31 March 2011

The Story of A Japanese Girl

The recent tsunami in Japan had somehow reminded me of a Japanese girl that I met in the most dramatic way in Sydney last year.

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It was nearing 9pm and a sudden hunger had led me to coming down to the kitchen to cook a pack of instant noodles for supper.
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It was late autumn and nights in Sydney were freezing cold. Somehow the idea of slurping over hot instant noodles in the cold night air of Sydney had seemed all so appealing to me.
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Oh well, bringing my bowl of Maggie out into the veranda at the back of the kitchen, my eyes caught the figure of somebody sitting at the only table there.
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Taken earlier of the day

It was quit dark because the only source of light was coming out through the kitchen window. I had to close in on her a little to see that it was a girl and she was having a cup of hot milk mixed with cereals. I knew instantly that she took them from the kitchen because I had had them for breakfast earlier in the day.
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SO – I politely asked if it was OK for me to join her and she just nodded. Then the conversation began. 

She told me that she was from Japan and that she’d been traveling for the last 10 years in which she spent 2 years working in Canada. She decided to go back to Japan before venturing out into South East Asian countries hopping from one job to another while savoring her years travelling from one country to another.

In those years, she had traveled all over South East Asian countries and beyond including some part of China and the Himalayan region. 
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Himalayan Range
She named two of her most adventurous journeys in all the her years of traveling with one being an 87 hours of grueling and back-breaking bus ride across mountains and terrains from China all the way to Tibet. 87 hours! The longest bus ride I’ve ever been on was from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and it was long enough to turn my sorry ass into ashes. 

She told me about the Tibetan strong sentiment against the Chinese which she was always mistaken for one when she was there.

"IT was nightmarish really. I was sneered at and they wouldn't want to talk to me. They'd refuse  to take my order when I am at a restaurant. IN fact, I was being completely ignored as if I was invisible or something. They wouldn't come to me and ask me to leave but they really know how to make me feel so unwanted there", she stressed out.

Being somebody who is cursed with a Chinese look (ok, don't get offended. I am proud of my Chinese look), I'd have to think twice if I wanted to travel to Tibet then.

Tibet-Lhasa-Potala-Palace-on-Marpo-Ri-Hill-1-CKB

The other one was a boat ride from Central Java to Bali – a journey had put her life totally at risk considering the condition of the boat which was so bad, unsafe and quite too undersized for something that goes against the roughness of the open sea.  

"I was traveling on a shoestring. My savings were depleting fast”, she said.

She described how the people in Bali was the worse she had ever encountered. “I thought the Vietnamese people were bad enough but the people in Bali had been even worse”, she reiterated when I described my bad encounters with people in Vietnam. “Vietnamese people only came second”, she later said as if not wanting to disappoint me over my ascertainment of Vietnamese rudeness. 

“The Balinese people cheat all the time. They can be very persistent and rough and do anything to get money from us tourists”, she elaborated further. 

I’ll be in Bali as part of my Eat.Pay.Love. adventure in about one month’s time so thinking of what she had said, I should be extra careful then.:-)
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When her savings had finally run out, she decided to settle in Thailand for a little while until she could figure out what to do next in her life. It was there that she befriended an Australian couple which she described as ‘very nice’.

Oh well, in her desperate attempt to make a major turn in her life and with all the promising prospects that Australia seemed to offer, she followed the couple back to Sydney.

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Sydney, Australia
Everything seemed to be going well at first – with the couple’s help she managed to get a job and the income that she was earning was good enough to let her survive Sydney, which she said was a very expensive city’.

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“It’s very very expensive here”, she reiterated. Coming from somebody who was born and grew up in Japan, it shed some light of hope that Japan is not really that expensive after all. 

“But I am not after fortune. So long as I can eat to survive the day, that’s enough for me” she said. 

And yes – she was surviving Sydney. Being somebody who demanded nothing more than at least something to live off to survive every day, things were going quite well for her in Sydney.

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WHAT SHE DIDN’T KNOW (or probably unaware of or kinda slipped off her mind somehow) was that – The renewal of Working visa in Australia had an age limit – the applicant must be below than 35 years old. Some special (presumably much more complicated and not easy to pass through) procedure is needed when applying for a renewal when the age limit is reached. 

“And I am 35 years old now”, she said and I could see tears were beginning to well up in her eyes as she said that. There was an eye-bag around each of her eyes which was obviously the result of sleep-deprived nights.

“My working visa has expired 1 month ago and I am stuck here with no work and no income”, she said and her face was beginning to take on a miserable look. It was painful to see really. 

“My only hope of surviving here in Sydney now is by joining volunteer jobs in which food and drink are provided for the participants”

“I’m expecting to join one in which I’d go – bla bla bla bla – and we’ll be starting on Monday”. *I actually didn’t get what voluntary work it was that she was talking about but it didn’t really matter.  

It was Friday night so she had at least two more nights before she could get started with the job. 

The hostel that I stayed in was quite different from most other hostels that I’ve ever had stayed in before. The staff would only be there up until 7pm when they’d leave the hostel entirely in the hands of the hostel guests. Not even the house cleaner would be there.

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The Japanese girl seemed to know that. She’d spend the whole day roaming the streets of Sydney and she’d sneak into the guest house when all the staff had left. While each guest is facilitated with a magnetic access card, the door takes quite awhile to swing back so all she needed to do was to jump in before the door closed entirely.

