Monday, 27 August 2012

He called!

It has been so hazy over the last few days and I've been worried about YK. The air smells bad from the forest fire in Sumatra.What if he loses his inhaler and gets an asthma attack during training? Then I saw a recruit from the same camp in the obituary section today - a condolence message placed by the military. My brain goes into overdrive. I think about what YK's doing. I try to imagine him without much hair and sweating under the blazing sun.

It's been 5 days and I tend to forget that YK is in the army. I'm still cooking for 2 boys and buying things in pairs, like two fresh coconuts from the supermarket, and more than enough yoghurt and fruit. I end up eating more than usual.

Then he called tonight. I was in the shower and the phone rang. I rushed out, rather annoyed, to find an unfamiliar number. YK was using his buddy's phone. The simple phone that I had given him was confiscated because it has a camera. This is strange because the camera feature is not shown anywhere on the packaging. And it is very well concealed on the phone. Anyway, YK discovered the function while fiddling with it and surrended it. "I could have ended up in DB (detention) you know?" he said.

It's only 9.30pm and he's about to go to bed. My son who stays up until 2am and who laughs at his mom because she sleeps so early is calling it a night? I see a change already.

He sounded cheerful and said training isn't too tough. That's all I need to know to tame my overly imaginative mind. Hearing his cheery voice is good enough for me. Now that he has no phone, he won't be calling me for the next ten days. I can stop worrying and focus my attention on something more enjoyable, like planning for the picnic this weekend.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Boy to man

Yesterday was a bad day for me because YK was enlisted into the army. I didn't think it would be so emotionally daunting until it was time for me to leave him behind. Maybe I had been too nonchalant about it. "Come on, it'll be fun! Treat it like a holiday!"

He was mentally prepared. Well, I thought I was.

It started well enough. We boarded a bus, courtesy of the army, to the ferry terminal where we took a 15-minute ferry ride to Tekong Island. At the island, the boys were promptly led away for briefing while I joined the many other parents and visitors for a tour of the facilities.

From our coach, we saw recruits undergoing training - doing leopard crawl, tackling obstacles and marching in the parade square. I felt like we were on a safari. Looking at their newly shaved heads and weary young faces made my heart ache. Some of us waved meekly at the boys with faces covered in a thick layer of camouflage. It is hard to imagine YK's smooth and blemish-free face fully covered in green and black cream.

We stopped at the barrack to have a peek at the sleeping quarters before joining the enlistees in the auditorium. By the time the oath taking ceremony was over, reality had finally sunk in. This isn't a holiday camp nor is it to be taken lightly.

We were allowed to lunch together with our son before saying our goodbyes. That was the hardest part. Tears welled up in our eyes when it was time for me to go. It was that same feeling when I left him at the childcare centre for the first time when he was a 20-month old baby. I remember the fearful look in his eyes.

He is 20 years old, no longer a baby but not quite a man either. He's in an entirely new environment surrounded by strangers and starting right at the bottom. For someone who has been enjoying so much freedom, a regimented life like this is going to take some getting used to.

By now, his hair is gone. He's wearing uniform and out training. The only thing I can do is wait to see him when he books out in 2 weeks. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


With the day trip to Kamakura, our short work trip was turning out to be a pretty fulfilling one. Being a seaside town, Kamakura has some large beaches though sadly, in 1293, a major earthquake and tsunami hit this region killing more than 23,000 people.

