In about a month and a half, 2020 will come to an end, but as we all know, the end of 2020 doesn’t mean the end of the hard times that come with COVID-19 and can continue even after a safe vaccine and a perfect cure are invented.
But I think hope is part of human nature and with the recent news about the possibly safe vaccine, I hope all this can be over in 2021. Hopefully within early-2021, though it seems unlikely… Still, I wish everyone who is reading this good health, happiness, and strength to get through the difficult situations.
This isn’t my usual kind of entry and I will get back to posting my travel stories and photos after this, but I want to share that I am unexpectedly back to studying in Japan again now. I went home during the semester break in February and didn’t think I would be able to fly back to Japan within 2020. The week before the journey was like a series of unfortunate events too… so I would like to record bits and pieces about the time I spent at home in Bangkok and my sudden return to Nagoya. It will be mostly ramblings, but to make it a bit more interesting, I will include the photos of the sky I took from home as well as a few more photos from my return trip to Nagoya.
When I learned that I couldn’t go back to Nagoya in late-March, I was worried whether I would still be eligible for the MEXT scholarship stipend, which normally requires scholarship recipients to be physically present in Japan and sign a document every month, and whether I could take courses in the spring semester. Thankfully, the Japanese government realized that students still had to pay their apartment rent and some other expenses even though they were stranded outside Japan, so they eventually decided to keep providing us the scholarship money. And although only few students from my graduate school weren’t in Japan, the faculty considered us minorities and finally decided to offer all courses online for the 2020 spring semester. It was for the safety of the students who were already in Japan and the professors too since the number of cases was increasing quickly back then.
The adaptation process was hard for both the professors and the students. I was in Bangkok and two hours behind Japan, so I had to wake up before 6am to get ready for a morning class and had lunch at irregular hours. Still, I am grateful more than anything because I (as well as other students who were stuck in their own countries) could study even without being in Japan.
I am also thankful for most professors. They tried their best to learn how to use Zoom and other technology to facilitate course activities as much as possible and the course content was still good. By the way, I am studying in a different field from my undergraduate one and while the reading materials were difficult (those fancy academic terms…) and most assignments intense, I have learned a lot.
In addition to getting used to online learning and studying in a new field, I actually had to get used to studying again as a whole. After all, I finished my Bachelor’s back in 2015… And this is also my first time not taking classes in Thai (except some of my undergraduate English and German courses where my professors taught completely in English and German). Most of my professors are Japanese and my classmates are a mix between Japanese and Asians with few from other continents. The multicultural environment was challenging and I have learned some lessons. It wasn’t so easy to connect to other students due online communication constraints and my extremely introverted personality, but I have made some non-Japanese and Japanese friends thanks to group discussions in some classes, most students’ friendliness, and some personal, non-academic interests we share.
While I was familiarizing myself with this strange online graduate student’s life, the COVID-19 situation in Thailand was fortunately improving. Our healthcare workers have been working very hard and within a few months, they have managed to put the situations under control with little to no new cases and we tried to get used to the new normal in Thailand (speaking of new normal, I also went to a concert… online, NCT 127 Beyond the Origin). My family and close friends are among the biggest reasons I can stay healthy physically and mentally. If I were in Japan, I would have been worried about my family and friends because I couldn’t see them in person. When the lockdown in Thailand ended and it was deemed safe, I could go out to meet my friends too. At least, before I started drowning in term papers and assignments from mid-July to early-August since that was when the spring semester was wrapping up.
During those hell weeks, I found out I somehow had one milk tooth left and it hurt, so after I submitted my last term paper, I went to the dentist and had it removed. It was my first dental extraction and I had to endure the pain for a few more days after that, but luckily, the milk tooth was in a position no one could see and doesn’t affect me when I talk or open my mouth. The dentist said I would need orthodontics later though and I should get it after graduating and returning to Bangkok permanently. Not looking forward to the pain and the price, but it is necessary…
And in hindsight, having my milk tooth removed back then is a good thing because I was still in Thailand. If my milk tooth hurt in Japan, I would struggle for sure because I can’t speak much Japanese and would need an interpreter or an English-speaking dentist. I also heard making an appointment with doctors in general is hard in Japan and during COVID-19, it becomes even harder.
(Special cameo by my most favorite Pokemon, Dragonite.)
August-September was summer break, but the break was almost non-existent. With only a few days’ break after submitting my last term paper for the spring semester, the summer intensive courses began. I decided to take four online courses because I thought I would be at home in Bangkok and might as well earn the required credits this year.
Each intensive course lasted one week (Monday to Friday). Three of my courses were offered for consecutive three weeks and the term papers/exam were due almost back to back, so it was tough. Each intensive course ran for 4.5-6 hours per day too. Though there were 15-minute breaks every 1.5 hour and lunch breaks, the fatigue was inevitable.
But after finishing my first intensive course in mid-August, I got an urgent email from my university. Japan started accepting re-entry and the university would offer one bus ride from Narita Airport area to Nagoya in September for stranded students. Since there are currently no direct flights from Bangkok to Nagoya and private transportation must be arranged for all arrivals at the airports, I decided to grab this opportunity. Luckily, the bus ride was offered in the only week I was free from intensive course (between my third and last intensive courses).
