Why Montreal is my Favorite City in Canada

Why Montreal is my Favorite City in Canada

Notre Dame Basilica

Many are surprised to learn that my husband is a Canadian citizen. Before his parents took the plunge and moved to the United States, they started the first chapter of their North American life in the frozen North of Canada. My husband waxed poetic about Canada like it was a lost paradise. Mary, he often told me, I will take you to Canada–the country of my childhood–and I will show you why I love it so.

Well, husband came through. I’ve not only visited Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver–but to my surprise, my husband proposed to me on the top of Mount Whistler in Whistler, Canada. Like husband predicted, I fell in love with Canada. From my point of view, Canada is basically a friendlier, cleaner, and more egalitarian version of the United States. 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.

My First Weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana

My First Weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana

A few weeks ago I went to New Orleans, Louisiana for the first time and enjoyed a blissful weekend there filled with historical sights, classic soul cooking, and most of all–jazz. (Travel tips at the bottom of post)

For most of my life, I wasn’t much of a jazz fan and never once considered the thought of going to New Orleans.  In fact, I took a “survey of jazz” class in undergrad mostly to 1. get an easy “A” and 2. catch up on lost sleep.  For most of my life, jazz was music to be played in the waiting room of a doctor’s office or in an elevator.

Then, I met Tohko.

Tohko is my Japanese soul sister.  She dragged me to live jam sessions in Shanghai where the jazz (and Tohko) literally swept me off my feet.  When I lived with her to escape my flea infestation, she would put on her favorite jazz tune, take me in her hand, and whisk me away to dance on the living room floor.  We toe tapped while we cut vegetables, listening to jazz as we cooked dinner.  When we cleaned the apartment, Louis Armstrong was blasting on her stereo.  I was an easy convert.

“Mary,” she pointed at me. “Me.  You.  We’re going to New Orleans.  We have to see jazz in its birthplace.  We just have to.”

Going to New Orleans never once crossed my mind until that moment–but after she uttered those words, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Then, I moved to Texas.

Welcome to New Orleans: A City of Many Cultures

As fate would have it, Tohko and her new boyfriend arranged a visit to New Orleans while I was living in Texas and graciously invited me to be the third wheel–I mean, be a lovely addition–to their New Orleans vacation.

And wow, New Orleans blew all my expectations out of the water.

New Orleans has a culture that is uniquely… New Orleans.  It’s a blend of cajun and creole, French and Spanish, American and Southern.  As the birth place of Jazz and Cajun culture, the city has a unique identity that is simply not found anywhere else in the world.  It’s the kind of place you can walk around and hear music wherever you go–the whimsical noise of a jazz trumpet seeps out of every doorway, every window.  Foots are tapping everywhere in some kind of rhythmic beat that has entranced the whole city.

The music in the air.  That charming European architecture. That sweet smell of beignets and sugar wafting from the center of the French Quarter.  The echoing laughter of tourists on vacation, the tack-tack-tack of the old trolley carrying visitors around the city on century old rails.

It’s magical.

The Best Part of New Orleans?  Bacchanal Wine

Bacchanal Wine Stage
Bacchanal Wine Stage

I could wax poetic about New Orleans architecture and jazz all day, but let’s go straight to my favorite part of New Orleans: this outdoor wine and jazz bar a stone throw away from the Mississippi, and far away from the French quarter.

Bacchanal Wine came highly recommended to me by all my friends (and even travel shows); and wow, it’s one of those places where you’ll have an enchanted evening no matter what you do.  It’s a no-frills house converted into a wine cellar selling some of the best pours you’ll ever have, with some simple southern fare to match.  While the wine and fish may be top notch, you’ll enjoy these delicacies sitting on a humble plastic lawn chair matched with a metal table in the outside courtyard, listening to some of the best jazz New Orleans has to offer on a make-shift wooden stage.

One of the best cooked fish I’ve had in my life….!!!

Like many places in the south, the Bacchanal Wine bar is as low-key and local as they come.  It was the kinda place one could frequent in a nice dress, a suit, jeans, or shorts and a t-shirt–and no one would feel it was out of place.  It was the ultimate hangout joint.

Tohko, her new boyfriend and I all ate delicious fish, drank a bottle of wine, and listened to live jazz until the stars twinkled above us.  It was one of those magical evenings that only New Orleans–and Bacchanal–could offer.  I can’t recommend this place enough.  Take a taxi/lyft, get out of the French Quarter, and spend a few hours here.  You won’t regret it.

And the Best Jazz Clubs?  The Spotted Cat and Fritzels Jazz Cafe

The Spotted Cat Music Club

It’s been a struggle for me to find half-decent jazz bar.  Since my return from Shanghai, most Jazz clubs I’ve visited are filled with half-assed bands ready to make a quick buck.  Others are a little too orchestrated and stiff for my tastes.

