The never-ending pandemic and those who set sail back home
It is hard not to touch upon the topic of a global pandemic, especially when it affects one’s daily life, no matter what your status and location is. I sincerely hope that for those who were badly affected due to this situation can recover quickly and resume normal life.
Some of my friends and former classmates who are now staying overseas, carry on with their lives there, as they cheerily shared their status in Instagram and other social media platforms. There are some who retreated back to Malaysia as they stepped into the next chapter of their life, be it pursuing new opportunities or harbor in their hometown after a long time away from home. Either way is fine, in my opinion.
I joked to friends of my same age, saying that we had reached a quarter of our entire journey. Before I can finish the sentence, I stopped at “a quarter” and began reflecting at the entire sentence. The weight of the sentence, which was carried equally by each of us, is heavy.
“Knowing this, why don’t you stop wasting time doing such meaningless stuff?”, a friend jokingly reminded me as I told the story of a distant past, which remained vivid in my mind. “Dwelling on it is the only thing that I can do, so I won’t repeat the same mistake again in the next life.”, I replied to my friend, in my head.
The ones you can’t buy are time
I recently read stories revolving several characters who were terminally ill, and had less time left, decided to accomplish new things together despite only knowing each other briefly. Among all of the things one can have, time is the only thing one cannot buy or exchange, the stories tried to convey.
Perhaps it was due to this extraordinary situation, and the ability for me to observe the changes of the skies outside my balcony almost everyday without going out much had me pulled back to the reality, and not the world filled with ones and zeroes.
Halfway across the a quarter of the road
“… in the third year…before I need to make a choice whether I wanted to continue to stay here”.
Recently, I increasingly mentioned this to my work superiors and family members as they asked about my plans in the future. I looked at my roadmap and couldn’t stop wondering what to plan ahead.
I liked more and more the notion of giving away than to receive, so I had chosen to donate to the needy groups, as a way of giving back to the society. For many, this day is just another Tuesday working day. I think of the same, as I will be hopping onto the 8 something A.M. bus to my workplace, be it rainy or sunny.
A new guy (let’s call him M) has joined the department where I worked at a few weeks ago, who was employed by the company. On the contrary, I worked in this department as a contractor, so I don’t get the “full experience” in joining the company. From the brief introduction by my manager and brief “get to know each other” group meeting held not long ago, M is a recent graduate.
It was a refreshing sight, at least for me, as I knew a few contractors who joined the department, left after about a year working here. The reasons why they left, I do not know. What’s more, the identity of M in joining this department as a company employee may have left a deeper impression among us.
I haven’t got to talk with M a lot, since I worked from home most of the days in a working week. M was expected by the manager, in a charmingly cheering voice, to pick up the various programming languages and tech stacks that we use in our job in that brief group meeting, which was an hour before lunch. “I will try my very best!”, M answered in a cheering voice while we welcomingly clapped our hands.
Minutes after the normal working hours ended today, as I leisurely sat in my place while lazily scrolling Facebook on my phone, M walked passed by me as he flipped his name card on the attendance board – a method to visually conveying to the department that he had “punched out for the day”. I took note of his action, greeted to him, and continued scrolling Facebook.
As he proceeded to walk out of the office, he paused a while and walked to my place. “Khor-san, right? I heard you know some stuff about the language that we use?”, M asked. I was slightly surprised by this, but I quickly responded to his question after a while. More than ten minutes had passed as he asked some technical questions.
“(It’s way passed normal working hours.) Is your time OK?” I asked him before I went further with my explanations. “Nah, it’s OK, don’t worry about it!”, M responded. I quickly opened up a few browser tabs and explained the technical details he asked earlier. Since then, I quickly knew that we came from different technical backgrounds, and were unsure of some details in the programming language we used frequently, C#.
The rounds of simple coding while explaining concepts reminded me of the times when I was in university. M seems to be a good person to work with, like the other employees.
I was jotting down a thought that constantly lingered in my mind about a distant memory when I recalled the quote above (which I indirectly knew from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “fullmoon” from the album “async”). What surprised me was how the time and event being described the quote matched the background (time and event – a certain afternoon in my childhood that affected me so deeply that it had rooted in me ever since).
