|Sunset in Niigata|
Perhaps my other group members didn't gave it much thought, but I went back home and looked for the flight ticket price to Japan. I was elated to discover that it was quite cheap! I quickly SMSed all my group members about the ticket price. However, after a few days many of them had constraints and none of them could go. I was with my friend, Hannan in Mumbai and through our experience there, we realize that we make great traveling partners. I finally had him convinced to join this trip to Japan, and at last, we went to the Japan Embassy at Jalan Stonor, Kuala Lumpur to apply for a Visa to Japan. Prof Shamsul was very happy that finally there will be undergraduate student visit to Niigata. Although my intention of going there is just for sightseeing, he suggested that we make it a formal visit, because before this, Niigata University has been sending postgraduate students to UKM for formal visits, and now would be a good time for us to return favor.
He contacted the doctors at Niigata University, and they were glad as well that after more than 5 years of MOU between UKM and Niigata, the undergraduate students are finally getting involved. They were happy that in return, they would like to send the undergraduate students from Niigata to UKM in October. That was great news. The Japanese students will receive us in Niigata, and as a return we will receive them in UKM in October. Finally, we decide to make this an exhange student program, and this would be the first time ever for both the medical faculty of UKM and Niigata University. We went to Japan on separate flight from Prof Shamsul. We took Airasia and he took Malaysian Airlines. We landed in Haneda Airport and he landed in Narita Airport. Our flight arrived late at night so we had to stay the night at the airport, at the waiting area:
|Sleeping like a spoon at Haneda Airport|
We meet up with Prof Shamsul at the Tokyo Ueno station. Then, we head up straight to Niigata by the well known Japanese bullet train, or Shinkansen. There was a particularly memorable scene while we were waiting for the bullet train to be ready. From outside, we saw the workers cleaning and adjusting back the seats hastily. Being Japanese, they were very fast and efficient indeed. After all of them were done, suddenly we saw them lining up in front of the train. There must be around 15-20 of them lining up, facing the passengers. Suddenly, all at the same time, they start to bow together to the passengers and then dismiss, going to each of the train doors to greet the passengers in! How adorable, we don’t see cleaners do that often in other countries, do we?
|While waiting for the bullet train. Notice the time of arrival on the board to the right: 12.08, 12.24. In other countries it would have just been 12.10 and 12.25.|
That night they took us to a sushi restaurant. We are a big fan of sushi back in Malaysia, and we were elated enough to know that we finally get to taste the original sushi from Japan. We heard from those who went to Japan before that the sushi is Malaysia tastes different from the original ones in Japan. I could not agree more. It definitely tasted different we loved it! I ate 7 to 8 plates of sushi that night, and was very satisfied. We also had the chance to talk to the Malaysian students studying there, discover how their life were living there in Japan, and what were they planning after finishing their study. Some would like to work in Japan, but most of them can’t wait to come back to Malaysia after 4 years here in Japan. Well, I guess no matter how wonderful the place you are in, you will eventually miss the place where you're from.
|I was so much into appreciating the taste of original sushi I just had to close my eyes|
The next day was the first day of our exchange program. On our arrival to the medical faculty, we were greeted by Associate Professor Yugo Shobugawa, who would help us in just about anything during our stay in Niigata. Since this visit is under the Public Health Department, we started off the official event with slide presentations from the Public Health pHD students in Niigata University. We listened to their presentations and I was surprised that some of the researches done by the pHD students are similar to the one that my SSM team was doing, using the Graphic Informational System (GIS). At first, I did not intend to present our SSM research to them, but since I realize that our research was similar to theirs, it gave me confidence to go on ahead. I downloaded the slides from the internet, and presented our SSM research titled 'Tuberculosis Clustering and its Associated Factors in Cheras, KL'. They found it very interesting firstly because they never thought undergraduate students could already use the GIS system (the system were never thought in undergraduate curriculum), and secondly because tuberculosis is very rare in Japan, hence they were very keen to know about it.
|Presenting our SSM research to Associate Professor Yugo and the pHD students of Niigata University|
Although the program was under the Public Health Department, we also get to join the ward rounds for other departments. Hence we joined a Paediatrics ward round. The ward round was headed by Professor Akihiko Saito. Since he did his master in San Diego, United States for a few years, his English was very much fluent as compared to other doctors, making it very easy for us to learn from the ward round since all the students presented in Japanese. Professor Akihiko helped to translate each of the cases for us. Very kind and helpful of him. We realized that the ward rounds were very much similar to the ones back in UKM, with the students reading the cases from carefully written notes, the students being very silent when the Professor asks questions, and some of them even shy away. Oh Asian medical students, perhaps we are the same ;p
|After the Paediatrics ward round|
Each evening, after the events at the hospital is over, we would walk back to our hotel about 2 kilometers away. It was a leisurely walk since the weather is very nice, and we would always be accompanied by small children coming back from school. These were the little children wearing bags like exactly like the ones we see in Japanese cartoons like Doraemon or Shin Chan. I am surprised that there were no school buses here. Every children either walks to school or used the public transport. It is amazing how independent they are and how safe the social environment is for children as small as them them to walk home alone.
|Walking home with the kids. Look at their cute little backpacks!|
One of the nights, the Japanese students took us out for dinner at a halal indian cuisine restaurant near our hotel. They are the students that would be coming to UKM in October. The food was great, though of course not as good as the original ones we had back in Mumbai 2 months ago, but the more important thing is that we get to teach each other our own languages. The dinner was mostly filled with language exchanges, where we ask what certain words are in Japanese, and they ask us what certain words are in Malay. It was hilarious when we taught them to count from 1 to 10 in Malay. I had it recorded on a video, which you can view:
We also had the chance to join the pre-clinical students in their tutorials. They used a unique method for discussion, called the KJ method, named after a prominent Japanese initials who created that method. The method makes the discussions much more alive and interesting, where every student has to be active, play their part, and think together to come out to a group conclusion. I think it is the essence of group-thinking, something the Japanese were well known to have, as opposed to the individual-thinking which characterizes the west. Since all their discussions were in Japanese, we could not understand a thing, but the doctors there were kind enough to translate for us, and we contributed what we can to the discussion.
|They were asking if I can read Japanese. I don't!|
We also had the chance to join their lectures. As expected, the lectures are in Japanese. I even fall asleep during lectures in language that I understand, how do you expect me to stay awake in a lecture that I don’t? Oh well, I even saw some of the students dozing off, so I think it was not much of a big sin to join them sleeping. I also realized that they have really big blackboards in front, and I could not believe that they still use blackboards and chalks.
|This is the moment before I doze off|
As the amazing experiences were happening, we did not realize the time had passed by so fast. We had a heavy heart on our last day in Niigata. We could not believe we would be leaving soon. For us, our time here was too short when there is so much more to experience. However, we do feel that the experience we had, although little was extremely valuable and memorable. Before we went back, Professor Yugo was kind enough to bring us to a park next to the Big Swan Stadium that was once the host for World Cup matches when it was held in Japan in 2002. We had sushi in the park, and it was a very tranquil experience. Just the nice experience for a lasting last impression of Niigata. Niigata seems to be very cozy and quiet place, a perfect place to study medicine. It is one of the best places to study Public Health too, my passion. Perhaps one day I will come again as a student. Until then, sayonara :)
|Sushi in the garden with Professor Yugo|