I will say with certainty: the jazz in New Orleans is the real deal.  They play the classics mixed in with their own creations, followed up by the passionate outburst of random jam sessions.  At these two venues in particular, the music ultimately captivated the audience in attendance.

The Spotted Cat feels like a jazz bar built for swing dance–and that’s because you’ll most likely spot some professional swing dancers twirling at the front near the stage.  It’s a popular joint with a mix of locals and tourists; with the real locals twirling and dipping and jiving and tapping in full swing-dance gear near the band.  The energy of the venue is infectious and, while it can be crowded and noisy, the music is still the star of the show.

Fritzel’s, on the other hand, is a more low-key joint where one can sit, have a beer, and enjoy the music.  Wooden benches line the stage (with plenty of room for standing when it’s crowded).  Although the bar has a low hum of conversation in the background, most of the audience is enchanted by the energy and class of the Fritzel Band.

“Come on down,” the lead sings sweetly in the microphone, taking a break from his trombone solo. “Come on down to New Orleans.”


The Real Deal: Preservation Hall. Unchanged since the 1940s.

And finally, if you’re a real jazz fan, you know you gotta fork over the

$20 to go to Preservation Hall, the supposed birth place of some of the most legendary jazz songs in history.  In summer it’s a sweltering shoebox of people, and in winter I hear it’s as cold as death–but for the jazz-dedicated, this is a must. read more

Is Moving Abroad Just a Form of Escape?

Is Moving Abroad Just a Form of Escape?

It’s a question that all expats ask themselves sometime or another:

Am I in a foreign country because I really like it here, or am I using this culture as a form of escape from a deep-rooted problem at home?

I kept asking myself this after reading “Six Foot Bonsai,” an autobiography I read for a book club.  It’s the story of a white woman from Michigan who is, to an unhealthy degree, utterly Japan obsessed.  After marrying an abusive Japanese man and giving birth to two half-children (who are subsequently abused), she explains how her fixation on Japan essentially ruined her life.

“Japan was my drug of choice,” she wrote.  “And I couldn’t get enough of it.”

This line had me thinking:

Were My Years in China and Japan a Form of Escapism?  Was Japan My Drug of Choice?

I grew up half-Asian in a small coal mining town in Utah, so to say I was isolated and outcasted is an understatement.  One medium that got me through the pain of adolescence was –yes, I must admit–Japanese anime and manga.  This is the usual ‘gateway drug’ that gets most young tweens and teens sucked into the world of Japan.

Unlike my peers, however, I fell deep for Japan.  Although I found out about Japan through anime and manga, learning the language and getting a minor in Japanese studies made me realize that I loved much more than anime–I loved Japan’s  literature, art, culture and people.  After my first exchange trip to Japan, I had fallen off the deep end and there was no going back.

And when I first moved to Japan, the “high” was amazing.  The bullet trains, the clean streets, the polite locals, the untouched nature, samurai castles and sliding doors and kimonos–oh man, it was everything I wanted and more.

But Pretty Soon, the High Wore Off

Some of these buds still need to bloom

I’m half-Asian, but most people think I’m 100% white.  As most expats like to point out, being white (or non-Asian) anywhere in Asia elicits unwanted attention.  People stare.  They point.  They treat you special.  Shower you with praise.  Immediately approach you to be their new, foreign friend.

Some expats relish in the attention.  Others find it uncomfortable.

I was the latter.

Unlike other foreigners who got a ‘high’ from being the gaijin-center-of-attention, I loathed it.  I just wanted to fit in.

But no matter how hard I studied Japanese and perfectly executed their customs, the Japanese never let me in.  In their eyes, I would forever be a gaijin.  An outsider.  A foreigner.

I was distraught.

On top of that, I saw cracks in my perfect world that was Japan.  I noticed people around me suffering from extreme bouts of loneliness.  I saw emotional suppression brought on by a repressive society.  My coworkers and friends were overworked and exhausted.  My Japanese girlfriends turned a blind eye to their cheating husbands.

I wanted to be Japanese and fit in, but my core Western values found it hard to accept the above.  I would never be able to tolerate a cheating husband.  I found it hard to do staged overtime work for the sake of it.  No matter how hard I tried to convince myself that this was Japan and I had to adapt to their ways, I could in no way persuade myself that I should change my core values for the sake of living in Japan.

After two years in Japan I realized that I couldn’t stay there for the rest of my life–so I went to China.

Again, Was I Running Away From the Real World?  Did China Mask My Problems?

From the moment I stepped foot in China, I knew this place was better suited for me than Japan.  It may sound odd, but after living in Japan it was utterly refreshing to be chewed out by someone on the street.  To see such open display of emotion–even anger or frustration–was liberating.  People screamed at me and I could scream back.  The openness of Chinese society felt like a reassuring hug.  I melted into Shanghai and it became the metropolitan life this small-town-Utah girl always dreamed of.

