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How studying Italian helped me learn Japanese

How studying Italian helped me learn Japanese

I recently fulfilled my lifelong dream of going to Italy, but many (including my husband) wondered….

Why Italy?

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

Newly Moved to Portland: 5 Observations on My New Home

Newly Moved to Portland: 5 Observations on My New Home

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

I Did Not Like Crazy Rich Asians, and I’m Half-Asian

I Did Not Like Crazy Rich Asians, and I’m Half-Asian

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

The Ruby Ronin’s Review of 2018

The Ruby Ronin’s Review of 2018

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.

See you soon, Portland!

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.

5 Steps to Hanami (View Cherry Blossoms) in Japan

5 Steps to Hanami (View Cherry Blossoms) in Japan

Spring has Sprung!
Spring has Sprung!

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.

  1.  Time Your Hanami Accordingly
Some of these buds still need to bloom
Some of these buds still need to bloom

As the famous Japanese poet Basho said:

“Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

From among the peach trees
blooming everywhere,
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

All of the Sakura in Ueno
All of the Sakura in Ueno

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.

However, I’m an advocate for going off the beaten path.  In fact, many of the best hanami locations aren’t even in Tokyo or Kyoto!

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.

The most popular park to hanami (according to a survey of Japanese citizens) is the Meguro River Park in Tokyo.  I won’t lie–it does look very pretty.

3. Night or Day Sakura?  Or Both?

Takeda Castle at Night
Takeda Castle at Night

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!).

For some great spots on yozakura, my hometown of Niigata takes the top spot and this list introduces a variety of nighttime blossoms across the country.

4. Stake Your Spot

Lay down that blue tarp!
Lay down that blue tarp!

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

sakura food stalls

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!).

Intoxicated Mary underneath the blossoms
Just don’t drink as much as Mary here….

If you’re in Japan and looking to hanami, follow the five steps above and you’re sure to have an unforgettable sakura experience!

The Ethnicity Question

The Ethnicity Question

The Dreaded Ethnicity Box
The Dreaded Ethnicity Box

After years of being uninsured in the U.S. (and a few more years of having third-world equivalent healthcare in China), I finally received fully covered health benefits through my new job.  In fear of medical bills and non-preventative coverage, I went years without a standard check-up.  When I got my shiny new insurance card, I booked the first appointment I could to get tested for–well, everything.  After all, I was fully covered.

“It looks like your application is incomplete, Ms. Mary O’Connor,” the secretary smiled sweetly.  “You’ll need to answer a couple of quick questions before you can see the doctor.”

“No problem,” I smiled. “Is it allergies?  Past medical history?”

“No,” she whipped out a laminated file, “we need an ethnicity from you.  Could you please choose one ethnicity listed on this chart?”

The sheet had five options:

1. White

2. Black

3. Hispanic

4. Asian

5. Other

Oh, the lovely ethnicity box.

It seems like I just can’t escape from it.  Ever since elementary school I have always pondered at my list of options, wondering if I was more white, or more Asian, or something else entirely.  In the end, I could never choose between my races and I always went with ‘other,’ the oh-so-kind option they prepared for people that didn’t seem to fit into any one background.  Life was made easier when more recent forms started adding a sixth option, the “two or more races” box, but it seems like some establishments (aka, this hospital) hadn’t heard of it yet.

“I can only choose one?” I asked.  “I’m actually a mix.”

She looked at my black hair and brown eyes, “Are you Hispanic?  Just put hispanic.”

“But I’m not Hispanic.”

She shrugged.  I checked the ‘other’ box.

“We have one more,” she took out a three page file, “please choose a more specific ethnicity from these lists.”

Another one?  I hope this wasn’t triggered by my ‘other’ choice–but I guess this hospital was serious about their demographics.

A list of over 200 races were placed in my hand.  Italian, Native American, Norweigan–even Catalan was on there.  It was the most extensive list of ethnicity I had ever seen.

