Saturday, November 7, 2009

Australian Connection

"Shirley, my heartfelt condolence to you in the passing of Dick. I know he was a fighter and persevered through adversity. I admired his courage. My sympathy to you, Shirley, who took care of him 'til the last. We lived during the same war days and shared moments of joys after the war. Our life paths met in Nagasaki in the l980s. We were good friends ever since. Praying peace in his soul." - Rio (sent March 6, 2009)


Encountering people when traveling sometimes brings you a life-time friend and lots of joy. I met Dick and Shirley in Nagasaki, Japan in the mid '80s. I was then visiting my sister-in-law in Kyushu from the U.S. Usually, I made quick U-turns, but I had one free day to spare alone and decided to visit Nagasaki, the second city hit by an A-Bomb. I've been to Hiroshima but not to Nagasaki.

Upon arriving at the Nagasaki Station, I jumped on the sightseeing bus that was already moving. I stumbled into the rear seat. I felt at ease to see a foreign couple there and we exchanged nods. We were the only foreign visitors on the bus. The woman bus guide spoke in Japanese. I served as a translator for the couple as we cruised Nagasaki. I found that Nagasaki is the No. 1 city in Kyushu visited by foreign visitors today, so plenty of translators should be serving these days, I'm sure.

I remember our bus first visited Nagasaki's Hypocenter Park, where we saw a 10 meter tall (30 ft) young man's bronze statue, surrounded by an orderly gallery of peace monuments given as gifts from numerous foreign countries and sister cities of Nagasaki, including St. Paul, Minnesota, Middleburg, Netherlands, and Santos, Brazil. The central bronze statue took 10 years to build by the city of Nagasaki at a cost of 30 million yen (donation came from Japanese citizens) for the statue and another 20 million yen (budgeted by Nagasaki) for the statue foundation.
Sculptor Seibo Kitamura was quoted as saying, "I wanted to create a sage, towering like a mountain, seen as god or as Buddha as the case may be, I wanted him healthy and brawny." His right hand points towards the heaven, signifying the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, his left hand is extended outward symbolizing the continuous quest for peace.

The bus then took us to see a bit of Temple Row and China Town and the last stop was the former residence and garden of Thomas Glover* (1838-1911). We walked together inside the garden, and to the "Oura" Catholic Church nearby. During this day trip, I found out husband Dick was raised in Pennsylvania, went to the Korean War, and moved to Australia after retiring from the U.S. Army. We exchanged names and addresses.

We started writing to each other, but my letters were answered always by Shirley. I found out she was a court reporter. Answering my handwritten letters, she typed her letters always on "air-mailers." They were very professionally typed and I showed them to my American secretaries as a great example of a speed-written memo.

Topics of our casual exchanges started with the trees native or quasi-native to Australia. The Jacaranda is one, Moreton Bay Fig is another. I saw Jacarandas in Southern California for the first time. Jacarandas served as a substitute tree to cherry blossoms for us Japanese. I learned Jacaranda is native to Brazil but we also can find it in South Africa, Australia, Okinawa, Taiwan, etc. Shirley told me there is a Jacaranda festival in Queensland.

Moreton Bay Fig is a big tree, like the Banyan tree in the Lahaina Court House Square in Hawaii, and became a landmark tree in South California, namely Santa Barbara and San Diego. Shirley wrote back there is a beach actually named "Moreton Bay," in northern Brisbane, where they live. I dreamed that some day I would visit there.

My dream came true in the late '90s. My first visit to the country Down Under. I flew into Brisbane and flew out of Melbourne. I took the train between the two airports, stopping over at Grafton for the Jacaranda Festival and toured Sydney with the help of Dick and Shirley. In Brisbane, they offered me their son's room. They drove me to Moreton Bay, where Brisbane River drains into, and to Manly and Scarborough, both noted for their boat harbors, facing the off-shore Moreton Island National Park. The island is shaped like a battledore or a Chinese broadsword, about 20 kilometers in length from north to south, featuring the world's tallest sand dunes. Captain Matthew Flinders (1799-1802) explored the area on his Norfolk ship and left an accurate bay chart. Brisbane celebrated a Bicentennial Anniversary in 2002 for Flinders. I had an opportunity to attend their son Robert's commencement from college before leaving.

Dick showed me his authentic DX equipment in his den, his QSL (Quebec Sign Language) VK4DIC calling card and a towering antenna he erected by himself in his backyard. He had requested certain replacement parts and magazines from the U.S. specialty stores while I was in the U.S., so I knew about his life hobby and introduced him to some of my Japanese DXing friends. Shirley wrote that he continued to call "Greetings from Queensland, Australia" until his dying day, maintaining good friendship with his many "airwave" friends.

Dick liked to wear Japanese split toe "Tabi Socks" in the house. Once he got used to it, he was unable to do without it. About two years ago, Shirley sent me an email as follows:

Dick and I brought back lots of the slippers from Japan years ago. At long last Dick has run out of them. He wears them in the house, so I call them “slippers.” He calls them “thongs” because he says they can be worn outside the house. They are black for men and white for women. The material that they are made of is cotton with slightly tougher material on the bottom. They have four small metal tabs at the back of the part of the slipper that is over the ankle. On these small metal tabs Dick found the number “10” which may have indicated size. They are made in such a way that the big toe is individually covered and the other four toes are covered together.

I remembered Dick was quite agile in the Tabi socks. I sent them spare Tabis quickly as my personal gifts, confirming the size. It's the same size that I use.

After retiring as the court reporter, Shirley became active in the Shirley Club organization not only for Australia but also New Zealand. This organization consists of ladies all named Shirley and they get together every two years for a convention. Shirley said, as per Guinness Book of World Records, the Maria Club is No. 1 with about 500 members followed by the Shirley Club with about 300 members. At one convention Shirley had the biggest attendance of 230. Shirley, serving as secretary, has been busy in sending out birthday cards, membership newsletters, etc.

Shirley and Dick were visiting the U.S. almost every year. My wife and I were doing the same so I wanted to have a special reunion maybe in California or Hawaii. One time we were close to realizing our plan but it did not happen. I also looked forward to seeing them this summer because Toastmasters was planning to meet in Sydney but canceled suddenly. It would have been the first convention in Toastmasters history taking place outside of North America. One of the reasons for cancellation may have been the worldwide depression.

(To be continued)

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