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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Harajuku and Shibuya

Finally, we're visiting a shrine in Tokyo itself. Today, we went to Meji Jinggu shrine which is in Harajuku. It's in a rather nice park which trees were donated from all over the country to build the park.

The shrine is free admission which is a good point for it. It's getting frigid these days so the walk in the park was pleasant but a little chilly.

After visting Meiji Jinngu, we walked down to Shibuya. It's basically a shopping area for the younger and trendier people. My friend and I hit up Tower Records and HMV... saw quite a few albums that I would like to  have but decided to check them out in Singapore instead as each CD here costs an average of 2500 JPY.

The few albums include:

Bossa Disney Carioca (3059 JPY)
The Bothy Band 1975 (2510 JPY)
Disney's Jazz Album : Jumping and Jive (2548 JPY)
Celtic Woman (1590 JPY)

Sarah Brightman has a Christmas album out. Sounds cool.

Not sure if I should complete my FF music collection, I can always buy online slowly..instead of now at one shot.

Had Starbucks today, Chocolate Truffle, 450 JPY for a tall version.

In the evening, we went to the area asournd Tokyo JR Station. We found Takashimaya and had dinner at Ding Tai Fung. My dinner was a cool 1890 JPY... for crab meat fried rice, xiao long bao, almond dessert which I gave to my friend and some pickled vegetables which went to  my friend as well.

I'm getting poorer! Could have saved on dinner cos I still had bread in the pack but my friend was hungry without food and settled for Ding Tai Fung. Oh well. Good food now and then is ok! She has like 6000 JPY left I think! We started with about the same amount of JPY.

My huge purchase is yet to come though! SE Character Goods store will bankrupt me ; ;

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nikko

Woke up, washed up and was out to the metro station by about 0715. Today's destination is Nikko and we wanted to pick up the World Heritage pass for Nikko. This pass will include a round trip to Nikko from Asakusa station on the Tobu-Nikko line. The pass costs us 3600 JPY and includes rides on the bus for the World Heritage route. The pass also grants us admission to the 2 shrines and 1 temple of Nikko. The lady that sold us the pass was very friendly and helpful. She gave us instructions on where to go and where to visit. She also asked us where we were from and how we found out about the pass. I told her that I read about the pass on the internet, wikitravel.

The train leaves every hour to Nikko and takes about 2 hours to get to Nikko. Long ride. We had to make sure that we were on the first 2 cars, because the others would stop at Shimoimachi and go off to another location.

Arriving in Nikko, it was rather frigid. Once we got to the temple/shrine area though, it was quite ok. Nikko is really pretty in Autumn and there were lots of people in Nikko. It was kinda scary actually. We thought it'd be a good day to visit Nikko, seeing that it was a weekday, but I guess perhaps weekends are crazier.

We had lunch in a nice little place which had a tatami area and a french deco area. I had actually prepared bread but my friend was hungry and without lunch so we ate at the little cafe. I had ramen with a slice of pork in soy sauce soup base, while my friend had rice with pork cutlet and miso soup.

After the shrines and temple, we walked down to Shinkyo, which is a pretty little wooden bridge over a stream. From there we walked back to Tobu Nikko station and took the train back to Asakusa, this time, it was a 2 and a half hour ride.

Today was rather frigid. Tomorrow might be worse but I picked up some heat packs from a 100 yen shop!!

Dinner was bento that cost only 262 JPY! Had bento from this stall before and it was rather good for the price so we went back today for more.

Tomorrow, we will be visiting Meiji-Jinggu shrine, Shibuya and probably Tokyo Tower.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hakone

Just got back into Tokyo this afternoon after spending the night in Hakone. We set off yesterday morning to Shinjuku station where we transferred to the Odakyu line in order to get to Hakone. We purchased the two day Hakone Freepass for 5000 JPY. This pass covers the transport from Shinjuku to Hakone and all Hakone Tozan services which includes buses, trains, cable cars and the ropeway. It's a really useful pass.

We took the Odakyu Ltd Express train to Odawara where we transferred over to the Hakone Tozan line to Hakone Yumoto station to catch a bus to Motohakone. The fare for this trip alone would have cost about 2000 JPY if we had bought the tickets separately.

My friend had booked a hotel room at the Lakeside Inn Charlotte in Motohakone which is by Lake Ashi. After getting off the bus, we followed the instructions that were given online and found the hotel with little trouble. We were quite disappointed when we saw the external facade of the hotel. It had some algae on the outside wall. There was also a sign near the entrance that stated that cleaning was in progress and there was a number for us to call to get in or something. We decided to walk around a bit and went to sit along the lake to eat our lunch. After that, we approached the hotel by the other side and saw someone in the hotel, so we decided to try our luck getting in.

The guy let us in and advised us that the check in timing was at 1500hrs. He told us to leave our bags at the hotel in the meantime and introduced a route for us to explore Hakone while waiting for check in. We took up his suggestion since it was all covered by the Hakone Freepass that we had bought, and it was our intention to do that route as well.

First we went to take the Hakone Sightseeing cruise, it bring us across Lake Ashi on a pirate ship. I thought that was funny because of all the swordsmen movies in which most Japanese depiction was of them as pirates....

The cruise ended at Togendai, which was where we could board the Hakone Tozan Ropeway which will bring us around the mountains. We stopped at Owakudani and visited the areas where you can see hot springs. This is where they cook black eggs which are supposed to add 7 years of longevity for every egg consumed. The eggs are black because of the sulphuric acid present in the water and there is ALOT of hydrogen sulfide going around... That's right... the mountain farts. A lot.

The eggs cost us 500 JPY for 5. It's really piping hot when you get it. You can add some salt to the egg, the salt is provided in the pack. You can also have it without the salt and the egg yolk is rather nice without the salt anyway. from Owakudani Ropeway station, you have trails of people going up to this hut up in the mountain and buying eggs and eating eggs. Amidst hydrogen sulfide. It's rather amusing really.

After exploring the area and eating the eggs, we continued on our way by going the rest of the way along the ropeway. We then transferred to the Cablecar which brought us to Gora station.. here, we were actually recommended by the hotel manager to take the train to Kowakudani station before transferring to the bus but I got it wrong and took a bus instead. I only realised that we were 'supposed' to take a train when the driver said we needed to change buses at Kowakien. Anyway, we needed to make a transfer, so it wasn't a problem. It was just missing out on taking a train on the great medley of transportation we were going on that day, but we certainly weren't missing train rides...! We had just taken a 120 min train ride in the morning to Hakone!

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was time to check in. We got our bags, and went up to our room on the third floor, Rm 303 and we were simply amazed at the rooms. I have to tell you that the exterior of the hotel does so much disservice to the hotel itself. The rooms are very nicely done up. It smells nice, there is boiled water in the pot. Yukata, slippers and stuff are provided. The manager had asked us if we wanted to have dinner at the hotel but we had refused it since we had prepared our own simple dinner. the next morning during breakfast, we heard reviews on the dinner and they said the dinner was great.

We stayed in the room the whole evening, which is amazing actually seeing that we were in the room by 1800hrs! The only thing to do in Hakone after dark is to go to the Onsen and we didn't actually want to go to public onsen. My friend booked this hotel because she thought there was a onsen in the room... turns out that there isn't (Luckily I was semi prepared for that to happen).

The next morning, we woke up to breakfast which is a nicely done ham and cheese burger. I seemed to be the only person having tea at breakfast, they ran out of the regular tea and I ended up having Camomile tea, at breakfast!! The manager mentioned that he shouldn't serve this tea in the morning (because it's a 'sleepy' tea) but he didn't want to get cheap tea from 7-11, lol. It was really nice camomile tea. I think I should try camomile back in Singapore too.

Over breakfast we heard that Fuji was clear today so we went out to grab a look at Fuji. We didn't manage to see Fuji the day before, but we wanted to grab a look before we left hakone. We did see Fuji but Fuji was still a lil hidden behind clouds sometimes so you have to wait and grab a shot.

