*About the writer*
Mamta Sachan Kumar was a participant on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. She lived in Hasami in Nagasaki Prefecture from 2nd August 2017 to 30th July 2018 and worked as an Assistant Language Teacher at Hasami High School as well as Minami Elementary School.
I have one of those clicker counters as my calendar. Like a rolodex numbered from ‘1’ to ‘31’, with a discreet dial at the bottom to adjust the month? Yep, that kind. Mine sits smartly reclined on my bookshelf, baller in black and white. Stark. There’s no mistaking the ‘30’ in big, bold, black digits and a more modestly sized ‘7’ at the base that’s equally inescapable. “30th of July”, it reads. “30th of July, 2017”, is what it signifies, to be precise – the coat of dust will attest to that! That’s when I left home to begin my journey on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. And I haven’t changed the date since.
I’ve walked past it; hovered by the glass panel through which it eyeballs me; have found myself warily staring back at it – several times, in the seven months since my return. And I’ve often wondered why it is that I continue to do nothing about flipping the date. Sometimes, I pretend it doesn’t exist; at others, I’m painfully aware of my foolishness to want to freeze time. It doesn’t make sense because freezing time would suggest not wanting anything to have changed from how I had left it, when I think, what I actually want, is to have that moment, that very moment of my departure, endure. Then, every day would be a reminder that I did indeed leave; that JET and my entire experience of the Programme did indeed happen, and that Hasami – the magical pottery town in the outskirts of Nagasaki where I was placed – is indeed real.
As time travels, it has become more pressing to have time stand still.
Did I mention, that on my final post office run in Hasami – the very last one before I wrapped up life in the countryside – I had sent a postcard to myself to my home address in Singapore? Yes, I sure did. My supervisor, who’d accompanied me on that last visit, was polite enough to feign a mix of mild delight and amusement at the idea but seemed to me to be perplexed by it more than anything else. I wilfully chose to ignore her concern. It had felt like a brilliant plan at the time, to shake off my disbelief at the plausibility of having just lived such an adventure.
It had felt brilliant.
It was terribly premeditated.
It didn’t work.
“Hai, ima pergi daigaku.”
“Oh! You belajar yah?”
“Ī ya, tak belajar. Saya working.”
An endless list of residuals – my accomplishments in fact, of the language, of punctuality, of payouts – struggle to be sorted. I continue to work on code-switching, over half a year in. There continue to be occasions where I find myself tongue-tied across two or three languages, of which my mediocre grasp of Japanese is now somehow, the star. Singapore has a stellar public transport system and yet even a few minutes of waiting meets with disgust. I’m not proud – my little blue book accounting my pension has aged, flattened between files full of mandated ‘thank you’ notes, penned by my students. And pouches remain pregnantly intact under my desk, with the essential oils, medical supplies and random accessories I’d armed myself with, into the wilderness of the unknown. A departure at this point would be swift. I can’t unpack; I can’t bear to sieve through the memories without a knot of nausea (or is it nostalgia?) gutting my core. I’ve gingerly kept aside videos of the latest performance at Cultural Festival Day by the International Club – once in my care, now led by my successor. My girls were kind enough to send them to me via LINE and I’ve treasured the videos, like we treasure the many books we buy that go unread.
“Kanojo wa bijin da yo ne!” (“She is beautiful!”)
“Watashi wo wasurenaide ne…” (“Please don’t forget me…”)
Did I mention, that in the final weeks of my stay, I’d wake up in tears and cold sweats, having dreamt of the worst?! I’d been separated from my students – my kids, and they’d forgotten me! It was coming, that day, and I had begun to feel the anguish in the depths of my exhaustion. Even the brattiest ones had managed to tug on my heartstrings – they were but the howling winds that brought to focus the looming silhouette of the mountain range, and the mountains are utterly majestic as much as they are formidable. The good, the bad and the bratty – they are inextricable.
