Tuesday, June 28, 2011

39th Universal Festival Of Chiba University

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The poster of the Universal Festival (which has been recycled for many many years lol!), in front of the Keyaki Hall.

The 39th Universal Festival was held recently at the Keyaki Hall in the Nishi-chiba campus of Chiba University. It is a biannual event, usually held in July and December and organised by the Centre of International Research and Study in Chiba University (千葉大学国際教育センター). First introduced in 1995 as the centre's main event of the year, with the cooperation of the international students and Chiba University International Student Group (CISG) (千葉大学国際学生会), this is where international students of Chiba University introduce their country and culture to everyone, especially to the Japanese community.

Countries that participate in the festival are different on each edition. The international students who put up their cultural presentation will use different kinds of style to introduce their beautiful country and their rich culture, such as through dances, playing musical instruments, songs, slide shows, movies, traditional clothes. These foreign cultures are things we don't get to find easily in text books, and just like the saying "seeing is believing", this festival provides a good opportunity for people to experience these foreign cultures.

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The pamphlet of the Universal Festival, containing some interesting facts on the four countries.

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Wakahara Yuko and Komiyama Eri, both from the Literature Department, the MC for the evening.

This time, there were four countries who participated in the Universal Festival - Syria, USA, China, and Indonesia. First to go up the stage was Ragado from Syria, who majors in Japanese language and has studied Japanese for four years in her homeland before coming to Japan in October last year. She wrapped up her presentation by performing a popular Arabian folk dance dance known as Dabke.  

Dabke in Arabic is literally translates "stamping of the feet". It is a line dance, widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions. The leader of the dabke heads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers.

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The dabke leader is supposed to be like a tree, with arms in the air, a proud and upright trunk, and feet that stomp the ground in rhythm.

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Several Japanese students from CISG joined her in the dance too.

A special presenter represented USA next. Miura Nana was born and raised in Japan until she was eight, when she moved to the States with her parents due to work commitment. She studies in Stony Brook State University of New York, but currently is taking a short-term abroad study in Chiba University. How ironic it is, to have a Japanese as an international student in Japan!

Her presentation was mainly about Thanksgiving Day, a celebration to give thanks to God for a good harvest, to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community.

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Miura Nana, who somehow doesn't look like a typical Japanese girl.

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She has been living in New Jersey since she was eight.

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A short chronology of the history of Thanksgiving, celebrated on the forth Thursday of November every year.

The third presentation was from China. A very interesting and effective presentation indeed, as he interacted very well. Instead of using the typical technique of presenting from slides show, he began his presentation by going down the stage and asked the audiences what comes to their mind when "China" is mentioned. Different answers was given, such as "panda", "dragon", "Great Wall of China", and etc.

His fluency in Japanese was an added bonus and the audiences, mainly Japanese, enjoyed his presentation very much.

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A typical panda measures one-and-a-half meter long and weighs 135 kilograms.

The forth and final presenter was Rian Ade Putra from Indonesia, who is also on a short-semester abroad study in Chiba University, in the Literature Department. Just like the Chinese presenter, his Japanese was surprisingly fluent despite learning the language not very long ago.

He began his slides presentation by showing a couple of slides from a famous place in Indonesia.

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A country which is comprises of 17,508 islands, including Banyak Islands (translates "many islands") in Aceh haha!

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The magnificent Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, an inspiring place of worship that appears to rise out of waters of Lake Bratan.

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Some images related to the diverse and sophisticated culture of the mystical island of Bali.

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Some basic facts about Indonesia, which is the forth most populous country in the world, after China, India, and USA.

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The National Monument in the middle of the Merdeka Square in central Jakarta, symbolising the fight for Indonesia's independence.

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The ethnic composition in Indonesia, where almost half comprises of Javanese.

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The different kinds of architecture of the traditional houses in Sumatra (top) and Java (bottom).

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It was written "sate kambing" (mutton satay) but the picture showed "sate ayam" (chicken satay). Good thing the Japanese do not know the difference 
between "ayam" and "kambing" haha!