The more I read, the stronger the urge for me to take some kind of… action.
I recalled seeing a full moon not long ago in my home at a distant country. I can’t help but to wonder, how many times would I be able to see that full moon here.
What are your thoughts of the quote above? (Listen to the music, and listen the quote being read in various languages.)
Recently, I went to Ashikaga Flower Park, a tourist spot in the Kanto region, which is famous for the wisteria festival with some friends. Situated in Tochigi prefecture, this place is about 2 hours by normal train or about more than 1 hour if gone by express trains, including the shinkansen bullet train. Aiming to view at the splendid view of wisteria, my friends and I departed early in the morning from our respective places to the Ashikaga Flower Park station.
I first grew interest of this station due to its unique jingle sound/music played depending on the train direction (see below). Later on, the distinctive view of wisteria (purple-colored flower) and the peak viewing season became the reason I decided to visit.
During the peak season, entrance fee is priced at JPY1900 (which is a bit pricey, in my opinion). Being a flower park, upon entry, one can see various kinds of flowers, which bloom at different seasons, such as maple leaves in autumn, and rose during spring and summer, etc. The flower park itself is divided into multiple sections.
However, the view of Japanese wisteria (below) truly blew us away. I jokingly said that I wanted to find an empty spot to lie down and stare at the ceiling full of purple-colored wisteria, but couldn’t do so due to coronavirus, and other reasons.
The “Light Pink Bridge” (below) had the wisteria plant decorated as well, which matched well under the bright sun.
While we were strolling around the area, we passed by a small eatery selling coffee and local sandwich. What attracted my eyes was the uniquely designed, flower themed sandwich, which looked delicious!
Along the way, I noticed a woman drawing while sitting on the floor. Equipped with her drawing set, she was drawing a huge tree, along with the wisteria decorating it, which was amazingly drawn. I didn’t talk to her but I couldn’t help but to admire her skills and drawing.
Before leaving the park, we had a quick lunch, which included the locally famous potato yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles) and the fuji (wisteria) ice cream (see both below).
This flower park was chosen by CNN in 2014 as one of the dream destinations in the world. When the pandemic gradually subsides and international travel is permitted, and if you happen to be in Tokyo, why not consider spending half a day here? I’m sure you’ll be amazed by not only the wisteria tree, but also the other plants and flowers on display here.
Location: Ashikaga Flower Park, 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture 329-4216. Website: https://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/. To view the wisteria flowers at its peak, do come during mid-April to mid-May. More information is available at its official website.
This week is the last week (where you can enjoy the spring flowers) before the raining week ahead.
NHK’s “Good Morning Japan” weekday news program in sometime during end of March.
On a Saturday morning in early April, I took advantage of the sunny morning to travel through the Boso Peninsula (房総半島) via two local railways – Kominato Railway (小湊鉄道) on the Kominato Line and Isumi Railway (いすみ鉄道) on the Isumi Line to view the spring scenery and hop onto diesel powered trains, which were quite popular among train fans and tourists in general.
I bought a special one-way “Travelling through Boso Peninsula” ticket (cost 1370 JPY) allowing the passenger to travel through both railways, starting from the western part of Goi (五井) station (JR Uchibo Line) to the eastern part of Ohara (大原) station (JR Sotobo Line) (map shown below).
Equipped with the train ticket (left), I hopped on the diesel powered train on the Kominato Railway line. Perhaps the weather was nice that morning, there were many people on board the train.
The diesel powered train has only a few cars, since it ran on a lesser populated local line. As the train gradually moved across the peninsula, the burnt diesel smell lightly filled the train, even with a proper ventilation in place. I can smell it even with a mask on.
Definitely a unique experience for people living the urban area. (This is also a huge tourist spots for people from Tokyo.)
The diesel train left the station at 9 a.m. with a considerable amount of passengers on board. Along the tracks as the train moved at a steady pace, I was able to see the canola flower field and the remaining blooming sakura flowers, which really suited the spring season that was going to quietly wrap up in the Kanto region.
Along the number of train stations passed by, I hopped off at Yoro Keikoku (Yoro Valley) station, which is one stop away from the terminal station for Kominato railway line, to stroll around. There was only one train for each direction every one or two hours, hence it was a perfect place to enjoy the nature scenery and take a quick rest.
