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A Bhutanese recounts his first journey to Japan

It was around end of February 1989.  Paro was still cold.

Dasho Keiji Nishioka tried to arrange a farm machinery design course for Chetem Wangchen, 50, in Japan. Dasho Keiji Nishioka talked with the agriculture ministry, arranged tickets and sent two employees of the Agriculture Machinery Centre to Japan.

Chetem Wangchen, who is today a farm mechanisation specialist at the Agriculture Machinery Centre, Paro recalls his first journey to Japan. He had wished to go to Japan since his school days.

“It was an experience from the start of the journey,” Chetem Wangchen said.

The airport office was the size of a small bungalow. The two of them were thrilled with the thought of going to Japan, and went early morning to the airport.

“My friend requested to give him a seat by the window,” he said. The person at the counter smiled and said: “Sure, you’re our very special guest.”

There were no security or immigration checks then and they walked straight to the aircraft. A few passengers and the pilot were standing by the Dornier plane in the cold. They quietly joined the group and soaked in the on-going conversation.

About half an hour later the pilot looked at his watch, then turned to the passengers and asked: “Shall we go?” There was no fixed timing for flights then.

Slowly they entered the plane. “We’re really excited because we’re going to Japan. Once inside, we found that all passengers were special passengers. In the plane there were only two rows of seats and both were by the window,” Chetem Wangchen said.

Once the plane became stable, the person next to the pilot, most probably a stewardress, pushes a carton full of Coca Cola and Thumbs Up down the aisle and yelled, “Hey, help yourself!”

The passengers in the front seat take a bottle each and push the carton further down the aisle to those behind them. One of them said, “Help yourself.”

The duo disembarked at Kolkatta, India and boarded the Indian Airlines to Delhi.

However, on reaching the Japanese Embassy in Delhi the next day, they discovered that there was no training for them.

“If the training is confirmed then the air ticket will come automatically from Japan; you’re not going to Japan,” an official told them. However, he asked them to come the following day.

“We’re disappointed that the training was not going to happen but we were still happy that we came until Delhi,” Chetem said.

On the third day, the embassy official said that the tickets have arrived.

The Tsukuba Agriculture Centre usually took 10 participants for the training annually but because the two of them have travelled half way already, the centre made an exception and accepted them. The centre took in 13 participants that year including a Brazilian official who had come under similar circumstances.

“It was like going on a holiday with a large international group,” Chetem said.

One day in Japan, the two of them went to buy a notebook. Chetem took a book to the salesperson at the counter but the person would not sell him the book. “She shook her head and put it back on the rack.” He took it again and she put it back yet again.

His friend who understood Japanese language a little better got a hint of what she was trying to say. The woman was saying that the book was meant for children.

In another incident, Chetem went to buy a camera at a supermarket. After getting a camera he asked for a spare battery. The salesperson asked why he wanted a spare battery. He was returning to Bhutan after eight months so he would not get a spare battery.

The salesperson said that in eight months even the battery would discharge and  that there was no use buying it.

“An important lesson I learnt was that unlike in other places, in Japan they will not push the customer to buy if it is not meant for him,” Chetem Wangchen said. “Such character is good and rare.”

Chetem Wangchen is a member of Japan Alumni Association of Bhutan.

Tshering Palden

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