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Ade performing an Indonesian patriotic song - "Indonesia Pusaka", normally played on Indonesian Independence Day celebration. 
The interesting part is that he translated the song into Japanese as well!

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The presentation was wrapped up with a traditional dance from West Sumatra, called the Indang dance.

At present, there are 1,025 international students in Chiba University, and more than half of them came from China (620). Malaysia and Indonesia are tied in the third place, with 37 students each from each country. However, the number is not a true reflective of how active the Malaysian students are when it comes to involving themselves in these kind of events.

Malaysia used to have representative in the Universal Festivals in the yesteryear; one of them was a reproduction of a traditional Malay wedding, which caught the eyes of many people. They also set up a bazaar and the profit from the sales was donated to the Malaysian Red Crescent.



Some of the international students gave really "interesting comments" haha!

I digress.

After the presentation by the four countries, there was a special segment where a video was played. Several international students were interviewed to have their thoughts about the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster and their messages towards the victims.

The Universal Festival was wrapped up with a culture-exchange party in the presentation hall on the third floor of Keyaki Hall. Unlike the previous occasion, there were not much traditional cuisine prepared by the international students. However, we were treated to some wonderful futomaki-matsuri-zushi (太巻き祭り寿司), the regional cuisine that represent Chiba prefecture was prepared by some elderly volunteers from UNESCO.

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Visual presentation is part of Japanese way of presenting their food - simple food like rice are crafted into such attractive shapes such as hibiscus.

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Angklung, a musical instrument made of bamboo and played by the Sundanese since ancient times.

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Oga, currently a research student in my lab, who is from Nigeria, with his wife and son, Dani.

Looking forward to the next Universal Festival at the end of this year. Wondering which country will be featured; it would be great if Malaysia is one of them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thank-You Party For The ASEAN Caravaners

"The Caravan has been celebrated in history, 
in literature, film and song. "

Donraja Retnam
ASEAN Secretariat officer


A dinner reception was hosted for the ASEAN Caravan volunteers on the same evening, after our mud digging and food handout activity in the day time. What we weren't told earlier was that we would be joined by another thirty volunteers or so, comprising of Japanese and international students who had come under the "Gakuvo" program by the Nippon Foundation. Familiar faces were spotted among the Gakuvo volunteers in the ball room, as we did the mud digging together at Meiyukan.

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The ball room is ready to welcome the volunteers, after a long day of hard work.

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There was a big buffet spread for the over 130 people there.

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The early birds who were at the ball room. We went around to take photos while waiting for the rest to arrive. 

Besides the ASEAN Caravan and Gakuvo volunteers, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the ASEAN General Secretary and Mr Sasakawa Yohei, chairman of the Nippon Foundation joined us at the dinner reception too. There were also a group of special guests - seven survivors from the Kobe earthquake in 1995, who wanted to share their experiences with members of our group.

Dr. Surin started the night by giving an inspiring welcome remarks. He stressed that no level of prosperity or political stability or security can shield us against such unpredictable power of mother nature. Therefore, ASEAN has to be also a centrality of compassion and a fountain of goodwill. ASEAN also has to reach out, not only to reap benefits from the extended network of friendship, but we must also exert ourselves to embrace others in need of warm embrace and genuine sentiment of care and compassion.

Just like the last two lines of the ASEAN anthem - "We dare to dream, we care to share, for it's the way of ASEAN!", ASEAN aspires not only to contribute to the global economic and economic and political community, but also to be an active member of a global humanitarian alliance.

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Dr. Surin invited one of his assistants, Lia to go up the stage and sing the ASEAN anthem together. He reminded us we'd better learn up this song, 
or else we will have to swim back home haha!

ASEAN has been through a similar fate before in 2004. Back then, Japan has been one of the earliest nation to offer their help to ASEAN. That is why ASEAN and Japan Foreign Ministers endorsed this initiative so that ASEAN people able to hold hands and look into the eyes of the survivors in Miyagi and the community along the northeastern coastline of 300 kilometers, and tell then gently that we are sorry for what has happened. We just wanted to return the generosity and goodwill of the Japanese by being a part of this powerful gesture of ASEAN, to show that we care.