While taking shot of Fuji, there was another guy taking photos with a monopod. Photogs being photogs the world over, he came over and asked if we had managed to get any good shots. I told him that I certainly hoped that I got some good shots since it would mean that I would have to buy an air ticket to get another chance to take the photos!

After grabbing the photos, we went to take a look at the Hakone Jinja before going back to the room to pack up and check out.

For our return trip to Tokyo, we decided to take up the hotel manager's suggestion and take the Odakyu Romance Car back to Shinjuku. It was certainly more comfortable then the regular limited express since you have to pay a premium of 870 JPY while holding the Hakone Freepass but that meant that we wouldn't have to worry about lugging our luggage around with us on the train.

From Shinjuku, we went to Kuramae station where K's House is and checked back into K's House. this time we got a twin room for 3 nights and would have to change rooms to a 6 bed dormitory on Friday. After check in was completed, my friend told me that she had confirmed with her friend  that we would go to Fuji tomorrow and stay the night at the foot of Fuji before going up the mountain the day after. I mentioned that if the date was flexible, why not go on a day where we would be staying in the dormitory. When I told her that the dormitory stay would start on friday, she said that her friend had initially suggested friday but she had declined as we were going to visit the Imperial Palace on friday.

To make a long story short, we decided to go to Fuji on friday and be back on saturday. We will go to SE Character Goods store on Sunday instead!

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Asakusa and Akihabara again!

My friend has a client who has a shop in Asakusa, therefore, our first stop for the day was at this client's shop. Unfortunately (actually it was fortunate because my friend didn't actually want to meet with the client in case the client started offering her too many stuff) the client was not in, so we went on our way through the rest of Asakusa. It's mostly souvenir shops centered about Sensoji temple but there's also a building for people to place horse racing bets. There are food eateries along the street near the building and most have a screen showing the lastest race results. There seems to also be a red light district somewhere in the area.

Following the recommendations of the hostel we are staying at, we went to look for this place which sells bentos at 250 JPY. I got one with fish and pork, but I didn't really like the pork enough to finish it. The fish was good. The pork was not bad, I just didn't like the taste totally. After buying the bento, we went back to the hostel to have our lunch.

After finishing lunch, we took a walk down to a street that was listed as 'wholesale street'. Since it was about 1600 hrs on a Sunday, the likelihood that the street was open for business was miniscule. Indeed, when we got there, the street was deserted. we then continued on our way to Akihabara which was nearby.

My friend initially wanted to get a PSP, but I managed to dissuade her. In the end she ended up buying Sim City DS 2... and is now using my DS to play Sim City.... darn, I regret dissuading her man..... Now I can't play with my DS.... /cry.

My friend looked high and low for Sim City DS 2, she was getting all ready to condemn Akihabara and in fact declared that if she could not find the game she would never come back to Akihabara ever again. After she finally found the game, we went to a German cafe to have a nice cup of tea for myself and a cup of coffee for her. We both had chocolate cake. She wanted to have strawberry cake but it was sold out, unfortunately.

After the cafe, we just took the metro back to our hostel. Nothing much exciting today either. We're going to Hakone tomorrow!

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Akihabara

The first weekend in Tokyo and the first place we hit up is none other than Akihabara! It's basically just lots and lots of Anime, Manga and electronics shopping.

First hitch for the day, we couldn't figure out how to transfer train lines. Turns out that since we were transferring to a non Tokyo Metro line, we had to do a transfer of train ticket. Fortunately, there were staff handy to help us out, a lady who's job is probably to seek out lost sheep amd guide them along on their way came along to help us when she noticed our trouble. There are lots of such people in Japan, so although the systems can be really confusing, there's usually help available. 

We just walked alot through the shops, my friend is interested in getting a laptop from Tokyo and her budget is about 100, 000 JPY. we've actually seen a couple of laptops of decent specifications that almost match her budget. I wonder if she would finally pick up one of those. she did buy a Muji bag though.

I myself was tempted to buy  laptop, but I don't have a use for it.

We had actually prepared lunch, but my friend couldn't find a place where she felt like having lunch. I think she was hoping for someplace to sit down to have lunch, but it's impossible in Akihabara. You should be glad to have standing space, let alone a nice decent place to sit down at. I saw a Mister Donut and we decided to try it. There was a donut that was quite nice, I think there's butter in it and icing on top.

As we walked, my friend saw this nice chinese restaurant named Xian and she wanted to have the Ma La Dao Xiao Mian so we went in. It was run by Chinese, so we could order stuff in mandarin. My friend had the set lunch while I order some dimsum. My friend's set lunch included the noodles, a dim sum and almond tofu. The food is actually quite good, the dim sum that I had were really tasty. When my friend's almond tofu was served, I was given a serving as well. Surprised, I told the waitress that I didn't order the almond tofu and she said that it was free! Aww... that's so sweet of them. Chinese rawks!

I actually don't like almond but since they were so nice, I finished up the dessert. It's actually pretty good, the almond taste was not too overpowering for me so I could finish it up.

After dinner, we continued walking. My friend has been looking for a phone for another friend of ours. This other friend wants her to buy a phone back to Singapore. I was telling my travelmate that I don't think she will be able to buy a phone back to Singapore due to the regulations around the purchasing of phones (I was told that one needs some registrations to buy a phone) , but she was quite sure it was ok..... until today when the store personnel told her that any phone purchase in Japan must be accompanied by a contract. So, it's a silver lining for her! She need not spend the money to buy the phone. The phones ain't cheap. The cheapest that we have found so far costs over $300.

Oh and while window shopping, I was given a free sample of Fuji film photo paper.. which I returned to the sales person cos i couldn't figure out what she was talking about so I didn't want to end up having to pay for the item... lol. Anyway I wouldn't have any use for it even if I had taken it.

Aw man, this trip to Japan does seem to feel a little long. Kyoto was really cool, but I'm not enjoying Tokyo so much.

Especially since 1 SGD is only around 60-62 yen right now...... everything is just so much more expensive, relatively.

I spent about $37 today... went to pop some capsules! Those thinggies that you drop coins into and then turn a dial to get a random capsule. Fun but pocket draining.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Kyoto To Tokyo

Today we leave Kyoto for the bustling metroplitan city of Tokyo! That is not to says that Kyoto is a sleepy town, oh no it isn't. Kyoto is quite a nice place to be in.

Woke up, ate breakfast at the hostel's traveller cafe, Zen cafe. It's a buffet breakfast at 680 JPY. It's quite a good deal as you can stuff your face silly on 680 JPY. They have cornflakes, milk, bread, cheese, butter, scrambled eggs and mini sausages. I love their scrambled eggs, it is really smooth and has a nice strong egg yolk taste.

After breakfast, it was down to the yucky task of packing our bags.... eeeew. I hate that. Got ourselves packed and ready to check out by 10 mins to 1100hrs. We then started to hike to the station to buy the Shinkansen tickets for Tokyo. We managed to get tickets for the 1153hrs Nozomi 14 towards Tokyo. The ticket costs 13520 JPY (about 210 SGD) and the ride would take us about 2 hrs and 15 mins.

We almost missed our train because we went to platform 14, instead of going to the platform FOR Nozomi 14... cos we saw the number 14 on the ticket and there was a platform 14 right in front of us lol. Fortunately, we managed to get onto the platform just as the train pulled into the station....... so far we've been doing pretty well on the train systems, so today is the first major hiccup. Wonder what will await us in Tokyo, the famed capital of being lost in the train stations.

We got to Tokyo and proceeded to get to our hostel in Asakusa. Got a little lost trying to find the subway that we were supposed to transfer to... we managed to get to it after asking people, albeit taking a circuitous route. 