Kunieda-San wanted us to experience Enoshima instead, a small seaside town next to the island in Kanagawa prefecture. To get there, we had to take a rattling old Enoden (江ノ電) half-train/half-streetcar.
 We arrived at Katase-Enoshima station after a short ride. On a clear winter day, you can get the best view of Mt Fuji from here. Too bad the view was totally obscured on that hot summer day.
Enoshima is an extremely popular beach destination with a bit of a laid-back California surfer vibe during summer. Beach boys and babes love this place.
 The shops leading to the beach sell mostly summer wear and beach-related gear. It didn't feel as if we were in Japan.
 The most common way to get to the small island of Enoshima is via Enoshima Benten Bashi (Bridge). Instead of walking under the blazing sun, we took a small boat that runs back and forth between the causeway and the back of the island (near the caves). The ride takes less than 10 minutes.
 Enoshima is blessed with the abundant beauty of nature and sea.
The caves are worth a visit. We were each issued a small lantern so we could find our way around inside the caves. It felt so cool and damp inside.
 Most pathways in the island only allow foot traffic. To get about, you will have to climb many stairs, high slopes and hills.
 We stopped for crushed ice under the shade. One of our ice balls collapsed and crashed onto the floor under the heat.
 If you are into shrines, there are plenty in this little island for you to check out.
This is the first athletic yatch harbour in Japan and was built for the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. On a usual day, there are about 1,000 yatchs moored here.
The narrow street, lined with souvenir shops, is always more crowded near the bridge which leads back to the mainland.
To get back to the train station, we took the bridge. Luckily, the late afternoon sun was more merciful, making the walk amongst bikini-clad girls and surfer dudes rather enjoyable.

Monday, 13 August 2012


It is our good fortune to know Kunieda-San, my friend's ex-boss who lives in Kamakura, a small city south of Tokyo. He offered to show us around his hometown on a Saturday. After spending several days in the hot and crowded city, we were ready to jump on the next train to somewhere more serene and scenic.

We left Tokyo early in the morning and arrived in Kamakura in an hour by train. It is a completely different world here. The houses are set amidst lush greenery and there were visibly less people around.
Train station.
The main street of Kamakura.
 Kunieda-San was already waiting at the train station. We were early but you can trust the Japanese to be punctual. The last time my friend met him was more than 10 years ago. He was one of the top guys in the Singapore office then. After that, he was posted to San Francisco and Shanghai before retiring in the historical city of Kamakura some years back. These days, he is a volunteer guide for his hometown, specialising in historical places like shrines, temples and monuments.
 Looking at the sleepy town, it is hard to believe that this quiet little town with its many temples was the political capital of Japan during the Kamakura shogunate, from 1185 to 1333.
 When he discovered that we both love hiking, he decided to bring us on a hike starting from the train station and ending near the Kōtokuin. The hike involved walking, with some climbing, through a forest.
 First, we had to walk through a very pleasant residential estate with many lovely houses. Many rich city folk build their holiday homes here. Looking at these charming villas made me want to retire there too.
 After a long uphill walk, we arrived at the Zeniarai Benten Shrine. To differentiate a shrine from a temple, look at the gate. A shrine has a simple gate (torii) usually made of stone or vermilion-painted wood indicating the entrance to the sacred grounds.
 Legend has it that it was constructed by Minamoto Yoritomo after he received a divine message in his dreams asking him to use the water here to offer prayers to god and all the world will be at peace. Later Hojo Tokiyoro washed money with this water praying for prosperity for his family.
 Since then, the water has become famous for washing money and getting financial success. Hearing that, we quickly dug out all our coins and washed our money!
Paper crane offerings.
 We continued the hike which took us through a park famous for the cherry blossoms.
 Due to a recent typhoon, some of the leaves have turned red prematurely, months ahead of autumn.
 Several luxurious hill-top villas made me feel as if we were in USA instead of Japan.
 From the hill, we took in the panoramic view of Kamakura city.
 These were the last few houses we passed before entering the forest.
It was a pleasant walk in the forest trail. Even in summer, the shade managed to keep the temperature bearable.
 The entire hike took 3 hours. We stopped for water and to fan ourselves.
 After a brief descent, we were out of the forest.
 We walked to the famous Great Buddha (大仏 Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that, at 13.35 meters, is the second largest in Japan (second only to that in Nara's Todaiji). Thought to be cast in 1252, the statue was originally housed in a giant temple hall, but the building was washed away in a tsunami.
 Kunieda-San is a specialist in the history of the shrines and temples of Kamakura, hence he spared no effort in explaining all abou the makings of the Great Buddha. He was so systematic that he even brought a folder showing statistics and history of this area.
 We had history lessons under the big tree by the Buddha statue!
 Once he was done with the lecture, we were longing for a hearty lunch. On the way to the restaurant, we passed by shops selling traditional rice crackers.
Toasting rice crackers.
To cater to the tourists visiting the Great Buddha, there are many souvenir shops and restaurants.
We had lunch at this nice restaurant. Japanese food of course!