Japan

Mary PW Chin 穷孩子
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The bowing tradition

Japanese vs Chinese

Initial plans i dropped

Places i actually visited

Small hands

Yen and the redundant zeroes

Express haircut

Shinjuku

Japanese rail vs swiss'

Accommodation

Charcoal for an upset tummy

My second visit

☞ 天使魔鬼、美女怪兽

The bowing tradition

I found the Japanese to be constantly on a standby mode, ever ready to help and serve without hesitation. Restaurant staff readily showed which sauce should go with which dish, and instantly came to rescue at the faintest premature sign of struggle with chopsticks. They do not discriminate -- whether or not visitors speak Japanese, or know Japanese manners, or dress posh.

They only want us to enjoy the food, enjoy our stay, and enjoy Japan.

On the trains, each time a crew appears in a cabin, he or she would take a deep bow upon entering. Before leaving the cabin, turnaround to face the passengers and once again take another 90-degree bow. Male crews remove their hats before making the bow. This gesture takes place even when nobody is looking, or when everyone is sleeping. Hopefully not when the cabin is empty.

How does one recognise a Japanese? Once, when I was at a laundrette in Geneva, a small lady entered. She struck me as Japanese; I was sure, not from her skin or size or facial features but her soft, quiet and swift steps waking no dust. Footprints absolutely transparent to the physical world. So unassuming and humble.

When Fukushima was thrown to the headlines in 2011, the shock flashed across my mind, "How could such a nation be jostled this way? A nation who can sleep through train journeys."

Japanese vs Chinese

I saw how the Japanese consistently offered everyone humility and respect -- the humility and respect Chinese discretely reserve for the elderly, usually of their own family.

I found the place safe. Not only safe and clean. but without yobs. Youngsters we saw were in better order than ourselves!

Such encounters with the Japanese can be shocking for people who know the Japanese for their electronic gadgets or wartime brutality. Present facts are way too extreme from the ideas about 'Japanese guys' we hear in grandmothers' stories.

Initial plans i dropped

I originally hoped to spend a few nights in Tsumago and Magome. Both are old post-towns in the Kiso Valley, boasting to be free of not just cars but electricity and communication cables. Not that they have no cables, but that all are hidden. Ok, it's artificial and cosmetic; oh well. I was also attracted to the walking trail linking the too towns. However, I ended up only passing Kiso Valley on a train, as I did not manage to find ensuite accommodation.

I was also targeting:

I expect temples to be sparkling clean, safe and free of all frills which potentially irritate me. If tourists so gladly lodge in monasteries and convents in Italy and Spain, why not temples in Asia? Later, however, I dropped the idea. Miyajima Island is probably too colourful for my plain soul; I wasn't in the mood of being squeezed between flocks of Koyasan pilgrims either. It turned out that I did visit many temple areas but did not enter any -- for I was only curious about staying in the temple (which I did very shortly in Seoul) -- not about visiting a temple (my mother sometimes go to temples anyway).

Apart from temple accommodation, I also thought of gaining some capsule (or rather, coffin) experience. I did manage to locate a few capsule hotels for female, but eventually ruled them out. Didn't fancy sharing bath facilities, particularly with drunkards.

Places i actually visited

From Tama Centre I headed west for Kamisuwa. Neither Lonely Planet nor DK Eyewitness mentions this hot spring town, popular among the locals. I chose Kamisuwa partly because the guidebooks didn't mention it, also because I'd rather head west from Tama Centre -- to avoid going anywhere near Tokyo or Shinjuku. Well, the lake turned out to be very big but unimpressive, and the town was relatively dirty. Mine was only a brief stop.