As I lived in China, switching between studying Chinese and working in various companies, I would talk to my friends in the US and hear about their mundane, yet stressful lives.  Going to pharmacy school.  Working the same job for four years and trying to get a promotion.  Trying to pass the LSAT (law certification in US).

In my own way I was moving on with my life, but a part of me also thought:

Am I hiding in China while the real world goes on?

Long-time readers of my blog will know that when I returned to the USA after living in Asia, I had it rough.  I had to play catch-up.  It wasn’t easy, and there were times I wanted to hop on a plane and go straight back to China.

Yet despite all the ‘pain’ living abroad brought me, I often asked myself if I would do it all over again.  Would I get on that plane to Japan at 22 years old again if I knew what I know now?  Or would I stay in the US to build up my career?

Without hesitation, I always choose to get on that plane.

And it’s because China and Japan were not my drug–they are an integral part of who I am read more

Tea Evoked Memories

Tea Evoked Memories

I recently read an article about a tea specialist and her new tea franchise in an airline magazine. While these kind of articles are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, there was one comment from the tea-master that jumped out of the page at me:

“Every cup of tea evokes a memory, a feeling, a connection to something from your past.”

I couldn’t help but think just how true this statement was, as I reflected on my favorite types of tea and how they are linked to a particular moment in my past:

Genmai-Cha 玄米茶

Whenever I drink Genmai-cha, all I can think about is Japan. The flavor is unique and difficult to describe–it’s earthy, but has a flowery and light finishing taste–like buckwheat, hay and dandelions combined.  After steeped, the tea turns the water a light yellow color, almost like a chrysanthemum flower.  It feels like the working man’s tea, the commoner’s tea, a tea that refreshes in both the summer and winter.

Genmaicha is a green tea with roasted, popped brown rice

I had just arrived in Japan the day before.  My senses were in overdrive as I took in the foreign surroundings.  I kneeled on a tatami floor and looked around my host-grandparent’s old, wooden home: paper sliding doors (shoji) opened up to a Japanese garden outside.  A wind-chime sang in the breeze.  The humidity was oppressive, and I could feel sweat rolling down my neck.  The grandma turned on a nearby fan that whizzed back and forth in an effort to cool the room.  My host grandma and grandpa sat across from me and smiled, speaking quickly and fluently, forgetting that I wasn’t Japanese.  My head was dizzy with culture shock and language comprehension, but I did my best and did what any guest would do: nod and smile.

Like a Japanese person, I picked up the small Japanese tea cup from the saucer with both hands, blew on it softly and sipped it gently without noise.  I had green and black tea in America–but I immediately knew this tea was something else.

“What name is this tea?” I asked in broken Japanese.

The grandma giggled, “genmai-cha.  Do you like it?  Hold on.”

She stood up, ran to the kitchen and returned with a pouch of tea for me.  I insisted it was unnecessary to give me a bag of tea, but she shoved the tea pouch in my hand with a smile.

Pu-Er Cha 普洱茶


Pu-Er Cha is a high-end tea grown exclusively in China’s Yunnan region.  Although it’s somewhat easy to find low-quality pu-er tea in the states, wheels of high-grade pu-er tea are only available in China and sell for hundreds of dollars.  Among all teas, pu-er is extremely unique in taste and almost resembles coffee in its bitterness and color.  When I crumble pu-er tea in my hands, I feel like I’m crumbling soil of the Earth.  It smells like trees, soil, dirt.  It’s an Earthy tea with a rich, bitter flavor.



I had a sanctuary in Shanghai, and it was a teahouse called Da Ke Tang.  The building is from the roaring 20s of Shanghai’s heyday and is a mix of French architecture with Chinese decorations.  The teahouse is incredibly high-end, with a chandelier in the reception room and the sitting room itself covered in gold mirrors and finely crafted wooden tables.  Old Shanghai jazz music plays here, and women in qipaos (slim Chinese dresses) stand at the bar mixing and serving tea.

Booths lined the floor-to-ceiling windows that opened out into the teahouse’s gardens.  After being seated, the qipao server would place nuts, an ashtray and a menu for the customers.  Although the menu was 10 pages long, there was only one item served:


Even writing this hurts, cause I miss that damn place so much.  My Shanghai friends and I would simply sit, drink pu-er, and talk for hours.  There were times we would sit in silence, hold our teacups, and stare around the room in amazement.  It was a place that could only be in Shanghai–a memory I could only make in that city.  I sometimes spent $30 on high-end pu-er there, but it was worth it.  The server would add pot after pot of water and we would talk the hours away until our tea became too diluted to continue.

Oolong Tea 乌龙茶

I think we all know what Oolong tea tastes like.  To me, it’s the quintessential tea of Asia.  No matter where you go in Asia, it’s fairly easy to find a cup of Oolong somewhere, somehow.

I often drank Oolong tea in Japan, and it tasted just as it looked: slightly bitter with a strong barley taste.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the tea in Japan (I much preferred Genmai-Cha), but in China that changed.  For some reason, Oolong tasted different no matter where I went in China–although the smell stayed the same.