Then it was a rush to prepare for my departure while I was tackling my second and third intensive courses. I had to miss one class to apply for re-entry at the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok, but my professor was understanding and the Embassy let my younger brother pick up my documents, so I could complete my intensive courses. The plan went like this: the bus arranged by my university would pick up stranded students on September 11 and take us to Nagoya, so I would leave Bangkok early in the morning on September 9 (no flights from Thailand to Narita on September 10) and stay for two nights at a hotel near Narita Airport. After arriving in Nagoya, students would have to quarantine themselves at their own apartments or dorms for two weeks.
But three days before my flight, while working on term papers, my laptop started acting up more often. Actually, it had been freezing a few times during online lectures since a few weeks before, but then it started to freeze even when I was merely using Word. Turned out it was hard disk problem, so I had to buy a new laptop although my previous one was only two years old. I spent that night backing up data from my quickly deteriorating laptop.
Two days before my flight, I took the COVID-19 test in the morning (test result within 72 hours before arrival was required). Some of my friends and acquaintances said the swab test was painful for them, so I was worried, but I guess I got a gentle nurse and it didn’t hurt. It did feel weird and uncomfortable though. In the afternoon, I finally finished all assignments.
I packed one day before my flight, but in the evening, my parents noticed my suitcase was cracked. We didn’t have a suitcase big enough left and, due to my stupid oversight, had to buy a new one right away because my flight would leave around 7.30am the next day.
But the morning of my flight on September 9, I woke up around 4am to a flight cancellation email due to aircraft maintenance. The email was sent after midnight… I had to go to Narita Airport for the university bus, but there were only flights to Haneda Airport. Considering how my COVID-19 test result would become invalid on September 10 and the bus departure on September 11, I had no choice but to book a flight to Haneda Airport that would arrive within the next morning. I spent that day emailing university officers and other related people about my situations, booking a new flight, and arranging (bloody expensive) chartered car from Haneda Airport to Narita Airport since I wasn’t allowed to use public transportation.
Finally, I could board the evening flight to Haneda Airport on September 9. My family and I were very relieved when we arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport without receiving flight cancellation emails…
And it felt surreal to see Suvarnabhumi Airport almost deserted.
The sunrise above the Land of Rising Sun was its usual beautiful self, no indications of the abnormal state down below all over the world.
After going through the longer than usual airport procedures, I took the chartered car (they also installed a transparent partition between the driver and the passengers as a preventive measure) and moved onto the hotel near Narita Airport. The next day, I boarded the bus arranged by my university to Nagoya. The bus ride was more than seven hours long, but it was my first bus ride from Tokyo to Nagoya, so I took this opportunity to enjoy the view. I also got to see Mount Fuji again after a few years.
Now I am one month and a half into the fall semester. In Japan, there are still new confirmed cases every day and since the temperature is dropping and there are surges of new cases in the colder prefectures, we probably have to brace ourselves for the third wave soon. I am not sure if the coming winter will bring changes in policies, but for now, Japan is still trying to stick to “business as usual”. It is good that most people are taking precautions by wearing masks and washing hands, but I would say we have to be more careful in general what with the higher risks in winter.
As for my graduate school, most courses I am taking are experimenting with hybrid classes, where the professors conduct classes offline and online at the same time for students in and outside Japan. It was even more difficult than the 100% online classes last semester, but this is to accommodate all students, including those who started experiencing mental problems due to online classes.
I have been very busy and had to neglect this blog for four months, but I will try to get my life together. Hopefully, I can manage a new post every month if I am not suffering too much from reading materials and assignments.
2020 has been the most difficult year in a long while and I am aware that there are many other people who are less fortunate and suffering more. Apart from the pandemic, there are a lot of political movements going on in many parts of the world, including the fight for democracy and humanity in Thailand. Injustice and violation against human rights by tyrant political leaders and selfish elites under problematic regimes have become exacerbated and more obvious than ever in these chaotic times. Let’s not forget to do whatever we can, even if our parts may be small. I am no influencer, but if you have reached the end of this post, you can learn more about and show support for pro-democracy movements in Thailand as well as other countries in the links below:
P.S. As a token of remembrance for the online classes on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, I will add a collage of all backgrounds I have used here after the pandemic ends/my last online class is over. I have too much fun using various backgrounds from NCT MVs and Pokemon games.
This post is also part of the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge (week #122: The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow).
2 thoughts on “Remembrance 2020: From Bangkok to Nagoya (Via Tokyo)”
Goodness me, that was an amazing story! Big kudos to you and your family for working through all of the issues along the way, especially the death of your laptop! Wishing you well in your studies now that you have safely arrived, and thanks for sharing with us.
This is a very late reply, but I have been so busy and couldn’t really check my blog. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leaving me kind words! It is the last day of the year in Japan now and I wish you a Happy New Year in advance. Wish you a happier and healthier 2021 and please stay safe.
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