They say it takes a year on the Programme just to settle in. They say two years looks better on the resumé; one somehow implies an unpleasant or dissatisfactory experience. Likewise, you’d think just a year abroad, say, compared to five, might likely mean a more seamless readjustment.
They also stress, “ESID” – Every Situation Is Different.
I lived a full life in Hasami for the better part of 365 days and as quickly as I’d realized that my true value lay in exposing the kids to even a little of all that lies beyond the rice fields, I grew as widely open myself, to their embrace.
Time is funny: it travels swiftly even as it deludes us by standing still in the sealed face of a counter clock. For me, time warped and a year cycling by bestowed upon me the magnificence of four beautiful seasons, a full harvest and grains to sow for my enlightened future.
I teach now, at a Japanese school in Singapore, and it’s wonderful. There’s a sweet girl in my first grade class who bears an uncanny resemblance to twins I’d taught at Hasami’s Minami Elementary. I occasionally allow myself to immerse in the absurd tale that she must be their long-lost triplet.
Raise your arms and spread them out wide, open up your palms to the sky, and gently close your eyes in response to the breeze that greets you. I beckoned so in gratitude one Hasami afternoon, as I glanced off and on at the sulking green giants, staunch in their position along my route home from school. I remember knowing then that I was enjoying the last of such a refreshing breeze, before summer stuck itself onto my back.
I no longer walk on uneven tar flanked by luscious paddies, abuzz with dragonflies. My walk to school is now on paved concrete, interjected with stop signs that control the traffic flow but do nothing to curb its polluting noise. I ran into a cobweb this morning and smiled to myself – Hasami never had to play dress-up for Halloween
Shanghai City, China
2017 Nagasaki Prefecture Co-ordinator for International Relations
Period of Stay in Nagasaki: April 2017 to April 2018
The year I spent working in Nagasaki went past in no time at all! For a short time after I returned home to Shanghai, I just couldn’t pull myself out of my laid-back “Nagasaki Mode”, and I missed the blue ocean so much I just couldn’t bear it.
After having been away from Shanghai for a while, I experienced what you might call reverse culture shock upon returning. I kept being surprised by the new things that had appeared while I’d been away from China and the things that had already become commonplace. There were lots of things I was surprised by, but today I’m just going to introduce a few.
1. No Waiting Needed! An Ordering System that uses WeChat Mini Programs
I’m sure that many of you know that the Chinese Messaging Application “WeChat” is very convenient. In fact, it’s just got even better and better.
So this is something that happened when I went to my favorite Tapioca Milk store. I was about to order at the store, just as I’d always done, when a staff member recommend to me “It’s faster if you order on your phone, and you can get a discount too.” For the past year, I’d only used the chat function of WeChat, so I’d even forgot how to scan a QR code!! In the end, for that first order on my phone, the staff showed me how to do it and I was somehow able to figure it out.
Let me explain how the ordering process works, using that Tapioca Milk store as an example. The first time you use it, you scan a QR code at the store and add that store’s Mini Program to WeChat. Once you’ve done that, the Order Start Menu pops up. Take a look at these screens below.
Order Start -> Select a Store to Pick-up Your Order
Order -> Payment
You can go straight from: Order Start -> Select a Store to Pick-up Your Order -> Order -> Payment.
Up until now, we’ve had to go to a store, line up, order, wait a little while and then get a drink. Of course, if the store is popular, then the wait is long too. But, with this system, you can order on your phone before you go to the store. When you arrive, you can tell the staff your order number and a freshly-made drink will be waiting for you! At a fast food restaurant, there’s no need to go up to the counter. Just take a seat, and the food you’ve already ordered in advance will be brought to you.
Once you’ve added a Mini Program for the first time, you don’t need to scan a QR code again after that. When you want to use them, you slide down and they appear. Right now, I’ve got Programs from lots of stores and services added on my phone.
2. Almost like a Telephone Box?! Super-small Karaoke Boxes
I love karaoke, but it really takes some courage to walk into a karaoke place alone. I couldn’t bring myself to calmly say to the staff, “One person!”, so I never went to sing karaoke alone in Nagasaki.