After my former roommate booted me out of her apartment because I failed to find her a white husband, I had fully moved into what I deem the best apartment I ever had the rare luck of living in. I invited Z and Jenny, my new coworkers, to look at the apartment and decided to get dinner.

We had dinner at a Cantonese restaurant only a few feet away from my new apartment.  Jenny squealed in delight when she saw that they had gong-fu-cha (kung fu tea).

A ‘gong fu cha’ (kung fu tea) set

“That’s like… a real thing?” I questioned with a raised eyebrow.  “I thought it was only made for those cheesy Hong Kong kung fu flicks.”

“Of course it is!” she laughed.  “It’s quite a show.  Do you want to order it?”

The server came out with a tray that held three extremely small cups of tea (no larger than my thumb) and a matching clay teapot.   As soon as he set the tray down, he began to flip the teapot around his hand, flip the tea cups up and down below at lightning speed—and all while pouring tea.  I wouldn’t call it an amazing show; but rather, a waste of perfectly good tea (he literally spilled it everywhere).

“The tea spilled everywhere!” I exclaimed.  “What a waste!”

Z laughed, “that’s how we pour tea in China, Mary.  It goes all over the place.”

With the smell of oolong all around us, I took one of those tiny teacups and took a shot.  “Well, douse me with another shot of Oolong!”

Irish & English Breakfast

I was never a fan of English Breakfast tea.  It’s too bitter, and putting milk and sugar in my tea weirded me out (call me an Asian tea traditionalist).

Yet when I went to Ireland, I drank the stuff like crazy.  Every morning our bed and breakfast hostess would ask if we wanted coffee or tea, and I would copy the locals and order tea.  There was something satisfying and comfortable about drinking a cup of slightly sweetened Irish Breakfast tea on a cold and crisp Irish morning.  The locals often served us ‘Barry’s Irish Tea’ and, as a result, I bought a few boxes to take home to America.

Now when I’m home and brew a cup of Barry’s, I add some sugar and cream and take a deep breath of the tea’s rich, black aroma.  When I close my eyes I instantly recall the rolling hills of Ireland and those peaceful Irish mornings.

What kind of memories do tea evoke for you?

Is a Flexible and Remote Work Environment Really Better for us?

Is a Flexible and Remote Work Environment Really Better for us?

This post has nothing to do with China, Japan, or even travel.  It’s just about the monster that has taken over my life and kept me from writing in this blog: my job.

Despite relocating to Dallas for this job, the nature of my role allows me to have a mostly flexible and remote working environment.  I haven’t visited the Dallas office in over a month.  In fact, I work from home and on the road almost all the time.  Many envy me when I tell them I work from home, but whenever I hear their words of longing, I can’t help but think…

Is a flexible, or remote, working environment really better for us?

The Line Between Work and Personal Space Begin to Blur

I used to tell people that I loved work more than school because, unlike school, work didn’t give us ‘homework.’  As a graduate student, the worry of papers and homework always loomed over my head even after class ended.  I thought back to my work days when work ended at 5pm and didn’t follow me around.  It was great to clock out, go home, and not worry about the monster that was my job until the next day.

I’ll tell you now:

a flexible work schedule destroys that clear barrier between work and personal space. read more

3 Day Itinerary for a Yellowstone National Park Trip (with some tips and tricks)

3 Day Itinerary for a Yellowstone National Park Trip (with some tips and tricks)

Despite living in Utah for 22 years of my life, I had never once visited Yellowstone National Park.  So when all of my bridesmaids (minus one) flew in from China and Japan to be in my Utah wedding, I wanted to treat them to something special post-ceremony: a three day trip to Yellowstone National Park.

I won’t lie.  It was extremely stressful to plan both a wedding and a Yellowstone trip.  A mere day after my wedding, I hauled three Chinese and Japanese girls into an SUV and drove five hours to Wyoming.  It was a whirlwind, but I also knew that having all of my Asia friends in Utah was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.  If we were going to do Yellowstone, it was now or never.  (For more logistical tips and tricks, scroll to the bottom)

Our trip was an absolute success.  Here are the hot spots we visited on our short, but wonderful journey:

Day 1: Mammoth Hot Springs & Lamar Valley

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone
It’s hotter than it looks
Looks like another planet!

Going to Mammoth Hot Springs felt like stepping into an alien world.  You can physically feel the heat of the bubbling hot springs, hear the roar of the waters and..

“Oh god,” Jean held her nose.  “What’s that smell?”

“Euch,” Z gagged.  “It smells like rotten eggs!”

“Oh my god!” I faced Tohko.  “That sulphuric smell reminds me of an onsen (Japanese hot spring)!  This makes me want to hop in!”

“You’re right!” Tohko jumped toward me and grabbed my hand.  “This smell.. ahhh… it makes me want to dip in a hot spring and eat onsen-tamago” (eggs boiled in an onsen).

