Before I knew it, our 3 months were up and the whole lot of us flew to Japan for the 2nd part of our program. I’ll skip the part on Tokyo as this is my 2nd time here and the trip pretty much consists of seminars as well as meeting up with Fujitsu employees. However I’ll share what I believe is the most eventful experience throughout this whole program, which is the visit to Miyagi prefecture, the prefecture that was hit the worst by the tsunami that took place in March last year.

Miyagi lies to the north of Fukushima, about 2 hours by bullet train from the Tokyo train station. Upon arrival, we were taken on a bus to tour around the city of Ishinomaki, formerly known as a thriving fishing port. The name Ishinomaki was synonymous with ‘fresh sashimi’ and represents a friendly fishing community culture instilled proudly by the Japanese. What I saw though was a town that was leveled to the ground, with mountains of debris, graveyards of cars ‘killed’ by seawater, devastated houses and buildings turned upside down that were too big to move. It was like stepping into a horror story, only this time I was right in front of the aftermath and the antagonist was Mother Nature.

However, I have never come across a community that could come together so closely in the face of adversity. I have never come across another group of people which complains so little and works so hard, struggling even when they have to start from zero. In regards to sacrifice, they bring the meaning to a whole new level, sacrificing not only for people they care about but also for people they have never met. It is a different experience listening to heartwarming stories from the news and social media as opposed to listening to it directly from the people who survived such a catastrophe. Even with limited resources, they have such high spirits to work together as a community so that everybody could have the opportunity to come out of this incident at least to a survivable level.

The one memory that was etched at the back of my head took place on dinner night at a small restaurant in the heart of Ishinomaki. It is a seafood restaurant run by a family of 5; a husband and wife, their 2 daughters to help around with serving the customers and a curious little boy by the name of Keito. In a contest of hospitality, the Japanese tops the Americans slightly (disclaimer: this is my opinion) - eating in this restaurant gave me a sense of belonging, like I was part of a family, despite the language barrier. They were so enthusiastic that you would’ve never thought a tsunami flooded this area just over a year ago. I cannot even begin to fathom what it would feel like to go through what they did. It took them 10 months for repairs in order to be able to open up the restaurant again and on top of that, the restaurant owner lost his mother in the midst of the tsunami. There were times when he lost his mind, not knowing how to possibly move on under such circumstances. However his wife shared a quote that I’ll never forget for as long as I live, “As long as our family survives, we will continue to learn how to go on living.” Simple words, yet the struggles and tenacity behind her voice give it a whole new depth of meaning. And the smile of little Keito will remind me of a family with immense conviction to get through another day in their lives, believing in a better future ahead.

Before I conclude, I’d like to apologize. I was asked to write an article about my 4 month long vacation, about how I enjoyed myself living the life of a beach boy as I attempt to tackle the waves and bask in the sun. I tried to recall those moments and barely came out with anything. My best memories were the abstract experiences that couldn’t be quantified nor framed upon a picture. I packed my bags and headed out hoping for a chance of reflection, hoping to get some questions answered. While I did get answers, the answers only serve to open up more questions, and I’m left with more different paths then when I started.

On the last day in Japan, my 3 previous mentioned friends and another Singaporean gathered in a room for a chance to recollect our experiences throughout the whole program and discuss our takeaways. We discussed our next steps, our side projects, our opportunities, our perspectives and the changes we see in one another. We argued on our point of views in regards to current events and discussed on possible economic repercussions. There’s hardly a single thing that all of us synonymously agree on except for one; while we really didn’t want the night to end, we are all eager to go back and see what opportunities would life throw at us.

I cannot honestly say that I come out of this experience a different person. I guess I’m still pretty much the same except for the 2 kgs I’ve lost (food in Hawaii is too damn expensive!). If there’s one thing I’ve realized is the fact that I have a broader perspective when looking at things. In regards to work as a QS/AE, I tend to not only ask ‘what’ questions, but also ‘why’. I look at a problem and not only think of how to solve it from a technical point of view, but also understand why such a business decision was made, how it relates to cost and the company’s strategic plans, what are the expected repercussions financially and operationally. This is not to say I’ve not previously asked these questions, but I seem to be able to ask them with more clarity and specificity, with a better understanding of what answers I can expect to receive and more importantly empathize with the people making these decisions. More importantly I believe that with a foundation in business studies and perspective, I’m able to cultivate my skills to slowly bridge the gap between technical and business.

I guess a big thank you is due to the people who have given me this opportunity by accepting my request for a sabbatical. Sook Lin and Oliver, they had to arrange resources and schedules prior to my departure. Derred, Hui Chin and Bernhard, of the Rhenus project team, they picked up my slack when I was away. Finally, the Quintiq Global Development directors, for approving my long leave.

So, to conclude this article on a more light hearted tone, I’ve included a list of notes for those of you who are interested to visit either Hawaii or Japan.

  • Waikiki is overrated, a majority of the people there are Japanese tourists

  • The ever famous restaurant ‘Eggs & Things’ with a long line of customers are not worth it. Jarrod and Rawlins here serve better breakfast sets

  • If it’s raining in Hawaii, just continue with what you’re doing. It will be gone after 5 minutes

  • Bring sunscreen

  • Bring lots of sunscreen

  • Rent a car, right hand drive isn’t as hard as it may seem.

  • If in doubt, show the ‘Shaka’. Nobody hates the ‘Shaka’.

  • If you like diving, go for the wreck dives. You get to see pearl harbor wreckages of destroyers and war planes

  • Climb the ‘Heads’. They are actually small mountains or volcanic craters with breath taking views once you hit the summit. Pack sneakers for this.

  • In Japan avoid the rush hours

  • Rush hours are typically from 6-9 in the morning

  • Rush hours at night starts at 10.30 pm. Yes, I’m not kidding.

  • Visit Harajuku only on weekends between 2 pm – 6 pm.

  • Any dessert shop in Tokyo is awesome; I’ve yet to come across one that doesn’t impress.

  • Japanese are typically friendly. They are even friendlier if you meet them in a bar after a few drinks.

  • Study the train and subway maps; it is very easy to get lost taking the wrong train.

If you want more crazy stories, I’m always open to offers for coffee. :D