Recently, I found these tiny karaoke boxes made for one person here in Shanghai. They look just like telephone boxes, don’t they. Strictly speaking you can fit two people inside, and once you close the door it’s like you’re in your own world! It’s small enough that you don’t have to worry about sound leakage. You can sing your heart out without worrying about anyone around you.
To use these boxes, you enter and scan the QR code on the screen (see the photo above) and once you’ve paid you can select a song from the bottom touch-panel and starting singing. There are two microphones, and when you put it them in the mike-stands, they are disinfected by UV light. Compared to a regular karaoke place, there might be fewer songs available, but it’s great how you can record yourself.
Also, in a regular karaoke place, the rooms are somewhat big, so there are speakers. But, because of the echo, it’s hard to tell if you’re hitting the notes right. However, in these boxes, your voice is picked up by the mike and sent to your ears via headphones instead of speakers, which means you can hear yourself clearly with no echo. The recording features starts automatically from the beginning, and if you connect up to WeChat, after the song is finished a notification pops up in your WeChat. Even better, you can even send your recording to connected apps, and even have a bit of a contest with your friends.
You might well be wondering, “But how much is it?” Prices start at 20 Yuan (about ¥330), and you can select a usage time starting from 20 mins. It’s just perfect for killing time, and you could even “Just sing one song” while waiting for someone. But, if you get carried away and sing for a long time, it can get quite expensive, so watch out! ^^;
3. Can you really get a massage for 5 Yuan (just under ¥ 100)?
Before watching a movie or after shopping, why not have a massage and de-stress? When I say massage, I mean massage chairs, like these.
Massage chairs like these are expensive and take up space, so they’re really hard to have at home, right?
Massage chairs located in public places like these can be used for just a little bit of cash, starting at 5 mins of usage. At the cheapest locations, prices start at just 5 Yuan. The chairs are mostly located in places where large numbers of people gather, such as shopping malls, subways, as well as airports and stations. That way, you can get the convenience of being able to use them just a little while you wait. The person who first thought up selling usage time on machines like this must’ve been really smart.
These massage chairs were once coin-operated, but there were problems with fake coins, etc. However, once Ali Pay and WeChat Pay appeared, smartphone payments solved these problems, and I’ve seen how the chairs became popular all at once.
Returning to China, I found that with society moving towards cashless payments, I barely need my wallet any more. Although on one hand it’s more convenient than in Japan, it’s been concerning that money just disappears before you know it.
Shanghai is just a short hop from Nagasaki! Please come and visit Shanghai and make some “New Discoveries” for yourself!
Former Coordinator for International Relations at Nagasaki Prefectural Government
Lived in Nagasaki from August 2013 to August 2018
Hello from England, everyone! My name’s Will and I was a Coordinator for International Relations for Nagasaki Prefecture! How are you all?
And, those of you who just thought, “Wait, wasn’t Will an American?” are correct! I am American, but I followed my British wife to England after leaving Nagasaki. My life as a foreigner may never end, lol.
I’ve been here for over a month, but my feelings of culture shock still haven’t completely subsided. Like America, England is also part of the English-speaking world, but I find myself surprised by many things here. And to compare England to Japan, I’ve noticed something interesting about how the people around me react when I speak.
In Japan, for example, I can see store clerks get a bit nervous when I enter their shops. I don’t look Japanese whatsoever, so I imagine they worry that I might not speak Japanese.
But, happily, after I converse with them a bit, I can see their relief. I grew to be quite proud of those reactions, lol. But it’s the opposite in England!
I look like any other British person, so when I speak to a clerk with my American accent it jars them! I sometimes feel I owe them an apology, haha! But, to the English, foreign people in their country are not rare, nor do they particularly draw much attention. There are many, many expats in this country.
A diverse crowd outside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
The number of expats in England exceeds that of Japan in both number and percentage. Japan is known as a country with a low number of foreigners, and as of December of 2017 there were 2,560,000 of them. That makes up about 2% of the population.