Upon exiting the station, I strolled around to find spring flourishing around. The yellowish and pinkish colours painted the surroundings which made the slightly cloudy noon even better.
This day was “Yoro Keikoku no Hi” (Yoro Valley Day), hence there were events and performances commemorating this day. It lasted for the entire noon as dances and folk songs were performed by the local community. Under the warm sun, this was definitely enjoy to watch.
After resting for a while, I boarded the train on the Kominato railway to transfer for the Isumi railway. Using the same ticket, I was able to board another diesel powered train on the Isumi railway to continue my journey. Despite the same train engine types, the train used by Isumi railways was a bit special.
I strolled briefly around the Kazusa-Nakano station (above), which was the terminal station for both railways. The ageing station stood out amongst the mailbox and vending machines. There were several tourist spots (including castle) around this area, but I decided to visit them next time, as I had only little time. I queued with other passengers eagerly wanted to board the Isumi railway train.
I mentioned earlier that the trains on the Isumi railway was special because… this was a refurbished JR West train! An old local line railway map of the Oito Line (大糸線) and Hokuriku Line (北陸本線) (see below) served in the Itoigawa area in Niigata prefecture, along with the JR West logo was still left intact.
I transferred again at another station, Otaki (大多喜) station, to head to my final destination, Ohara (大原) station on the same Isumi railway line. In this round, the other passengers and I hopped onto another “one-man” train (yellow-green colored).
As we departed to the Ohara station direction, the station staff and railway fans (or tourists) waved their hands, and off we went into the towns as the clouds grew uneasily and it began to rain.
I arrived at Ohara station some time after 3 pm, ended after more than 6 hours of journey (mainly) on train. As I exited (and completed) the Isumi Railways route, I hopped onto the JR (Japan Railways) Sotobo line headed back home. I was lucky to witness the newly introduced, brand new E131 series train (went into use in March 2021) “one-man” train for this train line, which I thought was pretty.
The yellow-blue color scheme represented the main JR lines in the peninsula – Sotobo Line (外房, meaning “outer side”, represented by the yellow color) and Uchibo Line (内房, meaning “inner side”, represented by the blue color).
The Boso Peninsula is truly a wonder, in my opinion, as it has the Pacific ocean, Tokyo Bay, and the wonderful nature that changes color in every season that one can enjoy at once. If you’re nearby Tokyo, do consider spending a day here!
Few days ago, I received a notification mentioning that there was a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 next to my department (which was a few meters away from where I sat). Due to this, a sanitization process had been conducted urgently within a few meter radius of the affected department, of which my seat was also sanitized.
As a precautionary measure, a few colleagues and I who were in the “red zone” – area where it was designated as COVID-19 risk zone, were instructed to not go to the office for 2 weeks. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I always considered the scenario where my workplace is affected and required a partial or full shutdown of the premises.
The standard operating procedures for positive COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the pandemic reported in the office area included lockdown of the building, complete sanitization, installation of contact tracing app, undergoing PCR test In my case, neither shutdown scenario had occurred, and only the affected employees were required to work from home (unless a PCR test is taken and proven negative).
Company policies dictated that no personally identifiable information will be shared regarding the positive case(s) to prevent discrimination, but it did left me a few questions in mind, such as the number of positive case(s), what variant of the virus was (there were many reported cases of mutated variants of COVID-19, e.g. South Africa and the UK in Japan) , how was the severity of the person(s) who contracted COVID-19, etc.. If the person(s) who contracted COVID-19 were the mutated variants, then people surrounding the area might be at a higher risk to contract the virus (even worse, forming a cluster infection). My colleagues and I weren’t designated as “close contact”, so we weren’t required to undergo the PCR test.
A friend (let’s call her Y) who had stayed in Japan for a few years, had gone back to Malaysia last Wednesday. I managed to meet Y for a last meal last Tuesday before the flight back home next morning.
Previously we planned to have a dinner in the airport, only to find out that the majority of restaurants in the airport terminals were closed for the day (or possibly, for the time being, probably due to the pandemic), so we chose to have dinner at a izakaya (Japanese bar) somewhere that was not far – a train station away from the airport.
