Happy New Year 2020!

Hello, 2020

It is now the year 2020. Apart from saying goodbye to the 2010s, this year also marked the last year before the end of the decade. I’ve been happily enough to count down with my girlfriend here in Taipei.

Rainy end

It was rainy for the past few days here in Taipei at a relatively cool temperature averaging at 16 C. Currently it is winter in Taiwan, but it does feel like early autumn in Japan. I had the opportunity to ride on the Taiwanese shinkansen, or the High Speed Rail, to Kaohsiung with my girlfriend too.

Alas, not all things went as planned, and one of it deserved its own post. I will write one someday when it is fully resolved.

The New Year eve was a cloudy day and it slightly rained as well. However, it did not deterred the determined ones to gather at hot spots, such as the Taipei 101 and Taipei City Hall to witness the countdown events and the fireworks. One of my friend spent her countdown with her boyfriend in Tainan, southern part of Taiwan. I spent mine with my significant other in Taipei. Truly, it was remarkable, witnessing the change of date and time into the new year.

Comes the sunshine

The weather forecast in my phone’s app showed partial sunshine in these few days. Indeed it is. Perhaps it was due to the winter season, the sunshine in the noon shone over the city like it was in the afternoon. However, the temperature had risen over 20 C, providing warmth to people across the street. As I rode the YouBike rental bicycle and walked through the streets of Taipei, I felt relaxed and warm as I casually breezed through.

My girlfriend and I casually talked and teased about our targets for this year. I said to her, “I wanted to cut down inappropriate talks in daily conversation.”. However, to sum what we’ve said, it was basically continuing the targets set in the previous year(s). Getting fit and reducing weights are our common targets, but with the non-stop new discovery of street foods in Taiwan, that would prove a difficult one to realize…

The year of the Rat

2020 is the year of the Rat, and I was born in the year of the Rat two cycles ago. Coincidentally, I bought a Mouse branded laptop last year.

Appendix: knowing a new friend

On the flight to Taipei via China Airlines, I got to know a fellow Taiwanese who was on her way to the United States, transiting via Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. From our 3-hour conversation, she planned to take a brief break by going back to her home in Taipei before continuing her journey to the US the following day.

I was amazed by this planning. Not only she was able to stroll around Taipei/Taoyuan area in the process, she could also go back to her home, then continue to be on her way to her final destination. I was reminded of the case where I had a half day layover in Hong Kong in November 2018 when I was heading home for my graduation.

This Taiwanese girl is currently working in Tokyo area, and was on her way to the US to join her roommates in exploring the area. She also expressed concern on the upcoming 2020 Taiwanese presidential election, where we discussed in length about the political situation in Taiwan (I was not Taiwanese!). We were thrilled to talk about various issues and memes circulating a certain presidential candidate, yet cautiously talked as we do not want to spark and ignite any flames over differences in political ideas with other passengers.

As we left the plane, we parted for our ways and even exchanged social media accounts. As of current writing, she is having fun in the US. I also learned that Taiwanese do not require a tourist visa while travelling in the US, while Malaysians still require one (so envy of her!).

SEVEN SEAS VOYAGE

5年ぶりにこの曲を聴いた。昔に聴くたびに意味がだんだん分かってきたが、歌詞にあるその「実感」が感じられない。

生まれ故郷を離れ、でかい世界へ渡れ。失うものはないぜ。全力でかかれ!

去年の春に日本に到着。今度こそ、遠く場所に行って生活する。単なる遊びではなく、責任をもって生活していく!っていう感じ。週末にはすぐに「観光客」ムードに切り替え、仕事を一時的に忘れ、日本でしか見られない場所をもっと楽しみたい!っていう気持ちが、心の中にあふれている。

Pray and wishes

What do you pray for? What do you wish for?

In these few weeks, I have visited various places surrounding natures, particularly shrines and temples in the prefecture where I stay. As one of the places where Buddhism got widespread in Japan, I naturally got attracted to its history, places of worship, and the architecture.

