Lessons in kindness and generosity

Camas resident details her recent trip to Japan

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Uta Zuendel received this postcard wishing her "happy birthday" from a group of elementary school students she met in Hamamatsu, Japan,

Camas resident Uta Zuendel recently traveled to Japan, and what she discovered touch her life in ways she never expected.Originally from Germany, Zuendel said it was her first visit to the island nation in Asia.

“People would ask me, ‘why do you want to go?’” she said. “I would say, ‘I am eager to see how other people live and how other nations conduct themselves.’”

During the Camas Sister City trip to Hamamatsu, Taki and Kyoto, Zuendel and her companion Francher Donaldson, as well as the six other delegates, experienced the “official” parts of the trip through stops at historic sites, businesses, municipal buildings and schools.

But they also got a taste of the personal side of Japanese life through stays with host families. They returned in awe of their observations of the people’s kindness and selflessness.

“[The hosts] went out of their way to show us ‘their’ Japan,” Zuendel said. “The trip was more than nice. It was amazing. While I was there, I was impressed with so many things.”

In particular, she was moved by the children. While staying with Tadashi Ishida, her host in Hamamatsu, Zuendel walked a group of the community’s first- and second-graders to school each morning. She described the experience as one of several “precious moments.”

“They were absolutely disciplined, courteous, respectful and eager to follow instructions,” she said.

Zuendel was touched deeply when more than a month after returning home, she received a postcard from the young group wishing her a “happy birthday.”

“I have no idea how they even found out it was my birthday,” she said. “I still get goose bumps thinking about it.”

Zuendel continued by saying she was amazed by the Japanese people’s generosity. Among the mementoes presented to her during the trip was a hand-woven kimono. A retired banker who was her host in Taki presented Zuendel, an artist, with ginkgo wood from a Japanese temple so she could create a sculpture from it. After returning home, she sent him a sculpture she had made from American cherry wood.

The first Camas Sister City relationship was established with Hosoe, Japan, (now known as Hamamatsu) more than 30 years ago. The trip in November, which also included delegates Lloyd and Ulrike Halverson, Jim and Pat Edwards, and Ken and LaDene Mattson, marked the 31-year anniversary.

Zuendel said the primary lessons she took from the experience were simple, but profound.

“No matter where you go, people are really the same. We all basically want the same things out of life,” she said. “We can learn from each other.”