“I can only pick one?”

“Yes,” she repeated, annoyed.  “You can only choose one.”

At this point, I thought: Whatever, I’ll just be white–that’s what most people think I am anyway.  There has to be a white option.  I flipped through the list of names and scrolled down to the W’s, only to see Welsh starring at me in the face.

“There’s no white option,” I said out loud.

“Just put Hispanic” the admin mumbled again as she continued typing away at her computer.

But wait–was this for medical purposes?  Some races are more susceptible to certain diseases, such as Asians with diabetes.  Was this more than just a census?  Was this actually linked to my health?  Suddenly choosing white didn’t seem like such a good idea.  I wasn’t so sure about Irish, either.  Although they are prone to skin cancer.  But Asians get diabetes.  Hmmmm.  It was a tough decision.

The secretary began to tap her fingers in impatience.  I felt rushed.  My appointment time was quickly approaching.  I looked at my watch.  The list of races.  The diseases I could possibly have.

Who knew that picking a race could be so difficult?

Finally, I marked Vietnamese.

The secretary looked at my answer, my face, and then my super Irish name.  I’m sure she had an armada of questions, but instead she shrugged her shoulders and printed out my application:

Mary O’ Connor

Age: 29

Race: Vietnamese

“You marked Vietnamese for your race?” my boyfriend replied in shock later that evening.  “Why would you do that?”

“Because I can only choose one!  And I’m more worried about diabetes than skin cancer! I put sun screen on everyday!”

“What are you talking about?

“You work at that stupid hospital,” I pouted. “Don’t they ask the race question for disease purposes?”

“To be honest, I have no idea why we ask that–but it’s definitely not for medical reasons.”

“Goddammit.”

“I guess that means you feel more Asian than White, huh?”

“No–I don’t really know.  But they only let me choose one.  And Vietnamese was easier to find.  Plus I’m more worried about diabetes.  Runs in the family.”

“I’m sure the doctor was shocked to see you, Ms. Mary O’ Connor from Vietnam,” he laughed.

Like I said before, being biracial aint easy.  A simple act as going to the doctor can make you remember just how confusing it is to determine your race, identity, and belonging when you don’t fit into a set category.

The good news?

maryhappy

No diabetes! 😀

Have you ever had a rough time at the hospital?  Any other moments of frustration from the ethnicity box, or any other demographic?

My Favorite, Must-See Places in Los Angeles

My Favorite, Must-See Places in Los Angeles

getty

I complain about Los Angeles.  A lot.

Yet beneath all of its guck and yuck, Los Angeles does have some gems.  While I officially rank Los Angeles as the worst city I’ve lived in thus far, I still think it’s a great place to visit (especially if you live in a colder state–L.A. is great for winters!).

Whenever I need to feel a little better about Los Angeles (or have my friends from afar in town), I go to my favorite spots.  Usually starting with…..

Taking in the Waves at Manhattan Beach

manhattan

Forget Santa Monica.  While it’s nice, it’s just a bunch of shopping centers next to an overcrowded beach.

Escape the crowds and consumerism and go to lovely Manhattan Beach, only a ten minute drive from LAX airport.

Manhattan Beach is a rich and ritzy area of town, but the beach is far cleaner than Santa Monica or Venice and the view from the pier is to die for.

manhattan1

The area surrounding the beach itself is also nice, with little shops, restaurants, bars, and–get this–cheap and available parking!  Manhattan Beach is a great place to go on a Sunday morning, watch the sunrise, get a coffee, and then catch brunch with your friends (don’t forget to down a mimosa–or ten).

Stuff Yourself Silly in Koreatown

Koreatown

Los Angeles has a HUGE Koreatown, and it knocks all the other ‘towns’ out by far.

There’s a reason that Anthony Bourdain’s Los Angeles episode featured Koreatown, and Koreatown alone.