We got to our hostel amidst the drizzle and checked into a 6 bed dormitory this time. It's certainly different from our twin room in Kyoto where we had the whole room to ourselves, TV and lots more space. The hosteling life is starting to kick in now. As there were 2 guys sleeping in the room, my friend wanted to boogie out of the room asap. We went shopping for groceries in the nearby supermarket and 100 yen shop. We walked round a little bit around Asakusa and went back to the hostel to fix up some dinner.

Not too sure exactly what we'll be doing for the rest of the trip but we're going to Akihabara tomorrow. Hope the weather improves.

Pray for my friend's wallet too.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Soggy Day in Kyoto

Today's the day where we get to stay in Kyoto. We were supposed to go on some Kyoto walks. First stop of the day, Kyoto Old Imperial Palace. We can visit the gardens but we cannot enter the palace itself since we did not reserve a tour slot. One can try to see if there are empty slots on the spot but we had quite a few places planned.

The days started gloomy and drizzling. As we were leaving, my friend and I picked up and umbrella each from the hostel. Yesterday, we shared my umbrella which I had on standby. That's the darndest thing about being prepared for rain. I bring the umbrella. I share the umbrella and I get wet. >.> Not fair....

We walked towards the Old Imperial Palace which was a good 40 mins or so walk away. Along the way, we made a brief stop at the Honganji temple. I didn't really keep track of the time. It wasn't all that far, just that we walked slow. Our speed isn't as fast as one would expect because my friend's feet have been hurting since day 2.

We got to the Old Imperial Palace gardens and while we were touring one of the buildings which was open to public, my friend finally couldn't stand the toothache she's had for 2 days. We immediately took the subway (250 JPY) back to the hostel and asked for a recommendation for a dentist, as well as getting the hostel staff to help us write my friend's problem in Japanese so that we could show the dentist in case he doesn't speak English. My friend could mime, surely, but we figured a note would be better.

We got to the dentist and it looked pretty atas. My friend was seen fairly fast and the entire procedure took only about 15 mins. My friend was very impressed by the dentist's skill and I joked with her that she should come back here for her future dental appointments. The visit cost her 8800 JPY. Will have to check whether that is reimbursable by travel insurance.

My friend decided to go back to the Old Imperial Palace and continue from where we had left off. This time, we bought a One Day Kyoto Pass for the subway and buses. This allows us to take the Kyoto subway and designated buses.

We went back and completed touring the Old Imperial Palace gardens. It was rather dreary due to the weather. Didn't manage to get much photos either. 

Next stop, Kinkakuji temple. We took a bus from the Old Imperial Palace gardens and got to the temple in good time. There is a gold coloured 3 storey structure in a pond just near the entrance and every one was busy taking photos of it in the rain. My friend and I took some photos and tried to make it to the next location.

We took a bus (and changed a bus along the way) in order to get to Arashiyama Tenryuji temple. As we got there, a bunch of children who were on the same bus as we were went running down the streets and my friend followed them. I asked her if she knew where the temple was, she said that she was following the children. Since I was unable to locate the temple in 30 secs, I followed her down the street. It's a nice area which is an absolute tourist trap. They even have people pulling rickshaws. These are young people and there was actually a lady pulling a rickshaw!

We crossed a nice bridge and got to a rather pretty area. Apparently in one of the parks in this area, there is a Zhou Enlai memorial. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate it as it was soon getting dark and we didn't want to be out in the rain and darkness.

I found a map and according to the map, the temple that we were looking was indeed at the bus stop where we had gotten off the bus so we had to walk all the way back again >.> . Anyway, it didn't really make much difference since the temple closed at 1700 hrs and we had gotten off the bus at about 1700 hrs anyway.

We then walked around the area abit. It's really nice if one doesn't mind it being touristy.  As we had nothing much else to do in the area, we decided to head back to JR Kyoto station and see if the weather was fine enough to go up the Kyoto Tower. Before that we bought a couple of rice cracker snacks. I chose soy sauce flavour.  For future reference, that is probably not the best choice.

The bus ride back took about 40 mins. The weather was still rather bad so we decided to just hike it back to the hostel instead of going up Kyoto Tower. Therefore, in the end, we never went up Kyoto Tower even though we walk past it every day.... oh well, maybe next time!

Tomorrow will be an easy day. Breakfast at the hostel's cafe, packing bags, checking out and then taking the Shinkansen to Tokyo!

The day of reckoning to our wallets is drawing near, Shibuya for me (SE Character Goods Store!), Akihabara for my friend!

Spent about SGD 220 on food, transport and other stuff so far. Including accommodation costs till date and the Kansai Area Pass makes it around SGD 550. My friend's expenditure stands at about SGD 850.

We still have Tokyo to survive!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hikone and Nagahama

Well, going to bed without a confirmed destination for today was kinda suspenseful, but I had some idea of where to go today. It was a matter of confirming with my friend when she woke up.

We agreed to go to Hikone to visit the Hikone Castle and then proceed to Nagahama to view the townscape of preserved buildings.

We grabbed an early train out to Hikone. The train ride cost us 1100 JPY and took about an hour. The town of Hikone looks like a super sleepy town. Not many people were about the town. We took a nice cool walk to Hikone Castle. The admission fee was 600 JPY and it includes a visit to the Gakyu-En Garden. 

Hikone Castle is quite similar to Himeji Castle, except that it is much much smaller in size. Hikone Castle is about 3 stories high, whereas Himeji is about 6 stories high. Himeji is also much bigger in terms of floor space. The first floor of Hikone Castle is probably not bigger than 2 HDB 3 room flats worth of space. My estimation could be horribly wrong though, I'mnot know for accuracy in estimation. The stairs are really steep, as consistent with Himeji and makes me wonder why Japanese a few hundred years ago needed steps that were so high. Probably strategic or something.

After twirling aorund Hikone Castle, we went into Gakyu-En. It's a pretty nice little place with a pond in the middle covering about half the garden's area. Several bridges connect the side of the pond to a centralised area where they have a old style Japanese hut. They currently have some Matcha ceremonies there and you can join in for 500 JPY. My friend and I did not take up the offer though. 

After leaving the garden, my friend wanted to go to Nagahama for lunch, so we proceeded to the train station. we bought tickets for Nagahama (230 JPY) and checked the train schedule boards. I thought it was odd that local trains did not go to where we were going, and only Special rapid service did. we figured that it was probably because the places along the track were further apart than before that point in the tracks.

We got on the special rapid service headed towards our destination, but did not realise that we were in a carriage which would stop at Maibara instead of continuing on to Nagahama. fortunately, the train staff noticed us and told us to get off and into carriages 1-4.

Our first major train booboo! Taking trains in Kyoto has been relatively easy so far... next week we challenge Tokyo! We might be horribly lost.

Anyway, we arrived at Nagahama and we were wondering what to do for lunch. I pointed out the ever present Mac's to my friend but my friend wanted to try her luck looking for other stuff. we spent the next hour (walking around in the rain half that time) looking for food. In the end, we ended up back in MacDonald's and by the time we were done, I'm not even sure if that was lunch or dinner. We finished eating at about 1630 and it was too late to do anymore exploring of the place. We went grocery shopping instead and took the train back to Kyoto. This ride cost us a goodly 1280 JPY. Ouch.

Dinner was back in the hostel. We ate microwaved rice which we bought in the supermarket, with some onigiri seasoning and sausages. Kinda yummy and fun actually. Finally feels like we are backpacking. lol.

P.S. We're not really backpacking... but .. yeah you get the idea.

Tomorrow will be walking around Kyoto!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nara

Woke up bright and early today. We're going off to Nara and it will take us quite some time to cover just a portion of the attractions.

My friend initially wanted to just pick up some food from Lawson's and get on our way, but as we were walking towards the train station, she decided to have a bento for breakfast instead. So we ended up sitting down for breakfast ....... 

