Saturday, July 4, 2009

International Foreign Students Forum In Kashiwazaki - Part 1

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A forum, with the title "International Foreign Students Forum In Kashiwazaki - Surpassing the Difference, A Meeting Leading To A Common Ground And Cooperation" which was held over the last weekend at Kashiwazaki Energy Hall. Organised by Chūetsu Organisation for Safe and Secure Society and Kashiwazaki City, together with several others co-organisers, such as Nagaoka City International Culture Exchange Center, it was open to the public to participate in this forum. Kashiwazaki is the town which was the epicentre of the Chūetsu Offshore Earthquake on July 16, 2007. Coincidentally, that was my first ever experience of an earthquake in Japan and guess what, it was a powerful 6.6 magnitude quake.
What a great way to experience earthquakes for the very first time, isn't it?
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Kashiwazaki Energy Hall.
Kashiwazaki is a small city in Niigata prefecture, located about an hour drive from Nagaoka. It wouldn't be convenient for me to make the trip all the way there just to attend this forum by the train. However, when I was told that there would be a bus provided by the organisers if there is anyone from my school who are interested to attend this forum, I decided to make a trip to this forum. After all, it was a Saturday and now, I don't have nothing much to do after I'm done with my university entrance exam. This was not my first time attending an event of such, because I attended a similar forum earlier this year in Nagaoka.
From the theme of the forum, I could slightly guess the topics that will be covered during the discussion session among the panelists.
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The Kashiwazaki City Mayor with his opening speech.
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From left: Mr Haga Tomonobu, Mr Qi Koh Hong, and Arai Man, who made an unexpected guest appearance on the stage.
The 2004 Chūetsu earthquake and the 2007 Chūetsu Offshore Earthquake had made a huge impact to the foreigners, especially the international students living around the affected area. Language and culture barrier between the locals and the foreigners were identified as the reason why various chaos and confusions occurred when the support efforts were carried out. On the contrary, it provided an opportunity to review into the relation between people living in a multicultural society.
The focus point of this forum is the relationship between the international students and their Japanese university mates and also the locals. Taking this into consideration, the theme of the discussion will be focused on identifying the types of barriers that exists between the two groups, and what kind of relationships that can be built among themselves and also various possibilities to deepen this relationship.
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Mr Haga Tomonobu, explaining the three "walls" that exists between the foreigners and the local people.
Mr Haga Tomonobu, the head of the Nagaoka City International Culture Exchange Center acted as the coordinator throughout the forum. Mr Haga Tomonobu is no stranger to me, because I have had the opportunity to meet him several times in a few forums prior to this, and he comes to Chikyu Lab in my school occasionally. Although he had coordinated quite a number of similar forums before this, Mr Haga never runs out of new stories and experiences that he had gone through himself to be shared with the audience.He started off the forum with a slide-show presentation together with a Masters student from Niigata Sangyo University, Mr Foo Su-Lei.
Mr Haga began the session by introducing the three main walls that exist between the foreigners in Japan and the local society, identified from two earthquakes for the past five years. The three walls are - language, sentiment and system. One example he gave was when he had a conversation with a guy from India one time and at the middle of the conversation, the Indian guy asked him whether he was listening to what he was talking. Mr Haga nodded and said he was listening to him attentively. However, according to that Indian, he don't think that Mr Haga was listening to him, because according to him, you can't keep being silent when you're listening to a person. Silent means you're not listening to the person talking to you. Instead, you got to ask questions to show that you're paying attention to what the person is talking.
How true is this, I have no idea because different people from different culture and background have different kinds of ways of thinking.It later continued with the presentation by Mr Foo Su-Lei. He mainly talked about the experience he went through during the earthquake in 2007, when Kashiwazaki is the area which suffered the most damage. It was his first experience of an earthquake and just like me, he wasn't sure what it was; he thought there was a huge airplane crash during the first few moments when it occurred. He continued that his friends joined him, together with the local people in voluntary efforts, where he helped to transfer pails of water from a nearby river to be used in the toilets set up temporarily for public use.
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The five panelists with Mr Haga Tomonobu as the coordinator.
The forum proceeded with the panel discussion session with two international students from China and three Japanese from various organisations. They were Miss Bao Mei Lian, a second year student from Niigata Sangyo University, Miss Han Yu Hong, a forth year student, also from Niigata Sangyo University, Mr Hasuike Kaoru, a lecturer from the Niigata Sangyo University, Miss Shimizu Yumiko, the secretary-general of Kashiwazaki International Association, and Mr Harukawa Junichi, a representative from Takada Community Center of Kashiwazaki City.
The two international students mainly talked about their personal recollections about the earthquake they went through so far in Japan, while the rest of the panelists focused mainly on the supportive efforts made to help and pass the message around the foreigners living in Japan on what they should do whenever there is a natural disaster. There were a few phrases that caught my attention and one of them was mentioned by one of the panelist; no matter how small the contribution is, that shouldn't be a problem because these small contributions are the basics of life.
Another panelist had this to say: There are people who came from different background with different culture and way of thinking, but we shouldn't make that as an excuse or a barrier for us to make a collective effort together. Instead, we all ought to stand on a common platform and work together as a group.The forum entered its second session with a performance of choir, martial arts display and dance by the international students from Niigata Sangyo University, located in the ourskirts of Kashiwazaki.
