As I predicted, the USA’s turn for COVID-19 has finally rounded the corner and we are on track to join our Italian brothers on a viral free-for-all. We have Trump to thanks for that; but hey, that’s an entirely different post.
In an effort to keep the economy afloat while enacting quarantine, many companies are asking their employees to work from home. In the glorious age of the internet, all of us are making the ‘virtual’ our new norm.
Infero. It was a fitting name for our July trip to Italy because we were going to Florence, the hometown of the writer Dante and his works on hell. Inferno is also the name of the famous Dan Brown book featuring Robert Langdon, symbologist hero extraordinare, who ventured through the nooks and crannies of Florence and Milan to ultimately save the world.
Inferno was the perfect word to describe our late honeymoon because, well, it was hot. Really hot. Like, hotter than Dante’s inferno hot. In fact, it was so hot, it was the the hottest summer ever recorded in Europe.read more
Chances are, you have a friend, family, or coworker who has traveled to Barcelona in the last few months. Barcelona is a hot destination, especially in the winter months like February, because it’s a city with plenty of sunshine, fairly warm weather, and sandy beaches to lounge around on.
Last year everyone, including my best friend H and her husband, were fed up with winter. We had it with scraping ice off the windshield, walking around in freezing wind with rain and snow, and never seeing the sun. Our friends raved about Barcelona’s good food and weather and, after googling a few photos of Spain and Catalan cuisine (and consequently drooling on the keyboard), we ended up booking February flights for Spain.read more
Happy 2020 everyone! While this post is very tardy, I will reply with the age-old excuse: better late than never. And honestly, no one probably gives a flying crap about how my life went in 2019, but I like to write these kind of posts for myself. It’s always interesting to look back on my year-end summaries and see just how much my life has changed in 2, 5, and even 10 years (wow, this blog is so old).
Compared to my whirlwind life in 2018, I have to say that 2019 was much more “calm”…. and that’s exactly what I needed. It’s been the year to sit back and settle down (somewhat), and figure out my place in life in this new city called Portland, Oregon.read more
I was on a Delta flight and saw “Love the Way You Are,” or 我的青春都是你 as a Chinese film up for viewing. It looked like a sub-par romantic comedy, but I was surprised to find it a sweet Chinese love story that, even after the credits rolled, I still find myself thinking about it with a smile on my face. It’s definitely the best Chinese Love Story (rom-com) I’ve ever seen.
The rom-com has become a formulaic and a nearly dead genre in the West. Aside from “Crazy Rich Asians,” the rom-com has failed to make cinematic profit in decades. Hell, the genre has gone so downhill that there’s even a rom-com about how ridiculous rom-coms are.read more
I recently fulfilled my lifelong dream of going to Italy, but many (including my husband) wondered….
As many of my long-time readers know, I’m half-Vietnamese. My mom is a refugee from Vietnam and her native language is not English. While I grew up in an English speaking home, my mother struggled to adapt to her non-native tongue. Not being able to fully communicate with my mother made me feel like a stranger in my home.
Since I cannot speak Vietnamese, many of my friends often assume that I was not exposed to Vietnamese whatsoever. However, while my mom never spoke Vietnamese directly *at* me, the language was actually all around me growing up. My mom watched Vietnamese music videos and dramas constantly. In fact, whenever I hear the string of an erhu and guqin with the long winded cry of traditional Vietnamese singing, I am immediately taken back to my childhood living room. read more
Ah, seems like only yesterday I was writing about what it was like to live in Dallas, Texas. One year later here I am, in the heart of the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon. While the vibe of the Pacific Northwest is a much better match for my lifestyle and values, not everything is perfect. Here are my thoughts on Portland after two months in the city of roses:
1 – Is Portland like the TV show Portlandia?
Yes. Very much so.
This is doubly true for my particular neighborhood (east of downtown). Most restaurants are very vocal and transparent about where their produce and meat comes from; there are cute boutique shops on every corner that sell the most random stuff (including bird-stamped goods), and I’ve been in not one, but two feminist book stores within walking distance. And it’s only been two months!read more
Crazy Rich Asians broke all sorts of records. It was the first American-made film to feature an all-Asian cast. In the US alone, it pulled in over $175 million dollars–and only cost $30 million to produce. It has a 91% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes and received praise from a diverse range of audience that includes Asian-Americans, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics–and just about everyone. With such glowing praise and rave reviews, I just had to check out the movie for myself.read more
There are many moments that make up the Ruby Ronin’s 2018–but none ring louder than one word that acts as a theme to the entire year:
The Year of Texas
This time last year, I was horrified at the prospect of moving to Texas. I remember sitting in our temporary Portland, OR home, staring out the window into a sea of gloomy skies and barren winter trees, wondering why the hell I was moving to Texas. As the days nearing my move inched closer, my anxiety only grew. Portland was starting to feel like home to me. I was finally with my husband. Life was good, despite being unemployed. Why was I leaving again?