We caught a regional rapid train to Nara which took about an hour to reach our destination. Once at the destionation, we went to pick up a map. They have a nice tourist information counter and they actually suggested a route for us to walk along. Basically most of the sights in Nara are in Nara Park. If you have no idea what kind of sights are in Nara, just think temples. And deer.

Along the way in the park, there were lots of deer roaming, as well as stalls selling deer biscuits for 150 JPY. There were tonnes of school children today. It might be some school excursion day or some school holiday or something. we have no clue but there were children crawling all over. The deer had a field day because alot of children bought the deer biscuits to feed them.

Our first stop within the park was Kofukuji Shrine. It has a 5 storied pagoda but we didn't go in to the pagoda. We think the ticket costs 1000 JPY.

Next up was Todaiji Shrine. It has the largest Buddha in Japan, apparently. Admission costs 500 JPY. We went in and took a fair number of pictures. we also saw children crawling through this hole at the base of one of the pillars. I have no clue what that is for but I guess it is grants something good for the children. They had a photographer take their photos as they passed through, probably that was one of the teachers who volunteered to do it.

My friend bought 300 JPY worth of souvenirs from that temple.

Next we went to Nigatsudo which was very pretty and had magnificent views of Nara. The surroundings were very well coiffed and it gave a very peaceful feeling to visitors.

Time for lunch! My friend was tired and hungry so we stopped by a restaurant. We had a simple lunch which of ramen and egg, which cost us 525 JPY. The restaurant was very nice though and run by an elderly couple. Tea was free flow.

After that we went to Kasuga shrine. This is a Shinto shrine and they have little shrines all over for various stuff that you would like to wish for, quite similar to Taoism where there's a different deity for every aspect of the universe (or pretty much so). As the japanese have a different style for offering prayers, it was basically monkey see monkey do for us lol. Kinda awkward but I guess it's the thought that counts!

Coming out of the Kasuga Shrine grounds, we took a walk to the Nara City Museum of Photography. It was a nice walk along the residential area and indeed it was a great opportunity to take a little peek into the everyday life of the locals. The houses were mostly pretty albeit small. According to my friend, her Japanese friend used to own a house (those small 3 storey type) somewhere in Osaka and it cost her the equivalent of about 80000 SGD.

Admission to the museum costs us 500 JPY. It was a nice little display of the photos taken by Irie Taikichi who has taken alot of photos around Nara. The current theme was about Buddhist statues. They also had video presentations on the photos taken by him. Nice stuff. Maybe someday I'll have a half decent portfolio.

It took us the better part of the day to get this far because we were walking rather slow. My friend's feet are killing her and it's only the 4th day of the trip! We have 13 more days to go, muahahahahahahaha!

Since she was tired, we started to walk back towards the train station. As we arrived there, we decided to have a KFC dinner. This was the only KFC that we have seen so far in Japan. We ordered a 4 piece chicken set which came with 2 pieces of chicken fillet. This cost us 1150 JPY. Drinks are separate and costs us 190 JPY each. My friend decided to add a pack of fries and that put her back by another 180 JPY. In total, the dinner cost the both of us 1710 JPY! very expensive KFC >.>

After dinner, we proceeded to the shop next door which sold pharmeceuticals. My friend bought a box of medicinal plasters (like Tokuhon, but she bought a cheaper brand) that cost her 498 JPY for 140 plasters. I think she will be able to use them all up this trip so no worries!

We also gallivanted over to a bookshop which had a section for video games... where I saw a second hand version of Final Fantasy IV JP!! OMG! It was going for 780 JPY and I was sp tempted to buy it just to own it. However, I don't like buuying second hand stuff so in the end I didn't buy it. I probably can't use it anyway. I wonder if one day I will regret it?

I also saw the Final Fantasy XI Premium collection!!! 11900 JPY! I so wanted to buy it.....I shall wait till I arrive at SE Character Goods Store before blowing my money away on FF stuff............  Was also tempted by the Final Fantasy Reminisce that I saw on sale.... grr. SE Character Goods Store here I come!!

After that we boogeyed our way back to Kyoto on the local train which stops at every stop. Took us well over and hour to reach Kyoto..... bleah.

Tomorrow... no plans yet!!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Kobe and Osaka

Another not so early morning. Woke up at 0800 JPT, washed up, ate breakfast and got on the 0957 Special Rapid Service towards Himeji. Today, we didn't go all the way, we got off at Sannomiya station (Kobe) and took a walk towards the old foreign settlement.

We got a map at the station and that made it easy for us to navigate the place. We walked along the Flower Road and came upon this Flower Clock that has different designs as time goes by. Next we passed by the Kobe Earthquake Memorial. It's a pretty nice memorial, with a water feature and a pathway leading to a room with names underneath the water. You could see the water through the glass roof.

After that we continued on to find the Old Foreign settlement. Turns out that there isn't anything much left.  Everything's been redeveloped and the only things left are a couple of museums. We then went on to Nankinmachi (Nanjing Street) which is the local Chinatown. We had lunch there, it was pretty good and one of the waitress was from China. We only discovered that after some finger pointing and stuff. She heard my friend and I speak mandarin and was like "Hey you speak mandarin!".  So we managed to get our lunch, safely without beef.

After lunch, we went to Osaka. Nothing much here to do but to walk around in shopping centres. My friend and I ended up walking in the food sections alot lol. We bought a couple of pork buns and they were quite nice. The department store staff are really cordial, we were in Daimaru and everyone greeted you as you passed by. When they were leaving the area via  staff exit, they would stop at the door, turn and bow before exiting.

We took the lift once and when the lift attendant came out to greet us with her left hand extended 45 degrees towards the floor, I thought she was trying to tell us to hang on or something, lol. I wonder what that gesture is for.

Walked around food stuff some more and then we decided to go back to Kyoto.

Back in Kyoto, we walked around the underground shopping area in near the JR, bought some discounted watermelon pieces (about 5 small slices) at about 350 JPY just to try what the expensive watermelon tastes like. My friend bought some grapes at about 250 JPY. We actually thought they were selling for 150 JPY each because of the sticker on it with 150 JPY on it. Turns out that it meant that there was a 150 JPY discount on the fruits lol. Oh well, the watermelon was rather nice. The blackcurrant looking grape tasted decidedly alcoholic. The green grape was nice and the red ones were sweet but the seeds were darn bitter. I accidentally bit on a seed and that got me awake real fast.

Bought some bread (red bean paste bun) for dinner and that's it for the day. Nothing much exciting.

My friend is amazing. She sleeps rather early, and then she falls asleep on the trains and then she gets sleepy while we're outside walking lol. It's only the 3rd day and tomorrow is going to be another challenging day! 

Nara!

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Himeji

Today, we went to Himeji.

Woke up in the morning at about 0800 JPT. I'm a lazy bum in case you can't tell. Washed up and my friend wanted to have ramen breakfast at a place listed on a map provided. I have this thing going on with my friend. I make her read the map and find the places where we're supposed to go. She can't read maps, see. So anyway, we set off and she went in the wrong direction so we ended up eating at mac's.

She had a McGriddle and I ordered an Egg McMuffin. Turns out that they gave me a Sausage McMuffine, but I thought that I had just pointed to the wrong picture on the menu, the sausage patty is much nicer than singapore's. It has a lot less of the stinging taste. I think it could be pork. After some time, one of the crew came up with an Egg McMuffin and tried to explain to us that my order was filled wrongly and I was given the Sausage McMuffin instead of the Egg McMuffin by mistake. I tried to ask if I should top up money, she said no and gave me an Egg McMuffin!

Wow! Japanese MacDonald's is way cool!

I planned to have that McMuffin for dinner, but in the end I ended up having Dan Dan Men (Dan Dan Noodles) for dinner. So that McMuffin became supper.

With breakfast finished up, we walked to the JR Kyoto Station where we were to take the Special Rapid Service to Himeji. The ride took about 90 mins. It was quite crowded until Osaka where a whole bunch of people got off and then we managed to get seats.

