When I was hanging out with my friend today in Tokyo, we just had a unexpected and surprising encounter with a traditional Japanese Jinja. Jinja is the Japanese name for Shrine. It is the place where people come to make wishes to Gods. Most Jinja’s in Japan were build in old times and are kept perfectly almost in the same way until nowadays. We never thought about that there could be one there, because it was a really modern area where we were walking along. The Jinja itself is located between modern buildings in a small street.
These are wish-paper that people tied on the ropes, expecting the Gods can know and help them to achieve their wishes.
The atmosphere in Jinja was really amazing, because it made me feel that I was taken back in old days. Through the marks by the time left on the building and wood, I can imagine how many years has passed along with this Jinja. The Jinja never seem to be unhomonized with other modern surroundings, rather, it is a place where I can get closer to the tradition and culture of Japan.
Over the past two weeks during Bocconi University’s fall break, I have travelled to five different cities in 14 days. I travelled to Paris France, Dublin Ireland, London Britain, Berlin Germany, and Rome Italy. It has been quite an adventure, exploring different cities, beautiful architectures, delicious foods, and of course we can’t forget, figuring out public transportation.
Over the course of my traveling I have learned two very important lessons about traveling. First lesson; it is the journey that matters, not the destination. I travelled with a friend of mine, and we really got along well and we realized that it was more enjoyable to travel and spend time with each other than it was to reach the final destination point or tourist location. The second lesson I learned was that it is okay to trust people, and share some laughter with strangers (but of course you have to be smart about it). The world is usually not out to get you, so have fun with life as it passes you by. Time is precious so laugh, live, and love.
Recently I made a trip to Ireland, and it was absolutely beautiful. At this point, I have traveled to France, London, Italy, and Berlin all of which had beautiful architecture and great food. However from my personal experiences, buildings begin to look the same after some time, but there is something about nature that never gets old. I think that is one of the two reasons I loved Ireland the most. I traveled throughout Ireland’s beautiful countryside and it was as picturesque as Hollywood portrays.
The landscape was incredibly green and had pastures of sheep and cows grazing on green grass. There were ruins of medieval fortresses all over Ireland, which made this country seem like a land from fairy-tales.
The other reason I loved Ireland was the community of strangers. Although I did not know anyone there, the people were incredibly nice to me, and were genuinely interested in engaging me in conversation. I made friends with guitarists at bars, and I was told traditional Irish folklore from strangers. From my experiences Ireland is full of lush green landscapes, and friendly, cheerful folks!
This dish was what my Lonely Planet Guidebook claimed a “must-try” while in Singapore. Indeed, they were right. Chicken Rice is actually considered one of the national dishes of Singaporean culture. It’s a dish that originated from Hainan, China and was brought over to Singapore by early immigrants. It’s prepared with fragrant rice (rice that has been pre-fried in chicken fat and cooked in chicken broth), bite-size steamed white chicken, and served with soy sauce and ground chili paste on the side. It’s a simple dish but every time I eat it, I wonder why I don’t eat more of it!
2. Nasi Lemak
The first time I tried this dish, I was at a hawker center (open-space food courts in Singapore with many different food stalls). I saw that this particular stall had a long queue (Singaporeans love to queue because it must mean that the food is very good) so I decided to join in. The food this stall was serving was Nasi Lemak, which is also considered a national dish of Singapore. Nasi Lemak has its origins in Malaysia. It’s prepared with fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and comes with a fried egg, fried chicken wing, and served with small fried anchovies, and sambal (a spicy sauce). It’s usually very cheap, I pay around 3.50$ SGD for one meal (equivalent to 2.82$ US dollars!).
3. Char Siew Bao
Char Siew Bao’s are Cantonese barbequed pork- filled buns. They are simply delicious and surprisingly filling. It’s usually found in dim sum restaurants but in Singapore there are a lot of on-the-go dim sum stalls at food courts, which makes it convenient to eat this as a snack during any time of the day. There is a food court on my campus that has one of the stalls and I always find myself grabbing a bun in between classes!
The other day, I took part in what I will call The Longest Group Meeting of My Life. It was 9 hours to be precise. It was for my Management of People at Work class (equivalent to BUSMHR 3200).
We had to prepare a 20-minute presentation on a research question that explores an Organizational Behavior topic. We had to come up with a model (how having a family affects an employee’s tendency to work from home and or/ tendency to work overtime and whether the age of kids influence these correlations) and research existing literature to propose hypothetical results. Phew, that was a mouthful!
And here’s what I concluded about SMU students during this 9-hour meeting (we started at noon and stayed until 9 PM in a group study room…)
SMU students pay a lot of attention to detail
It was impossible to move on from one step of the project to the next if the first step was not perfected. I found that the students have a hard time jumping around to different parts of the project. For me, I tend to focus on the end result. For my group mates, they were more interested in specific details. 75% of the time, they would always end the meeting by saying “Let’s ask Prof” (it’s very normal to call professors here by Prof). They were always unsure whether our progress was going in the right direction. Perhaps this could be related to my previous post about creativity in Singapore and how people might feel uncomfortable with the idea of thinking outside of the box.
