When verbal sparring becomes a knot, the pen becomes her sword. A moderate feminist's take on life's myopic details. It's always the minute things that form the bigger picture. As for the larger view, that's what governments are for.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Crossing Boundaries

2013 is a year of change. There are 2 significant events that qualify themselves to be documented.

In April, I took a 15-day trip to Japan where I experienced my many firsts. Visiting Japan was never in my 2013 nor next 3-year plan. If it wasn't for clever persuasion on W's part, I would not have witnessed the beauty of a foreign land so distinctively different from the rest of the world. Sure, it was a dent to the bank account, but the experience - priceless.

It was transition between winter and spring. Hence, we got to catch the beautiful sakura blooms in the streets of Gion, Kyoto and also the snow capped mountains in Hokkaido. I used to think that walking in a winter wonderland was romantic until I felt the freezing temperature numbing my toes and fingers. Although there was no snow in Osaka and Tokyo, but the cold winds were painfully prodding into my bones. Needless to say, in Hokkaido, where it was still snowing in the mountainous areas, the cold was merciless. Coming from a country where sun and humidity are a part of life, adapting to Japan's weather was tough on the skin. Being stylish in winter wear was no longer the priority in my fashion vocabulary, as my body battled to keep warm.

For the first time, I tried the public baths in the hotels we checked into in Hokkaido. The first time was awkward. I had to cover myself strategically with a small tower while walking towards the pool from the shower area. The first night, I had one pool to myself and my friend, in the other pool. Luckily, without our spectacles, we were not able to see each other clearly in a fogged up environment. By the 3rd night, I sucked up some courage and walked confidently without my towel into the steaming pool with many other ladies in it. There was one out in the open air overlooking the snow covered mountains and hills. Just for the once in a lifetime experience, I braved myself to walk out into the open cold, stark naked. It was pure relief to be soaking in the steaming pool.

Regardless of the atrocities that the Japanese committed to my homeland and China once upon a time, I would have to admit their courtesy and hospitality are first class. There were some culture shocks, like going nude in a public bath, but this had to be the most polite society ever. People stopped what they were doing to help us even when they only spoke limited or no English. That is one amazing difference that sets Japan apart from many cultures in the world. 

Nara - Sake tasting session
The first taste of Japanese hospitality was at the train station in Osaka. We took the train from the airport to the city. At one stop, 2 men in office clothing and briefcase came up to us gesturing for us to leave the train. We were confused but got off the train anyway. We later found out that we had to take another train that would lead us to our destination with lesser stops. I guess, they must have known that we were tourists, and tourist would not be interested to board a train that makes a stop at all the stations. To our amazement, the two guys went back into each of the coaches and took it upon themselves to show the passengers out of the train. We were awed and so touched by their helpful initiative. Imagine, how many poor tourists would have been lost taking the wrong train if the locals just ignored them. These two gentlemen did not look like they worked for the train company, yet they demonstrated what was undoubtedly first class hospitality.

Arashiyama - Bamboo forest
However, I do realise that where the temperature gets warmer, the people get colder. In Tokyo, the city folks were less friendly, but nonetheless, never rude. I think we felt the coldness in behaviour simply in a relative manner after experiencing the warmth of human nature in Osaka. However, this was still very polite compared to how some societies behave in some parts of the world.

The highlight of Tokyo was Disneyland, where I let the child in me run wild. There I felt the warmth of childhood for the first time in many years. It was a different world inside and when I stepped out into reality, I could feel a tinge of sadness leaving the child in me behind.

I will perhaps write about my experience in Japan in another entry. It will not do justice summarising the entire trip into one blog post. It is definitely a place where I would want to visit again.

The most significant change that came in the 2nd half of the year is my transition from Malaysia to Singapore.Due to the short notice, the whole process was a whirlwind affair - negotiation after negotiation, the packing and moving, the goodbyes. Thankfully, the people, language and food are rather similar to Malaysia. Hence, I am able to blend into to the lifestyle here quite smoothly. The first month in Singapore has been very comfortable and pleasant. I am hoping for more pleasant days to come as I embark on a new journey in a foreign land.

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