At Himeji Station, my friend went to buy some food for lunch. She bought a pack of chocolate sandwiches. It was a straight walk northwards for about a kilometer to get to Himeji Castle (Himeji-Jo). Had my friend lead the way again and as we moved, I notices road signs telling us how far it was to the castle. At the second road sign, my friend noticed it too and this was when we were about 400m away from the castle. As we got nearer to the castle, I could see the castle in the distance. My friend got anxious because the latest road sign that she saw had every other location that were previously on the road signs, except Himeji Castle. I joked with her that the castle has disappeared... 

We went on to Himeji Castle and boughht admission tickets to the castle. The tickets cost 600 JPY. I was a little disappointed because I did not notice the ticket vending machine that accepted 10000 JPY notes as I could have broken up my larger notes into smaller ones at the machine.

Inside the Castle, was a lot of walking. It's quite large and can take easily 2-3 hours of walking if you walk the grounds outside the castle keep itself. The keep itself was 6 levels high and it was built on high ground with extremely convoluted pathways meant to make invaders go through the longest route possible, thereby exposing themselves to archers. The walls along the pathways were lined with little windows which the archers can shoot arrows out of but would protect the archers from enemy fire.

One thing about the place, the stone steps are very high and the doorways are rather low. This means that you have to stoop down to pass through some of the doorways. Taller caucasians would probably be doing the lambada to pass through some of the lower arches that arc over some of the stairways.

They also had an area named the Harakiri Maru. I wonder if anyone every did Harakiri there. I guess probably yes. My friend didn't want to go there, so I went over by myself. It's a courtyard about the size of a basketball court. At one of the sides, there was a little stone staged that was raised about 5 cm from the ground. There was also a well, which was supposedly for washing the severed head.

After we had explored the castle, we went passed by some chrysanthemum exhibition before heading off to a 100 Yen shop that we had seen on our way to the castle. My friend bought a couple of socks and then we went off to the manga section. I bet this was probably considered a smallish collection in Japan, but they had alot of manga! If you thought you could never get that manga cos it's been too long, think again! They probably still have it somewhere. Didn't buy anything at the manga section obviously because I can't understand them anyway lol.

We popped over to the games and music section. I saw the PSP-3000 that was released on the 16th of October and it costs about SGD 300. As comparison, the PSP-2000 is selling at about SGD 260.

Did more strolling all the way to Himeji station. My friend was very hungry so we went to find some food. There was an underground shopping are where they had some stalls selling food.My friend wanted to eat noodles. Since we don't speak Japanese, we used our fingers and pointed to the pictures on display lol. Crude but effective. My friend didn't have enough to eat so I gave her some of my noodles, since I still had a McMuffin. I didn't want to buy a dinner actually, but finally decided to buy some noodles. The noodles were pretty good. Dan Dan Men, I guess I could have tried to read it in mandarin and they might have understood me, instead of just pointing fingers.

I thought I was smart by choosing the simplest option with no other selection for them to ask me, so I was thrown off when they continued speaking. I was like, do I have to choose something?? They then asked if I spoke english and then told me the price in english, lol. I was all prepared with the cash in hand but I had no idea they were asking for it >.>

After finishing dinner, we initially wanted to go to Kobe, since my friend was saying that the night scenery in Kobe was nice, and I said that it was just nice to go for the night scenery. While on the train though, she changed her mind and we decided to go to Kobe tomorrow instead. So we headed on straight back to Kyoto on the train at 1757. We were lucky that both times today, we managed to get to the train platform just a few minutes before the special rapid service was due to arrive.

Once we reached Kyoto at about 1930hrs, my friend wanted to do a little shopping, so we went to the shops that were at the base of the Kyoto Tower. I spotted a Yukata on display and pointed it out to my friend, who was always saying that Yukatas are not available outside of summer. She tried on a couple of the Yukatas and bought one, at a cool 5250 JPY. Ouchies.

After that, it was back to our hostel to wash up and rest.... and plurk.. and blog... lol. My friend is so tired that she has already fallen asleep after putting her clothes to wash in the washing machine. I wonder what will happen to her clothes if I were not here with her....... We haven't even settled on the waking time tomorrow, so I guess we're waking up tomorrow at the same time as today...

Total monetary damage for me today: 1605 JPY (~ 25 SGD)
Total monetary damage for my friend today: 8253 JPY (~ 125 SGD)

Kobe tomorrow!

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Away We Go! Japan, Yokoso!

Finally, today is the day that we depart for Japan. I hadn't actually felt that much excitement over this trip because of the problems that I had been having with SIA. Didn't even start packing my bags till about 0100hrs this morning. Finally went to bed at about half past three.

Woke up at ten minutes to six and I was supposed to meet my friend at 0620hrs. She'd grab a cab and come my way and we'd both buzz off to the airport. i had already done internet check in the night before so we already had window seats waiting for us. After collecting the boarding passes, we went off to the Mac's at one end of Terminal 3. We had our breakfast and then proceeded to board the plane. getting through customs was easy as we could go through the automatic clearance lanes. However, things got a little hairy at the gate check.

We were supposed to board the plane at gate B1, we managed to find the gate but it was a combined gate check. There were 4 gates being served by a group of x ray machines instead of individual checks for each gate. Only 3 machines were manned at the time and I think there were passengers for 2 or 3 flights trying to get past the check. The queue was long. I figured that there were a couple of people bringing contraband items in their hand luggage (stuff like liquids over their allowed limit). I started to hope for them to call people on our flight out to get checked first, and then it finally happened! Phew. My friend and I scrambled out of the queue so fast. At least 10 other people were still stuck at various stages of the queue. so we were asked to go to the front of the queue and while there, we indeed witnessed a JP guy carrying a few bottles of chilli sauce in his hand luggage. The chilli sauce was promptly thrown away by the staff, to anguished cries from the owner.

Anyway, we managed to get through the gates and onto the plane. we had barely settled in when the plane was rolling off.

Krisworld was cool. Watched Hancock, Get Smart and was got started on Men in Black. had breakfast and lunch on the plane. They served us breakfast, which was a bun and a muffin. As I was watching the movie, they didn't clear my breakfast plate till lunch, when my friend got served her lunch and I got passed over. After a bit, we got the attention of the steward to clear my breakfast tray and he asked me if i would like to have lunch now. I said yes and he told me that they only had the beef shepherd's pie left. They had run out of the Japanese menu which had Soba with chicken. My friend was lucky, she managed to get a portion of the Japanese menu, but since I got passed over, I was left with beef. So I told them that it was fine, I'd just go hungry until Japan.

This was where I was offered Salmon instead. I agreed, saying that it was fine, as long as it didn't have beef. At this point, I suspected that i was getting a lunch from Business / First class. Once the tray landed in front of me, I read the label and yep! I had gotten a lunch from Business Class.

I was advised that for the return flight, I should make my dietary restrictions clearer as sometimes, they have a beef and only one non beef menu. Just in case they run out of the non beef option.

Well, I certainly never thought that not eating beef was considered an extremely special dietary requirement. Lots of people in Singapore don't eat beef. I wonder why they didn't take into account the possibilities of how many people don't eat beef when they were planning their rations. According to my friend, this was not the first time such a thing has happened on SIA. One of the other SIA flights she took, some people ended up eating instant noodles.

Oh well, the cheese that came with the lunch was super yummy though. President cheese. When I get back to SG, I think I shall buy some!

After we landed in Kansai International Airport, we cleared customs and immigration and then my friend went off to send a package to her client on delivery to Tokyo. Once that was taken care of, we passed by some public phones and a phone card vending machine. We thought that we would be able to roam in Japan, but that proved to be negative. I'm not sure what my problem is but I think hers is because her phone is not 3G.