Although Koreatown is not walkable (it could almost be a city in its own right, it would take 20 minutes just to drive from one end to the other), a short drive around this neighborhood will give you some of the best Korean food America can offer, on par with Seoul.

My favorite place to eat is a little hole in the wall called Ham Ji Park.  They have AMAZING spare ribs.  You’ll see a line of Koreans around the block to get into the place, so make sure to dine here before 5 or after 9.  It’s a must.

koreatown

Whether you want to shop for Korean cosmetics, take home some baked Korean goods or gorge yourself on affordable and delectable Korean BBQ, Koreatown in L.A. is a must see–especially for foodies.

Skip Chinatown and Little Tokyo and just go to Koreatown.  Thank me later.

Have Your Jaw Drop at Rancho Palos Verdes

ranchos

When I drive down the coast along Ranchos Palos Verdes, it’s probably the one and only time I wish I had a convertible–because the views are stunning.

ranchos1

Although I wouldn’t recommend swimming at the beach on Rancho Palos Verdes, I still suggest that all visitors drive up and down this coast to drink in the amazing views.  Los Angeles has a host of beaches, but this is the only place where the rocks splash against the cliff side and give onlookers backdrops of the Pacific coast.

L.A. isn't all bad.. I think.

Hike Up Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory was built to house its gigantic telescope, but now it has become famous as one of the best spots to get a bird’s eye view of Los Angeles.  If you’re going to go anywhere for a panoramic shot of L.A., go here.  It’s a must for all visitors.

griffithobs

My favorite part of the observatory is not the peak of the hill itself, but the many hiking trails branching off from the top.  This is one of the few places in Los Angeles that has trees, peace and quiet.  One of the trails here even leads to the Hollywood Sign, which is far better than Hollywood itself (trust me).  It’s a great place to escape the hustle of L.A., even if for a moment.griffith

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And Finally, My Favorite Spot in Los Angeles is…

My favorite spot in all of Los Angeles is none other than The Getty Museum.

getty

Funded completely on the inheritance of Los Angeles’ richest business tycoon, Paul Getty was dedicated to art both in and after life.  He entrusted a very large chunk of his will to The Getty, a gigantic art museum atop one of Los Angeles’ highest hills, housing hundreds of pieces of classical and contemporary artwork, as well as some of the most stunning views of Los Angeles.

getty4

Entrance for all visitors is free, just like Mr. Getty intended it to be.  He wanted everyone to enjoy the beauty of art, whether you were rich or poor.

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For me, Los Angeles is a busy, hectic place.  It’s clogged, it’s polluted, it’s noisy, and it’s a dog eat dog world.  It’s not an easy place to live.  Sometimes, you need a place where you can take a deep breath and escape from it all.

For me, my city sanctuary is The Getty.

getty2

It’s silent.  The museum is completely white.  Views from the balcony of the museum give you not only the best vantage point of Los Angeles, but also has great views of the Pacific Ocean.  For me, The Getty is my safe haven from Los Angeles itself.  Even if you don’t like art, the Getty is worth seeing for the architecture, the views, and the cactus garden.

getty1

While L.A. has its bad, it definitely has its good spots.  I can say with confidence that Los Angeles will most definitely not become my home, but I know that–no matter what–I’ll be back for a visit.

Where is your “City Sanctuary?”  What do you love about your city?

Griffith1

Is Living in Big City America Worth it?

Is Living in Big City America Worth it?

photo credit: Pranav Bhatt via photopin cc
photo credit: Pranav Bhatt via photopin cc

Why Big City L.A. Sucks… Traffic

I apologize, I haven’t updated in almost a month. Aside from my terrible job and daily four hour commute (yes, you read that correctly, four hours), I have been busy with my favorite hobby:

Traveling.

Mary_Utah

When I was younger, all I could think about was how to get out of the United States rather than travel in it. The arches of Moab are nothing compared to the Great Wall of China, I sighed. The Grand Canyon simply pales in comparison to the intellectual beauty of Paris’ Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysses.