So, if you meet 100 people on a street in Japan, only two of them will likely be non-Japanese.
But what about the UK? It’s time for a pop quiz ^^
Q. Foreign people make up what percent of the population of the United Kingdom?
What do you think? The answer is… C! 14.4%! That translates to 1 out of every 7 you meet on the street being foreign. That’s quite a lot, don’t you think?
Did any of you think that D’s 41.1% was utterly impossible? Well, believe it or not, that’s the percentage of foreigners in the city of London! It’s almost half of the whole city! You can hear so many different languages and accents when walking around London. So cosmopolitan
London also has a few different “Little (fill in the blank)” areas where immigrants have settled together. I recently went to Southall which is known as “Little India”. When I stepped off the train, I found a sign just like this.
“Welcome to Southall” in English and Punjabi
As you can see, the sign has English and one other language printed. I had to look up what that other language was, and it turned out to be Punjabi. Punjabi is mainly spoken in Pakistan and north-west India and has the 12th largest base of native speakers in the world. However, it’s the third most spoken language in the UK after English and Polish!
Since I came to Southall, I just had to try some of the Indian food here, so I visited an Indian restaurant ^^ The inside of the menu was all written in English, but there was only one dish with a name recognizable to me. “Business lunch, please.” I said to the waitress in a shy voice (lol).
The vegetarian business lunch in little India (£ 5.75)
Here’s the business lunch I ordered! This load of spicy goodness was piled high on my metal tray. Even the white food, which looks like it might be creamy and mild was also hot ^^; The heat made me sweat, but it was all so tasty!
I hope to continue to find interesting things about England and write you all again! Take care!
If you’re interested in more of my experiences in England, please check out my blog at:
Trang Tran Thi Thuy
Da Nang City, Vietnam
2017 Nagasaki Prefectural Overseas Technology Trainee
Period of Stay in Nagasaki: August 2017 ～ March 2018
My name is Trang Tran Thi Thuy , a 2017 Nagasaki Prefectural Overseas Technology Trainee.
I spent about six months as a trainee at the Nagasaki Information Business College. Meeting the Vietnamese students studying there and the Vietnamese staff, and working alongside the dedicated teachers was an excellent experience for me. It has been exactly six months since I left Nagasaki. Even after returning to Vietnam, I always recall my life in Nagasaki, the memorable experiences I had and the smiling faces of everyone at the International Affairs Division.
I am from Da Nang city, in the central region of Vietnam. The symbols of Da Nang City are the wondeful bridges that cross the Hàn River, and its beautiful beaches are famous tourist attractions. In addition, Da Nang is actively working to improve the standard of living of its citizens, and is said to be a city worth living in. There are many events held in Da Nang, but for me, the “Da Nang International Fireworks Festival” is an amazing event and my top pick.
This time I will be telling you about the “Da Nang International Fireworks Festival”.
The Night Sky of Da Nang – A Colorful Painting Photographer: Minh Hai
The Da Nang International Fireworks Festival is the largest fireworks festival in Asia. First held in 2008, following the success of the first festival, former Prime Minister Dũng Nguyễn Tấn gave his approval for it to be held annually. However, the festival was biennially from 2013. Despite this, starting in 2017 the festival was once again held annually, and the previously 2-day festival was extended to being held over 2 months. The festival is held over two months from the end of April to the end of June, but fireworks are launched on five days over that period (mostly on Saturdays).
This year, teams from eight countries – America, China (Hong Kong), Italy, France, Portugal, Sweden, Poland, and Vietnam – competed on beauty and technical skill as they produced themed fireworks displays.
Da Nang International Fireworks Festival 2018 – Display from the Polish Team Photographer: Dang No
Da Nang International Fireworks Festival 2018 – Display from the Italian Team Photographer: Dang No
Da Nang International Fireworks Festival 2018 – Display from the Vietnamese Team Photographer: Dang No
Unfortunately I was unable to go this year, but last year I was lucky enough to see the fireworks and it was a great experience. Invited by friends, I was able to sit close to the fireworks and fully enjoy Da Nang’s colorful night sky. Looking up at the sky, the fireworks were right in front of my eyes, adorning Da Nang’s night sky in time with the music. I can’t begin to convey in words how amazing it was. Also, the banks of the Han River were packed with tourists hoping for a glimpse of the fireworks.