I got to Nara. Nara mesmerised me, and so I stayed there for 4 nights. In the first evening, I came out for a walk after dark. It was a breathtaking sight to find the ally lined with red lanterns, with black Japanese characters painted on them. There were eating shops of all sorts, also calligraphy shops selling chinese brushes and inks. I liked shops and shopping for once in my life. Nara taught me shopping and eating. I walked on, up a little slope and oh wow I found a lake surrounded by brightly lit lanterns! Next day, I took a slow walk to Nara Park... and voila... I spotted my first deer! I stood there in awe, venerating my first deer. Later, I walked on, and found lots and lots of them -- some young and tender baby deer occasionally leaping in crisp staccato. Next day, I walked deeper into Nara Park. I found a huge tree on a slightly raised platform of soil, kept intact by a circle of marble pieces. There, under the tree, a deer stood motionless on the raised platform, posting for photography. I approached the deer slowly and quietly sat by him, close enough for comfort but distanced enough to respect his privacy. Tourists came and went, snapping photos and teasing the deer - the deer didn't move away; neither did I. Both of us sat there quietly, side by side, through 12 decades of rosary!

I also went on the Nara trail connecting the various temples. Didn't meet a single soul; didn't find it much of a 'hiking' trail either.

I made a day-trip to Hiroshima. Got off the train, navigated the underpass and came out to the broad daylight of Hiroshima. I instantly realised that I had underestimated the size of Hiroshima, and that the memorial site was unlikely to be nearby. But then I had already passed the tourist information centre. I decided to:

I went by the rough direction I figured out from the poster map in the station, and walked on and on. Along the way I saw no tourist. Instead, I walked pass an area of car-repair shops! Ok, that confirmed that I was either in the wrong direction, or the memorial site was not within walking distance. I decided to rule out the former and walked on. After almost 2 hours' walk, hurray, signs to the monument began to appear. So I did get to the destination without a copy of the map! As soon as I reached the site, tour coaches and flocks of tourists appeared! I went straight to the information desk to ask about the public transport for getting back to the station. The lady was extremely helpful, took a copy of the map and circled all over it to show where I should wait for the bus... but that was the piece of printed material I first set out to save!

At the memorial site in Hiroshima, I stood there feeling cheated. The museum comprised new and sparkling clean buildings and structures, and neatly groomed fields. It was, after all, just another tourist attraction! I walked on, and found the Bell for Peace. Are we supposed to sound the gong to sign our commitment to peace? Are we supposed to be in solemn reflection mood, or should we play around the toy? Well, grown-ups took turns to stick their heads inside the big bell while their friend struck the gong from the outside and snapped pictures! I couldn't understand.

Small hands (giving wrong directions)

The size of Japanese helping hands baffled me. Not that my hands are bigger. Having lived in the UK for some years, I'm used to seeing giant-size hands of the other person eg. while waiting for their response on whatever I hand to them. The Japanese's appeared relatively miniature. And of course, relatively keen and helpful! I appreciate their keen generosity, despite being pointed to wrong directions over and over again.

Yen and the redundant zeroes

We were paying for our dinner when I had to source my colleague's help, "Could you bail me out... I do not have enough cash." He did most willingly. I returned to my hotel room only to discover that in fact I did have enough Yen -- just that I got the number of zeroes wrong! The redundant zeroes, e.g. 14,000 Yen continued to confuse me almost throughout my stay. My colleague periodically checked on me, "You didn't pay 140,000 Yen for a dinner, did you?"

Express haircut

By a little corner at Minami-Osawa tube station there was a little shop with the sign, 'color shop'. I thought it was a photo-printing shop but later discovered that it was a unisex hairdressers'. So, I decided to bend my rule on self-service haircut, and had a Japanese express cut. No-frills dry cut, nice and clean and quick -- all for 18,900 Yen. Wonderful!

ShinjukuThere is no mess less perfect. It is the bus/coach hub for Tokyo, analogous to London's Victoria and Kuala Lumpur's Puduraya. Be prepared to spend more than an hour searching for the Shinjuku corner you need -- whether to catch a bus or to get the rail pass. I bought the rail pass in the UK; the voucher must be converted in Japan for it to be usable. I regret not doing the exchange at the airport. The nearest exchange centre to Tama Centre was Shinjuku so I had to go all the way to Shinjuku, and spent almost 2 hours looking for the exchange centre. Yes, the location of the exchange centre appears on the map accompanying the voucher. Believe me I showed that map to more than 15 people working at various parts of Shinjuku. None got the direction right. Even the police.
Japanese rail vs swiss'

>I find Swiss' more user-friendly: all stops are given on the map, platforms are parallel and easy to locate. In Japan I found it difficult, mainly due to the multiple rail companies. Some routes are valid with the rail pass, others aren't. Some stations show on the map; others don't. Locating the platforms were tricky particularly for tight connections, as the layout and organisation of platforms were mostly confusing.