Polychronic time system is a more relaxed approach to time and scheduling. Cultures who are under a polychromic time system are not stressed out by time because they don’t count minutes. Some Asian, Latin American, and African cultures use the this time system.
On the other hand, Western cultures use the monochromic measure of time meaning time is segmented into precise, small units. Western culture such as America take time very seriously because “time is money”.
During this meeting, I realized that SMU students lean towards the polychromic time system. As the hours passed by, I realized that it was not about getting the job done, it was about getting the job done perfectly no matter how long it took. No one seemed to be anguished that the meeting was taking the whole day. When I was in that group study room, time became irrelevant. The only thing that was relevant was our presentation.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed myself during the meeting
99% of the time, I really dislike group meetings. They can be unproductive, confusing, and just plain stressful. However, there are times when group meetings are productive and engaging. This was one of those meetings. I found that SMU students are very engaged in their group projects, with every member giving it their best effort (which can’t be said for some of my pervious group projects at Fisher…). This makes group projects a lot more bearable. It was even enjoyable because it’s one of the few chances I really have to interact with the local students.
So in the end, it wasn’t as nearly as horrible as it sounds. I learned a lot through observation and I even made some new friends!
These past few days, I travelled to France for the first time! Everything in France is as beautiful as they say, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles Palace just to name a few. However, I had a very bad experience at the first restaurant my friend and I decided to go to. There were quite a few people at the restaurant so we thought that it would be a good choice. We sat down, ordered food, and ate every delicious bite. The food came with a huge bowl of six different sauces, and as we almost finished our food, we noticed something we wished we hadn’t.
We sat right next to the cashier’s counter, so we noticed that every time the waitress returned a bowl of sauce, they did not throw the rest of the leftover sauce out. Instead, they just added more sauce to the bowl, then handed it to the next customer. My friend and I were rather grossed out, because if others ate as we did, then that meant they would have double dipped, as well as used their own spoons to scoop out the sauce.
In addition, I was told that drinks (juices and sodas) were free, however when I went up to pay for my meal, they charged me extra. I was very frustrated because, I could not properly complain due to the language barrier, and I could not properly tell them my dissatisfaction with how they reused leftover sauces. I ended up paying what they wanted, and left angry. I realized that as long as I have a language barrier, I would be more likely targeted for unpleasant things such as being ripped off, getting pick-pocketed, or even violence, just because it would be easier for them to get away with it.
There is a stereotype about how Americans assume people from all around the world can and should speak English since it is the universal language. As an American myself studying abroad in Italy, I would have to say I fit that stereotype. I personally do not believe that people from other countries should automatically know how to speak English nor do I expect them to, but it is the fact that I did not try to learn any Italian prior to coming to Italy.
Before arriving in Italy, I was not concerned that language would be a great barrier to overcome, simply because I figured I could carry around an Italian phrase book and that all would be good. And yes, I am still alive and have been able to travel around with minimal problems, so language was not a large issue of survival, but in terms of being able to grasp the full experience, knowing the language is crucial.
Many times, I would be in a museum or at a famous landmark and not know the significance or the history behind the beautiful artifacts and sculptures. This is because many attractions are written out only in Italian, and I found this to be frustrating because buildings and sculptures all start to look the same if knowledge about that object is unknown. However, I had no one to blame but myself. Also, language is essential to any culture and because I did not know any Italian, I already missed out on great opportunities to explore new places, restaurants, and people.
Although not knowing a language is frustrating, I would have to say it was not all bad experiences. Learning a language along the way is much more fun than learning it through books and classrooms. Also, picking up the local language while abroad has helped me improve my problem-solving skills and non-verbal communication skills, and now I have more confidence in my ability to overcome barriers.
At least for next time, I know that before I travel somewhere for an extended period of time, I must learn the basics of the local language in order to maximize my experience abroad.
Recently, I made a trip to Lake Como in Italy. Lake Como is renowned for the beauty of their scenic landscape. It is a lake surrounded by large hills that are right on the water’s edge, and gorgeous mountains in the distance. Lake Como is about forty minutes by train from Milan, Italy so I, along with five other friends of mine, decided to travel there for a day trip and return by evening.
We all met up at the Milan Central Station, which is the main hub for trains coming to and from Milan. From there we bought the train tickets at a ticket machine, and we had two options, to either pick the train that would leave in fifteen minutes or the train that leaves in an hour and a half. We decided to pick the train that was going to leave in fifteen minutes, however, that ended up being a poor decision because we were incredibly rushed. It took a while for the tickets to print and by the time we all got our tickets, we only had five minutes to find our train. It was the first time any of us traveled by train so we did not know how to read the tickets or which train was ours. In a frantic rush we tried asking people passing by in our broken Italian, and everyone we asked would point to a different train. We heard the station bell ring for last minute passengers so in a panic we all decided to board the train nearest to us.