I have heard that number of tourists who visit the Da Nang International Fireworks Festival is increasing annually, and that the City of Da Nang is using this fireworks festival as an opportunity to attract visitors. I’m sure that the number of tourists is just going to keep increasing.
So please come to Da Nang City to enjoy this fireworks festival! By the way, the best time of year to visit Da Nang is April and May. I recommend a trip to Da Nang during April or May so that you can enjoy the fireworks festival!
So please come and enjoy Da Nang! Looking forward to seeing you here!
China – Shanghai City
2017 Nagasaki Prefectural Overseas Technology Trainee
Period of Stay in Nagasaki: August 2017 ～ March 2018
My name is Guoyao Cai, and I was a 2017 Nagasaki Prefectural Overseas Technology Trainee from Shanghai City. I lived in Nagasaki from the end of August last year to the beginning of this March. During my stay in Nagasaki I received training at Television Nagasaki (KTN), and I really enjoyed my time spent there. Although it has already been more than 5 months since I returned to Shanghai, and I have now returned to work at my original job, I sometimes recall Nagasaki and it almost feels I was there just yesterday.
When I used to chat with friends in Nagasaki, every time the conversation turned to Shanghai, the first thing my Japanese friends would always say was “Wow! It’s a big city!”. They were also always astonished by Shanghai’s skyscraper-filled skyline. In particular, the Shanghai Tower, newly built in 2014, is particularly stunning. Standing at 632 m tall, it soars up as if to pierce the heavens.
I thought this would be the perfect chance to introduce you all to the changes in the “height” of Shanghai.
With the continual march of time, the days when the “Park Hotel Shanghai” reigned as the “Peak of Shanghai” – in other words, the tallest building in the city – are long past. I thought that charting the development of Shanghai through the heights of its buildings and seeing the changes in its “Peak” would be very interesting, so I chose it as the theme for this essay.
Firstly, I would like to start my description from the oldest recorded tall building in Shanghai.
【977 AD】The Longhua Pagoda – 40.55 m
At the time when this pagoda was built, the height of each pagoda represented the prosperity of each town. The Longhua Pagoda remained as the highest building in Shanghai – in other words, its “peak” – for a considerably long period. The Longhua Pagoda was built in 977 AD, and with a total of 7 stories, its height is 40.55 m. It stood for almost 900 years, without any complaint, as the Peak of Shanghai.
【1860】The Union Building – 45.75 m
“The Peak of Shanghai”, a throne long-monopolized by the Longhua Pagoda, was finally stolen by the Union Building. The Union Building is located in Shanghai’s most famous tourist district, the Bund, and at the time it was a three-story brick building constructed in 1860. It was re-built in 1916, when it took its current form.
【1893】The Custom House – 78.2m
The “record” held by the Union Building was broken after 33 years, and the throne of the “Peak” of Shanghai welcomed a new master.
The Custom House is also located in the Bund, just like the Union Building. Incidentally, from the latter half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, the Bund was also the Shanghai International Settlement (an area where foreigners lived). It is lined with Western-style multi-story buildings built at that time. These buildings were designated as National Significant Cultural Heritage Sites, and convey a sense of the face of old Shanghai today.
This brick building was completed in 1893, and with a Gothic-style clocktower on the upper portion, it is a distinctive building even within the Bund area. It’s maximum overall height is 78.2 m. During the period in which the Customs Building occupied the “Peak” position, two strong contenders for that place appeared. However, the final result was that these challenges ended in failure.
Challenger 1: 【1929】 The Sasoon House (The Peace Hotel) – 77 m.
The Sasoon House is a 10-story building (one section has 13 stories) located in the Bund area, with a maximum overall height of 77 metres. Failing to surpass the Custom House, its challenge ended in failure.