Z looked at us, horrified.

“You Japanese people–I’ll never get it.”

Cool rock formations made from the hot springs

Afterwards we went to =&0=& approximately one hour away from Mammoth Hot Spring.  The tourist office said that it was a great spot to see wildlife, but when we got there we just saw more Bison.  If you camp out all day (like some photographers did) you might see some wolves… but yeah.  We were happy photographing the bison and called it a day.

Wildlife refuge in Yellowstone
River near the refuge

Yellowstone Bison
So many bison!
We’re obviously way too excited to see bison

Day 2: Artist’s Point (Grand Canyon of Yellowstone) & Yellowstone Lake

I won’t say much about Artist Point (also aptly named ‘the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone’), because the photos do all the talking.  It was my favorite spot in the whole park and, honestly, it really does feel like you’re in a painting.  We did a few trails that gave us both a high and low vantage point of the falls.

Artist Point Yellowstone, Grand Canyon Yellowstone
Gorgeous or what?
Nothing says “tourist” more than matching t-shirts

Yellowstone Artist Point Observation Deck
Hiking down to the observation deck
Up close and personal with the waterfall

“Look at this view!” Tohko pointed to the waterfall as we stood on the observation deck.  “It’s so beautiful… it makes me want to do Acro yoga!”

“Do what?” I repeated, thinking I misheard.

“Acro yoga!  Feel that fresh air, hear that water, look at the view–come on, we just gotta do it–it will make this even more unforgettable!  Come over here Mary, I’ll lift you.”

“No way!” I jumped back.  “I’m too fat, I’ll fall over on you.”

“I’ll do it!” Jean raised her hand.  “I’ve never done it, and I’m scared shitless, but it will make a great photo!”

“Oh my god,” I put my face into my palms, embarrassed. “I can’t believe we’re doing acro yoga here…”

It was a bit weird and drew quite the crowd, but I must admit that Tohko was right: it made the moment even more unforgettable.

Yellowstone acroyoga
I think Jean’s face says it all here

Later we did a hike nearby Yellowstone Lake, in bear country.  When we realized we were the only ones on the trail (and we heard constant rustling around us), we were spooked.  Nearby signs told us to make noise so the bears would stay away, so Tohko taught us a Japanese song about bears and we chanted it the whole hike.  We laughed nervously while walking out of the park, singing the Japanese bear song, scared shitless that a bear would pop out at any moment.

So yeah, rent some bear spray.  Don’t be stupid like us.

Relaxing at the lake

Singing to stave off the bears

Day 3: Old Faithful, Lower Geyser Basin and Old Faithful Lodge read more

The First AMWF Anime Ever: Tada-Kun Never Falls in Love

The First AMWF Anime Ever: Tada-Kun Never Falls in Love

When I first heard of the title “Tada-Kun Never Falls in Love,” it sounded really bad–even for anime.

I only started watching it because, somewhere on the internet, I found a clip of the show that really piqued my interest.  I can’t find the exact clip (dammit!), but basically it involved a foreign, blonde woman approaching a young Japanese man and asking him to take her photo (she asks in perfect Japanese).

He then begins to freak out and speak really bad English, saying that it’s hard for him to communicate without Japanese.

“Oh,” she cocks her head and looks at him.  “Does my Japanese sound strange?  Is it incorrect?”

“Um,” he replies in Japanese.  “No.  Not at all.”

My first thought after watching this clip was:

Wow, I have been the foreign girl in that situation more times than I can count.

My second thought after watching this clip was:

Oh my god!  Her reply is BRILLIANT!  I’m totally going to say that in Japan next time someone responds to my Japanese with really bad English.

My third thought was:

Holy shit, is this an actual anime about a foreign woman (not just some blonde anime character) and a Japanese man falling in love?

The famous scene

Thanks to the above clip, I decided to give “Tada-Kun Never Falls in Love” a chance.   Tada-Kun basically chronicles the story of Tada Mitsuyoshi, a strapping young lad who works at his grandpa’s coffee shop and wants to someday be a photographer.  He stumbles upon Teresa, a blonde foreign woman, while taking photographs in a park.  Eventually their paths cross again once he finds out, coincidentally, Teresa is an exchange student at his local high school.  Oh, she also happens to be living right next door to his coffee shop while staying in Japan.  Talk about destiny, eh?

Anyway, it’s a very slice-of-life show that tells the story of Teresa’s time in Japan and her newfound Japanese friends (Tada and the photography club).  It’s a corny show (cue the sakura petals and wind blowing in hair) and is pretty goddamn ridiculous (Teresa is European royalty–wtf?), but there are some real positive aspects to the show that I just have to highlight.

It Doesn’t Focus on “Foreign”ness

It’s hardly mentioned that Teresa is a foreigner–in fact, her Japanese classmates treat her just like anyone else.  Maybe this isn’t realistic… but I really like it.  In fact, I think this is how stereotypes about foreigners will gradually go away in Japan: by showcasing more foreigners in media where they are not treated like circus animals.

