. Phew, at the end, I am glad I survived. It was really a tough journey to the mountains. Odai-ga-hara - although beautiful, I will never want to go there again, not by car.
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"We are all travellers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend." -- Robert Stevenson