When I set foot in Dallas, I knew I wasn’t in Portland anymore. Hoodies and tattoos were replaced with leather cowboy hats and boots. In place of Portland’s public transportation and walkable streets were sprawl and traffic. My European bakeries, a dime a dozen in Portland, were now replaced by Whataburgers, Chik-fil-a and jugs of iced tea. Most of all, the trees, mountains, and nature I was so accustomed to in both California and Oregon were gone. Now on the horizon were the flat, barren plains of America’s heartland.
Still, not all was bad in Texas. The people are polite, although distant. The food is actually insanely good, and diverse. The winters are mild. The cowboy culture is kind of cool. Many of my friends came to visit, and we had a great time exploring the city. BBQ is awesome.
Overall, for me, 2018 was the year of Dallas. It’s a year I’ll never forget–both good, and bad.
The Year of the Introvert
I moved to Texas and I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t even know a friend of a friend of a friend. My husband often wasn’t here, as he still worked in Portland.
So, I tried to make friends at work–but let’s just say, it’s extremely hard to break into the circle of the South (all of my coworkers are native to Dallas or the South). I tried Meetup groups. Classes. Group outings. A few language exchange clubs. It got me out of the house, but it was socially exhausting with few rewards–I didn’t make one single friend.
One Friday, instead of agonizing about how to meet people during my days off on the weekend, I said to myself: I’m done. I’m exhausted trying to make new friends in a new community yet again. I’d rather be alone than try to befriend someone I’m simply not compatible with.
Now I go to the movies alone frequently (I’ve seen over 15 movies this year). I read books like a maniac (one per week). I go on many walks alone. Binge watch TV. Explore coffee shops. Cook elaborate meals for myself. Exercise like a maniac.
I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I’ve learned how to handle being alone for very long amounts of time. I have discovered my inner introvert.
But still, the loneliness was crippling. Worse than Japan. I hope I never have to relive this ever again.
The Year of New York
Despite forcing me to live in Dallas, all of my managers and teammates are in New York. I was flabbergasted to move to Dallas and find out that I’m actually part of a larger New York team and I’m working “remotely” from Dallas.
As a result, I flew to New York–a lot. Sometimes twice in a month. I went from never setting foot in New York in my life, to flying there every other week.
I love New York City–it’s the kind of place I always imagined it to be. The neighborhoods. The cast of characters. The food. The skyline. It’s a place deeply embedded with character, history, hope and ambitions–and honest to god, there is nowhere else like it. I may not want to live there, but damn, it’s a fun place to visit.
The Year of Jet Setting
If I wasn’t flying to New York for a meeting, then I was flying to Portland to see my husband. I had to go to the Bay Area for some holidays, and Utah for others, and a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. In terms of international trips, my boss suddenly put me on a plane to Japan in July and I traveled across much of Canada for a wedding and leisure. In between, I hopped on a plane to see friends and family in California to keep my sanity.
In summary: I was on a plane. A LOT.
The Highlight of My Year
My husband took me to Montreal, Canada in August…. and I loved it. The European architecture. The good, French influenced food. The bilingual residents. Parks, natures, and adorable neighborhoods galore. Markets with fresh produce. Delicious beer and coffee to kill for.
I’ll (hopefully) write about Montreal in a later post. It’s a magical place and was my most memorable moment of 2018.
Overall, 2018 was the year of survival
I try to be grateful. I have my health. All of my limbs. My family is doing well. I’m happily married and, as a couple, my husband and I couldn’t be better together. We take vacations. We both have jobs. In some ways, we’re living the dream.
However, if I’m brutally honest on here–and somewhat selfish–I must admit that there were moments when I thought I wasn’t going to make it through my Dallas tenure in 2018. The learning curve at my job was steep, and as a “remote” worker in Dallas I had no one to rely on for help or training–and I had no colleagues on my projects. I failed again and again to make friends, and although in the end I was content with being alone, the isolation still stung.
I had no colleagues to vent frustrations to or ask for help, and I had no friends to fill the gap of loneliness created by my new workplace. While I was physically healthy and on the financial upswing, my mental well-being took a huge nosedive in 2018. This also explains my minimal updates on the blog in 2018… I felt no motivation to write.
As this kind of lifestyle away from my husband was simply unsustainable, I decided to confront my boss. A nervous Mary told a very high-ranking stakeholder that you either let Mary move out of Texas, or Mary’s going to move out of your company.
