For Second Year Computing For Business student, Elaine Chong, her visit to Japan was her maiden trip and a rich exposure for a 19-year-old to the cultures and people of a country known to Malaysians as the Land of the Rising Sun.
Chong’s trip to Japan last year, which came under the auspices of the Lions Club Youth Exchange Programme, was courtesy of the Lions Club of Kuala Lumpur City.
"Given the choice, I would want to stay longer," she said. The trip lasted three weeks from December 18 last year. It was aimed at encouraging young people to learn new cultures while representing their countries as student ambassadors.
"It was an experience filled with memories that I will treasure a lifetime. Bonds of friendships have been established during my stint there in the City of Nagoya in the South of Tokyo," she said. "I am so happy for having this very rare opportunity to represent Malaysia."
Language was never a barrier. "Although I could not speak fluent Japanese and I was using a Japanese electronic dictionary to communicate with the Japanese people, I still managed to make new friends," she said, enthusiastically. "I have established a really, really close relationship with my host families."Her first host family was Naoki Matsuda with her two boys. "Naoki and her two sons are very friendly and they immediately made me feel at home. Both my host brothers are really cute - they are only 7 and 10 years old. I really like both of them. We played games together, we watched movies together, we went to shop together and most of all, we were studying together. Of course, for me, I was writing my report, while they were doing their homework."
When it was time for her to be transferred from the first host family to the second, Naoki’s wife, Yayoi had to fight back her tears. "I was truly touched. To me, the family is not only my host family, but Yayoi was like a sister to me. She is too young be called host mother. I truly miss her a lot," said Chong, who is currently pursuing her Bachelor (Honours) degree in Computing for Business at UCSI (University College Sedaya International).
They had good times together. "During Christmas Eve, we went out for dinner together. My host mother even helped me to curl my hair so that I would look gorgeous. We chat and had a great time during the dinner. The whole family was there, and I received a beautiful gold necklace from my host grandfather. The sincerity of the Matsuda family really touched my heart and I am so glad I spent my Christmas with them. This Christmas was the most beautiful moments in my life," she said.
After Christmas, it was Chong’s turn to cook curry for the family. "It was quite a rush preparation as my host grandfather just "dragged" me out of the house to go shopping with him; and I only came to know that I was to cook dinner for everyone. With barely two hours to prepare the food, I managed to cook curry for the family. They complimented my cooking, making me realise how much we can show them about our country, its people and the variety of food that we have."
On December 29, Chong left for another host and joined the family of Katsuhiro Matsunaga. Staying with the Matsunaga family was a really "Japanese" experience. Their house was luxuriously antiqued but it was surprisingly well kept.
"It was an experience living in a traditional Japanese home. I felt really strange going to sleep at night because the room had a half-transparent door. When I was changing, I really had no idea how to tell them I was changing and asked them not to come in. It was funny though, but this was an unforgettable experience."
During New Year, the Matsunaga family brought Chong out on a skiing trip in the snow. It was a wonderful and freezing experience. The snow looked really nice on photos but this was the first time she had the chance to touch and feel the snow. "It was so cold! Like most Japanese are trained to do, I even learnt to sit on the snow. As I was lying on the snow to watch the sky, I could see the beauty of snowflakes falling from the sky," she said.
Never in her life had Chong experienced how a traditional Japanese family celebrated their New Year together. "The traditional Japanese dishes were mostly sweet, but very delicious. I learnt that Japanese people love to have their food sweet. They love almost anything that is sweet," she said.
In Malaysia, Chong said she longed to get a pet, but living in an apartment meant there were restrictions. "However, in both host family homes where I was living in, to own a dog as a pet was common. In Matsunaga family, the dog was always indoors. It even wore a sweater and carried along with it a personal drinking bottle whenever it went out for a walk. Isn’t that a lucky dog?"
Right after the New Year celebration, I went to check out the Matsunaga’s shop located within a shopping centre in Nagoya. "There, I had the opportunity to learn how to make sushi. I was just so amazed with the emphasis placed on each and every step in making the sushi. Each sushi must be given a special attention in order to preserve the perfect flavour. What can I say, when I was there, I can tell you for sure, I had definitely repeated the word "Interesting" so many times that it would surpass the number of times I used of the word in a year. I was totally fascinated with what I learnt about the sushi."
The exposure was certainly rewarding for Chong. "To be in Japan, or in other words, to be a young ambassador of Malaysia is surely one of my proudest moments in my life time. I am not sure whether I have done a good job to promote Malaysia - but one thing is for sure, I have two newfound families in Japan," she said. "I promised my host brother that when they got married, I would certainly visit Japan again. I guess I have 10 more years to prepare myself as the oldest of the two sons is only 10 years old now."
In retrospect, Chong writes in her diary: "Deep down in my heart, I have a secret wish: someday, I really hope that they can visit me in Malaysia. I have lots to show them how beautiful our country is. Most importantly, they must experience the Malaysian weather. I guess they have never experienced the heat that we are so used to."
A second impression that will last for a long time to come for Chong about Japanese people is the fact that they are really technology-oriented people. "This reminds me, as a computing student, that I must always be a quick-learner and must never slack in learning IT," she said. "Otherwise, we will be lagging behind as technology continues to develop over time."
The Japanese people are also very hardworking people. They rise up early. They walk fast, they eat fast, and one can hardly find any Japanese person idling around on the streets. "This really spurred me up - I realise that I must begin to use my time fully so that I can say I have never wasted even one minute of my life. Doesn’t this sound great?" she asked.
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