Now that I’m back in the states, I have a new found respect for my homeland. Since I’ll be in the USA for at least two or three years, I figure that now is the best time to discover the great wilderness that is the United States.

Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I went on a road trip across the Southwestern United States stopping at the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Park and Las Vegas.

But today I’m not writing about Utah or Arizona—today, I’m writing about:

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Boise, The City of Trees

My best friend relocated to Boise for work, and much to my surprise she gave me a raving review of the place.  I had to go and see it for myself.

Hip bars, countless breweries, a lively downtown, abundance of nature, friendly folk and most of all—trees.

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If there’s one thing Mary loves more than anything, it’s trees. And lots of them. Since I grew up in the deserts of Utah, my lust for green, lush environments will never be satiated. While California may have gorgeous beaches, it’s definitely lacking in green (California is basically a desert with an ocean next to it).

Idaho has what California cannot give me:

Boise_Fall

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Color.

Some of the fall foliage in Boise was comparable to that of Japan. Blood red trees, golden yellow leaves and hues of sunrise and sunset splashed across the plains of Boise.

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Parks filled with laughing families, flying geese and lakes full of wildlife; a bustling downtown with an endearing farmer’s market, friendly pubs with bartenders boasting of their local ale, and multiple local getaways including a hot springs resort within an hour’s drive.

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“I had no idea Boise was so… hip, cool and friendly,” I said to the bartender as I sipped on the Pumpkin ale she recommended me. “This place is a hidden gem.”

“Let’s keep it that way,” she winked before scurrying off to serve another customer.

Boise_Mary

Indeed.

My lust for big city America is gone.

When I was young, I wanted to move to Los Angeles so badly. For a small town girl like me, neighboring Los Angeles was full of diversity, culture and glamour. When I found out that I couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition to attend college in Los Angeles, I literally broke down on the floor and sobbed. I’ll never leave backwater Utah, I cried, I’ll never make it to the big city.

Now, I yearn for Utah. No traffic, affordable housing, nice people and nature?

Yes, please.

Alternatives to Big City America

Lately I’ve been reading statistics for millenials, and they aren’t pretty.

If you have $10,000 in savings, then congratulations—you’re richer than most millenials.

On top of that, most Americans make under $19.00/hour.  That’s about $35,000 a year if you work full time.

With these startling statistics, it’s ironic to see that millenials are moving into Big City America in droves, causing rent to soar and housing prices to reach unrealistic numbers.

A one bedroom apartment in San Francisco can set you back $1-2k a month—minimum. The same applies to Los Angeles. Tack on the price of car and insurance, and you can kiss $2,500 dollars of your paycheck goodbye. If you only make $35,000 annually then that’s, what… 90% of your paycheck?

So why don’t more people move to amazing places like Boise? I thought, while I sipped on my local Boise brew in one of the hippest Gastropubs I’ve ever set foot in. Good food, good beer, good people and a thriving local community and art scene? Isn’t this what millenials want?

Good Beer be Had in Boise
Good Beer be Had in Boise
Yes, this is a frozen ice cup
Yes, this is a frozen ice cup
Cute, hip coffee joints in Boise
Cute, hip coffee joints in Boise

Living in a place like Boise not only cuts your cost of living in half with low rent, but it also improves your peace of mind. Kiss those one hour commutes goodbye and say hello to more time to yourself. Stress free communities with nearby hiking trails, hot springs, and glorious nature?

Hot Springs in a sea of trees a Quick Drive Away
Hot Springs in a sea of trees a Quick Drive Away

Boise is ranked as one of the best cities to move to in 2014 to live in the United States. In terms of beer, it ranks with the big dogs Seattle and Portland in for local craft breweries.

See, Boise has good beer!
See, Boise has good beer!