Accommodation

I could not find a single room in Miyajima Island; and I could not find a room with ensuite facilities in Koyasan (or Mount Koya), Tsumago and Magome. I tried whilst in England, on the internet. Then, I was given the optimistic advice that it was too early to worry about accommodation; that once I arrive in Japan local hotels and travel agents would have no problem finding me rooms meeting my requirements. Of course I tried. Single travelers are less catered for. Ensuite rooms are not widely available in quieter towns.

Keio Plaza Tama, which is at the fringe of Tokyo, was decent enough. However, I found the air-conditioning dysfunctional; the windows could not be opened. The hotel staff took the trouble to check the air-conditioner, only to confirm that it was in perfect working order. The atmosphere felt neither East nor West. (I ordered an onion soup, only to fin that it was French!) The hotel almost opted for the identity of a business hotel (without much of a Japanese taste), but then there was no iron available even from the reception. Otherwise, the surrounding was perfect -- car-free pedestrian zone with lots of shops, stretching right up to the tube station. The entrance over the other side of the hotel is by an accessible carriage way (where cars and taxis could drop us off right at the entrance); the station for long-distance buses including airport coaches was just across the road.

That was the conference hotel. After the conference, my holiday began and I found more pleasant accommodation. Those with some Japanese feel:

In all cases I escaped:
Charcoal for an upset tummy

My stomach wasn't particularly happy with don't-know-what. I suspect it was the bottled mineral water. My colleague advised that I should look for some charcoal tablets. So, off I went in search for cure. I approached both the hotel reception and the pharmacy. Japanese use a subset of Chinese characters, with completely different pronunciation. For example, the same characters Japanese pronounce as 'Nagoya' we Chinese pronounce as 名古屋. So, the closest a Japanese could understand me would be written Chinese coupled with spoken English. I wrote on a piece of paper the Chinese character for 'charcoal'; no luck, the character appeared to be double-Dutch to her, so the character is beyond the Japanese adoption of Chinese characters. Next, I wrote the character 'black', pointing my finger to the inside of the bottle of tablets. Ah, this time I received a sign of comprehension. Bingo, she grabbed the pen enthusiastically and wrote on the paper in reply, the Chinese character for 'white'!

My second visit Interestingly there were a few occasions when the locals spoke to me in Japanese! Maybe because of my hairstyle or something, as the mistake didn't happen in my first visit.
Sometimes we forget
I visited J-PARC last time. I re-visited, this time with the spallation neutron source properly installed, commissioned and in operation. The laboratory was spotlessly clean; so clean. The facility was stunning; absolutely stunning. A desire swelled within me, "How I wished to be working in a science laboratory like this!" As that moment flipped to the next, I instantly realised, "Hey, I am working at CERN -- a physics laboratory second to no other!" That spontaneous desire instantly melted into thankfulness. Sometimes we forget, don't we?
天使魔鬼、美女怪兽

2011年福岛海啸漏刻大灾的时候,我向妈说我捐了点钱,一半以自己身份捐,令一半以妈妈名义捐。其实钱都是我的;只是妈一个习惯相信以她名义捐献会为她集福。哪知妈骂道:「日本人该死,你胆敢去捐?还以我的名义去捐?!」怨恨得经过多少代才放得下?当代人又有能力挑担得起多少代以前的祖宗之过? 近来读过东方日报的几份评论,我在想:大家大概巴不得狠狠把我活生生击死。日本人是魔鬼兼怪兽。纳粹、卡扎菲、萨达姆、ISIS也是。纳吉罗斯玛更加是。统统都是臭人、坏蛋。我们自己永远是天使兼美女,那是肯定的嘛。