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The choir group, singing a couple of songs in Chinese and Japanese.
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A wushu performance by a Chinese student.
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Drunken master move.
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Do not judge this guy from his physical look because he had a super powerful voice that surprised the audience in the hall.
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A Chinese traditional dance by a student, which looks a little bit like an Indian dance.
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Take two.
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Now you see her from the front.
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A student playing with a traditional musical instrument that resembles a violin.
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Another student who sang a traditional song in a cool-looking outfit.
It was followed by a charity concert by Mr Qi Koh Hong (季広宏).
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Mr Qi Koh Hong, introducing himself briefly before he begin his concert.
Born in Suzhou province in China, he has been a traditional Chinese performer since he was sixteen. Mr Qi Koh Hong came to Japan by himself in 1987 and received the "Foreigner Popular Song" prize from Tokyo Television the following year. A decade after he first came to Japan, he spent a year studying abroad in United States. In 1999, after returning to his home country, he produce his first CD entitle "The Heart of Japanese Song Sang In Chinese" translated by himself using his own expenses, as an inspiration to a new life. It received huge responses from TV and radio which lead to many other similar projects from then onwards.
He is currently based in Nishinomiya City in Hyogo prefecture as a singer and writer, as well as doing translations of Japanese famous songs, nursery rhymes and lyrics into Chinese. In 2008, through the authorisation by Arai Man, he translated the famous 「千の風になって」(Sen-no kaze-ni natte) into Chinese version -「我己成千之风」and completed the CD of that song.
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Singing the song, Sen-no kaze-ni natte.
A month after the Sichuan Earthquake in 2007, he went to the affected area to carry out concerts to give the victims encourangements and motivation, besides contributing to the reconstruction of the primary schools there. It was also during this time that he sang the song Kaze-no kaze-ni natte to the people there. He does not only organise his concerts in Japan, but his tour has took him to United States, Canada, Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Taiwan over the years.
His performed quite a number of songs, both in Japanese and Chinese during his two-hour long concert. Besides that, he managed to share some stories during his time in Sichuan. There is one story when a little girl approached him after he finished his concert. The little girl told him that she came from a local primary school of that area and apparently, more than half out of the 2,600 students of that school lost their lives from the earthquake. She added that a friend of hers had a serious injury from the earthquake and was hospitalised, and she hope that he could pay her friend a visit. Without any second thoughts, he promised the girl and went to the hospital to visit the friend.
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A group performance with the university students.
He wrapped up his concert with a rendition of the song, Sen-no kaze-ni natte with the students from Niigata Sangyo University, first in the translated Chinese version, followed by the Japanese version where he had the audience to sing along as well. If you really go through the lyrics, it is indeed a really meaningful song, especially when you are separated from someone you are very close to loved a lot.
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A short talk session between Mr Qi Koh Hong and Mr Haga Tomonobu after his concert.
After his concert ended, he had a short talk session with Mr Haga Tomonobu and he shared his experience during his time in Sichuan. When people ask him what nationality he is, he will give them this answer: "I'm not a Chinese, I'm not a Japanese either, but I'm aiming to be an international person". Whether or not it was a coincidence, the local people in Sichuan kept heaping praises to him because he has been a great ambassador for both countries during his time there. The local Chinese wanted him to pass him a message, thanking the people from Japan for the support they have provided on the victims' behalf. It was also from this kind of effort that he feels that the relationship between the two countries had improved and got better. What he had learned from his short time there was that for all the wealth you have in this world, if an unfortunate disaster of such magnitude hits you, there would be nothing more important to you other than your own live and your loved ones.
Going back to the theme of this forum - "A Meeting Leading To A Common Ground And Cooperation", it was a first meeting between Mr Haga and Mr Qi Koh Long at an airport some time ago, and it was from that meeting that they kept in touch with each other until today. Neither of them expect that meeting at the airport would lead to this forum in which they both play a big part in.
To be honest, I actually didn't know who Arai Man is until I did some research and found out that he was the one that originally translated the song Sen-no kaze-ni natte from the popular Amaerican poem, "Do not stand at my grave and weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye. The song received more than 1 million hits in Japan alone and in 2007, during the Japan Recording Grand Prix, the song was awarded the "Composition Prize".

Man's presence at the forum was not in the planned either. However, it was such a coincidence that he was at Kashiwazaki on the same day for a performance and they invited him to make a short appearance during the early part of the forum, where he rendered the song Sen-no kaze-ni natte. Such in demand was him, than once he finished with his song and a short exchanging with Mr Haga Tomonobu and Mr Qi Koh Hong, he immediately left for his next event.
Relating this to my own experience, I have had many encounters, coincident or not in my life. And I didn't expect that these meetings and encounters would continue until it unfolded to the present state. One simple example would be how I got to know Calvin Lim just through a blog's chatbox and he introduced me to Michelle. From there, we somehow clicked with each other and the rest is history.
Here is my question: Does anyone of you have such experience, first encounter with someone or something, that had led to something that you both share together until today? It doesn't necessarily have to be your first meeting with your other half; it can be just about anything. Feel free to share them in the comment box.

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