Still, I know some of us aren’t suited for the simple Boise life. Maybe you need a place that can offer more than Boise. You need throngs of people, culture, diversity—you need a real city.

Forget San Francisco, New York and L.A. and just..

Move Abroad

Think you Can't Afford Tokyo?  Think again.
Think you Can’t Afford Tokyo? Think again.

In Shanghai, I had a NYC lifestyle for half the cost. I paid $500/monthly for my apartment in the heart of the city. I had an expansive and affordable metro system at my fingertips, and a dirt-cheap taxi backup for those late nights out. I was surrounded by 4,000 skyscrapers (more than anywhere in the world), Fortune 500 companies, and a diverse crowd of ex-pats and locals.

Shanghai makes Los Angeles look like a kiddie wading pool. Even Anthony Bourdain said that it can give New York a run for its money.

In Shanghai I dined at the finest restaurants, enjoyed cocktails on top of the world and danced at some of the world’s best nightclubs—for a fraction of what it would cost in L.A. or NYC.

Drink at a bar with this view for 16 bucks
Drink at a bar with this view for 16 bucks

And it’s not just Shanghai. Many large cities in the world are far more affordable than what the U.S. can offer.

Istanbul, Seoul, Bangkok, Shanghai, Taiwan, Berlin—even Tokyo is more affordable than Los Angeles or San Francisco (finding a decent apartment in Tokyo city proper for under 1,000 USD is very doable).

How about Bangkok?  Affordable apartments with rooftop pools!
How about Bangkok? Affordable apartments with rooftop pools!

It’s no surprise that more Americans than ever are relocating abroad for retirement.

I say… why what?

Living abroad may sound expensive, but actually, it’s far more affordable than big city America.. and definitely more fun.

And while I’m not recommending all Americans forever flee the homeland, I do honestly believe that everyone should live abroad at least once.  It’s an amazing, life-changing experience.

Interracial Dating and the Japanese Drama Massan

Interracial Dating and the Japanese Drama Massan

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Image Courtesy of Sachi’s blog

When I heard about the newest show to premiere on NHK, “Massan,” was all about the trials and hardships of a marriage between a white woman and a Japanese male, I was a bit skeptical. I was afraid the show would be another ridiculous showcase of stereotypes about foreigners. The advertisement revealed a blonde hair, blue-eyed woman frolicking around the fields of Scotland with an attractive Japanese man running to embrace her.

Oh god, I thought.

This is going to be another repeat of My Darling is a Foreigner.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.

Go ahead, call me a wimp, but after I researched the show and actually watched a few episodes—I was holding back tears.

I think the show struck a particularly deep chord with me because…

It’s a True Story

Masataka Taketsuru and Rita CowanCourtesy of The Guardian

When I read the synopsis for this story, I thought to myself: This is BS, no foreign woman from the early 1900s would marry a Japanese man and run off to Japan.

But my god, she really did.

You know Suntory whiskey? Japan can thank Masataka Taketsuru (Massan in the drama) for the gem that is Suntory Whiskey. Taketsuru-san’s life was changed forever after his first sip of whiskey in Japan. He boarded a boat in the early 1900s, sailed the seas to Scotland, and learned how to brew quality whiskey while snagging a hot Scottish babe, Rita Cowan (Ellie in the drama). Since he was too poor to afford rent, he rented out a room in the Cowan household and taught the family Judo.

I guess he woo’d Rita with all of his martial arts moves, because he was able to convince her to get on a boat and leave Scotland forever and move to Japan in 1920. I want to make great Scottish whiskey in Japan, he told her, and she said “and I’ll be there to support you.” Both families opposed the marriage.

After successfully helping Japan launch its whiskey industry (aka Suntory), he and Rita moved from Osaka to Yoichi in Hokkaido because the terrain was similar to Rita’s homeland of Scotland. They started a new whiskey distillery there called Nissa, and lived out the rest of their years in Hokkaido.

Using the last of her inheritance, Rita opened a children’s nursery in Hokkaido.

