Search This Blog

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Narita, at the Airport


I must confess that I like Airports, to experience the atmosphere, to observe the architecture, to see people travelling and the unformed air crew walking like on a catwalk, the decorations, the spacious and clean toilets, and not to mentioned good stuffs in the souvenir shops not found in the city. 

So, I like to leave our hotel early, apart from to get enough time to travel in case there are traffic jams  on the way, or in case I board the wrong bus or train, or get on the wrong terminal, I just like to come to the airport early.  Arriving early also give us enough time to check-in, considering that sometimes the queues are very long, to go the faraway tax refund counter, then going through the lengthy security check, and passport check. Depending the country, the security check could be slow and annoying, and so is passport checking. So, allow time for that. 

The travel from downtown Tokyo to Narita is about 60 km, if we take the non-stop express train it will take about one hour depending on our hotel location, the door-to-door journey takes between 90 and 120 minutes. Many train stations in Tokyo are huge, have confusing layouts, the direction signs are not so clear and most of them do not speak English, so it is hard to find your train if you are not familiar with the train station. So learn first the train station though the website, and even better if you come before your travel to familiarize the layout. 

Like other travel writers, I have to frequently fly solo, I generally arrive at the airport more than two hours before my flight. This way I get time to wander around the airport corridors, looking at the fabulous design of luxury brand shops, hearing the crispy announcements, watching various airplanes  landing and taking-off. At the Narita Terminal 1 and 2 observation decks, we will have a perfect view of the planes landing and taking off, and from the corridor windows we can see the parked and taxiing planes. 

The airport is also great for people watching, I think every one like to do that, to look at the excitement on the face most of the travelers, the cool frequent travelers, the worried face of the late travelers, the honeymooners, but there are also sad faces. In Narita most of them are trendy upper middle class people, the older dressed neatly ironed clothes with hats, the younger more hip hop and bright. I also saw a couple of lovers, the woman looked like in the early 30’s wearing very boutique like clothes, shoes, bag and colored hair while the man much younger in the early 20’s wearing red black checkered shirt loosely and baggy pants. They looked so much in love. 

If you missed a meal before travelling to Narita, the Airport has many restaurants decent to good food, a wide variety of Japanese food, tempura, yakiniku, tonkatsu, sushi, ramen, and soba, but also Western, Chinese and vegetarian food. Unlike any other airports, food here is also not much more expensive than in central Tokyo. If you are in a hurry go for the ramen noodles, you fill full enough and have more time to wander. In one of the ramen noodles shop I saw a teenage girl with a teddy bear backpack, eating her ramen thoughtlessly, she seemed to miss someone left behind in Tokyo. 

If you still have time, try the Japanese specialty snacks, dried foods, crackers, tea, jams, and the like. There are many types of rice crackers flavoured with various taste from garlic, miso to seaweed.  There are also chocolate-covered wafers flavoured like matcha tea, wasabi, plum, sake, melon, peach, grape.

But hurry-up grab your snacks, your plane is waiting!



Saturday, July 31, 2021

A train from Tokyo to Narita Airport


As Tokyo is such a big city and Narita Airport is located about 60 km from downtown Tokyo, we have to travel about one hour from Tokyo train station to the Narita Airport. There are many ways to go from Tokyo to Narita Airport, we can choose train, bus or taxi. I choose to travel by express train, it is not the cheapest, but it is most comfortable and the travel duration is certain. If we take bus or taxi, we never know whether there is traffic jam on the road, and we could be stuck for hours on the road. 

With the ticket price of around 3,000 yen one way and 4,000 yen round trip, the Narita Express train offers comfortable seats with spacious leg room, large toilets. Not to mentioned the very clean and quite atmosphere found in most of the trains in Japan. We can only hear the monotone clacking sound of the train railway which is soothing and tranquilizing. 

The train departs every 30 minutes and always on time, so we can rely on the travel plan based on the train schedule. But as the layout of train station in Tokyo is complicated, we must first familiarize with the train station layout to avoid getting on the wrong train or wasting time searching for the right platform. We can search in the internet or survey it ourselves before the departure. 

The journey from Tokyo to Narita Airport will pass urban towns, it is enjoyable to watch the scenes of Tokyo passing by the window, the concrete buildings of the city gradually disappear as the countryside of Chiba appears. The dreamy journey ends as we hear announcement that the train is approaching the airport. 

We need to get ready to disembark if our flight is located in Terminal 2, and pick-up our luggage. The train will only stop for a while as it will continue to Terminal 1. Therefore it is more convenient not to lock-up your baggage at the storage rack, because if you forget the code to unlock it then you have to ride the train till the end terminal, Terminal 1, to get it unlocked by the officer. Not to mention that you have to convince the officer the luggage is yours. It could really mess-up your well planned journey. 