We bought a couple of phone cards, 7000 JPY worth! I think we over did it... My friend bought 1000 JPY worth, after we made the phone calls home, I asked if she would like to buy another card as spare, since we used up about 600 JPY worth of call credits already. She agreed and said to buy the 5000 JPY card, which I did and then she decided to buy another 1000 JPY worth of call credits! You can do your own sum and figure out how much that costs in SGD.

Next we started to head for our hostel. Our hostel is in Kyoto and thus we had to make our way to Kyoto. We went to buy the Kansai Area Pass for 4 days which cost us 6000 JPY. The pass allows us to take the Kansai airport express to Kyoto and we will be able to use all local trains in a predetermined area till the 21st of October. Hopefully we shall be able to make full use of this pass.

Soon after the train that we boarded got underway, the sun was almost fully set. This was about 1750hrs JPT. For the rest of the ride, it felt like we were travelling in the late night like 2300 hrs.

The JP are really formal. The train manager would make a long greet announcement everytime he came out of his cabin to start his ticket inspections and everytime he was about to go back into his cabin after completing his inspections, he would unlock the door to his cabin, turn around and make a bow.

We reached JR Kyoto station at about 1900hrs. There were quite a number of people in the station. Our hostel was about 10 to 15 mins away and as we walked, I notice that there were a pair of people behind us who were probably headed to the same place as we were. I made a wrong turn briefly and ended up behind them. We definitely ended up in the same hostel. After checking in and sorting some stuff out, we went out to buy some stuff to eat. Where else would we go but to hit the 24 hour convenience stores! I bought a sausage roll which had noodles and eggs in it. Have to be careful! Some stuff carry beef even when they don't look like they could have beef in it.

The whole time that we were walking around looking for some bites, it felt like we were outside past midnight... and it was barely 2000hrs JPT! Well, we bought our stuff and headed back to our hostel.

So far, the combined expenditure in JPY for both of us combined have hit 800SGD. OUCH!

Tomorrow, Himeji!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

And My Reply.

So I was thinking about how to write the email to SIA in a manner that would be easy to understand. I fell asleep last night thinking about it.

This morning, I woke up and wrote the email so that I could send it in to them before they start their work day.

And this, is what I wrote.

Hi Ms Person who got stuck with this job,
I am glad that finally this issue is getting looked at. It was definitely getting very anxious for me because I am due to fly off this saturday. I will have to say that in no small part, I have been wondering if there was a purposeful delay in this matter so that I will have flown off before the matter was looked at. With the departure date only 4 days away it will be difficult for me to switch airlines since nobody answers phone calls and emails in order for me to make any kind of arrangements.

While I am glad that some headway has been made in this issue, there are still a few areas that I need clarification on. From the second time I spoke to to Krisflyer on the 5th of September, it was no longer a matter of whether I should get the miles.

Key Point 1: Why does SIA take months to rectify a fault on the website that should not exist?
This problem first arose because I was unable to use the online booking system to book an itinerary. As such, I was not able to benefit from the AMEX Krisflyer Online purchase promotion automatically. Taking into consideration that everything breaks down at some point in time, should SIA not seek to ensure that their website works with as little problems as possible? Should SIA not rectify a problem after it was highlighted via phone and email routes?

Please note that I was also unable to send feedback via the online portal and had to call the reservations desk and be put on hold for 32 minutes because that was the only number that I could find online.

Key Point 2: Getting the round about from Krisflyer
When I first called Krisflyer, I was told to call AMEX. That is fine, except tht AMEX was not the agency toc all, or so I have been led to believe. The second time I called Krisflyer, it was simply pointless. The whole conversation revolved around the following concepts:

1) I cannot help you
2) If we think of something, we will call you
3) Unable to explain why a product was misrepresented.

For point 2, I find it rather appalling. It seems evident that the person on the line was not able to handle the call and simply wanted to get me off the phone. Does it mean that if SIA was not able to think of anything, the case will be dropped? Well then if I were her, I would not bother to think of any solution at all since thinking of a solution would require me to contnue follow up action on the issue, whereas not thinking of a solution saves some brain juices and makes the case disappear.

When asked straight to the point if the case would be considered as dropped, the answer was "YES". I don't see how this is service recovery.

Key Point 3: Service Standards of SIA with regards to Customer Feedback
I wonder what are the performance indicators, if any, that SIA has with regards to Customer Feedback. I did not notice SIA on the list of SQC companies, so I am guessing that means SIA is not accountable under SQC. What other service quality framework does SIA operate under? Is there a target and limit for service standards with regards to customer feedback?

I first sent the email on the 14th of September, got a reply asking for my particulars on 16th September and from thereon, there was nary a peep from SIA. Is this within acceptable service standards in SIA?

When I finally decided that I had to call people up, I had to call up the reservations desk to get a number to call Customer Affairs Department. Why is this number so difficult to find online?

When I finally got the number, the phone call would never get through and I would have to leave messages. It was not till the end of the day that I could get someone to call me back and I was interrupted several times. Does SIA not employ enough people for the Customer Affairs Department? Does SIA simply not care about Customer Feedback?

These are the 3 key points that I have time to type at this time. If I have phrased myself correctly, I believe the message would have been "Whether or not I received the double points should never have been a point of contention if the website were working properly in the first place". Further, if along the way there were not so many examples that made a customer feel slighted, I wouldn't bother about typing long emails and getting all hyped up about it.

Regards
Silverelf

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Finally, Headway with SIA!

I hadn't received any form of estimation as to when I would get a resolution from SIA, and I'm flying off on Saturday, so I decided to call SIA up again today.

I called up the Customer Affair's Department at 1500hrs or thereabouts and left a message on their mailbox. Remember, they don't answer phonecalls!

I explained who I was and that I had not seen an email reply till this morning. I would appreciate an update by phone even if they had sent me an email during office hours as I would not be able to read the email.

I did not receive any phone calls but when I got home, I found that they had sent me an email at 1714hrs.
*Hmmm I wonder if I hadn't called them up, would I get a response?*


Dear Ms Silverelf,

Thank you for your patience while my colleagues at KrisFlyer Membership
Services were looking into this matter.

I am glad to inform you that they have since credited 1,410 KrisFlyer miles

into your account.

Ms Silverelf, our sincere apologies once again for the initial inconvenience
caused.
We look forward to welcoming you onboard our flights soon.


Yours sincerely,

Person who got stuck doing this job
Manager Customer Services

I was quite surprised to get a reply, and when I read the reply I was even more surprised. I would never have figured that SIA would manage to resolve my whole list of issues with a few lines and 1410 Krisflyer miles. I wonder if they understood my original letter?


Please, kindly read what I sent to them and tell me what I can do to improve my writing in future to make myself more easily understood.



I am writing in because I feel that Singapore Airlines has a very good reputation and that as a Singaporean, I am obliged to assist SIA in maintaining standards or even bettering them in the ever more competitive standards of customer service and service recovery.

I will be flying to Japan with my friend on a long awaited trip. As we have been looking forward to this trip, we decided that we would try to make it as enjoyable as possible within our means. When it got to the decision on which airline to fly with and we were choosing between Cathay Pacific Airlines or Singapore Airlines, both of us agreed that we would greatly love to fly with Singapore Airlines, it being a home grown airline of internation repute and all. We were eager to experience the SIA flight.

I happen to hold an AMEX Krisflyer card and an ongoing promotion stated that if I were to book an airfare online, I would be entitled to double the points for the cost of the airfare. Unfortunately, I was unable to book the desired airfare online.

The airfare that I had requested for was an open jaw itinerary, with us flying into Kansai International Airport on the 18th of October and leaving from Narita on the 3rd of November. I had tried for the better part of a month and I could not get hold of such an itinerary on economy class. There was only one time that I could view said itinerary and that was just before my friend confirmed with me that we should fly SIA, as such I did not grab that opprtunity to book the airfare then and there.

Subsequently, I could never obtain the itinerary for economy class, but it would be ok if I had change the cabin class to economy.

