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Crossing the Borders of Singapore and Japan - Interview With Lineng Tee (President of JETAA Singapore)

In this edition of Kizuna Story, JCC speaks to Lineng Tee, the President of JETAA (The Japan Teaching and Exchange Programme Alumni Association) Singapore. Learn more about what JETAA Singapore do, and her experience from the JET Programme.

How did you get to know about JET Programme? When and why did you participate, and what did you do in Japan under the programme?

I had spent time volunteering and teaching in Singapore and several Asian countries, and was ready to tackle ESL (English as a Second Language) on a more official basis. One winter’s day, while sitting in a friend’s home in The Netherlands, I decided to apply for the JET Programme because even my Dutch friend was crazy about Japan. I thought it was time to see Japan for myself, and one of my ex-colleagues had recently told me about this opportunity to live and work in Japan.

I was in Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture from 2011-2014 as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at a senior high school. Many students were smarter than I am and studious, so they were mostly interested in and good at English. I was in charge of the English Speaking Society and speech contests, and created lessons for English as a World Language.

I play the violin and have training in theatre, so I helped coach the strings club and the drama club. I think my Japanese improved the fastest during club activities because there was so much new vocabulary to learn.

I also organised English seminars, wrote articles for the local publication for JET participants and taught English to retirees (although they taught me more about life than I could ever teach them anything in English).

On a nationwide level, I had the opportunity to be a Tokyo Orientation Assistant, was the fashion editor at AJET magazine, and volunteered with the AJET Peer Support Group. Of course, during vacation time I had the opportunity to see more of Japan by air, land and sea. Being on the JET Programme also meant that I got to know ALTs and CIRs from around the world, some of whom I’m still in close contact with.

I took part in the school marathon twice

Helping to promote Fuji Five Lakes to tourists

Helping with rescue efforts after the tsunami

Did your perception about Japan change after you participated in the JET Programme?

I had never been to Japan before the JET Programme, so I did not know much, except that Japanese ladies seemed elegant, salarymen seemed hardworking and there was pride in work whether it’s food preparation, cleaning or creating a product/service.

All of that turned out to be true, but mostly I’m thankful that I got to live in - instead of merely visit - Japan. Three years gave me sufficient time to make lifelong friends and a working understanding of the country. In 2019, I actually drove around the Chiba countryside as I had seen an akiya (vacant house) for sale and was seriously considering the possibility of becoming a Bed and Breakfast owner.

Please introduce JETAA Singapore and your role as the President. How do you bridge the relationship between Singapore and Japan after coming back to Singapore?

I have to thank everyone who came before me—for setting up JETAA SG, and for doing fine work all these years, that help maintain relations and connections with JETs here and in Japan. We also have wonderful and understanding counterparts at the Embassy of Japan in Singapore, the Japan Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (J.CLAIR) Singapore and the Japanese Association, Singapore.

JETAA SG’s official purpose is to maintain and advance the cohesion of former participants of the JET Programme in Singapore, to promote the Programme itself, and to assist in advancing the relationship between Singapore and Japan.

As the President, I think my role is to be the public face of the Association, but I have marvellous counsel and support from the VP, Secretary and Treasurer. It’s a team effort, whether promoting Japan-related news/events or planning social events.

We have had to move key events such as Pre-Departure Orientation and JET Information Sessions to the virtual space due to Covid-19. The current JETAA SG Board has been fortunate to receive the support of our talented and passionate members, who enthusiastically participate in new initiatives like JETogether, a monthly online heart-to-heart session. Where possible, we have outdoor or physical activities like JET OUT!, where we go hiking, or our recently concluded taiko session and excursion to the Japanese Film Festival.

We’re hoping to start a new Instagram series featuring former SG JET participants who have built lives in Japan instead of returning to Singapore, and to create more interaction opportunities between Singaporeans and Japanese living in Singapore. I hope that the JET Programme and JETAA SG can continue provide beautiful memories and experiences for generations of Singaporeans to come.

Facilitating a pre-Covid JETAA SG sharing session

Virtual event with J.CLAIR, EOJ/JCC and JETAA SG

Are you involved in any other Japan-related projects?

My friends and former colleagues from Yamanashi have visited Singapore over the years, and now one of the businesses I work closely with sells halal Japanese bentos, and there are plans to increase the number of menu items. I’ve been trying to convince two of my contacts in Japan to start a service helping newcomers to Japan navigate life. Perhaps I should think about doing the same for Japanese who are recent arrivals to Singapore!

I’m still pretty poor at the Japanese language, but when I have time I plan itineraries for friends who wish to see Japan through the eyes of a local. I’m hoping that JETAA SG can help organise a mini-Japanese festival once the pandemic stabilises. I’ve found that there is a wider reach and concrete volunteerism by being a part of the JETAA SG Board.

What do you like about Japan? What is your favorite place or food in Japan?

I really appreciate how Japan has something for everyone, whether you are into music, technology, traditions, food, festivals or world heritage sites.

I am fortunate to have visited almost all 47 prefectures, but Nara will always have a special place in my heart because there’s something in the air that somehow smells or feels romantic, ancient and full of secrets.

In terms of food, I remember going on road trips to seek out delicious unagi and sashimi in Shizuoka and Tokyo, courtesy of my gourmand Japanese friends. I also like junk food – I love korokke (Japanese croquette) and Ramen Jiro with yasai mashi ninniku mashi (extra vegetable and garlic toppings).

Have you been influenced by Japanese culture?

Definitely. Often times after meetings or events, I want to say otsukare sama deshita (thank you for your hard work). One of the rooms in my home was designed to have the effect of komorebi - it’s hard to describe the joy and peace of seeing dappled/filtered sunlight through the leaves and blinds. I’ve always been introverted and interested in the ephemeral, but I think I have a deeper appreciation of wabi sabi and wa (harmony) after my time in Japan.

Any message or hope towards the relationship between Japan and Singapore?

2021 is SJ55—the 55th anniversary of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relations. Singapore has a deep, heady love affair with Japan and influences from Japanese culture can be found all over the island. I think Singaporeans and Japanese get along well, as we share similar values and strong work ethic. We also love food and travelling! I’m very sure that anyone who has lived or worked in Japan or Singapore, or has family from either country, deeply treasures the precious kizuna (bond). Hopefully, SJ60 will be a less muted affair with fewer restrictions so we can proudly and loudly celebrate the friendship Japan and Singapore share.

Creating a bamboo structure with the Art Club

Cooking with Japanese friends

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