I am not a religious person, but showing respect to a religious place is an absolute minimum that I do. Following the locals’ way of showing respect, I bowed in front of the statue (of both shrines’ and temples’), and offered prayers.

Many kinds of things ran through my mind in that brief period of time of praying. The things that I wished for were mainly peace among world and society, family and friends, and the ones that I cherished. Albeit sounded cheesy, with the current situation happening worldwide, I hoped my wishes could at least ease some of the pain certain people is facing right now.

If you were in front of a shrine, temple, or a religious place of your choice, what would you wish for? How would you realize it?

Some of my friends are atheist, and hence do not conform to the idea of religion. However, we shared the same idea of “wishes” — thoughts that something can happen. Removing the aspect of religion, isn’t that pray synonymous with wish?

Behind these abstract concepts lie a core idea – a desire that something be realized. One of my wishes is to fix a broken rope. This rope might already been broken, yet it only takes two hands to fix it. One hand offered the rope, but it is up to the other hand to accept the offered rope, and combined two hands to fix the broken rope — to become, once again, a normal rope.

I recalled a conversation between two siblings at a shrine where the older sibling scolded the younger sibling for throwing a coin with a low denomination of the Japanese yen into the box. “Why are you so stingy [for throwing a low denomination coin]? Aren’t you afraid that the god [of the shrine] gets mad at you!?” Unless the higher entity is a materialistic one (which I highly doubt), I believe that what one offered in heart matters the most.

So, now, what do you wish for? What do you pray for?

Japanese-influenced Chinese

When I met my girlfriend a while ago, she noted that my Chinese had been steadily deteriorating. On top of that, she also mentioned that the vocabulary I used was influenced by Japanese’s kanji. Baffled by this, I recollected the words that I used when I attempted to communicate with the locals (and her).

The use of wasei-kango (Japanese-made Chinese characters) in Taiwan is prominent in some ways, as Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan is influenced by Japanese in some way.

I have only been in Taiwan (specifically Taipei) for a short period of time, however I have observed the use and influence of Japanese’s kanji in the daily use of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan. Take some of the examples below:

Trad. ChineseMeaning
歐吉桑uncle (Japanese: ojiisan)
歐巴桑auntie (Japanese: obaasan)
通勤commute (Japanese: tsuukin)

Learners of Chinese and/or had knowledge of Japanese might notice that the Chinese words are identical to its Japanese counterpart (except for uncle and auntie).

Not only that, some place names in Taiwan had also pronunciation in Japanese! (Taiwan was ruled by Japan previously.)

Place Name Chinese Japanese
板橋 Banqiao*1 Itabashi
高雄 Kaohsiung Takao*2

*1 A district located in New Taipei City

*2 I was made known of this pronunciation by my girlfriend’s great teacher, Mr. Young (楊), in his history class.

On top of it, certain stations in the Taipei MRT have their own Japanese pronunciation too, presumably to make the Japanese tourists feel comfortable, in my opinion. Oh, I love too much about these aspects.

With regards to the observation made by her, I also noticed the steady decline of proficiency in Chinese myself. It’s time to polish it for the upcoming Taipei trip!

Moment of hesitation

When I was walking down a road while contemplating where to go next yesterday on a trip, I stumbled upon an older brother and his younger brother who were running from an alley towards my direction.

“C’mon, run faster!” The older brother shouted towards his younger brother as the younger brother struggled to catch up while not losing his balance. While holding tightly onto his bag, he rushed along the alley, presumably not wanting to miss the coming train.

Two cars, with a white one leading the way, were driving at a normal speed (the said area was near to the train station and a primary school). With no zebra crossing in sight, the older brother dashed through the street towards the train station’s direction. As a bystander and I stopped a while, the younger brother attempted to dash through the street without checking the road.

