Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bye bye JCMU, bye bye Hikone! (23/5/09)

We are leaving tomorrow morning back to Michigan and myself, I want to stay longer! All of us said "Arigatougozaimasu" to JCMU staff and students who has help us out alot during our stay in Japan sincerely. I hope that I can come back to Japan to visit JCMU in the future! Here is a brief summary for today

One sad news is that my laptop is broken. The screen is a blend of white, pink and black. I really don’t know what happened to it, I never smash or drop it anywhere!
Our last scenic spot in Hikone, Japan is Hikone Castle.

Arriving here early, we had time to try Octopus cake, which is very delicious to me.

Back to the castle, this is a very beautiful place. For the first time in my life, I get to observe Japanese architecture with my own eyes. The landscape around this castle gives me a sense of calmness. I also read about the history of the Hikone Castle more online. I learn that its construction was begun in 1603, by Ii Naokatsu, son of the former lord, Ii Naomasa, but was not completed until 1622. Naokatsu's lands had been taken from him in the interval by the Tokugawa shogunate, and when his brother Naotake assumed control of Omi Province, he was able to complete the castle by collecting stones from the former Sawayama Castle. When the Meiji period began in 1868, many castles were scheduled to be dismantled and only a request from the emperor himself, touring the area, kept Hikone Castle intact. Today it remains one of the oldest original-construction castles in Japan. This is a brief history of the Castle.

We were so lucky to meet Hikonyan today and took a group picture with him.

We had lunch with two JCMU staff and received our certificates from JCMU. We also share memories through the trip with the professors and other students. Mine were my first time riding a bike and water rafting.

We spent a night at AP Hotel in Osaka. Everybody was wearing a mask due to the swine flu outbreak in here so I am a little afraid. I took out the mask to wear it but it was not comfy because I couldn't breath.

Monzer, Ellina, Suyash, Fatima and I discovered Osaka area near the airport at night. In Osaka, there were more crowded than Hikone at night. People are out on the street a lot. We have to wake up early tomorrow to fly to Tokyo so we need to get back soon.

During this trip, I lost my jacket, lost 1000NT, my laptop is broken...But still, I still enjoy this trip a lot. It is really memorable to me when I learn two new cultures, visit new places, make good friendship, build more strength in me and trying different things. It has helped broadening my mind and gaining my knowledge.

Once again,
Thank you, Xiaxia ni and Arigatougozaimasu!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last day in Hikone (22/5/09)

We visited Motomachi Toyota plant in Nagoya and here, we are not allowed to take pictures. Motomachi plant is fore manufacturing Crown, Mark X and Estima model of Toyota. I remember a fact that 80 percent of government tax collect from Toyota. This is a very big name in car industry and I think this is where the Japanese car industry started. I got to see how they put a car together at welding and assembly stage, as they have different process from stamping to welding, painting to assembly.

Japanese line-production system is more specific in term of compartmentalization. Every part of a Japanese car was made very careful. Japanese carmakers focus more on quality over quantity and they also have a high technology. Then we also came to Toyota museum where a car showroom of all models of Toyota and Lexus’s car. We took a lot of picture here in the Lexus

After the Nagoya trip to Toyota plant, we came back to JCMU. Some of us decided to go out to eat sushi as it was the last night in Hikone. It was my first time eating at a sushi train where we pick the plate we want, we can order some more ourselves. It was 90yen per plate (2 pieces of sushi) which is quite cheap compare to some Japanese restaurant that I have dinned in. The food was delicious!

I love trying new food and I was so happy to try “Nato” even though it was the most difficult dish I ever ate. It is a fermented bean and quite sticky and a little bit stinky. It sticks right at the throat and quite hard to swallow. I tried to finish the two pieced of nato sushi even though I don’t like it at all because if I throw of the food, I feel that I disrespect the culture. And in my culture, it is rude to leave food behind so I always try to finish my plates as much as possible.

We went to play bowling after dinner. We had a lot of fun. It has been years since my last bowling game and I had a lowest score in 2 games. I was a little bit upset. I think I need to practice more on my skills and play with my friend next time in the States. I hope that if I keep on practicing, I would score higher.

Here in Hikone, I tried to ride the bike when hanging out with others at night yesterday. I was scared at the beginning because I don’t ride it fluently. Our friend’s house was a little far from JCMU but I made it. I was so happy that I did. If I wasn’t on this trip, I would never think that I can ride a bike outside the house honestly. I am glad that I make a small difference!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

1 day exploring Hikone (21/5/09)

Our Osaka field trip was cancelled due to some cases of swine flu in Osaka and Kobe that many schools and colleges are closed for a few weeks. We supposed to visit American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, attend business presentation by two prominent executives and attend a lecture about Japanese-style management by Professor Maeda. This was a very interesting schedule to me to learn more about Japan’s economic but unfortunately, we couldn’t make it.

However, the Shiga Prefecture government had arranged us an alternative to visit Hikone Chamber of Commerce and visit Hikone old down shopping area which were really interesting too.