Tada never asks Teresa if she can use chopsticks.  He never comments on her Japanese ability.  He doesn’t even comment on her foreign physical features–he just LIKES the girl for who she is–not where she is from.   I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see Japanese media that doesn’t highlight all the cultural differences of how foreigners don’t fit into Japan.  This anime does a great job of showing a foreign woman fit seamlessly into Japanese society…. with a Japanese man accepting that fact, no questions asked.

Tada and Teresa are Boring, but Likable

Teresa, despite being a supposed foreigner, acts like a typical Japanese girl.  She’s cute, demure, polite and has a high-pitched squeaky voice.  While she may not be all that interesting and a little dense, she’s definitely not a detestable character.

I’m a fan of Tada; although I do admit, he’s kind of vanilla as well.  Still, he’s a good guy with dreams and aspirations and treats Teresa and his friends/family very well.  Although it’s somewhat unrealistic, he’s also very open for a Japanese man.  He tells Teresa his heart’s deepest, darkest secrets (despite her being a foreigner!) and she listens with a smile.  It’s cute.

Hints at Japan’s Internationalization

With a declining population, labor shortage, and rise of tourism–Japan is seeing (and needing) more foreigners than ever.  The amount of foreigners that I saw in Japan while traveling in 2016 is almost double compared to when I lived in Niigata in 2010.

It’s a fact that there are way more foreigners in Japan now.  While most foreigners don’t stay in Japan for the long-haul, all the short-term tourists are helping the Japanese people become a little more accustomed to seeing and interacting with foreigners.  To take it a step further, I think Japanese people are even starting to realize that within this crowd of tourists/exchange students/overseas workers, there are actually a good number of assimilated, Japanese-speaking foreigners–just like this anime highlights.

Honestly, if the interaction between Teresa and Tada were the norm in Japan I probably wouldn’t have left.  This anime presents an alternate-Japan I someday hope becomes reality.

Finally…  Should You Watch This Show?

No.  You shouldn’t.  It’s shojo (girly-anime) garbage–but it’s better than most other garbage.  There are still a lot of eye-rolling, anti-feminist anime moments in the show; but not enough to make me quit.   Teresa and Tada have sucked me in and now I must watch until the very end.

Whether you watch Tada-Kun or not, one thing is for certain: this is a show that paints a very positive image of an AMWF relationship, as well as foreign-Japanese interaction in Japan.

Tada-Kun is now airing and can be seen on Crunchyroll, if interested.

Moving to Texas for Work and What Life is Like in Dallas

Moving to Texas for Work and What Life is Like in Dallas

A few months ago I mentioned that I received a baller job offer, but with one catch: I had to move to Dallas, Texas to take the job.

It’s already been four months since I first set foot in the heartland of America.  Before coming here, I had no to connection to Texas whatsoever–no family, no friends, no nothing.  To be quite frank, I probably could have gone through life without visiting Texas and been totally ok with it.

If you told me four years ago that I would be moving to Dallas, Texas, I would have rolled over laughing and said you were out of your mind.  Now, here I am.  Just goes to show: you never know where life will take you.  From Niigata to Shanghai to LA to Dallas.  I literally ask myself everyday–how did I end up here?

Anyway, Texas is a very interesting place….I’ll give you that.  Here are some of my observations (scroll to the bottom for best of Texas recommendations):

People in Texas are friendly and polite.  Like, really damn friendly.

Friendly bartenders at Deep Ellum brewpub

I mentioned this before, but people in Texas are the friendliest I’ve ever met in the states.  They’re not pretentious; they’re very down to Earth and approachable.  People address each other as ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ here.  It’s the kinda place where you can walk up to someone and strike up a conversation and it’s not awkward at all.

The Lyft/Uber drivers here are the friendliest I’ve ever seen and they’ve given me great tips about the city.  My coworkers are helpful and warm.  Servers at restaurant are truly top-notch–they are prompt, considerate, and well-mannered.  I’m very impressed with just how lovely it is to interact with locals.

Yoga in front of the capitol? Only in Austin

The only drawback?  Like the Midwesterners (and Japanese), Texans tend to put up a wall.  They’re friendly and nice, but to a point.  Many Texans I meet are tried and true Texans–in other words, their family has been in Dallas for generations and they’ve already got a well-established network. They have a close circle of family and friends and they’re very selective about who enters that circle.  This is a big change from California, a state chock full of transplants who are more open (and forced?) to let others deeper into their social circles.

Everyone is Moving Here for a Job

View from my new company window 😀

Transplants may, however, outpace the population.  Texas is booming.  Techies fed up with Silicon Valley are flooding into Austin.  Big businesses are relocating to Dallas for the business friendly atmosphere and low taxes.  Houston is filled with oil/energy money and all the cash it brings.  There is a strong economy in Texas (tenth in the world!) and it’s very apparent.  Cranes are everywhere.  The population is increasing year on year.  Every car that passes my street is either a BMW or Porsche.