I thought to grab the kid’s hand, or at least jump in front of him to avoid any accidents from happening. However, the car leading the way managed to sound the horn at the younger brother, which caught his attention. He later then safely crossed the road.

One’s hesitation can definitely change other one’s fate… and life. Ashamed and regretful, I left the spot with various kinds of thoughts in mind. “What if the younger brother did suffered from injuries as a result from my hesitation?”

Bearing that thought in mind, I continued my journey… with efforts to remove the hesitation should an emergency situation arose.

Parallel Tokyo: a devastated metropolitan

I grew up watching disaster movies, like The Day After Tomorrow and Sinking of Japan. Watching Sinking of Japan, I wondered how life is like in a disaster prone country like Japan. Having being living in it for quite some time, I feel that no one can always be adequately prepared should a disaster strikes, like the recently happened Typhoon Hagibis (commonly known in Japan as Typhoon No. 19).

NHK General TV is currently showing a drama series depicting a devastated Tokyo after a huge earthquake struck the metropolitan. The first episode of the series showed hours after the earthquake hit metropolitan at a few minutes after 4 p.m. at December 2, a fictitious television station and its reporters trying their best to report what was going on in Tokyo.

I was lucky to reach home early to watch the premiere episode at 7:30 pm. My first impression was its realistic depiction of a television station should a disaster happened. It instantly reminded me of Sinking of Japan.

A tweet promoting the drama series.

Titled “Parallel Tokyo”, this series depicted a disaster stricken Tokyo where it suffered a large magnitude of earthquake that rivaled 2011’s Great East Japan earthquake and its coming aftermath.

Trailer for the drama series “Parallel Tokyo” showed in the morning show Asaichi.

There is a 70 percent chance that a major earthquake will hit densely populated central Tokyo in the next 30 years. Millions of lives could be affected by collapsed buildings, power outages and other major damage.  … Official estimates show that about 23,000 people could be killed, and nearly 2 million homes destroyed, if a magnitude 7.3 earthquake strikes central Tokyo.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/614/

Echoed by the statement above, various Japanese agencies are doubling their efforts to prepare for the disaster, including conducting drills, educating the public and raising awareness in general. 30 years might sound like a long time, but it might happen at anytime. For the Japanese, they may have no where to escape should a disaster with this scale happened. I can’t help but wonder, will the scene where the Japanese people seek refuge at other countries in the movie Sinking of Japan happen in the event a large scale disaster occurred? I sincerely hope not.

The drama series “Parallel Tokyo” premiered today at 7:30 pm and shows a new episode everyday throughout the week at 10:00 pm until Thursday (December 5). After episode 1 finished broadcasting, the announcer made remarks that I strongly agreed upon:

We’ve decided to broadcast this drama during this hour (7:30 pm time frame). Many people will find shocking scenes in this drama, including children who might be scared while seeing these scenes. Shocking as it may be, we felt that it is better to expose these now, and to facilitate in creating an atmosphere where family members can begin discussing how to take cautionary measures and making preparations in the event this disaster strikes.

If you are in Japan, and are interested in things related to disaster and disaster mitigation, I recommend this drama and its related documentary, scheduled to be broadcast in this Saturday (December 7). Be sure to turn on your television’s closed captions (CC) for the subtitles.

Plan for the next journey

My girlfriend struck me with a huge topic – plan for the next few years when we were casually chatting a while ago. She talked about getting married at a certain year, then she asked if I wanted to draft a mid-term plan for 5 years.

I responded, why not 10 years?

Indeed, a person’s definition of long time is subjective. Depending on the context and situation, it could be 1 hour. 3 days. 1 week. Or even longer. In the context of being able to meet only a handful of times a year, a few months consecutively is a long time.

We didn’t set an arbitrary year to get married, but we picked a concrete year where it served as a potential milestone for both of us. Just the sweet spot to mark a new beginning, I guess. However, I think of more than just the time where we mark a new beginning, but the road ahead when the new journey begins.