None of us knew if we were on the correct train or not until the ticket stamper came around asking for our tickets. He looked at our tickets and was about to give us a fine for taking the wrong train! In hopes to avoid a fine, we all blurted out the few words of Italian we knew, and him, realizing that we were all confused foreigners, told us that he wouldn’t fine us, but that we would have to get off at the next stop.
So when we got off, we realized we were in the middle of the countryside and all we could do was wait for the next train. The next train came about thirty minutes later and we were on the wrong train once again! In total, we rode on three wrong trains, and almost got fined three different times, but finally we hopped on the right train the fourth time around.
Getting lost usually frustrates people, but for me, it was a positive experience. I not only learned that I should always plan ahead for my travels and my studies, but it also gave me an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my friends. There was something about struggling together that allowed us to trust each other and to know that we could depend on one another. Also, since we had a lot of time to waste while waiting for trains, it provided us the opportunity to have enriching conversations and grow in our understanding of each other.
We arrived at Lake Como about four hours later when it should have only taken forty minutes. Lake Como was beautiful, but surprisingly, I enjoyed the journey to Lake Como more than the destination itself. Trying to communicate with strangers about how to get to the proper train, solving problems together as a team, and trying our best to tear up when almost getting fined, were more memorable than picturesque mountains. This has taught me to be flexible with plans because they can, and did go wrong, and to adapt well in any situation I find myself in. I guess it is true what Ernst Hemingway once said. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Tokyo is known as a modren city in Asia and even in the whole world. Long before I arrived here, I was expecting the life in Tokyo would be in rapid pace. But when I actually experience the life here, I just found out that the quietness of life in Tokyo is really enjoyable.
Every morning, I was walking from my dorm to Shiki Station to take Densya. When I pass through the street, I can feel the atmosphere of leisure conveyed from other people. It does not imply that everyone is quite relaxed, of course. People in Japan are very hard-working. What I meant is that people are really enjoying their life, even though they have to try hard in their work or study.
Sometimes I can hear people greeting their acquaintance on the street, or saying “Hi” to their familiar store owners. And the way they are talking is not like western-style, such as speaking very loudly or giving a hug to others. They always speak in a relatively low voice and very politely. And my Japanese friends also act in this way. I am also changing my greeting-style gradually. Instead of running to my friends as I always did, I’m now rather smiling to them firstly and waiting until we walk toward each other closer, then we start to talk. But this way that people are communicating with each other never makes me feel we are more distant. This “quieter” way of communicating can also strengthen our friendship, and sometimes a smile can convey more and people can feel more even if we do not say a lot of things.
I think this is not just because of the differences between the east and the west. Rather, it is more about Japanese people’s life attitude and the Japanese social culture. And I am really enjoying and appreciating this quietness in Japan, because it tells that even in the modern city like Tokyo, I can still feel the warmth conveying from others.
Last week during my Current Issues in Business, Culture, and Society class, a very interesting speaker came in to give a talk. Randolf Arriola, a Singaporean musician spoke to our class about the importance of creativity.Randolf is known for his experimentation with loops music. He plays with a guitar and attached is a machine that can record the music the guitar plays and then play it back through the sound system. Randolf layers sounds on top of each other so that it comes together to create the illusion of a one-man band. It was an extraordinary thing to see him play. You can watch one of his recordings here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJvTT-x8ZAI
After his performance of a few songs, he explained why he thought creativity is lacking in Singapore. Randolf argued that creativity is lacking in Singapore’s society and economy because the culture was first built on effectiveness. Singapore is still a young country (only 50 years old!) and for it to become of the best cities in the world to live in (in terms of safety, health insurance, economy), the culture was geared towards effectiveness rather than creativity. Singapore is a city of rules. Or should I say, a city of fines. People like to stick to the familiar instead of risk-taking (Singaporeans are pretty high on the risk-aversion scale). The arts are considered inferior compared to science and math and people are encouraged to stick to a structure in the workplace (things that a local student told me about). Randolf also argued that in order for Singapore to compete in the 21st century, it would have to become a more creative and innovative society.
This is a big difference compared to the US, as Americans are supposed to be embedded with the spirit of entrepreneurship. Creativity and innovation is the backbone of American businesses and this talk made me more aware of it. To me, this always just seemed …obvious. As if creativity and innovation were fundamental parts of any country’s culture and society (which I now realize is not true).
It made me realize that working abroad could have a lot more implications than I originally thought, (I’m relating this to working abroad because it’s something I’ve thought about and is one of the reasons I wanted to go on exchange). Not only would you have to get used to the culture, you would also have to learn to adapt to a completely new work culture. My friend told me that Singaporean businesses like things to be done in a certain way and there’s very little freedom in how you complete your work because they are so focused on doing it the most efficient way possible. Compared to the US, I think people in the workplace are usually given more freedom, given that they get the results their boss wants.
This doesn’t discourage me from wanting to work abroad however, in fact it makes me even more curious.