Now, of course the first question that comes to mind would be, why would I be able to book on business class and NOT on economy class? Perhaps the seats were sold out? I then called the reservations line and they confirmed with me that seats were available on the flights that I had wanted, and in economy.

So the next question that came to my mind was, why was I consistently not able to view the economy seat offerings but only business class and above? Was it a website problem? If it is a website problem then should not a world class airline such as Singapore Airlines take it unto themselves to ensure a smooth internet experience for all classes of passengers in all sectors of travel?

I was also told that the problem only existed with respect to open jaw economy bookings with Japan. Although I find it hard to understand, I was willing to accept the explanation. After all, economy passengers do pay less to fly then do business, first or suite class and cannot expect too much for their convenience.

I was then offered a waiver of the booking fee if I booked through the phone and I explained to the service representative that I had hoped to book online since I would be entitled to get double points for the purchase. To this she replied that I could call up Krisflyer the next working day and get then to manually adjust the mileage.

With such an offer, I immediately agreed to book the airfare on the 26th of August 2008.

Unfortunately, I was too hasty in my decision. When I called Krisflyer, I was told that Krisflyer does not handle crediting of mileage and that I should speak directly to AMEX. I found this odd but gave them the benefit of the doubt. Afterall all an SIA staff told me to call Krisflyer and now another SIA staff told me to call AMEX.

I called up AMEX and after some checking on the AMEX side, they confirmed that such issues should be handled on the Krisflyer side.

Now, who am I to believe in such a situation? Should AMEX be responsible or should SIA? Out of three people that I have spoken to, 2 of them have said SIA.

Nevertheless, I dutifully called up Krisflyer again and this time, my call was answered by someone who was probably new at her work. In general, the whole twenty minutes that I was online, I was put on hold for at least 10 of those minutes and there were countless repeats of "I cannot help you". There was no attempt to explain why I had been misled to purchasing a product that I might otherwise not have purchased. When I asked the Krisflyer service rep what will happen to my case since she says "I cannot help you further at this time" She replied that if there was anything they could do, they would call me back.

Full stop.

This means, that there will be nothing that anyone can do and noone will call me back. I will just be another statistic on the call center logs. It has been well over a week since my last call to Krisflyer and so far, there has been no followup. No explanation of why such an unfortunate incident has come to pass. Indeed it is starting to feel like since I have paid the money, then it is too bad for me.

I may not be a big spender but I do not spend a thousand dollars for such treatment. Unfortunately, to small fries like me, a thousand dollars is a whole lot of money. The $300 we would have saved would have bought us 6 nights accomodation in Tokyo or probably quite a few good meals.

We felt that we would spend more to enjoy a great experience. Well, I can say that it's definitely an experience now.

I hope that SIA will not just toss this into the digital rubbish bin, but instead take a look and improve things. Lest someone catches the slack and run away with it.

I am sure that you do know, but for the record, at the time of my purchasing an SIA airfare to Japan, Cathay Pacific (which was the other airline that we had been considering) was offering a similar airfare at $300 less. Granted that we needed to do a transit in Hong Kong, but that also meant that for $300 lesser, we could go to Japan and Hong Kong as the fare granted as a stopover.

I had made a decision based on erroneous information being given to me and there is no explanation of any form. I find that it is also very misleading to publicise the 'fact' that customers could get double points for online purchases and then make them leap through hoops to get nowhere.

I would suggest that SIA put a notice on its website stating which online transactions cannot be carried out. SIA should advise AMEX Krisflyer users that the promotion is NOT all encompassing as we may have been led to believe. SIA should decide whether such disputes in future should be handled by Krisflyer or AMEX and communicate such intentions to their staff and to AMEX.

Good service and Service recovery does not mean giving your customers the stars, but it certainly means not making them feel like they were fleeced.


Oh and for the record, when I was submitting this feedback through the website, it kept showing me this :

Our website is experiencing difficulties at the moment and we are unable to process your request. We apologise for the inconvenience caused. Please try again later. If the problem persists, please contact your local Singapore Airlines Office for assistance.

Thank you for your patience.


Would be nice to get it fixed. I had to call up the reservation line and wait on hold for 32 mins to get the email address to send this.



Probably was too long for them to get through Iguess? I certainly did not mean to make it sound like the only problem was the crediting of mileage. Certainly if the website problem never happened, we would never have had to discuss manual crediting of mileage in the first place!

It is rather amazing how they 'resolved' everything in that email with that one reply about 1410 miles.

I'm going to write them another email, one that is shorter and hopefully easier to understand. I hope I succeed this time!






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Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Day in the SIA Fiasco

So this morning, I replied to that amazing acknowledgement letter that was sent to me:

HI Ms Person who forgot that this issue wasn't looked at,

I had received an automated acknowledgement when I sent the emails. I was just extremely concerned because the investigation has taken from the 16th of September until now and there were no interim updates on the matter. It made me wonder if my case was so complicated that no headway had been made in the past month.

I hope to hear from SIA soonest, or at least get an estimate of when I shall hear from SIA again.

Silverelf
Seriously, taking this long to investigate this case? Is it THAT complicated? SIA planning some wonderful reimbursement / compensation for me is it?

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

OMG! A Reply!!

I was waiting for that promised call before noon and was counting down the minutes to noon when I finally received a phone call at 1134hrs.

It was from the lady who had called me the day before and she hadn't even managed to find the case. She had to call me up to sort out which email was the one I sent in order to check with the person who was handling my case.

I then received no further communication from them till I got home and saw an email sent by the person who had first replied to my email. It was sent at 2052hrs. The contents are as such:

Dear Silverelf,

I apologize that an acknowledgment was not sent to you when we had received

your email earlier. Please rest assured that our colleagues at KrisFlyer
Membership Services are looking into this matter urgently, and I will write
to you again as soon as the investigation process is complete.

Silverelf, I wish you a pleasant week ahead.


Yours sincerely,

Person who forgot that this issue wasn't looked at
Manager Customer Services
I was like......... That wasn't even the main point!! My beef with them wasn't even the fact that they never sent me an acknowledgement email!!! It was that they were taking forever!

I don't feel like answering them right now...........

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Getting in Touch with SIA Customer Affairs Department

Today I called up the reservations desk to obtain a number to call customer services / customer feedback or any department that handles such stuff. I was given a number to call the Customer Affairs Department. You guys should give the number a call, it's pretty cool. They offer you like 4 or 5 options to call for other purposes and then link you up with the Customer Affairs Department. After 4 rings, the system will divert you to a message box to leave a message, name and contact number for them to call you back.

For most of the day, I tried calling them but I would never get through. Hours after the message was left on their system, I was still not receiving a call. Finally, I called the reservations desk again and they said they would expedite the case. I think they probably put a note on my case saying "Please call the bitch" or something.

I called the Customer Affairs people again and left another message.

Finally, at about 1645 hours, I received a call from SIA Customer Affairs. Unfortunately I had to explain my entire story to her, or she would not understand right? So I did. Apparently, SIA Customer Affairs department is really small because in the middle of my call, she had to interrupt my call to answer another phone call which I could hear through the phone. She also sounded really hassled. When she asked me if anyone was following up on my case (what follow up?) and I gave her a name, she was most excited to end the phone call saying that she will check with the person and call me back the next day.

Obviously I was quite upset with all these delays so I started saying that I would have preferred to get a call back the same day (even though I know it was impossible since it was 1700hrs at that time) and was interrupted multiple times by this lady saying that it was not possible due to various reasons. She didn't even hear me out to the end of my sentence!! She just cut me off at the point where I said I would have preferred to get a call back the same day! I was going to tell her that since I waited for so long, another day, although not what I wanted, does not make much difference. So, since she wanted to hear only the part about me wanting a call back the same day, I kept repeating it.

Anyway, she promised to call me back tomorrow before noon. I asked her who I should call if she did not call me back, she firmly promised that she would call me back.

We'll see!

