In high school, I worked at the only Chinese restaurant in my very humble town called “Hunan Village.” I neither knew what, or where, Hunan was at the time.
Fast forward six years later, and I meet the inspiration for my foray into China: a man named Chen. Through our friendship, he inspired me to not only self-study Mandarin in Japan, but also to study abroad in Beijing and later take the plunge and move to Shanghai. Honestly, without Chen, China wouldn’t even be a part of my life.
How in God’s Name did I hear about this virtually unknown trail, the Kumano Kodo?
Well, I first stumbled upon this off-the-beaten-path pilgrimage when I worked for the Japanese government and found this photo on a pamphlet:
Something about it captivated me. Maybe it was the bizarre costume/pilgrimage outfit that is so ancient, even my knowledge from four years of Japanese language and culture classes left me in the dark. Perhaps the fact that it was one of only two UNESCO recognized pilgrimages in the world appealed to me, and I was dying to check ‘pilgrimage’ off the bucket list.
I stepped off the train platform at Takamatsu station, awash in nostalgia. Five years ago I found myself at this very same bus and train station housed in the city’s harbor. I was struck first by the smell of crisp and raw ocean air washing over me. The brilliant blue sky reflected the ocean surrounding the island. Unlike the streets of Tokyo, the people here walked at a slower pace, a smile on their face, with a peaceful calm floating over the city.
I was so grateful to return to one of Japan’s most charming small cities: Takamatsu.
After two months of silence: I’m finally back on U.S. soil.
After suffering through China’s excruciating internet (wow, did it get WAAAY worse in the last two years, and hats off to fellow expats still suffering through it), I am finally able to wordpress and Google photos freely (and thus update this little blog).
I traveled extensively for six weeks throughout China and Japan–and believe me, I have A LOT to write about. I’m very excited to get some posts out in the upcoming days and weeks. It was great to be a nomad traveler again, donning a backpack and whizzing from place to place for days on end.
Spending Christmas abroad is tough business. I don’t really know how to put it into words, but something is just missing in the air. Maybe it’s the commercialism. Maybe it’s the exchange of presents, the Christmas parties, or even the cheesy songs on the radio.
Probably, it’s just the plain and simple fact that no one gives a crap about Christmas in Asia.
As I often mention on here, my life in Niigata was different from the typical foreigner. I was extremely isolated. Due to various falling outs with other foreigners, I was all alone. I had no one to share Christmas with.
Every year, Japanese citizens vote for a Chinese character (or kanji) to describe the events of the year and display it at the temple above.
This year’s character?
Safe. Secure. Stable.
When asked about the choice of character, many Japanese were quick to turn it into a negative.
“I think of 不安 (restless, worried),” said one woman. “With the state the world is in, everything feels so uncertain.”
Others said the decision of the character 安 was a result of the recently passed security law (or the 安全保障法制), which has allowed Japan to actively participate in wars as a military power, much to the chagrin of the Japanese nationals.
Life was good. I had just scored my dream job of being an interpreter at a prestigious advertising agency, and I was finally making money after my horrible student experience at Shanghai International Studies University. I was on top of the world.
The first thing I did with my paycheck was put down a deposit and pay three months rent for my “new” apartment in Shanghai. After living in the dorms for six months, I was elated. I could finally have a place to call my own and move back to city center Shanghai.
When I lived in Japan, the most fascinating stories I heard were from none other than the grannies and grandpas. They held no reservations and talked openly and freely about their memories, their thoughts, and their opinions. And since I was an American, they often told me stories about World War II. They weren’t negative or hateful stories, but merely tales told from the depths of their memories. Memories from a time long past. A Japan that no longer existed.
“I remember listening to the radio with my family, about possible air raids from America and instructions for going to the shelters,” one of my adopted grandmothers said as she set up dinner for us, a feast of Japanese oden, tempura, miso soup and fish. “I was so scared!”
So, it’s final. In September I’ll be a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding in Brussels. My plans for attending the wedding have been in the works for months, but finally I’ve booked all of the plane tickets and hotels, which makes it official.
After almost a year of not traveling, I’m finally going to Europe!
Yet, as I started thinking about wedding preparations I found myself at a loss…
Are French/Belgian weddings the same as American ones? What is considered a ‘good’ wedding gift? How do they work? Is it ceremony and then reception, or is there some sort of legal service in between?