Sunday, December 26, 2004

Roaring with the Lions

Kayren on stage (C) Lrong Lim

Attended a 'Christmas' party held last night by a local Lions Club.

This club has some arrangement with the Lions Club in Malaysia and each winter, they play host to a young student or two from Malaysia.

On this occasion, a young lady called Kayren Au who hails from Kelantan, is the guest.

I had the opportunity to talk to her and was impressed with her English and the impeccable way she carries herself.

At 16, and away from home in a foreign land in the cold of winter, I would have been just a wide-eyed cuckoo, clueless on what to do.

But here she was, making a speech in Japanese, and exchanging flags and all with the President of the club.

I have been a regular invited guest to this yearend family gathering.

I would not be exaggerating to say that over 90 percent of the folks in the hall were non-Christians.

But, no matter.

Most of the Lions Club members are bosses of their own firms, or dentists, lawyers, or politicians.

Over the years, I have managed to cultivate a really good relationship with them.

Among other things, I had one element working to my favor; that is, academicians are highly respected within the Japanese social fabric, more so if one is a foreigner working in a national university.

As in every year, I was among the 'honored' guests invited to make a speech before the ceremonial toast.

I always come away with a blissful feeling every time I meet up with these folks.

They are so kind, and what more, they always call me 'sensei' (teacher).

I was, and remain humbled to be referred to as such by these folks.

Many of these folks are my father's generation; they are my seniors in the journey of life.

They are past 70 years of age. Almost none of the members are below 40.

Our relationship started a few years ago, when one of them asked me if there was something they could do to help make life easier for foreign students here in Kagawa.

The timing could not be more perfect as I had just founded the Kagawa University Foreign Student Association.

My intention was to provide the foreign students a vehicle to exert their presence within the Japanese community.

I was prepared to go low budget on the operations.

And, here it was, the Lions Club offering to financially assist our activities.

Through the last 8 years, we have conducted many an event for foreign students, with this particular Lions Club as our major sponsor.

The hall suddenly became dark. Then, candles were lit. The party has begun...

And, it was drink, drink, drink... for the Japanese, but not for me.

I 'float' too easily on too little alcohol.

The Japanese folks are sometimes quite persistent in offering me alcohol.

I feign a small sip and use my fail-proof excuse; I have to drive afterward.

The food was always excellent, and the atmosphere, most cordial and certainly warm.

The only bone that I can pick on is the smoking habits by some of them.

(With regards to smoking in restaurants, Japan is bottoms compared to Malaysia.)

There was some karaoke singing and games, followed by a lottery.

As in countless occasions, I was not lucky.

The consolation prize was a box of fine rice crackers, Kyoto-made, and packed by Mitsukoshi.

I recall reading an article that the Japanese sometimes do the silliest of things at get-togethers.

However, the article added: silly they may be, but they serve one powerful purpose.

And I can attest to that.

These 'silly' things establish and/or reconfirm their bonds to each other within the group.

With this, as in every year, we ended the party with everyone forming a large circle and singing an old popular Japanese song 'Till we meet again'... raising and lowering our hands in unison... establishing new bonds and unmistakably, re-enforcing old ones...