Rita passed away in 1960 and was buried with her husband.

In that small town of Yoichi you can find a street in remembrance of Rita Cowan.

You can still walk down “Rita Road” in Yoichi today.

For more background, check out a recent article by The Guardian about their trials and tribulations.

The Struggles of AMWF

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Image Courtesy of Sachi’s blog

AMWF: In other words, the very small community of “Asian Male White Female” relationships.

As it is heatedly debated on the net, the AMWF circle is small. While we see many white males dating Asian females, we rarely see the opposite. I can count on my fingers how many AMWF relationships I have seen in both China and Japan.

In other words, we stick out. In Asia I was used to having fingers pointed at me or hearing the words “foreigner foreigner!” shouted at me.

But if I was walking arm-in-arm with an Asian man?

It felt like the whole country stopped to stare.

International relationships have a slew of problems, and dealing with my past Asian boyfriends and family was, to put bluntly, traumatizing. The disapproving parents, the cultural clashes, the feeling of being thrown into a pool of water and  expected to swim, constantly asking myself: what should I do, what should I say, what will they think?

And to imagine that Rita (Ellie in the show) went through all of this back in the early 1900s is absolute madness. I can barely handle living in Japan in the 21st century, but living relocating there permanently in 1920s with a Japanese husband?

I can’t even fathom it.

People were still wearing kimonos then. At that time I bet most of Japan never heard of Scotland, much less seen a foreigner. She said goodbye to her entire life in Scotland, never looked back, and strode forward with her husband until the very end in Hokkaido.

If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

The Show Itself

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Image Courtesy of Sachi’s blog

Sure, the foreign stereotypes in Massan run rampant—but it was the Taisho era, and I’m quite positive that back then foreigners had yet to use chopsticks and were completely blown away by the concept of taking shoes off before entering a home.

The director chose an American actress that speaks zero Japanese to play Ellie in the drama. While picking a fluent ex-pat seems like the better decision, I think the choice in picking a complete ‘newb’ was the right one.

She’s struggling with the language. Her Japanese sounds funny. Everything about Japan is alien and unfamiliar–yet she dives in head first with a smile and embraces the opportunity. In Ellie, I see a woman charging blindly forward into a foreign country in order to better understand the man she loves. I see her struggling to deal with her in-laws. I see her walking on eggshells and treading dangerous waters in order to be accepted, yet is rejected time and again. I see her raw and honest passion to support her husband and his dream, and he also reciprocating that love.

In Ellie, I see myself.

The acting isn’t the greatest, the stereotypes run rampant, and sometimes I just can’t understand Ellie’s Japanese—

But Massan is a rare, and most importantly true story about how love can really overcome cultural boundaries and flourish.

I have no idea where you can find Massan, but if you would like to find out more information about the show you can visit the show’s Japanese homepage here.  Massan is NHK’s latest ongoing morning show broadcast everyday for 15 minutes.

(PS Unlike Legal High and Hanzawa Naoki, this drama is definitely not a good pick for learning Japanese. Not only is Ellie’s Japanese extremely difficult to understand, but Massan and his entire family speak with a thick Hiroshima accent. I gotta give Ellie credit, she doesn’t just have to learn Japanese—she has to understand gangsta Hiroshima-ben!)

The Good and Bad in Los Angeles Living

The Good and Bad in Los Angeles Living

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Since my fateful return in April and the initial culture shock that ensued after China, I have found both good and bad to my new life in Los Angeles.