童话和寓言故事,甚至武侠小说,多以天使魔鬼、美女怪兽作强烈对比,好教我们学做好人。下场都是大同小异的:坏有坏报,好有好报。

从童年一步一步踏入少年、青年、中年、老年,成长的岁月令我体会到现实生活的灰。黑白两对垒在现实生活中几乎完全不存在。生活上的逻辑不是这样行的,我们又何必赶着追逐那种自我清高的所谓「率直」?儿时听过的故事所呈现的黑与白、天使与魔鬼、美女与怪兽为的是激励我们,为的不是劝我们排他、记仇、处处 判断处罚别人。爱朋友、害敌人,谁办不到?不伤害、敌对任何人,才是真正实在的试验。要是以牙还牙是道理,那么全世界有哪个人保得住一颗牙?

刑罚为的不是惩罚过去,而是掌管未来--压低重犯率,同时给立大家个万万不得模仿的负面榜样。所有教规卫戒为的是自我修身,为的不是判断他人。

那种抱着十冤九仇,深仇大恨,今世下世不放过他人的心态,无论治国、管家、自制都是没有好结果的。马来同胞俗称tiada maaf bagi mu!耶稣、甘地、曼德拉苦口婆心地这样宣讲,且身体力行。报仇、处罚的方程式是行不通的。我们不准宣战。我们得宽恕别人77次;在当代的景况中77意味着没完没了的无限。

萨达姆2006年被吊死的时候,我下班乘卡迪夫巴士回家。巴士上坐我隔壁的一位老妇以威尔士口音诅咒一番:「我无法到现场见证那刑法,没机会亲自目睹萨达姆被吊死,是我一生中最大的遗憾!」她令我联想到马来西亚偶尔的金铺打枪事件,次日报章头条报告土匪都被警察枪杀了,群众会拍手叫好。我颤栗!惨死的生命竟然可以引来这样胜利的狂欢?

将某某人猛猛抹黑,可能会给一些人带来无限的安全或满足感。其中可能掺杂了某些成分的童话或寓言故事--孩提的时候听多了,较后消化不足。某种心理需要,要靠这种比照取得自我肯定、自我信服,告诉自己自己很率直。有人就是需要把别人贬成小人,以挺升自己是堂堂君子的信念。

纳吉罗斯玛也就这样成了大马人最方便的投射目标。咒了再咒,咒个没完没了,来来去去也不是同样那堆故事?新鲜的信息有吗?学习的价值有吗?讲了咒了除了爽(马来同胞叫syok)之外,有提升到半个人的修养或半个人的意识吗?既然大家都已经知道了,又何必重复再重复?这类活动只不过是一个投射,喂养私己的心理需要而已。

我给过一个讲座,讲解普通电子图像与医学扫描图像之间的相似与区别。我呈现了多年来研究常用的虚拟人体模型,上下左右竖横地展示各样视图。来来去去都以同一个虚拟人体来作示例,大家看透了这位先生人体内各器官组织构造。最后,我请大家猜猜这样极度详细的虚拟模型到底是从哪来的?当然没人猜对。我开股啦:是个美国的杀人犯,生前向狱中圣职人员表态说愿意为研究捐献躯体,结果被判打毒针死了。美国有一项联邦级项目Visible Human Project当时有决心要构造一个有史以来最高枝节的虚拟人体。这具尸体经过CT与MRI扫描后,再由头到脚一厘米一厘米地被切成块片。这层面的枝节资料,前所未有。我的述说一句句地吐出,眼前一张张的脸孔反胃得几乎作呕。 我说:大家刚才内外看透的虚拟人体就是这样来的,他死前从未想过自己会遗爱普世。美国、新加坡、大马都实行死刑的,大家认同吗?从讲座题材的技术 角度入场,大家倒比较客观,不敢高叫犯人该死了。

每个晚上,先原谅世界所有的错,过后才入睡,从容走入梦乡。我们将发现其实仙女很多,天使也很多。