Hikonyan is a famous character of Hikone. It wears the Samurai’s hat and looks really cute. No wonder why I see this character everywhere and they have stuff animal, mobile phone’s chain, key chain….in this Hikonyan. I will get a stuff animal of Hikonyan as a souvenir from Hikone hehe.

We visited a over 200 years old Japanese hotel and went to a place where we can put on Samurai’s clothes.

I remember learning about their heroic warrior code longtime ago in history class. The Samurai was the elite warriors in ancient Japan. They fought in battles for the shogun and emperor of Japan in modern times. The samurai based their philosophy on heroism. All samurai trained vigorously in numerous styles of martial arts. Bushido was their way of life. Samurais never accept defeat. They chose to perform their famous samurai ritual of cutting their own stomachs if they ever face defeat. Most people think of samurai as only warriors, but they were actually the elite with very high education level.

We also visited a Japanese artist’s house, his name is Toshiro Odagaki. I love all of his Hikone’s landscape paintings which were placed at JCMU. Odagaki and his wife are so kind and friendly, they prepared us a lot of Japanese food and tea. The artist demonstrated some skills using black ink and I had a chance to try drawing a frog.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One day in Kyoto (19/5/09)

Today, we had a trip to Kyoto. Unfortunately, I forgot my memory card in my laptop :( Anyway, this is a big city in Japan and it is known as a Geisha town where you can see Geisha on the street but unluckily, we didn't meet Geisha outside. It was never like what I imagine or saw through television and magazine. Everything is so crowded. People was walking on the street next to each other and things moved so fast. Business signs were everywhere. I felt so compressed in such environment.

We visited Nijo Castle - this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2003. We had to take our shoes of and wear bare feet, they don't have slippers as in JCMU. Nijo Castle is an example of the early Edo period and the Momoyama culture in Japan because they have Edo period building design, lavish paintings and carvings.

After this, we took the bus to Rokuon-ji temple - the Golden Pavilion. This is also inscribed as World Cutural Heritage in 1994.

We had a quick dinner in order to catch the train at 7:14pm to see the Geisha show at Gion corner. The program contained tea ceremony, koto music, flower arrangement, kyogen, kyomai and bunraku.

Tea ceremony is the tradition of tasting tea which was originated in Cha in the 8th century and was bought to Japan by Zen Buddhists priests at the end of the Heian Period. They used it to present drowsiness during their long hours of meditation.

Koto music is the 13 stringed instrument which was imported from China about 1,300 years ago. We have this Koto in Vietnam too.

Flower Arrangement shows appreciation of flowers when people put flowers in bottle or vases since the 6th century. I really love using flowers to decorate my house in Vietnam.

Bunraku is the puppet play by three people. They are so skillful using their hands to control the puppet as it is a real human.

Kyomai is Kyoto dance style of Geisha. They usually attract people with their beaty, colorful costume and gorgeous staging.

Kyogen is an Ancient Comic play. I didn't understand why some people were laughing until I read the brochure.

Monday, May 18, 2009

First Monday in Hikone (18/5/09)

The first morning in Hikone, Japan was great. I feel refresh because I had a good sleep last night at JCMU dorm. This is a really quiet and peaceful area. In the orientation, Ms Szhuchia san went over the rules and all important points while staying at JCMU.

I remember sorting out the trash to Burnable and Non-burnable. Burnable is food, paper, stuffed animal, clothes, leaves, bones, bag, shoes…and also plastics that cannot be cleaned easily or has a strong smell after rinsing it has to be thrown away as burnable. Non-burnable is Styrofoam and soft plastics such as plastic wrap, drink label. Food container such as cups for yogurt, noodles have to be washed before throwing away. They have separate recycle box for plastic bottles and cans. I know that Japanese government concerns a lot about recycling which is a very good way of saving energy. I rarely see trash can on the street in Japan and even in Taiwan. But the roads are so clean amazingly! I think that people usually keep trash in their bags before getting rid of them in the right place.

After the orientation and welcome ceremony with all JCMU staff, students and representatives from all public Michigan universities, we had a tour around the campus guided by JCMU students. I was so excited to learn Japanese! The class was tough and it requires a fast reflex. Almost all of us were nervous and struggle a little at the beginning.

I think Japanese is very difficult to learn as all the scripted languages. Its character is similar to Chinese due to cultural diffusion, but the pronunciation is a little bit different. Japanese people pronounce their words with strong emphasis at the end of the sentence, which sometimes make me feel like they are yelling at me. I did not know that Japanese has a dozen of different dialects. My Japanese friend told me that the main distinction in Japanese accents is between Tokyo-type and Kyoto-Osaka-type, but I can’t really distinguish. Japanese vowels are pure, but compressed instead of rounded. I notice that Japanese people sometimes speak very fast.