I Miss the Seasons

I returned to America for a myriad of reasons, one of the big ones being:

Pumpkin Spice Flavored Goods

(Note: Asia has no such thing as the American pumpkin)

photo credit: julochka via photopin cc

photo credit: julochka via photopin cc

Oh, how I lamented when I saw my friend’s pumpkin spice latte photos taken in the U.S. I’m having a new craft pumpkin spice beer, my friend from the U.S. would tell me over Skype, gulping it in all its delicious glory as I sat on the other end of the world, completely helpless. We’re having your favorite pumpkin pie, my parents would tell me as I heard them chomp on that delicious, orange morsel with whipped cream on top.

photo credit: edwardkimuk via photopin cc
photo credit: edwardkimuk via photopin cc

When I saw the Pumpkin Spice Latte sign pop up at Starbucks a few weeks ago, I ran in there like a mad woman. I threw money at the cashier and demanded a pumpkin spice latte, stat. She told me to calm down. I told her to give me pumpkin.

And it was bliss.

Yet as the days went by and I sampled Pumpkin Spice lattes, beers, cookies, and other assorted goods—I realized something felt off. There was something missing to this whole process. For some reason, pumpkin spice didn’t taste as delectable as I remembered.

Then I realized I was drinking a pumpkin spice latte in the blazing sun at 100 F (38C) degree weather, sweating like a pig.

In L.A., it’s always summer.

And then I had an epiphany: I miss the seasons. Pumpkin spice is absolutely delicious when sampled in the crisp, new cold of Autumn. It’s best paired with a light sweater, a scarf, and some mittens.

I never thought I’d say this (and I probably will regret saying it someday)..

While sunshine 365 days a year is great, I really miss having seasons.

Food Here is Amazing

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Mmm.. Shinsengumi Ramen

I work in Little Tokyo, so within a 10 minute radius of my office I have access to not one, but two Japanese supermarkets. I have authentic ramen shops, an okonomiyaki restaurant, yakitori stands—hell, even the sushi here tastes legit. Thai, Mexican, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Southern Cuisine, Authentic Dim-Sum—L.A. is the largest melting pot in the USA, and it shows with the awesome cuisine.

Fitness Classes Galore

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The combination of trying to save money and being the new girl in town (aka, need some friends) has inevitably led me to the gym.

I did the usual swim, jog, elliptical routine until I noticed the plethora of gym classes offered in Los Angeles.

I was never a huge fan of yoga, but after my stressful return to life in the states it has really been a lifesaver. It’s nice to just zone out, stand in some crazy half moon position for 5 minutes, lie on my yoga mat during shavasana at the end, and forget about life for an hour.  Doing yoga also reminds me of my heavenly session of Yoga at the Yoga Barn in Bali, and brings me back to my spiritual and healing trip through Bali.

I also tried a class called insanity, because I thought—hey, I can tell people I went to a class called INSANITY!!

And it is insane. I thought I was going to pass out mid-way. My vision blurred, my fellow participants started dropping like flies around me, the world was becoming dark—but somehow, I made it through the class, although completely drenched in sweat.

Later I found out this is a new, ‘trendy’ workout that has rippled not only throughout the USA, but the world (my cousin in France is even doing it!).

I was sore for an entire week after the first class of Insanity. It’s hard.

Beaches

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Living a short drive from the beach is amazing.

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And that’s all there is to it. Being able to drive to jaw-dropping locations at a moment’s notice is a sure-fire plus.

My Brand New Car

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I really tried hard to live in Los Angeles without a car. I took the train, the buses, had my boyfriend, friends and family take me to and from places—hell, I even biked 30 minutes one way to the store and lugged everything strapped to my back in 100 (38C) degree weather.

But after 3 months, I knew that I couldn’t keep this up forever.

Basically, for most cities in the U.S., the motto goes:

No Car No Life

Although it went against every fiber of my being (I hate driving), I bought (rather, leased) a brand new PriusC. I have dirt cheap payments and it saves me on gas.

And man, did it suck setting up that lease.  Shopping around for a car in the U.S. is worse than haggling in Southeast Asia.

Anyway, just had to have red for the Ruby Ronin!

California in Shanghai

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Takada-san confirms that my little piece of California has made it to her safely.

No matter how far away from Shanghai I am, it’s always there with me.