That is why I set a 10 year, long term period.

Instead of fooling around, I planned to set serious targets and devise ways to achieve them. Some people thought it was “too early”, as in “you should enjoy this and that before fully committing in!”. However, being targets that were designed to achieve together, achieving them alone will be a hard one, hence, only the efforts of two people combined will make the journey a worthwhile one.

Setting a new plan isn’t hard — open a new Word window, or your favorite word processing software/platform (Google Docs, Microsoft Word Online, Apple Pages, etc), create a table consisting of two columns — year on the left, target(s) on the right, and plan away!

One of my plans for 2020 looks something like below:

Year Targets
Summer 2020 Explore western Japan

What are your short/mid/long term plans for the next decade?

Autumn, cool (weather) Japan

Embed from Getty Images

It is getting colder here as the autumn season fully sets in. Despite the disasters recorded this and last month, people are generally anticipating the red autumn season.

I heard a conversation between colleagues of the same department earlier this week regarding the forecast of autumn foliage (fall leaves) being visible in different parts of Japan. The prefecture I currently stay in is expected to observe the autumn foliage between the end of November and early of December. Due to its vicinity to Tokyo (which don’t have correlation, by the way), people here observe the autumn foliage at a later period of time.

One of the colleague, feeling dissatisfied, said, “Why do we (people in Chiba prefecture) always became the last ones to observe these things?”. Chiba prefecture and Tokyo metropolitan observed the autumn foliage at a later stage, as well as snowfall. However, western parts of Tokyo which are near to the mountains do observe earlier autumn foliage, such as Mount Takao in Tokyo, which is expected to be observable at mid-November.

I am definitely looking forward (and delighted!) to see the colorful red season… and its accompanying chilly weather.

“Emergency sign”

Found this song from the ending part of the NHK documentary “Human Crossroads” (事件の涙; Jiken no namida), and had it stuck in my head ever since. Its melancholic, as if a thirst never gets quenched, clenches the heart as the tune progresses.

“Human Crossroads” tells the melancholic stories, mostly the sad happenings in the contemporary Japanese society. One episode I remember vividly of, is the mass massacre incident happened in Akihabara, Tokyo. Although many people and its victim will go on remembering that day as a dark one, many people may not attempt to seek what was going on in the perpetrator’s head — his motivations, his background, etc.

This song somewhat fits the narrative of the documentary, and hence, left a deep impression in me. The documentary particularly focused on the human aspect, something we might have inconspicuously neglected over time…

Hotchkiss and stapler

One morning, I overheard a colleague’s conversation over the phone about someone wanting a “hotchkiss” being delivered to an event’s venue.

“Hotchkiss”, I paused and gave a brief thought about its meaning.

Stapler.

A quick search on the Internet revealed that “Hotchkiss” not only is common to the Japanese, it is also attributed to Benjamin B. Hotchkiss for machine gun, a weapon that was widely used during the First World War. It was also popularized, thanks to the company name “E.H Hotchkiss”.

The word “stapler” might be foreign to the locals, so mentioning its name might draw confusion. I was reminded of the last trip with my friend few years ago when I wanted to buy a medicine to overcome a mild fever at a local drug store in Tokyo station. I asked the salesperson if they sell Panadol. Unsurprisingly, the salesperson didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I then followed up by asking if they sell paracetamol.

Disappointingly, they said they didn’t sell the product that I mentioned. Armed with Google search, I finally found what I want.

It turned out that the Japanese are more comfortable and familiar with the term ibuprofen. Hence, brands like Bufferin and Tylenol are more prominent in the local drugstores (and they work like Panadol too). However, I am a bit puzzled to Panadol’s unavailability here, while it is widely available in Taiwan (very helpful whenever I visit there!). I also noted that Watsons is not available in Japan, but it has branches everywhere in the neighboring Taiwan. Hmm.

In the end, I learned something new — something that is common back in the home country isn’t always that common in another country.