Rush, unsettling departure
Y has plans and appointments after going back home, revolving new commitments. Before leaving Japan, Y had busy tying whatever knots there were left here – cancelling phone contracts, etc. Revealing an exhausted expression, Y couldn’t rest well and had shown signs of fatigue after a rushing weekend.
Contemplation whether to start new commitments right away or to have a good rest for an extended period of time seemed to continue lingering in Y‘s mind. If I were in Y‘s shoes, I would have shown the same response. Due to the extraordinary pandemic situation, it must be tiring for Y too.
The past, present, and the future
In the izakaya, we talked about the past, present, and the future. We knew each other through a friend, so I don’t know Y as deep as Y‘s friends, however, I always felt that Y is someone who would always brave to continue exploring new things. The changes in certain perspective in life might have been influenced deeply by Y.
It was the “last order” reminder from the izakaya staff that we ought to end our dinner soon (it was about an hour). We ate quite a few items, and Y seemed to have a filled stomach after a long day before heading back to the airport hotel.
I ordered a small glass of beer to end the satisfying meal, only to realize that I had eaten too much.
And so, you graduated
As we left the izakaya, Y gave me some food as I went to a convenience store to grab some foods and drinks. One of them is a few balls of red bean rice (rice with azuki beans). It was said that the red bean rice was eaten in a celebration-worthy, congratulatory event.
Y said that the red bean rice was for the departure from Japan. I retorted that my friends and I would feel sad without Y around. However, as I thought about it later, I agreed with Y‘s statement, as it was a “graduation ceremony” for Y, and a new beginning, possibly a new chapter back home.
As of this writing, Y is undergoing quarantine in a hotel in the capital of Kuala Lumpur with the ability to oversee the wonderful KL skyline.
I hope that everything goes well for you despite these challenging times.
Just several stations (and minutes) away from JR Kyoto station was the JR Inari station, famously for the torii shot. Perhaps it was due to weekend, there were many people visiting the shrine. I recalled there was a group of students went for presumably a school trip to the area, which was quite fun.
The obligatory shot of the thousand torii (red gates). If one walked through this path, one can climb on a mountain but it will take at least an hour to reach one of the peak so I did not do so. However, depending on the time and day you visited this shrine, snapping some photos will surely be awesome! No wonder people brought their fancy cameras. (And the entrance is free too!)
After spending some time at the shrine, I headed to my final destination in Kyoto, which was another few more stations away from JR Inari station.
As I went off a train station that was not far from the site, I noticed a teenager with a backpack was heading to a direction. My gut told me that he was heading to the former site, so I followed him while referring to my maps app. It turned out that I was right – he was indeed going to the site, as we went through a tight alley that lead to an open ground nearby the residential area.
The compound was tightly walled with a sign written in English and Japanese, urging visitors to follow the rules (e.g. not to cause trouble to neighboring people, not to loiter around the premises, not to take pictures or record video, etc.), presumably to ensure the residents nearby are not bothered by sincere visitors who wanted to pay respects.
I briefly paid my respects, inspecting the surrounding to observe if there were people leaving flowers or other goods (luckily there weren’t anything in the area). I also observed the teenager who I followed took pictures of the compound before leaving the site.
As I left the area and headed to the train station, I managed to capture this stunning sunset sight when I was crossing a bridge. This area must be a wonderful working place, I thought.
One more time… Kiyomizu-dera Temple, after dark
After reaching the Japanese inn where I stayed, I decided to go to Kiyomizu-dera Temple again where I can witness its glory at night. Coincidentally, there was a light-up session for a limited period of time, so I paid the entrance fee tickets, entered the temple grounds (again) and took more photos.
They were all stunning, especially when you can see the cityscape. Probably it was due to the light-up session, there were even more people in the temple, which was not surprising. The somewhat clear sky, bright moon, and strategic location of the lights made the night even lively.
After spending for an hour in the temple, I finally headed back to the Japanese inn where I stayed to get some rest for the next day.
Although it was only one full day that I planned for in the city, I managed to explore several main attractions in the city. I hope to come again soon one day! I hope you, dear reader, can take an opportunity to explore this city and make it an unforgettable experience.