I saw this Japanese lady went pale and breathless as she forgot the code, nervously asking in Japanese how to get it unlocked. Her young daughter also looked helpless. I hope their flight didn’t say ‘sayonara’ to them on take-off.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Tokyo, at Meiji Shrine


Entering the Meiji Shrine ground from Harayuku station we will find a huge wooden torii gate which marks the beginning of this Shinto shrine. Like other Shinto shrines, a visit to this place is like a pilgrimage which gradually transforms the world from the mortal to the sacral. The torii gate serves as the entrance dividing the profane human world from the sacred home of the divine spirit (Kami). We see people bowing when they pass under the torii, to show respect as they enter into the sacred site.

Then we follow the winding gravel path approaching the shrine, called sando. The pathway is surrounded by huge trees, like a deep tranquil forest.  It doesn’t feel like we are in the middle of Tokyo, in Shibuya district, one of the busiest commercial area. In this serene forest we can only hear the sound of birds chirping and the visitors’ footsteps on the gravel.

The shrine is dedicated to the divine spirit (Kami) of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken. Emperor Meiji laid the foundation of modernization of Japan, known as the Meiji Restoration, ending the Tokugawa shogunate influence. Under his leadership Japan adopted Western ideas and production methods to industrialize the country. Japan opened the country to the world and emerged from a closed society to one of the most modern societies in the world, in less than 40 years. After the Emperor died in 1912, the parliament decided to build a memorial site in the area near Yoyogi Park, this shrine site, because the emperor and his wife liked to walk through the gardens here.

Photo: Wikimedia

In Shinto, something divine is regarded as Kami (divine spirit), it can be found in mythology, in nature, and in human beings. Japanese people are amazed and have gratitude towards such Kami and enshrined them. In this way the Meiji Shrine is dedicated to honouring the Kami of Emperor Meiji and his wife. We can feel the whole site as an awesome home for the Kami, reflecting how the Japanese people honour and feel grateful to their emperor and empress.

The gravel pathway leads us to a number of sake and wine barrels stacked up along both sides of the pathway. More than 200 sake barrels were displayed as offering to the Emperor, donated by famous sake breweries in the country. As the Emperor loved French wines, wine barrels were imported from France and displayed along with the sake barrels. 

Photo: Own Work

Passing the Ootori (Second Torii Gate),  we reach the Temizusha (water font) at the entrance to the main sanctuary, to wash your hands and cleanse mouths. Wooden ladles are provided at this water font so we can wash our hands and cleanse our mouths. This is a ritual to purify ourselves before entering the main sanctuary.

Before entering the main sanctuary we can also go to the Juyosho, Amulet Kiosk, to buy charms and amulets or writing our wish on an ema, a wooden tablet. People wrote everything from wishing good luck, passing exams, to get a child, love and broken hearts, forgiveness and gratefulness. There are also omamori (protective amulets) for traffic safety, health, or success in education. Omamori are usually attached to or put into a bag, purse or pocket, and kept until they have fulfilled their purpose.

Photo: Own Work

Then we approach Minami Shinmon, the main entrance to the main shrine complex. The gate is a two-story building, made from Japanese hinoki cypress, and copper roof. We can see small heart-shaped patterns carved into the wood work as ornament. When passing through the gate, we must step over the wooden beam under the gate, and not step on it, and bow our head to show respect while passing through the gate.

Photo: Own Work

On the east side of the main shrine complex there is the Kaguraden, a building where the Shinto people pray and participate in the special ritual (Kigansai). During the special ritual a kagura, or sacred music and dance, Yamato-Mai, is performed as an offering to the Kami. This sacred dance is based on a poem by Emperor Meiji saying that we should not forget paying respect to the Kami, as we owe our existence to the them.

Next to the the Kaguraden, is the most sacred building, the honden, where the Kami are enshrined. The main shrine is built in the nagare zukuri style, a common style of Shinto shrine architecture. In this style, the roof at the front of the shrine is extended covering the steps up to the building. The honden includes the noritoden (prayer recital hall), the naihaiden (inner shrine hall), and the gehaiden (outer shrine hall). The gehaiden is at the front of the main shrine, and is where visitors pray. 

Photo: Abrahami -Wikimedia

On the way-out we pass through the Iris garden, a beautiful garden designed by the emperor for his wife. In summer, many types of irises, the empress' favorite, blooming in violet, blue, and white colors. Further down there is the Kiyomasa’s well a pure spring. It is named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well was visited frequently by the emperor and empress while they were alive.