Even though there are only 72 of us representing the ASEAN community, cosisting of over 600 million people, I believe that message has been delivered clearly and strongly more than any amount of donations we have made so far.

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Next up was Mr Sasakawa, who was accompanied by his translator, Kana Hirano as most of the ASEAN Caravan members do not understand Japanese.

Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, told us he was excited to see such a huge group of young people in the hall because whenever he give speech, more often that not his audiences come from the older generation. He gets inspired whenever he meets young people and could go on talking endlessly, which was exactly what he did when everyone was already hungry after a hard day's work haha! Without any script, he provided inspirational words to the young audience.

One consequence of the 2011 tsunami, according to Mr. Sasakawa, is that young people are increasingly turning to marriage as they do not want to be alone when such a disaster strikes again. They want to be with a companion, especially if they have to face such life-threatening situations.

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Mutiara, who represented the ASEAN volunteers receiving the certificates from Dr. Surin and Mr. Sasakawa.

Then, came another surprise. A couple of surprises actually. The first surprise was from the ASEAN Secretariat, represented by Dr. Surin who offered a donation amounting US$12,000 to the Nippon Foundation for the tsunami victims.

The second surprise was from the Nippon Foundation, which was to be given to each participants of the ASEAN volunteers. Each of us received a certificate of participation, in recognition of our voluntary work in Ishinomaki. I bet none of us expected that when we submitted our names to participate in this program. However, I also believe that it was not that certificate that motivated us to volunteer, instead it was our pure intentions to help the tsunami victims that prompted us to join this program.

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The seven survivors from the Kobe earthquake in 1995.

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One of them, grabbed the microphone from the MC and told everyone she had something she really wanna tell us - she felt really thankful for all our efforts, 
despite our short time there.

The greatest gift that the participants of this Caravan had gotten, the young especially, is the opportunity of doing something for a higher cause. We have been made aware of the reality in the disaster-stricken area and also be known of the value of goodwill activities. These kind of messages are important, as it will give us a sense of "bonding" as humans. Human to human relationship is not measured with material things we share, instead with pure intentions of helping each other. We cannot measure this kind of relationship with monetary value, yet it is profound and necessary.

Throughout the three days, I believe most of us were had not have proper sleep, however our heart is warm with satisfaction. I am very certain that our lives have been enriched, and for some, it was a life-changing experience, a precious gift that you cannot trade it with any currency.

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Su and Khin, in their beautiful dress, gave a beautiful and vibrant traditional Burmese dance.

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Phallaep with another amazing traditional dance, this time from Cambodia.

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Ronnel Del Rio from the Philippines, performing some oldies.

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Pancake gave a wonderful sing and dance routine with the Phuket and Pang-Nga tsunami survivors. With a sudden burst of hidden wild energy, 
they provided great support in the background.  

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Worawit with his pole chair dance. It was a spontaneous and unpractised performance by him, who regularly dances at the bars in Phuket.

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"Come to me babe!" Some guys were screaming for his room numbers while he performed his dance lol!

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Famous Padi bassist Rindra and Derby took their turns to sing.

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Dr. Surin and Mr. Sasakawa were inspired to join in the dancing as well, to the tune of the famous Indonesian mass folk dance 
originated from Minahasa, North Sulawesi - Poco Poco.

Although people like Padi and Derby are a household name in their country, their down-to-earth attitude prompted them to spare some time to be involved in such noble mission, as part of what they call it Musician Social Responsibilities (MSR). That to me, is something very sweet as they are still aware of their social responsibilities despite their popularity. In fact, during the three-day, they blended into the team very well, mixed and communicated with all just like any other volunteers; nobody, even me, could tell that they are artists.