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Krisflyer Points Debacle Timeline

Was just trying to get the timeline sorted out for the whole fiasco before I finally forget the whole timeline due to old age.

Before 26th August.
Tried to book the tickets online but couldn't. Tried for weeks.
Called up SIA reservations desk once and was advised that the portal was problematic at the time. Was offered to have tickets booked via phone with booking fee waived. Declined to do so.

26th August.
Finally called up SIA reservations desk again. Was informed that only the Japan Open Jaw site was affected by the mysterious malaise. Was offered to have tickets booked via phone with booking fee waived. Declined again explaining that point junkie elf would like the double points she would get by buying the airfare online. Was told that she could call Krisflyer to manually adjust the points.

Elf snapped up the offer. *Stupid*

27th - 28th August.
Called up Krisflyer. Was told AMEX was the agency to adjust points.

28th - 29th August.
Called up AMEX. Was told that the case had to be referred to the person in charge and would be called back.

Sometime between 1st to 5th September
Was told by AMEX that AMEX does not do the adjustments.

5th September
Called Krisflyer. Got the newbie CS that didn't manage to resolve anything but gave the I can't help you please get off the line feeling.

Was told that Krisflyer would call me back if they came up with something.

HAR HAR HAR.

14th September
After giving Krisflyer due opportunity to "come up with something" and call me back, sent in an email to SIA.

16th September
Received an email from SIA requesting for particulars that silly elf forgot to include because the feedback website pissed her off.

2nd October
Sent another email asking whether SIA recieved her reply sent on 16th September

TILL DATE
Not a single peep from SIA.


That should keep the memory somewhat fresh if one day in my old age SIA decides to reply....

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Feeling Like a Bitch

I'm feeling like so much of a bitch these days. There are 3 organisations that I need to talk to. I think it was probably brought up by the entire SIA fiasco where I am currently rather upset of the fact that I was misled into spending money into buying a pair of airfare on SIA.

I also need to call up Standard Chartered to ask them to cancel my Prudential VISA Card which they had NOT cancelled after they upgraded me to the Platinum version. I thought it was just some system issue until they decided to charge me annual fees for that card! Why would I want both versions of the same card type? Doesn't make sense right?

Also need to call up UOB and ask them whether they will be doscontinuing the UNI$ system, because when I was offered the UOB ONE Card months ago, the CS claimed that the UNI$ system would be discontinued. The ONE Card is really cool because of the VISA Pay Wave technology but otherwise it's not really working for me. You have to achieve $300 dollars a month before you even qualify for a $10 cash rebate. Therefore, if you don't spend more than $300 a month, you also lose out on the UNI$ you could have gotten for the purchases you DID make. Oh yeah they will tell you that they give you SMART$ but that's only applicable at SMART$ merchants.

These two are but minor inconveniences. My main beef is with SIA. So I'm actually flying off to Japan on the 18th of October and will be there till 3rd of November. After some discussion with my friend, we decided to fly SIA even though that meant the airfare would cost us approximately $300 more than if we had flown with Cathay Pacific.

Now, I hold a Krisflyer Amex card and being the point junkie that I am, I wanted to book the tickets online from the SIA website since I would get double points for the purchase. Unfortunately, once my friend confirmed that she would fly SIA, I was no longer able to get the website to display the open jaw itineraries for economy class in order to puchase them. The system had no problems with Business Class ititneraries though. I called and had also sent in an email to ask SIA about the problem and they acknowledged that there was an issue with the website. On their end they tried logging in and they couldn't as well. Well, thinking that it was a SIA website, such issues should be resolved very quickly, I decided to just camp the website till it was ok. I was obviously hoping to get my double points!

About a month had passed and it got into August. I decided to call up the reservations desk to check with them on the issue. This time I was told that the problem was existing but was ONLY on the open Jaw Japan system. Well, I was pretty surprised, but I guess that IT is weird sometimes, no? The reservations officer offered to book the tickets for me on the phone and waive the booking fee for me (if I had bought online, there would be no booking fee charged.), I explained that I was hoping to be able to use my Krisflyer AMEX card to get the double opints on the purchase.

Now, at this point in time, I was told that I could call Krisflyer the next working day and get them to adjust my points manually. I was fairly surprised and of course happy that I could still get my points and therefore told her that if I can get my double points, I would book the tickets through the phone. I then happily completed my airfare reservation.

The next working day, I called up Krisflyer. Guess what? They told me that they do not adjust the points and that I had to call AMEX. I was wondering why this was AMEX's problem but I guess they had some kind of arrangements down so I called AMEX. AMEX was not able to give me an immediate response, so the CS said that she would refer the question to the people in charge and get back to me. When the CS finally did call me back, AMEX confirmed that they were not able to do this adjustment.

So back to calling Krisflyer I went. This time, it was a complete waste of my time. All I can say is that for about half an hour, all the CS could tell me was in summary "I can't help you with that."

That was all.

I think the CS was rather noobish. When I made a sarcastic comment on "so it's too bad that I had been misled into buying something that I might otherwise not have bought?" she said "Oh I wouldn't put it that way"

"Of course not, you're an employee of SIA, I would be really surprised if you did! So is this going to be considered a dropped case now with no resolution?"

"Uhm, yeah"

No attempt to explain why I was led to believe that I could get double points when in fact I couldn't. It was a I can't do anything. Too bad for you. Would you like to hang up now kinda feeling.

This coming from SIA.

I was told that if they managed to find a solution they would call me. Hahahahaha. I didn't for one second think that they would call me back.

"We will call you if we come up with a solution"

"So most likely I will not be receiving a phone call right?"

"Uhm.. yeah"

"Well, then if I"m free I will call you guys up and check."

"Oh hahaha I don't think you'll be so free lah"

Yeah you think.

Yeah I know, I'm a poor person trying to fly in SIA economy class. Why did I ever think that I could even qualify to step on an SIA plane? Poor plane gonna be sullied by the ilk of me, so I shouldn't even have thought about flying SIA. They probably have to disinfect the plane after I get off it. What a waste of disinfectant.

Anyway, I definitely could not let this matter stop here. After all, the CS did mention sending in an email. So I did. I tried to use the feedback function on the SIA website and guess what? It conked out on me. It would not submit the feedback.

The best way to avoid receiving negative feedback is to make sure people can't send it!

So I called up the reservations desk, the only relevant number I could find on the SIA website and waited 32 minutes before I managed to get connected to a reservations officer to get an email address to send the email in to.

After I got the email address, silly me sent the email in without including my particulars. I had entered the particulars on the website but I had forgotten to include them in my email after being out on hold for 32 minutes. I was prepared to wait a few days for a reply, therefore on the 2nd working day after I had sent my email, I was quite surprised and happy to see an email in inbox asking for my particulars. They are fast this time I thought. When I realised I had made a booboo, I immediately sent in my particulars. After that, every working day I was looking forward to an email response from SIA.

This is now the 22nd day and 15 working days since I sent in my email. Apart from the email asking for my paticulars on the 2nd working day, there has been no further response. 3 days ago I've just sent in another email asking them if they had received my reply on the 2nd working day. I wonder if SIA has any KPI with regards to Customer Feedback. I'm sure if they had any, this will be an NC.

I checked the list of SQC companies..... SIA is NOT SQC! No wonder they take forever and a year to respond.

Oh and for anyone who says such things are normal, other companies also like this, other companies are worse..... Look, I'm talking about SIA. Compare with a company of the same footing and we'll talk ok? Also, just because someone else does it does not give anyone an excuse to do it as well.

Quite simply, if SIA cannot ensure that all Krisflyer AMEX card users are able to get the promotional double points because they cannot purchase the airfare online, then they should state that upfront somewhere. They should also get their website in gear, in this day and age, can you imagine a company like SIA having a broken website? How difficult is it to engage people to maintain websites? Their CS also needs to get their information straight. Can we do it, or can't we do it?

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