And I’m happy to announce that he not only consented, but was very supportive. I can finally reunite with my husband. We can finally be together–and I can keep my job.
The year of 2018–or Texas, as I like to call it–was a rough one. I survived, and I’m moving on up–back on up to rainy Portland with my husband.
Ah, March. The prelude to Spring. The light at the end of a long winter tunnel.
Or in Japan, it’s the start of one of the most prized occasions of the year:
Cherry Blossom Season.
Whatever high expectation you have for watching cherry blossoms in Japan (or better known as ‘hanami,‘ which literally means ‘watch flowers’ 花見), Japan will not disappoint on this front. It’s a magical experience.
While many tourists envision their hanami experience like an anime opening (think wind blowing in your hair as sakura petals brush past your skin), the reality may differ somewhat. To get the kind of hanami experience you’re dreaming of, it involves more than hopping on a plane and finding a sakura tree–it will take a whole ‘lotta planning.
For optimal hanami-ing, make sure you plan and prepare well.
Time Your Hanami Accordingly
As the famous Japanese poet Basho said:
“Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.
From among the peach trees
the first cherry blossoms.”
While it’s a beautiful haiku, we have to remember the key words in here: very brief.
The sakura only bloom for 1-2 weeks. This means that you only have a 2 week window to fly into Japan and view these fleeting beauties. It’s no surprise that the sakura are always alluded to in Japanese poetry as a symbol of transience–because these flowers disappear, and they do it fast.
The sakura bloom at different times across the country, starting from the bottom (Kyushu and Kyoto blooms as early as the first week of March) and ending at the top (blooms are sighted in the first week of May in Hokkaido).
Lucky for us, the Japanese prepare a Sakura bloom forecast every year to help better plan our hanami activities. The forecast for 2016 is already up and you can find it here on Japan’s official travel homepage.
2. Choose a Cherry Tree Park
There’s a bazillion Cherry Blossom viewing spots across Japan, (really, look at this long list), but most people will usually flock to Tokyo and Kyoto to hanami.
One of the most popular destinations in Tokyo is Ueno Park near Ueno Station, which has long walkways of over 1,200 sakura trees as well as food stalls and other activities going on throughout the day.
One of them is in my home prefecture of Niigata at Takeda castle. I wrote a post last year about how seeing the cherry blossoms in Niigata isn’t only less crowded and more beautiful, but it can save you money on expensive lodgings and help introduce travelers to the “real” Japan hidden beneath Tokyo and Kyoto.
Didn’t think you could view sakura at night, did you? Did you know that there’s even a word for this activity?
Yozakura, or viewing the cherry blossoms at night, is a must. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I moved to Japan and realized that sakura night viewing is just as beautiful, or in some cases even more enchanting, than the daytime counterpart.
One of the up-sides to yozakura is the drop in crowds and the serenity of the evening. The cool night breeze, the moonlight draping over the fresh cherry blossoms and the stars shining in the sky will give you the ultimate Japan experience (plus, the food stalls aren’t as crowded, woo-hoo!).
Space is limited under those sakura trees, and punches will be thrown for that prime real estate.
To snag a rare patch of grass (or better yet, send a friend to go and hold your spot) head out early with a large tarp and a few foldable chairs. Whatever area your tarp (and chairs) cover is yours for the day, so as long as one person is out there with a tarp in hand, you should be safe.
Finding a quiet patch of grass near a sakura tree in Tokyo and Kyoto are extra difficult to secure, so plan accordingly to make your picnic under the blossoms a reality.
5. Sit, Eat and Get Drunk
The first time I viewed the cherry blossoms, I wasn’t blown away by the pure beauty of the flowers alone.
No, my culture shock came with just how piss drunk all the Japanese people around me were.
When you walk through a seemingly serene park of cherry blossoms, be aware of the drunks underneath the trees. Teenagers, salarymen, family members–you name it, and they’re probably knocking a few shots of sake back while enjoying the sakura. Whether the Japanese are excited about the cherry blossoms, elated at the return of Spring or just looking for an excuse to get hammered, they really know how to get sloshed and have a good time when they hanami.
The Japanese love to picnic underneath the sakura. In addition to drinking copious amounts of alcohol, they will also bring bento boxes and snacks to last the entire day while they gaze at the flowers. It’s a fun-filled day to bring friends, get some food (sometimes even set up BBQ), crack open a beer and enjoy perfect weather with the perfect flower. And who knows, maybe if you’re lucky enough a drunk hanami group might invite you into their group for some free food (and booze!).
If you’re in Japan and looking to hanami, follow the five steps above and you’re sure to have an unforgettable sakura experience!