Many others took their turns to sing and dance, with songs and dances all "Made in ASEAN!" Two fun filled hours of revelry ended with Derby and Padi singer Fadly and bassist Rindra got everyone to join in the singing to the song, "We Are The World". It was a night of enchantment and how we wished it could last longer. However, the night had to end early because the hall was booked only for two hours.

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A special video clip - "Thai For Japan" by Thongchai McIntyre to offer support to the tsunami victims in Tohoku. I saw few of the earthquake survivors 
shed tears when they saw this video.

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With Dr. Surin. I cannot remember how many times I had photos taken with him in just a day, but on each time, he would say "Yes! Sure, no problem!"

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Malaysians representatives with Mr. Sasakawa and his translator.

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Myanmar team with Mr. Sasakawa.

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With one of the staff from the Nippon Foundation and Su and Khin from Myanmar.

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Phalleap from Cambodia.

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Pancake! She is quite tall, I tell 'ya.

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Vicky from the Nippon Foundation and Mr Raja from the ASEAN Secretariat.

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Makoto-san from the Nippon Foundation, who did an interview with us on the first day, and the two sisters from the Philippines.

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Vicky and Mr Raja plus a few volunteers, including Bruno from Brazil. I teased him by asking him if he is good in football, in which he replied me with a smile haha!

I would like to quote Mr Raja, who put up a great summary to sum up this Caravan. 

"The Caravan has been celebrated in history in literature, film and song. It connected Europe and Asia by land and sea with silk and spices. This modern day Caravan by air and land, bringing not goods to trade but cheer and support, has connected the hearts of people in Sendai and ASEAN. We should add this human spirit to the connectivity that the politicians and bureaucrats want to promote."

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Indonesian team, led by Adelina.

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The Thai survivors and their new-found Japanese friends.

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The two sisters again. They were born in the Philippines but was brought up in Japan, which is why their Japanese is perfect.

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Group photo of the five Malaysians who were involved in the Caravan - Fairus, Amy, Ellaine, and Azizul.

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More people joined in our group, and they are from Cambodia and Singapore.

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The photo-taking session just wouldn't end. For every few steps we took, we would stop for photos haha!.

Although we had to bid farewell to everyone on the next day, we knew that we have only just started, not ended, a great voyage of great importance, with young passengers who hold only a shovel in one hand, sincerity in the other and music in their hearts to make Sendai, Asia and indeed the world a better place.

To make sure that the spirit of togetherness is still intact among us, we now keep in touch with everyone through a Facebook group we set up right after the Caravan. I have to say that I am impressed that everyone is cooperative enough to make it an active group as there are updates almost on a daily basis. Dr. Surin must be proud of us if he sees that haha! And how nice would it be if one day, we manage to do a reunion gathering.

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The whole group was too huge to fit in, therefore we divided it into two big groups. This one is the volunteers and survivors who flew in from ASEAN countries.

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This one are the volunteers comprising of ASEAN students currently studying in Japan.

In my personal perspective, my participation in this ASEAN Caravan of Goodwill had given myself a great opportunity to have a self-reflection on a nation where its values, norms and principles has shaped myself for the past four years plus, into who I am today.

I was not in Japan on the day the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. But I was determined to return to Japan, to give something back, no matter how little it might be, to this beautiful country for all it has given me all these years. I might not mentioned it before, but my application for this event was initially rejected because there were no more vacancies available. However, by a twist of luck, one of the participants pulled out and I was pulled in as one of the representatives from Malaysia. 

It was a blessing for me that I managed to have this rare chance to interact with the tsunami survivors in Ishinomaki. As of one the seventy-two participants of ASEAN Youth Caravan of Goodwill, I took value and precious lessons from this wonderful journey. I hope and believe that a togetherness and harmony will grow between ASEAN and Japan. Japan, you are not alone!

"Ganbare Nippon!"

Related entry: Part 1: ASEAN Youth Caravan of Goodwill
Related entry: Part 2: Dorokaki At Meiyukan Of Ishinomaki
Related entry: Part 3: Takidashi For Tsunami Victims In Ishinomaki
Related entry: Part 5: A Short Trip To Matsushima