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The second day was every bit as memorable as the first day, because it was the day that my friend and I headed down with Eden and his friends to do relief work at the flooded areas in Kyushuu. We had to take the train down early in the morning, and had to wake up at 5am. This was the equivalent of 4am in Singapore, and it was a milestone since I have not woken up so early before.
Having met up with the rest at the train station, we then proceeded to a carpark where a car was awaiting our arrival. It was then more than an hour drive to the disaster relief centre, where we were properly geared up with boots, gloves and masks, complete with water and hydrating salts sweets. A mini van then chauffeured us to the disaster relief site.
One impressive thing about the Japanese is their efficiency and organization. Everyone was hard at work, and nobody would stop to tell you what to do or where to go. You simply take a shovel or brush, and you join into the groups who are busily working. Everything is your own initiative. If you were to stand there alone in the middle, nobody would disturb you or question your actions. this was a pleasant respite from a place where you are constantly being told what to do and the proper way to do things, and so we all helped in whatever way we saw.
Another impressive thing was the number of volunteers present. When we reached there, we saw about 200 volunteers toiling hard. many of them labored under the sweltering heat, sweat literally streaming down in rivulets down their foreheads. However, there was no word of complain. At all. In the entire day that we were there, all we heard was about how hot and humid the weather was, but nobody said a word about the hard labour, each willing to put in 220% of their efforts now that they were present at the disaster relief site. It was admirable that complete strangers could come together with a common cause in mind, and work hard together. I learnt what true teamwork was, where people who were exhausted would work go for a drink and others simply covered up for their absence effortlessly.
Due to our communication in English, many Japanese politely enquired about us, and were very grateful upon knowing that we were singaporeans who had come to help. They were all unanimously grateful to us, and whoever we talked to always thanked us upon learning. While it was unexpected and was a pleasant surprise to know that we were appreciated, it made me reflect on the Singaporean society and I realized just how little we thank others in our everyday lives. We have all become so individualized and self-centered that when others do things for us or provide a service for the greater good, we just take it for granted that it is what one should do. however, the Japanese have a community mindset, and when they thanked us, they were thanking us for helping them with the relief efforts in a place where they did not live in. if its one great thing about the Japanese mindset, it is how they always remain so humble and grateful despite being so developed. Their communal mindset should also be encouraged in Singapore in order to make citizens have greater national pride.
The Japanese are also really caring people. Working under the sun is really tiring and backbreaking work, and the Japanese would call out for a water break every hour. They would have servers at the tea counter serving cold tea to the workers, and provide much needed hydration for the workers. They would also distribute salt sweets to replenish the salt lost. It is crucial in that weather because lots of water is being lost, and dehydration is a real concern. Despite having downed more than 5 bottles of water, I did not go to the toilet even once, because I have lost so much water. It was therefore very encouraging to know that people are looking out of each other’s welfare even while working, and everyone looks out for each other.
On top of that, people there come from all walks of life. Many people are there for a short period of time, maybe for a day or 2 during their weekend, but it was remarkable that they would devote their weekends on helping with the disaster relief work despite their busy schedule on the weekdays. I had the opportunity to talk to a few people, of which 1 of them was a lady who is currently pursuing her phd in a local university. She was together with our group and was eden’s friend. Another person was a 16 year old boy who was having his holidays and wanted to do something to help with the floods. He came as soon as he heard news about it, and was pretty conversant in English as he has been studying in America for a year. I was surprised that a youth so young has such a high awareness and social consciousness. Furthermore, he was an overseas student, but came down voluntarily by himself to help out with the disaster relief efforts. It was really admirable because not many teenagers would do that voluntarily in Singapore. It also reflects on how much Singapore has yet to work on in terms of social consciousness and a communal mindset.
I found that I preferred shoveling mud to carrying it, and so I ended up in one corner of the garden of a house with a shovel and happily occupied myself with shoveling up mud. Don't look down on it. Boy is it tiring! I never knew shoveling could be such hard work. Now I appreciate just how tough NS life is. I will no longer laugh at the boys who mourn over hard it was to dig their own beds on the ground, because it was really backbreaking.
At 3pm, our group decided to call it a day and we took the van back to the disaster relief centre, where are pleasant surprise awaited us. We were treated to a packet containing 2 towels, food, and most importantly, ONSEN TICKET!! I was so excited because I have always wanted to go to one ever since I watch it in a documentary when I was young, and now I finally had the chance to go to a real onsen in japan. Furthermore, it feels especially sweet since it came as a real surprise and it was a real treat. I never expected this when I went to help out, so it was double the treat for me.
Having said that though, when we finally reached the onsen place, I was especially shy because I have never had the experience of bathing naked with any other people before, and Singapore is especially conservative in that aspect. Thankfully, I was with 2 other ladies who simply love onsen, and the casual way they shrugged off their clothes without any meaning whatsoever removed any trace of shyness and embarrassment from me, and I simply followed suit. I was guided on the proper ways and rules of how to bathe before you enter the onsen, and I enjoyed myself heartily. Been used to having a cold shower daily after work, the hot water nearly scorched my skin the first time I entered the onsen, although it definitely wasn’t boiling water or I would have been boiled and chopped into pieces by now, wouldn’t i? it was definitely an experience to remember though, for I had a very interesting conversation with my 2 new-found friends. Stephanie is from America, and she has currently working as an English teacher in Fukuoka. She is Eden’s fiancée. Ai is Eden’s friend, and is the lady who is studying for a phd currently. Both are extremely jovial people, and the atmosphere was jolly and cheerful.
The onsen was extraordinarily pretty (in my opinion). It was open air, and thus we could enjoy the scenery up from a mountain with privacy from the wooden screens around us, but nobody could spy on us. The scenery was calm and peaceful, and the steam from the onsen added a mystical allure to it. There was a big lake, which lay still and unmoving, lying against mountains covered in lush greenery. It was overall a really pretty picture. Midway into the onsen it started drizzling, but the contrast between the cold of the rain and the heat from the onsen made it all the more refreshing and unique. We could have continued chatting on and on if not for the overcast sky signaling a major storm approaching us. We then reluctantly left the onsen, and was overjoyed to find that they provided free towels and brushes. How considerate! By then the guys were all very impatient waiting for us girls, and they were lounging lazily at sofas in the hotel. Oh well, what can I say, guys have to wait for girls!
Feeling completely fresh and clean and happy as a newborn babe, we then headed to the Kyushuu University to help with the packing up of the art works. It was tough work! (alright, not as tough as the relief work, but still….) due to our numerous baggage, we had to take a cab down to the hostel. The poor taxi was laden with art pieces when it finally drove off. It is really super expensive; a taxi ride can costs sgd 80 dollars!
Since we were leaving Fukuoka for Tokyo the next day, we had to pack everything neatly up, art pieces, luggage an all. It was a tremendous task to wrap the 3 huge art pieces, and I have never seen such a huge and bulky parcel in my life.
After everything was done, the group of us (with some of the residents) went to a small bar to relax and talk. There wasn't any of the loud atmosphere as compared to the party the night before, but it was also relaxing and calming. That ends of yet another memorable day of the second day of my internship.