BY NELSON NG
我選擇住在一家叫 Guesthouse Maya ( Maya 指的是神戶的摩耶山）的民宿因為它剛好離碼頭很近。這家民宿位於灘，一個我沒去過的區域。雖然離三宮駅只有兩站，但灘感覺完全不一樣。這個區域非常平靜非常當地，普滿了小店、家具店、畫廊、面包店還有一些喫茶店。附近的商店街也跟三宮很不一樣，非常當地而且到處都是老人。這個街區非常舒服和悠閑，人非常少，生活節奏也非常慢。在那裏，我感覺自己不必著急，也發現自己好像已經很久沒有這樣不擔心時間了。
It seems so long ago when I first decided to make a trip to Kobe to cycle round the island of Awaji. Since there was a ferry from Shanghai to Kobe, it was really convenient to bring along a bicycle without having to dismantle it for a flight. I had been wanting to bring my bicycle to Japan for a long time, and it finally felt like the right time to do it.
Until suddenly, out of nowhere, everything happened.
Two days before I was supposed to board the ferry, the Wuhan lockdown was announced. The news came really suddenly and abruptly. Fortunately, the ferry to Kobe wasn’t cancelled, but on the day I had to cycle to the ferry terminal, the sky was dark and there was a storm. It didn’t give a good feeling, and it took me a bit of effort to cycle against the weather. At the ferry terminal, I could begin to sense the unease from the passengers. At that time, I think everyone was still only beginning to react to the news, and didn’t quite know what to make of it yet. During the 48 hours at sea, the situation in Wuhan and China escalated, which I continued to follow via the internet on my mobile phone even though I was out in the open sea. There was a brief 12 hour-window where I couldn’t get any internet, but whenever I was connected, the articles would pour in, and I could sense the panic and distress being shared on social media. The ferry ride, however, was rather peaceful and people were fairly quiet. Perhaps, like myself, everyone was just digesting the news.
48 hours later, we arrived in Kobe. The sun was shining brightly, the air felt clean, and people were just getting on with their lives. The weather was beautiful, and for a brief moment, I forgot about the coronavirus. It felt like a different world, a world where there the virus didn’t exist. Upon arrival, I cycled happily around Sannomiya, enjoying the blue skies and pretty streets of Kobe. I put the coronavirus matter behind me, believing it will be over by the time I returned to Shanghai after my trip. I was in a holiday mood, and so I tried not to let anything negative affect me.
I chose to stay at a place called Guesthouse Maya (named after Mount Maya) in an area called Nada because it was near the Kobe Ferry Terminal. I didn’t know anything about the area, so going there for the first time was quite a surprise. Even though it was only two stops away from Sannomiya by JR train, Nada felt like a completely different place. It was a very quiet and local neighbourhood, mostly filled with small shops, furniture shops, galleries, bakeries and traditional cafes.The local shopping street nearby was also quite different from Sannomiya. It was super local and there were a lot of old people hanging out, which was really nice. It was a very comfortable and pleasant neighbourhood—it wasn’t crowded at all, and the pace of life was really slow. Being there, I could take my time to do things, which made me realise that I haven’t taken my time in a long time.
Just as I was getting immersed into my new surroundings, on the second day, I learned that my return ferry was cancelled, and had to find another way to bring my bicycle back. The news made me a little unsettled, and for the next few days, I began researching and finding ways to pack my bicycle onto a plane. I decided to check out several bicycle shops in Kobe to find a bicycle bag. Coincidentally, these bicycle shops were located in really local areas around Kobe, and in the process of looking for them I explored these areas as well. They weren’t anything special, just local residential areas where I saw old people playing chess in parks, children running around in playgrounds, and local residents buying groceries at the markets. It wasn’t the usual stuff I’d be checking out on a trip, but somehow, it was soothing to see all this. Over here, the world still felt safe.
On the fifth day, I set off for my cycling trip on Awaji Island. It was quite a journey cycling from Kobe to the ferry terminal in Akashi, taking the ferry across, and then finally cycling on Awaji Island itself. The island was really quiet and empty in most areas—there just wasn’t many people around. Other than the few towns that were there, it was mostly just trees and mountains. It was beautiful and felt unaffected and untouched by the outside world. I cycled down south along the coast, taking in the beautiful views of the sea and the sky. I’ve been to Japan quite a few times now, but I honestly never get tired of the scenery. When I get to see such beautiful scenery, it’s like witnessing a miracle—I can’t help but feel blessed and thankful to be alive, but most of all, I envy the Japanese people for being so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. Do the locals who live there feel lucky to have such beautiful scenery everyday, or do they take it for granted since it happens every day? I wonder.
My cycling trip in Awaji was pretty mundane. It wasn’t anything spectacular or exciting. All I did was cycle around the island for four days, covering more than 200km, eating whenever I felt hungry, and taking photos whenever I saw something interesting. Most of the time I would stop at random locations on the island to take in the scenery, observe the local people and their normal day life. Everyday I did my best to catch the sunrise and sunset, grabbed every chance to look at the sea along the coast, slowly tasted the flavours of the island, and studied the different trees and shapes of the mountains. Most people would have found it boring, but not for me.
Maybe I’m just weird for feeling strong emotions over such ordinary things like the sea, the blue skies and the mountains.
During this time, I was still always reading the news about the coronavirus epidemic back in China. I couldn’t help but feel a great disconnect between what I saw around me and what I was reading online. On Awaji, everything was serene and peaceful, and the people on the island were super chill and relaxed. Online, back in China, my friends were sharing about how they were forced to stay at home, and how people were advised not to go outside during this period. People were upset and stressed that their everyday life had been disrupted, but most of all, people were scared and worried about the future. The two worlds couldn’t be more different, but they were happening at the same time for me, online and offline, and sometimes I couldn’t tell which one was reality. I was grateful to be cycling in Awaji, but also sad that my friends in China were going through such a difficult time. All I wished was for this epidemic to be over soon so that everyone could return to their normal lives.
After I returned to Kobe, one of the staff from the guesthouse took me up to a spot on Mount Maya to see the night view of the city. There, standing above the city, I felt touched to see the bustling cityscape. I wondered if the people in the city knew what was going on back in China, and how lucky they were to be able to go about their normal day life. Even as I walked around during my last few days in Kobe, the people I interacted with seemed unaffected by whatever I was reading on social media. People were going to work, going on dates, meeting friends for coffee, shopping for clothes, and kids were running around. Life was normal there. No one was panicking. To them, they still lived in a safe and beautiful world, under beautiful skies, surrounded by the comforting ocean. And to me, for some reason, it was kind of surreal and amazing to see them carry on blissfully with ordinary life.
Maybe ordinary isn’t that ordinary after all.
When normal life is taken away from you, even ordinary things seem like miracles. Watching the streets fill up with people, enjoying a cup of coffee in a cafe, taking a walk in the afternoon sun, having a bowl of noodles in a restaurant, looking at the setting sun—all these seemingly normal things that we take for granted were suddenly not so ordinary anymore. Everything was being shut down in China, but most of all, people didn’t have the mood to enjoy a normal life. To be able to have a normal life, it means to live in a world that feels safe. And when that world is broken by fear, we realize how hard it is to get back to ordinary life. Like the blue skies, sea and mountains that I’ve come to appreciate, just because something exists or happens every day doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing. Only now, when it seems so out of reach that we realize how precious ordinary life actually is.
I don’t know why but I caught myself staring at the sky in Japan a couple of times, amazed by how beautiful the weather was, once again feeling blessed to be alive. But I always wondered if people back in China saw it too.
Then again, don’t we all live under the same sky?