To my delight, I recently reconnected with an exchange student from Taiwan whom I knew in Singapore almost 30 years ago. We hung out for several weeks but lost touch after he returned home. There were many foreign students at my secondary school and university. Some were there on short exchanges, while others did full courses of study. Malaysians made up the majority, but there were also students from Indonesia, Thailand, even mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. While strong bonds were formed when we were students, it was a time before email and social media. Very soon, distance and “real life” took over, and friendships were filed away as memories. That is, until I received an out-of-the-blue friend request on Facebook. More than a millennium ago, when China was a cultural powerhouse, a standing that present-day Chinese in their pursuit of “soft power” are assiduously trying to reclaim, people from neighbouring states and beyond came to be schooled in all manner of its cultural offerings. For Japanese scholars and noblemen who visited China during the Tang dynasty (618-907), Buddhism was one of the most important cultural exports (or re-exports, given that the religion originated in the Indian subcontinent) they took home. While Buddhism might have arrived in Japan as early as the late fifth century, it remained an academic pursuit that was the preserve of erudite priests and the ruling elite. By the Heian period (794-1185), however, two Buddhist sects, the Tendai and Shingon, imported from China in the early ninth century had come to dominate religion in Japan. Buddhism cannot be China’s soft power when its origins are Indian Saicho (767-822) was a Buddhist monk whose intelligence found favour with Emperor Kammu, who sent him to study in China. Arriving in 804, he spent the next two years in Guoqing Temple, on Mount Tiantai, the headquarters of the Tiantai sect of Buddhism, which was one of the first schools of Buddhism to break from the original Indian religion to form an indigenous Chinese tradition. After returning to Japan in 805, Saicho used what he had learned to found the Tendai sect, “Tendai” being the Japanese pronunciation of “Tiantai”, a school of Buddhism noted for its inclusiveness and popular appeal. The Tendai sect was influential in Japanese history and it remains so today, being the source of multiple Buddhist traditions in Japan. On the same state-sponsored study mission as Saicho, but travelling on a different ship, was the Buddhist monk Kukai (774-835). While the former stayed near the east coast of China, Kukai ventured further inland, all the way to Changan (present-day Xian), the imperial capital of China. There he studied Buddhist scriptures and Sanskrit, and eventually met his teacher Huiguo, who initiated him into the esoteric Buddhist tradition. After he returned to Japan, Kukai founded a school that came to be known as the Shingon (the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word zhenyan , the Chinese translation of “mantra”). Shingon is known for its elaborate rituals and the chanting of sacred utterances, and it remains an important Buddhist sect in Japan to this day. Be it the ancient world or contemporary times, such international interactions are valuable not just for the intellectual exchanges of ideas, but also the personal relationships that result. With the array of communication tools available to us today, there is really no excuse not to stay in touch any more. Unless one does not want to.