Sunday, June 13, 2021

An Interview with Deng


Photo: Wikimedia

When I visited Huangshan in Anhui province, my guide showed me the place where Mister Deng often sit during his leisure time to enjoy the scenery of the magnificent mountains, floating above the clouds. This place seemed to be Mister Deng favorite spot and he chose this mountain area to deliver his 'Huang Shan Speech' to promote this place as a key site to revitalize the tourism industry, and to address the future direction of Chinese tourism. Years later, the Chinese tourism market has transformed into one of the world's most-watched tourist markets, the number of domestic trips reached six billion in 2019, indicating an exponential increase compared to the number of trips made in China ten years ago. 

Known as China’s “father of reforms” Mister Deng in 1978 announced a new policy, the “Open Door Policy”, to open the door to foreign businesses that wanted to set up in China. The policy of “reform and openness” (gaige kaifang) laid the foundation for a successful transition from a planned economy to a market economy, achieving unprecedented high growth rates. Average annual growth rates of 9.7 percent pulled hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. The policy of reform and openness also led to a fundamental departure from norms in Mao’s China, replacing collectivism and group conformity with individual performance and diversity. 

Enough said about him, I desperately wanted to interview this man and made an application through the CPC (Communist Party of China) office in Beijing. Knowing the tight bureaucracy of this office I wasn’t expecting approval soon and might be never ever get the approval, I was just trying my luck. I knew there were not many foreign journalists that got the chance to interview him personally, Mike Wallace, Oriana Fallaci, Ezra Vogel to name a few, who else? 

Then after 4 months, I found a red envelope in my apartment letter box, it was from the CPC office indicating an appointment in the next month meeting Mister Deng. Wow , really? It made my day!  It was my first interview with a political leader, and from China! 

So on a Saturday, at the CPC Office at Chang’an Avenue in Beijing, I met a small man in a gray Mao suit, white socks and black Neiliansheng shoes. I didn’t expect that he was Mister Deng, he looked so humble for such a paramount leader. For sure, he didn’t look like as what once pronounced by Henry Kissinger, a ''nasty little man''.


I said:

“Good afternoon Mister Deng, you are known to be the de facto leader of China, in the way that although you are not the chairman of the CPC and neither are you the President of China, but you are the chief policy maker and reformer of China throughout the decades leading to China’s great development. You are a member of Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, and the chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission, but it seems you avoid to be the top leader of China.”


Mister Deng:

“See, we must remember that chairman Mao for most of his life, he did very good things to China. Many times he united China and saved the party and the state from various crises. Mao Zedong Thought lead us to victory in the revolution and it will continue to be a treasured possession of the our country, and we will always remember him as a founder of our party and state. 

Because of his leadership he was treated like an emperor reminiscent of the country’s imperial past. The people created Mao Zedong’s cult of personality, fueled by fanatics, mass media, propaganda and books, elevating his status to that of an infallible heroic leader. The whole nation mimicked his style of drab clothing, memorizing his quotations from the little Red Book and living under the gaze of his imposing portraits. 

He then became authoritarian and led the country in patriarchal ways, one-man rule, which are feudal in nature. He became unwilling to listen to other comrades, did not listen to differing opinions. We can’t say that all criticisms were right, but neither was he ready to listen to many right opinions put forward not only by me but by other party members. At this time, he increasingly lost touch with reality. For instance, he did not consistently practice democratic centralism and the mass line, and he failed to institutionalize them during his lifetime. Democratic centralism was impaired and so was collective leadership. 

I opposed the notion of lifelong terms, of personality cult, and of one-man rule and desired to prevent the emergence of a Mao-like strongman. I promoted ideological pragmatism and emphasized above all the necessity of a fundamental reform of the party, especially by reviving the inner-party discussion and decision-making processes, known as collective leadership.”


I said:

“The world can observe the great progress that China achieved in economic development in past decades, but many Western scholars believed that China’s reform and opening-up policy only achieved great success concerning economic modernization, with no significant progress in political democratization. Some even went so far as to claim the reason for the successful Chinese economic modernization was precisely because China did not have any accompanying democratic reforms.”


Mister Deng:

“In this century China has been a land of warlords, invading armies, floods, famines and revolution. Tens of millions have died violently, or wretchedly from starvation. I told President Bush in 1989 that if all one billion of us undertake multiparty elections, we will certainly run into a full-scale civil war. Taking precedence over all China's problems is stability, therefore to avoid disorder and the violence we  opposed political pluralism. 

However, as I told Oriana Fallaci of the Washington Post, I can tell you that after the overthrow of the Gang of Four we emphasized very much the promotion of the socialist democracy. Without giving up, of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Democracy and dictatorship of the proletariat are the two aspects of one antithesis, and I should add that proletarian democracy is far superior to capitalistic democracy.”


