I need to go pick out photos from my Japan trip to post on my blog now that I’m done editing them all… But in the meantime, I was pondering why I like visiting Japan as much as I do.
I’ve been to Japan four times now, and I’ve enjoyed every single trip. And I would go again. My friends and family think I’m a little bit nuts or Japan-obsessed by now. I don’t feel particularly obsessed by it though. After turning it over in my mind, I think I’ve figured out the primary reason for being so keen on holidaying there: It gives me a sense of achievement and is slightly confidence-boosting.
I like Japan because it’s clean and safe, and it has an excellent train network that enables me to go nearly anywhere I want to go without needing to get on a bus (I’m more intimidated by the thought of taking a bus than a train). There are lots of scenic places, and interesting cultural differences to observe. Then there’s the fact that I have consumed enough Japanese media to have a strong liking for specific things (One Piece is awesome, some of their TV dramas were really fun to watch, and their celebrity “idols” amuse me). There’s also Disneyland. haha
But mostly, my enjoyment of visiting Japan is largely tied in to the fact that I can communicate/understand the language, albeit in a very rudimentary sense. This means that combined with everything else, it has become a place I can go to easily on my own. (The other place would be London, which takes twice as long to reach and is even more expensive. ) When I manage to have a simple 3-line exchange in Japanese, such as asking for directions, I feel delighted. When I manage to read (or more or less guess at reading) a label, I feel like I can give myself a small pat on the back. When people look at me in surprise and wonder how I dared to go there three times all on my own… It’s just nice.
When you spend literally all your life hearing things like, “You’re Chinese, so you should speak Chinese” and “How come you can’t speak Chinese?” or “Eh, you’re from Penang; how come you can’t speak Hokkien?” it takes a toll on you. When you start to feel like a second class person or daughter or friend because you aren’t fluent in Mandarin/Hokkien/Cantonese, it really sucks. Hearing things like “Why didn’t you learn Chinese?” or “Maybe I should have sent you to a Chinese school” really digs a hole inside one.
Sure, my English is great, but sometimes it feels like no one really cares about that. All they care about is why I – an ethnic Chinese – cannot fluently speak these languages that are supposedly my mother tongue. It’s depressing, and discouraging. My current cell group friends are nice people, but it’s taxing to constantly hear “friendly” jibes about why I can’t speak Hokkien. I had a close friend in uni who would speak Cantonese to me occasionally – on purpose – because he knew I could understand him, but he wanted to “test” me and see if I’d ever respond in Cantonese. (To the credit of all my classmates in Edinburgh, no one ever asked me why I can’t speak Mandarin nor did they expect me to do so – or if they did, they never said so to me.) I have colleagues who joke about it sometimes too. I still sometimes feel regret from my parents that I’m not fluent in Mandarin or the dialects; occasionally I think I hear a note of embarrassment in their voices when they tell other relatives or friends that I can’t understand Chinese. (With my parents in particular, it makes me feel absolutely horrible and guilty and like I’m useless compared to my sisters. Sometimes I think it’s better for me to be away from them because they don’t have to be embarrassed by my failure in this area of life, and that I don’t have to be held up to the yardsticks that are my sisters.) All this affects me, though I try to not show that it’s opening old wounds and that it stings much more than they’d imagine. I guess I must have succeeded at hiding how much it hurts me since people just keep on joking about it and saying the same things, assuming that it has no weight at all. I wish it carried no weight at all with me. Then I wouldn’t feel so badly about myself in this respect.
So going to Japan – especially going alone – gives me a feeling of “hey, you know what? At least I can speak and understand just enough Japanese to get by on a holiday on my own. It’s something!” Everyone might subconsciously consider me lacking or second-rate because my Mandarin is nearly non-existent, but at least I have some vague grasp of this other language that few of my friends have and visiting Japan temporarily frees me from the burden of being perceived as being second-rate.