I used to think that I was a weirdo for moving to Texas for a job; but the longer I live here, the more people I meet who are in my very same predicament.  Like me, I’ve met many twenty/thirty-somethings with no connection to Texas, but who moved here for a job.

American Culture is Strong Here

Even Trader Joe’s Feels More Texas

I was always at a loss when I had to teach Japanese students about American culture.  To me, American culture was a melting pot of different cultures–it was more than just hamburgers, hot dogs, and baseball.  There was no such thing as “American food” or “American culture.”  We were a mix of different cultures–a country of immigrants–and it was hard to condense that into one, simple lesson.

But man, if I was from Texas?  I’d have a whole lotta culture to teach the kids.

Fortworth Stockyards
A super cool Saloon

I feel more American here.  It may be somewhat stereotyped, but going to a honkey tonk; visiting a real ranch, seeing people wear cowboy boots and hats (and look cool in them) and going to a real rodeo make me feel like I’m in a place uniquely America.

My parents came to visit last week and I took them to see a cattle drive; eat authentic and downright delicious Texas barbecue, and drink in a real-life saloon.  When the bartender saw my dad in a cowboy hat and found out we were visiting from Utah, she gave us a wink and poured us a round of beers on the house.  Again, the combination of old-west plus friendly folks create a uniquely American atmosphere that is hard to find anywhere else.

Texan Women Dress REALLY Nice

What can I say?  Texas women are stunning.  My coworkers look like they walked out of a fashion magazine.  From their earrings, to their necklace, the color of their dress and down to the style of their shoe–everything matches.  I haven’t seen women this nicely dressed since Tokyo.

Texas Cities are Super Clean

Downtown Austin
Ausitn was Pretty Darn Clean

Downtown Dallas sparkles.  I live near downtown and man, the city glows.  I just went to Austin last weekend and it was equally spotless.  Compared to downtown Los Angeles, Dallas looks like Luxembourg.

Maybe the suburbs are a little trashier (?), but metro-area Dallas is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen in the USA.  Good job, Texas.

Texas = Affordable

My neighborhood. This would cost 3k+ in LA–only 1k ish in Dallas

I keep telling my husband that Dallas/Austin/Houston are probably the last cities in the US where one can achieve “the American dream.”  Not only are houses affordable here, but jobs are plentiful and wages are high.  I’m quite sure that if I worked my current job in LA I’d make the same salary–except with double the cost of living.  This is a huge Texas perk.

Ok, some of the bad

Green! ….but flat
  • There’s no nature here.  I know, some Texans might argue with me, but as someone from the rocky mountains who spent the last four years in California–I’m sorry.  The nature here is just not that great.  But hey, at least it’s green?
  • Traffic is pretty gnarly in Dallas and Austin.  Not as bad as LA, but close.  Freeway design makes no sense either–it’s really confusing.
  • Texas drivers are out of their mind.  I was pretty sure LA drivers were the most reckless and dangerous in the US, but I take it back.  Texas is much worse.
  • Dear god, it’s hot.
  • Hard to make friends.  But maybe this is true everywhere.
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    Discovering My Irish Roots in County Galway, Ireland

    Discovering My Irish Roots in County Galway, Ireland

    Kylemore Abbey in Connemara

    Countless Americans make the journey across the Atlantic for one reason alone: discovering their Irish roots in the homeland of Ireland.

    I’m no different.  When my father first told me that I was Irish (around six years old),  I went to the library and checked out every book on Ireland I could find.  Each page was filled with green pastures that stretched out to the ocean, castles dotting the rolling green countryside, and cobblestone streets in cute seaside villages.  As a young girl growing up in the deserts of coal-mining Utah, Ireland looked like the setting of a faraway fairy tale from a Disney movie.

    My Irish Grandma

    My Grandma Winnie left Ireland when she was in her early twenties.  Her father was a strict, Irish farmer who fit the stereotype: when he wasn’t drinking at the pub, he was beating his kids.  My grandmother loved to dance and sing so, despite my grandfather’s strict household rule, she would sneak out of the second floor window and run to the dance halls.  Usually she was able to sneak in and out undetected, but one evening her father caught her climbing back in the window.  She was beaten bloody.

    “Winnie,” my great-grandmother told my grandma the next day. “Your brothers are going to inherit the farmland here and you’ll get nothing.  If you stay here they’ll make you labor on the farm and work you to the bone for nothing.  If you marry another Irishman around here it will just be the same.  Take this ticket to America and find your own future.”

    Winnie journeyed to America, moved to Boston, and lived and died there.  She was a single mother to two children and worked a hard life of physical labor to give her kids the American dream.

