While watching TV at lunch one day last week, I was struck by the devastation that the earthquake and tsunami wrought in the Japanese nation. I have been following the developments in Japan in the past few days.


One person popped into my mind because of the Japanese earthquake. She is Ms Kei. Ms Kei was born in Shanghai, educated there and probably married to a Japanese national. I have never met Ms Kei in person in the real world. Our friendship happened online.


The first time I met her, I was speaking English with my learning buddies in a virtual community. She came up on the mike and our conversation went ahead. She was not a regular visitor to the learning community. Over the years she joined us occasionally.


I had a hunch that Ms Kei was married to a Japanese national but she did not confirm it. She spoke Mandarin, the Shanghai dialect, Japanese and English. I asked her how she learned the Japanese language. She said that she learned Japanese largely by herself, on the radio in the 1970s and 1980s when she was a student in Shanghai. Her parents knew no Japanese whatsoever.


One year her family were all in Shanghai. She and her hubby raised a boy and a girl. Another year her family were in Tokyo. When she told me one evening that her family were living in Tokyo, I was surprised. Her two children attended university in Japan. It seemed that they came back home on the weekend from their uni. I asked Ms Kei if I could chat with her two teens in English on the web. She tried to persuade them to join me, but they would not.


As a matter of fact, Ms Kei helped run her family business in three regions of East Asia. She said that they operated their business in mainland China, Japan and Taiwan. She shuttled back and forth between the three locations every year. What business did they run? I failed to get a clue.


Ms Kei paid me compliments, saying that she was proud of me being Chinese. Also my English impressed her. She spoke English quite well, but she probably spoke Japanese much better. During the course of one conversation between us, her mobile phone rang. She excused herself and started to talk on her mobile phone in Japanese. I heard it.


Throughout my school days, the Chinese history textbooks portrayed the Japanese as the Japanese devils as a result of what the Japanese did in China in the 1930s and 40s. The portrait of the Japanese in the Chinese textbooks is to some extent true, which I have come to realise as my horizons are expanded. However, the portrait is a distorted one in some respects. The Chinese of my generation were fed by Chinese textbooks and media with a generalisation which could not reflect an accurate picture of the Japanese people. Regrettably, this generalisation on the Chinese part has been fed further by some Japanese guys’ unwillingness to admit history and by their attempt to beautify what the Japanese did during the Second World War.


Ms Kei was working and living in Japan. Over the years, though I have never talked with a Japanese person in English, I have met online quite a few Chinese expatriates who were working or studying in Japan. I also came across a Hong Kong lady of mixed race, her mother Cantonese and father Japanese. I talked with her in English. I took all the online opportunities to learn about Japanese society through our chats.

japan quake 02 

Ms Kei helped adjust my picture of the Japanese. When asked whether the Japanese are evil as a lot of Chinese think, she did not answer me straightaway. Instead, she introduced one small slice of Japanese society to me. In Tokyo there are some markets where farm produce like vegetables is on sale. There are no price tags on the commodities at the market. Shoppers come and pick what they need. They deposit the money in a pot before they exit the market. All the shoppers pay more than they should. Ms Kei said that she could not imagine what would happen should such a market exist in China. I agreed with her. Her conclusion was that most Japanese people are kind, generous and courteous.


The first Chinese in Japan I have ever met is not Ms Kei, but a pal called UFO. Her roots are in Sichuan. After her studies in a Japanese uni, she started working in a company there. I had long known that Japanese electronics products were of high quality. Therefore I had thought that Japanese workers must be very intelligent and capable. This pal called UFO said that actually in her company the number of Chinese workers outperformed their Japanese counterparts. When a problem cropped up, it was the Chinese workers that the Japanese staff turned to.


Television and the Internet has brought to us what happened after the earthquake in Japan. I believe most of the Chinese audience are impressed by the Japanese attitude towards the cataclysm. They took it as it came along. Their calmness and their order in the face of a raging nature were in sharp contrast with our Chinese panic and disorder which was presented on TV when nature shook western Sichuan Province in 2008. Their calmness and order also dwarf the Chinese who, subscribing to a rumour that the price of salt would go up because of the nuclear fallout in Japan, started panic buying the commodity in many parts of China.

panic buying china 

In China there is Japan-phobia and in Japan there is Sino-phobia. However, the majority of the ordinary people in both nations are peace-loving, sympathetic and compassionate. Luckily we live in the 21st century, in which age we are better informed of each other thanks to better communications technology. Radio, TV, newspapers, and the Internet have made the globe much smaller. Television pictures of the tsunamis casted on NHK were real time as if they were going on somewhere in our own neighbourhood. On the Internet, national borders are in a sense torn down, thus making it a reality that people from different countries communicate with each other without any meddling from their national governmental propaganda. In the last few days in China there have been opposing comments on the Japanese earthquakes, most of which expressed sympathy for the Japanese. A small minority of Chinese expressed pleasure in the Japanese nation’s misfortune, as if Mother Nature had helped them take revenge on the “devils” and the historical debt between the two nations had thus been settled. We Chinese do enjoy freedom of speech today and this is the best evidence. Better communication and freedom to express views and opinions will help most people in both China and Japan form an unbiased picture of each other. Extremism will never reign!


It seems that the nuclear power plants in Fukishima are still causing more trouble, and radiation is on the minds of the whole world. I wonder if my friend Ms Kei and her family are still in Tokyo. I have not met her for a very long time. Their family may be in Shanghai or Taipei. Wherever they might be, Shengliver’s thoughts are with them. May they luck out.


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