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She’d be in the kitchen eating whatever there was to eat and that was how she had survived her nights in Sydney SO FAR.

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Living off the free food which only contained cereals and beans and milk powder was of course far from enough to keep her physical strength going. In fact she slipped off the chair at least twice as she spoke of all her sad encounters in life. 

“I am OK. I am OK”, she assured when I offered my hands to get her back to her chair. 

And she was in tears as she recalled her years away from her family and friends.

“Thinking back now, after all the years that I’ve been through, here I am, back to square one. I keep questioning myself, what have I achieved in the last 10 years? Nothing”, she said while shaking her head in disbelief. 

I know what you would have wanted me to ask to her. YES, I did ask her why she didn’t just go back to her home country Japan.

“Japan is the last country that I want to go back to. Everybody is made to believe that Japan is doing well economically when that is actually not the truth. In fact, the economy in Japan has been going down for the past few years"

"Many people in Japan have been suffering. Working parents found themselves suddenly jobless and lost their sources of income. They can’t even afford to raise their family and send their children to school to get education"

"Many teenagers are left to roam the streets with nothing to do and to aim for. Those who cannot cope up would choose to end it all by committing suicide”, she explained almost without a pause as she spoke of her home country. 

That of course, explains why Japan has one of, if not the highest rate of suicides in the world. Japan has one been dubbed as a suicide nation with one Japanese take their life every 15 minute!

I miss my family very much but I don’t want to go back to Japan. They too are suffering there. I don’t see the point of going back and suffering with them too”, she said as she spoke of her family in Japan. She told me how one of her brothers happened to travel to Australia the year before and she went to see him in Melbourne. 

It was one of the happiest times in my life. I was very very happy to see him”, she said with a delightful smile – probably her first smile since we started chatting. It was good to see a smile break into a conversation that was shrouded in misery. 

By then it was beginning to get too cold to be staying on the outside. The freezing autumn air of Sydney was beginning to penetrate deep through my skin and bones and I knew I had to get back to the warm comfort of the hostel before I caught any unwanted cold. Of course I wouldn’t just leave without asking her about her plans for the future.

“Right now, I’m thinking of going back to South East Asia and looking for a job. I even consider working in Malaysia, probably as a tour guide or something because I know many Japanese come to Malaysia especially Genting Highland. Most of them can’t speak a word in English. I can be of good use to them”, and true enough, she was probably one of the only few Japanese that I’ve ever encountered whose English deserved a thump-up.

It did come to my mind that may be I should offer her some help. Money of course was out of the equation since I was in Australia on a fairly tight budget too.

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Still I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking about all the possibilities that I could probably come to – like helping her renew her passport and bring her back to Sabah as a – then I got stuck there. As a what? A girlfriend? A maid? I actually had a flashing picture of my mom’s reaction if I were to return home from Australia with a Japanese girl clinging to my waist. It wasn’t one with a delighted face.
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There was some naughty thinking too but I’d rather not to share it here. After all she was not that bad-looking at all. In fact, she was prettier than most porn chicks that I saw in Japanese 18SX movies that I used to watch when I was way young (er) :_P

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Thing of the past :-P
But then again, thinking that she has been staying illegally in Australia, my alarm system had somehow warned me not to get involved what so ever with this girl. Who knows what trouble I could get myself into if I did. The concerns and sympathy were all there in me but I really couldn’t see how I could be of any help without putting myself at risk. 

You see, traveling can be fun. It can be addictive to some people like me. But then, as I’ve always said, too much fun will kill you. Traveling is just a small fraction of life. In the end, you’d still have to get back to somewhere where you can concentrate in building your life and be prepared to get old or something. You can’t keep traveling forever. 

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Life isn’t always a fairytale. 10 years ago, I had this plan (and seriously thinking) of just leaving everything behind and launching on a gypsy lifestyle where I can just jump from one job to another while keeping up with my traveling ventures from one country to another. 

That is exactly what this Japanese girl seemed to have done. She could have been an inspiration except for what happened to her in the end. 

“I failed to see my future”, she had said while wiping her tears away.

Thinking back now, I could have ended being like her OR worse. I could have ended up being another homeless in the streets of London or a forgotten existence in some back alley or squatter’s area in the downtown New York. Or worse.
  
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I believe in destiny. And I believe everyone has one. As for me now, I believe I was destined to stay back here in my own home country and continued living as a normal citizen – AND – traveling whenever I can afford to although there are times when I think THINGS could have been better. 

But still my destiny is here. For now. :-) *degil

*I hope she's fine now :-(

6 comments:

Julie Lim said...

Hi Jipp,

Great article!

I think at some point in life, every traveller who has been on the road for a long time needs to come back to reality and take roots somewhere. Travelling only offers temporary escapism. It should not be a permanent feature in anyones life.

JIPP said...

Thanks Julie. Yeah, that's what I keep telling people, that a traveller is like a bird. It gets tired of flying after awhile and need to stop somewhere. :-)

thomas said...

Wah! Your pack of instant noodle brought me half way round the world.

JIPP said...

haha. it saved a lot on my budget. :-D

Jourmary said...

This Story mad me cry... not yet, but its really sad... huhuu

JIPP said...

JM: Yaaa. It was a very saddening encounter for me. I really hope she has found her way back to some good life now.

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