OnPoint by Keith Ng


Back! (And on the Crusading Herald)

Changing countries is always a disorientating experience. You have to think in a new currency, speak in a new language, adapt to new cultural rules – and all before you get out of the airport, preferably.

I knew about three words in Japanese, but fortunately, much of Japanese is written in Kanji, which is more or less the same as written Chinese. That meant that I could read a third of everything. It's also the third which is hardest for Westerners to learn, which was a happy coincidence. Traveling with my Kiwi friends in Japan, they could read everything *but* the Kanji, and so with our powers combined, we had the literacy of 9-year-old.

I couldn't say anything in Japanese, though. Except for “hai”, which is accompanied by a slight bow and means “yes”. They're big on agreeing in Japan, and 80% of the time, “hai” is the appropriate response to whatever the other person is saying.

My one word Japanese impersonation was so good, in fact, that people genuinely thought I was Japanese. Though that presumably meant that they also thought I was... um, differently-abled. Conversely, when I cracked out my spectacularly awful Mandarin in China, everyone thought I was speaking quite well... for a Korean.

The experience made me far more understanding of the touts in India who kept yelling “hello Japan!” at me.


Traveling down south, I passed through Kokura, an uneventful city with a surplus of spicy cod roe (the mysterious fish-egg sausage I had in Kyoto), as well as a lovely monorail.

It's little more than a footnote in the annals of history, but I suppose it's happy to be there – it was the original target for the second atomic bomb. Cloudy skies meant that Kokura became synonymous with cod roe, rather than nuclear annihilation.


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