Each of us was given a bike and a helmet to ride around the city when staying at JCMU. To be honest, I was not confident when riding a bike outside on the street, that’s why I went on a cab with Ellina, Levi and his baby to downtown Hikone to have lunch and do some grocery shopping. Kevin – JCMU student took us to a ramen noodle shop to try. The ramen was great!

In the afternoon, we attended the welcome concert and reception by a famous Japanese pianist and a trumpeter. They brought us a nice rhythm through popular songs such as the rhapsody in blue, my way, deep river, beagles holiday, musashi’s theme…and biwako shukoka, this is the theme song for Shiga prefecture and everybody knows how to sing it.

In the reception, I had a chance to meet and talk to the artist to created a beautiful sculpture of a girl placed at JCMU.

After that, my friends and I walked around lake Biwa and two of the Japanese students who live there made us some “Okonomiyaki” and they are really delicious!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Meeting old friends and having a haircut! (16/5/09)

Today was out last day in Taiwan so I didn’t want to waste my time. I only have 4 hours of sleep because I went back to the hotel early morning. Monzer, Ellina and I hung out with our old Taiwanese friends who used to go to UM-Flint last years as exchange students. We went to eat at Koko restaurant and the food was great!

We had a chance to see the Deaflympics parade on the street. Everybody was out on the street to watch the presentation

I had a haircut at Zoom - a Taiwanese hair salon in the afternoon. I didn’t go to American’s hair salon because I prefer Asian styles.

After that, I went to Taipei City Hall area to walk around, enjoy the atmosphere for the last night.

It’s time to say goodbye to my old friends. I was so happy to see them in their home country but time was too short. We all know that goodbye time is always sad…but keep in touch, I will see you guys again in the future!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Coming back to Taipei (15/5/09)

Leaving the resort, we arrived at Lu-Ye Height. Here, we can see the whole view of the valley where the tribe’s people work and live as there are houses, different kinds of plants and trees.

After that, we went to see Bunun Tribe and watched their performances.

There was a Bunun tribe singer who can sing so well, her voice is very clear, high-pitch and strong. We had a group picture with her:

We found a dead super huge beetle and took a picture with it:

I bought some souvenirs here because they look very pretty and a lot are hand-made. After having lunch, we went to see Kuanfu sugar plant and Amei Tribe museum. Each of the tribe has different costume which is very unique.

I enjoyed visiting different tribes because their language and culture is very different from the majority. In Vietnam, we have over 54 different tribes. They are known as ethnic minorities which are mostly the hill tribes of center and northern Vietnam. I notice some similarities from the costume and language.

We got back to the hotel at around 8:30pm. I was a little bit tired but I told my new Taiwanese friends that I am going hang out with them on Friday night. We decided to meet at the train station near the hotel because I don’t have a phone and it is really crowd at the Main Station. We went clubbing at Pasoul, I heard that it is really famous in Taipei among the teenagers. In the States, I am under drinking age but in Taiwan and most of other Asian countries, I am okay to go.

When being with my new Taiwanese friends at Pasoul, I had a lot of fun. We played drinking games with dices when you have to guess the total number of the dices and have to drink when your predicted number is higher than the actual one. I had a chance to practice saying numbers in Chinese as I always love learning numbers in different languages. I know numbers in Vietnamese, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Thai and Japanese. Those new friends also taught me some other Chinese words and phrases such as: what are you doing, where are you going, I’m hungry, it’s cold….

There are some differences between American and Taiwanese clubs. In American, I went to 18up club that I have been to, we don’t have to book the table before coming in but here, if you don’t book the table in the morning, you will not have the table which means you can’t enter the club. I also see a difference in the way Taiwanese people dance in club and the bartenders in Pasoul is so fast and skillful in mixing drinks. The price is 800NT for girls and 1000NT for guys which covers the table and drinks. This is all you can drink so I think the price is reasonable.

I had a great time with them in the club. The club closes at 4am and I was going to get a taxi back to the hotel as the MRT starts working again at 6am. But I see my Taiwanese friends were going to wait for the train to go home so I decided to wait with them. Not only my friends but a lot of the teenagers were waiting too. They all sit outside the club on the stairs and some were in McDonald’s waiting like us. It was my first time seeing these teenagers at my age or older waiting outside for the bus. I asked them how much it costs for the taxi to go back to the hotel. They told me it is about 700NT and you have to pay extra because it is late at night and it only cost 25NT to go by the MRT. This is a huge difference between cab and the MRT. This 700NT is a lot to them and they don’t want to spend this on taxi, which does make sense to me. Therefore, I waited with them for another 2 hours.

This is the rice with sausage I bought on the street to try because I heard that a lot of people like it

We chatted a lot to make time flies faster. I told them what I have learned about American culture as an international student living there. They asked me whether I like to live in Vietnam or in Michigan, and my answer was that I prefer to live in my home country. I also told them that I really love Taipei and I was so glad to have good friends like them. This is going to be the last time I see them before leaving Taipei, but for sure, I will go back.