I said:

“I guess with proletarian democracy you mean the key concept of democracy held by the Chinese elites who sought to combine democracy with authority, dictatorship and centralism. “


Mister Deng:

“The essence and the core of socialist democracy is that the people are the masters of the country, and it is the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CCP. We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole, and immediate to long-term interests.”


I said:

“ John Naisbitt, a well-known American scholar of future studies, predicts that a new ‘vertical democracy’, which combines the bottom-up mass participation with the top-down central command, emerging in China, and is likely to become an alternative to the Western style of ‘horizontal democracy’.

We can observe that this ‘vertical democracy’ worked well in achieving fast economic development in China.  The world is impressed by the striking economic reform under your leadership, but through the eyes of many Western observers there has been slow progress toward political reform. Despite some random democratic free speech, as in the ‘Democracy Wall’ period during the late seventies, political freedom has shown almost no progress.”


Mister Deng:

“I deeply understand this point. If we fail to do political reform, we shall be unable to preserve the gains we have made in the economic reform. Without political reform, economic reform cannot succeed … So in the final analysis, the success of all our other reforms depends on the success of the political reform.

We do allow political reform, but on condition that the three elements of China’s socialist democracy are upheld:  first, the people’s rule over the government, which is the main principle of democracy; second, the CCP’s leadership and centralism, which are necessary for democracy; and third, collectivism, which is also the major principle for resolving the conflicts of different interests in practice.”


I said:

“I think while there is general agreement that democracy literally means ‘rule by the people’ the Communist Party concept of ‘the people’ differs from the Western concept. The Western liberal view of ‘the people’ is all-inclusive, referring to all members of society and viewing society as an aggregation of individuals and a plurality of diversified social groups and interests. By contrast, in the Communist Party view, ‘the people’ is a collectivist concept. The emphasis was on the pursuit of collective interests, rather than being based upon, or even recognising, individual autonomy and expression of interests.” 


Mister Deng:

“What China needed is socialist democracy, for this is people’s democracy, and not bourgeois democracy, individual democracy.  We practice democratic centralism, which is the integration based on democracy, with democracy under the guidance of centralism. Democratic centralism is an integral part of the socialist system. Under this system, personal interests must be subordinated to collective ones, the interests of part to those of the whole. The purpose of socialist democracy is not, after all, to validate individualism or pluralism, but to unify the people for the pursuit of common interests and objectives. “


I said:

“According to Western media, you ordered to use military force through martial law in order to squash the protests that had erupted in the Tiananmen Square in 1989, despite resistance from some leaders. The result was bloodshed and within 48 hours Tiananmen Square was cleared. According to intelligence estimate about 1,000 people died and several dozen of soldiers and police were killed by protesters. Did you order the bloodshed or was it a military blunder, Mister Deng?”


Mister Deng:

“I praised the army as ‘the bastion of iron of the state’ and stressed that China would continue the basic policies of economic reform and openness to the outside world. This incident has impelled us to think over the future as well as the past sober-mindedly. It will enable us to carry forward our cause more steadily, better and even faster and correct our mistakes faster. 

We cannot tolerate turmoil. We will impose martial law again if turmoil appears again. Our purpose is to maintain stability so that we can work on construction, and our logic is simple: with so many people and so few resources, China can accomplish nothing without peace and unity in politics and a stable social order. Stability must take precedence over everything. 

We can't handle chaos while we're busy with construction. If today we have a big demonstration and tomorrow we have a great airing of views and a bunch of wall posts, we won't have any energy left to get anything done. That's why we have to insist on clearing the square.” 


I said:

“There was a dramatic incident during the Tiananmen Square crackdown that captured the whole world attention. The Western media called it ‘The Tank Man’ incident, a lone man holding a grocery bag was photographed and videoed standing in front of a column of tanks leaving Tiananmen Square via Chang'an Avenue. As the tank driver tried to go around him, the ‘Tank Man’ moved into the tank's path. He continued to stand defiantly in front of the tanks for some time, then climbed up onto the turret of the lead tank to speak to the soldiers inside. After returning to his position in front of the tanks, the man was pulled aside by a group of people. The fate of "Tank Man" following the demonstration is not known and for the world the ‘Tank Man’ remained faceless and nameless. 

May I ask you Mister Deng, who is this man that stopped the tanks, and what happened to him?” 


Mister Deng sat motionless on his overstuffed chair, his feet barely touch the floor. Suddenly an officer came approaching him and whispered something in his ear, Mister Deng nodded and then declared that he had other appointment in his schedule and must go now. So the meeting was over….



This is an imaginary interview in memory of Deng Xiaoping