Challenger 2: 【1934】 Broadway Mansions – 77m
The Broadway Mansions are located at 20 Bei Suzhou Road, which is adjacent to the Bund. The name “Broadway Mansions” comes from the fact that it stands at the end of what was formerly Broadway (now Daming Rd). Made up of a main building and annex, Broadway Mansions are located on the north-side of the Garden Bridge, a Shanghai landmark. It’s maximum overall height is 77m, so it too failed to surpass the Custom House.
【1934】The Park Hotel – 83.8 m
In 1934, the “True King” appeared. The Park Hotel was built at the intersection of West Nanjing Road and Huanghe Road. The maximum overall height of this 24-story building is 83.8m. At last, the age of the “squabbling petty feudal lords” was over.
【1955】The Sino-Soviet Friendship Building (Shanghai Exhibition Center) – 110.4 m
The Sino-Soviet Friendship Building was built in 1955 with the co-operation of experts from the Soviet Union, which at the time had friendly relations with China. This classical Russian style building was the “Peak” of Shanghai for a considerably long period of time.
This is something of a digression, but at that time, it is said that there was an unspoken agreement in the Shanghai construction world. The rule was, “The height of all buildings planned for construction should not exceed the height of the Sino-Soviet Friendship Building”.
Incidentally, its height of 110.4m includes the star at the very tip of the tower.
【1972】Shanghai Television Transmission Tower – 205m
Completed in 1972, the Shanghai Television Transmission Tower is 205 m tall, and was completed entirely using manual labor, without using machinery such as cranes.
【1993】The Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower – Maximum Overall Height 468m
A true “giant” finally appeared in 1993, when this 350m high (measured to the very top of the highest circular building) structure was completed. This building is probably the first thing to come to mind for a lot of people when they think about Shanghai. Located on the opposite bank of the western-style buildings in the Bund area that have been previously introduced, the atmosphere of the buildings separated by the river is very different. The maximum overall height is 468 m. She continued to reign from the throne of the “Peak of Shanghai” for 6 years.
【1999】The Jin Mao Tower – 420.5 m
In 1999, the Jin Mao Tower suddenly came onto the scene in the same district as the Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower and stole away her crown, just like that. At 420.5 m tall, the Jin Mao Tower building is presently the third-tallest tower in Shanghai. The “Grand Hyatt Shanghai” is located on its upper floors. It has become a similarly popular observation spot as the previously-mentioned Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower. Incidentally, this building is also well-known because its construction was co-ordinated by the designers who were responsible for the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
【2008】The Shanghai World Financial Center – 492 m
The reign of the Jin Mao Tower was only just 9 years. In 2008, the Shanghai World Financial Center became one of the world’s leading skyscrapers. It’s also known for having been financed by Japan’s Mori Building Company. This building has 101 stories above ground and a maximum overall height of 492 m. It is famous for its unique design that features an empty space in the middle of its upper floors.
In a short period of time after the Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower, the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Tower rewrote the record for the “Peak” of Shanghai.
【2014】 Shanghai Tower – 632m
August 3rd, 2014. On this day, the record for the “Peak of Shanghai” was set at “632”. This is the second tallest building in the world, after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
The main structure of Shanghai tower is 580m tall, with a maximum overall height of 632 m. It has 121 floors above ground and 5 below ground. With features like hotels, exhibition spaces, shopping and an observation deck all in a single space, it’s almost like a “vertical city” that stretches upwards. The elevator that ascends from floor B2 to the 118th floor travels at a speed of 18 m/s. It takes just around a minute to reach the 560m high observation deck area on the 118th floor from floor B2. Beautiful views of Shanghai can be enjoyed from the Observation Deck Area.
I think that by looking at the history of the “Peaks” of Shanghai in this way, you can come to understand the development of the city of Shanghai very clearly.
If you come to Shanghai, be sure to enjoy the view from the observation deck of Shanghai’s tallest tower!