"We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospect."
Just after Jason McAteer slammed the ball into the back of the Dutch net in Lansdowne road on 1 September last, I turned to Birdie who was sitting beside me in the stand and said "Japan, here I come." Ireland still had to beat Iran in the final qualifier, but this last test was passed successfully.
As I travelled across Asia I wrote up this diary almost daily on an old laptop. I embellished my impressions with snippets from newspapers and magazines and whatever I happened to be reading at the time. The laptop was stolen in Bangkok, along with my digital camera. However, I must have had a premonition that something like this would happen because I had uploaded all the files to the Internet, and burned all the photos onto a CD, just a few days before the items were stolen, so in fact I lost only the photos taken in north-east Malaysia and southern Thailand.
Singapore and Indonesia
I had been to these places two years ago, ending up in Bali. This time around I wanted to visit a less touristy island, and Madura fitted the bill admirably. I felt I was the only foreigner on the island!
Before leaving Dublin I read "The Japan Diaries of Richard Gordon Smith" (London, Viking/Rainbird 1986), which covers the period 1898-1907. Gordon Smith's diary, illustrated with pictures and odds and ends picked up on his travels, encouraged me to keep a diary in this format. During the trip I read the relevant sections of Lonely Planet's "Japan" and "Pink Samurai: The Pursuit and Politics of Sex in Japan" by Nicholas Bornoff.
Gordon Smith's Japan exists no longer, except in the imagination, an idyllic landscape populated with ghosts. Most of the older pictures in the Japanese pages are scanned from Richard Gordon Smith's book. In doing this I wanted to draw a comparison, at least visually, between that long-vanished Japan, still opening up to the West, and the Japan of today, the most technologically advanced country in the world.
I ended up here simply because Ireland's game in the second round was in Seoul. The trip proved to be very worthwhile.
I had seen a little of the south of the country two years ago, so this time around I took the opportunity of visiting some cities in the north. On the way I read "Malayan Postscript", an account of the fall of Singapore by Ian Morrison. I didn't have a guide-book covering the cities visited, and relied on word-of-mouth and tourist offices for information.
My original intention was to spend only a couple of days in Bangkok, then head south to the coast, but after being badly bitten on my arms (by ants or mosquitoes) I thought it best to remain in the city until my arms healed, which took over a week. Again, I didn't have a guide-book, but downloaded some information from the Internet.
The following translated verse, called The Smallness of the Earth, was transcribed by Richard Gordon Smith: