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
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."
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'
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
I was also targeting:
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.
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
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.
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
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?"
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!
>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.
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:
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'!
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。
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。