    I loved my grandma Winnie and was proud of my Irish heritage.  If I was going to Ireland, then I just had to go to her hometown in…

    Carna in Connemara, County Galway (aka, the Irish boonies)

    Aint nothin here, man

    Connemara used to be its own county, but it was so small and unpopulated that it was eventually merged with neighboring County Galway for efficiency’s sake.  Connemara is a vast swath of bog and plateaus that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Connemara is rugged, untouched by man, expansive and stunning in its purity.

    When husband and I were driving to Carna, we were surprised to see… well, absolutely nothing.  Much of Ireland is rural, but the area around Carna is so rural, you have to wonder if there are more sheep than men wandering around the hills.

    The old, Irish style cottage–still in fashion (this one was newly built)
    The focal point of the town: a church
    Pharmacy across the street

    The town was tiny–basically, there’s only one supermarket, one church, and two pubs.  The ocean is so close you can hear the waves from the main road.  The church is the central point of the town, and next to it is a pub (go figure).  It was surreal to be in my grandmother’s hometown and think that she wandered these streets and went to this very same church.  Since there are only two pubs in the town, we go to the one that’s open and walk in to get some lunch.

    A model of the famous Galway boats was in the restaurant. These boats are super cool!

    As soon as we walked in three elderly men at the bar craned their heads at the door.  They gave us a long, hard stare until they went back to nursing their pint of beer.  The peppy woman at the bar sat us at a table and took our order.

    “Mary,” husband whispered to me. “I think I’m the first Asian person to ever be in this bar.  Or even set foot in Carna.”

    “Yeah, you’re probably right,” I laughed.

    The pub!

    Everyone in the bar spoke Irish gaelic.  The waitress told us that everyone in Carna actually does speak Irish with English as a second language.  In fact, Carna is known for being the last remaining town where Irish is spoken daily; thus, people in Ireland homestay in Carna for the sole purpose of attaining fluency in Irish.  Hearing the Irish-Celtic going around the pub had me feeling like I stepped back in time to a pub from Ireland in the 1800s.  I’m quite sure little had changed.

    At the grocery store everything was written in Irish. Even the books for sale.

    We didn’t spend long in Carna and, much to my disappointment, I didn’t learn more about my grandmother or any surviving relatives.  Being there felt surreal to me and it was hard for me to approach the locals to ask about her family.  Emotionally I didn’t have the strength, and I hope that someday I can go back to Carna better prepared to find some long lost relatives.

    Rural Connemara near Carna

    Although Carna is not a tourist destination, it really is stunning.  It’s rare to find a patch of Earth that has changed so little over the centuries.  The scenery around Carna is burned into my brain–it’s literally unlike anywhere on Earth (and is very different from other parts of Ireland).  If you want to hear people speak Irish, eat the best damn meal of mussels you’ll ever have, and discover a patch of Ireland untouched by time–maybe Carna is worth a stop.

    Best mussels of my life. Freshly caught off the coast of Carna that morning.

    But for me, it was definitely worth it.  To see where my grandma came from.  To see where I came from.

    And If You’re Going to Ireland, for God’s Sake go to Galway City: It’s a Must

    When people ask me where they should go when planning a trip to Ireland, I immediately say:

    “Skip Dublin and go straight to Galway.  Trust me.”

    I’m not just saying that because I’m from Galway–I’m saying it because Galway City is the shit.  It’s like stepping into a modern, medieval city.  It’s a stunning city on the seaside that has cobblestone streets, charming medieval homes, and pubs that feel like they came right out of a fantasy film.  When you walk down the main street in Galway, you’ll find Irish performers dancing in the streets.  Smell freshly baked bred or a pot of Irish stew brewing nearby.  Hear the music of Irish guitars and tin whistles from the lively pubs flood onto the street.

    Latin Quarter!
    The old clan flags of Galway
    Look how bustling it is!

    It’s a nerdy reference, but I kept telling my husband that walking around Galway City felt like I was in a fantasy village in a video game.  The music would change depending on which pub or restaurant we happened to walk by, the medieval buildings and music felt like it was straight out of a renaissance fair, and approaching a random local to ask about the city was not only easy, but encouraged.

    Proof I’m a Galway Girl

    My Irish last name is not very common.  I’m not an O’Malley or an O’Hara.  In fact, husband teased me throughout the entire trip saying: “your clan must have died out, because I don’t see your Irish name anywhere.”

    When we visited the National Irish Museum in Galway and we looked through the local history, I not only saw my last name right smack in the main exhibition–I saw that my clansmen were the original settlers and leaders of Galway.  I took a photo and beamed with pride.

    Maybe my clan is dying out.  Maybe after the British ran the original Celt settlers out of Galway and killed many of them, a good chunk of my ancestors died too.

    But I’m very proud of my last name and my heritage–it’s one reason I didn’t, and won’t, change my last name (even after marriage).  Luckily, I got a good husband who not only lets me, but encourages me to keep my last name.

    I’m proud to be Irish.  I’m proud to be from Galway.