It was one of my wondrous moments of my life, my first break away from home sweet home and family members, to lead an independent life alone for a one solid year to a country that the language was so distant and remote from my own. I felt so dumb and useless since I couldn’t understand what the words were written or spoken, but at least not so foreign as we shared the same skin color, face type, and so on. That was why I was going there in 1996. My main purpose was to learn on how to speak, read and write Chinese language in Beijing, China.
The first month of my arrival was kind of nightmare. To save my parent’s money, I chose the cheapest room rate available at that moment (US$3/day). I stay in a dormitory that had no air-con and no elevator. My room was located at the fourth floor. I had to share a room with another roommate, and I chose to stay with foreigner rather than with Indonesian – otherwise I wouldn’t be able to improve my language skill faster.
The whole floor was occupied by women and we shared three cubicles of toilets and one washing area at one corner. As for taking a bath, all of us (the whole building) had to share the eight cubicles, which was located at first floor (for women), and second floor (for men). Hot water would only available after 7pm – so we only took a bath once a day (at night) and we had to queue up with our toiletries inside the small basket at one hand and towel with clothes at another hand.
It was good though. This way, we had more chance to meet more people who stayed at the same building. We could make more friends and converse more in Chinese while waiting, washing, brushing teeth and so on, therefore, speed up our learning rate.
Every once a week we had to bring our dirty bed sheet to a place to get a change with a cleaned one plus one roll of pink and rough tissue paper as a bonus. Oh ya, when you went to toilet, you had to bring your own toilet paper. They didn’t provide it there. And the quality of the paper was horrible. Your buttock could scratch and painful because of it hahaha…
Those days, there was no hand phone. If you want to call, there was a public phone (using phone card) available just outside our dormitory building. As for receiving a call, there was only one landline inside the building, which was put in the first floor (reception area). When someone called up or came, the staff would contact us by announcing it through the speaker that was connected to each of our room and we had to run the staircases down, all the way to level 1 to receive it.
My first roommate was Korean girl, which was older than me by 2 years. As it was my first encounter living abroad, I didn’t know much about Korean culture before where we had to give fully and extra respect to someone who is older than us. E.g. I should call her ‘Eonni’ means elder sister, but instead, I called her by name. I didn’t have a habit to call people like that, including to my own siblings. A bit unusual though, but that was my habit. And I usually treated people the same, regardless their age. I respect them all, but with same level. So she wasn’t that happy when I treated her like that. Therefore we just treated the room as our living place, with less interaction with each other.
The heater in our room was small and not strong enough to heat the whole room. There was no sunlight entering my room too. I was freezing cold at night during autumn and winter time and often fell sick. I really tempted to move to the room at the opposite side. Luckily there was someone leaving once the semester in winter ended. My new roommate was a Japanese lady. She was a refined type. She was willing to accept me as her roommate. So, I moved out to her room. This time I felt much better. The sunlight had brought big impact to the room and my health.
|Back in 1997 - Akiko in grey sweater|
Her name was Akiko. We got along very well. I could blend well with her Japanese friends and she too, could blend well with my Indonesian friends. Sometimes we would cook Japanese or Indonesian food and invited some of our friends to eat together. From her, I managed to know a Chinese friend, who has now become one of my best friends.
We once traveled together during winter break. She brought her Japanese friend, and I brought my Korean ‘Eonnie’, one of my closest friends at that period. Four of us went to Harbin, an ice city, located at northeastern part of China. In winter, the temperature there was as low as -24 degree Celsius. We took train there from Beijing, around 12-hours journey. The place was very famous for its beautiful and colorful ice and snow sculpture. River had frozen into the icing ring. We could even ride the horse sleigh on top of it.
|Winter short break in Harbin, China - Jan 1997|
The coldness of -24 degree wasn’t a joke. All of us had to wear 2 to 3 layers of cloths plus an outer jacket filled with down feather to keep ourselves warm outdoor. It was a rare and great experience to all of us. We had to walk carefully as the ice had become very slippery and easy to fall down.
By July 1997, I had finished my two-semester of Chinese language there and I had to leave the country back home. It was time to say goodbye to everyone there. From then on, we had separated in our own ways, doing whatever things that we ought to do. I tried to keep in touch with some of them through letters. That time, hand phone and internet weren’t available yet. It wasn’t easy to keep all in touch. As I myself had to study abroad, and some of them also moved to other countries, made it difficult to remain contactable.
However, this Monday morning, I received an email from Akiko, saying that she would come to Singapore on Tuesday, just for a short two days visit. I was very happy receiving her email because first, all this while we seldom made contact, but luckily somehow I managed to get her email address. She seldom replied my email as she preferred not to write in English and a bit lazy to write in Chinese and once in a while I would send her email just to make sure that the email was still in use so we wouldn’t lost contact. The last time I heard about her was that her husband and she were in USA, and that was also in many years back.
I joyfully replied her email immediately giving her my contact number, asking her to call me, and hoping that she would spare some of her time to meet up with me. And she did. She called me in the morning once she and her husband reaching Singapore. We set time to meet at night in Chinatown.
So yesterday after work, I browsed around Chinatown before they came, buying some gifts. Since they only have short time to stay, I bought some local specialty snacks like bakkwa (Chinese BBQ pork) and traditional local-made moon cakes (the festival is coming soon on 8th September). After that I waited for them inside the MRT Station.
|We finally met again!!! :)|
They finally came! OH…. I finally met her and her husband! After more than 17 years, after being separated as far as US and Switzerland, Indonesia and Japan, we both finally met up in Singapore! It was their first visit here so they were exciting to visit the Chinatown. We immediately went to Chinatown Food Street as we were quite tired and hungry and chose some Singapore local food for us to eat. We sat, ate and chit chatted. I showed her some of our old photos that I still keep on my mobile phone. At 9 pm we left and I brought them to Clarke Quay for a while, to have a different feeling of Singapore’s night life.
We had to leave early as they hadn’t had enough sleep and were very tired from the whole day walking around.
When reached home, I told my hubby about my feelings. I told him that I was overwhelmed and feeling very grateful that after so long, she was still remembering me and even making an effort to meet me despite she only had two short days in Singapore. She even prepared gifts for me. Thank you very much to both of you! :)
|Lovely gifts from Japan - Arigato gozaimasu :)|
I always respect her and treated her like my protector during my stay in Beijing. She taught me some way of cooking Japanese food too, like how to cook Japanese curry, how to make homemade strawberry jam, and so on. Thank you Akiko, thank you Nick, for your friendship spirit!!! One day if I happen to visit Tokyo again, I’ll bring my son along so that we can visit the Gundam factory located near your hometown in Shizuoka, and of course, to visit both of you :) Also, please come to Singapore again, and this time, stay longer ^^