The Ruby Ronin’s 2016 Year in Review

The Ruby Ronin’s 2016 Year in Review


As social media and the internet have already proclaimed, 2016 was not exactly a great year.  Dozens of amazing, life-changing and truly respectable celebrities passed away–and most of them, in my opinion, left this world too soon (Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince… just to name a few).

The most devastating public tragedy to occur in 2016, in my personal opinion, is the election of Donald Trump.  I’m in disbelief that a bigoted, low-intelligence, tax-evading, rapist could become president.  I go into 2017 with a heavy heart and sincere concern about the U.S. and the world.  As someone studying foreign policy day-in, day-out, I am extremely aware of the damage an unpredictable president like Trump will do, and it is very frightening indeed.  I went into graduate school with the high hopes of graduating, working hard to get a job in the federal government and serve under the first female president–and now everything has changed.  My future looks uncertain.

The end of 2016 also invoked personal pain and heartache.  My hometown in Niigata, Itoigawa City, was engulfed in flames on December 22nd.  Over 140 buildings were lost to the fire.  However, because of the tight-knit community and the warning systems put in place, no one was injured or dead.  Over 800 people were safely evacuated.  My friends lost their homes and the entire downtown of Itoigawa is now charred to a crisp.  It was heart breaking.  A city with so many memories and so much history–lost.

Yet if there is one thing I know the Japanese do best, it is rebuild.  After fighting the fire for 1.5 days, the town got together on day 2 and already started preparations to rebuild Itoigawa.  I wish I could be there to help them–the Itoigawa community is my second home, and I truly love them.

Aside from rather gloomy world events, how did my 2016 fare?  Thankfully, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, although there were some rough spots.

The Year of Travel (and seeing old friends)

Sunset in San Diego with Z and Jean

I traveled a lot in 2016.  I went to Japan and visited old stomping grounds (Takamatsu and Hiroshima) as well as new ones (Kumano Kodo and Kamakura).  I stopped by Shanghai and saw old friends and had an epic journey with J to Zhangjiajie, Hunan.  I went to Canada for the first time with Richard, where he took me to Vancouver and Whistler (and I’ll definitely write about this amazing country later!).  We also ventured to Minneapolis, Duluth, Lake Superior, Napa, Sonoma and finished off the year in Costa Rica.

Zhangjiajie with J!
Kumano Kodo!
Mt. Whistler in Canada!
Lake Superior!
Ethiopian food in Minneapolis!
Z soakin up the sun in La Jolla, San Diego

This year taught me that frequent travel is possible without being a nomad.  Sure, roaming the world from one destination to the next with a backpack and a camera is exciting and fun; but the road can get lonely, and not having a home to return to starts to burn a hole in your heart.   It’s nice to travel and explore… but it’s even better to return to someone you love and a cozy, stationary home.

Family and Health Concerns

Brought my dad to San Diego before his operation

Earlier I wrote about this briefly, but my father was very ill this year.  He suffered from congestive heart failure and underwent a complicated quadruple bypass surgery.  The before-after process for surgery was truly heart-wrenching, but luckily the procedure and his recovery was smooth and successful.

My father is already his usual jolly self and nearly 100% recovered.  I am beyond relieved.He still has some other health issues to tackle, but for the most part he is doing just fine.

Although I truly miss life in Asia, it’s moments like this that make me glad I’m in the United States.

Graduate School Highs and Lows

One high is definitely living here

2016 was the year I took the plunge and quit my job to go back to school.  The mental trauma the entire process of graduate school incurred was monumental.  One month prior to graduate school I had nightmares and cold sweats about whether I was doing the right thing or not.  I am not rich and I do not have the luxury to go to graduate school to get a humanities/political science degree, I frequently told myself.  Is this going to be worth it?  Am I doing the right thing?

Oh my goodness readers… days before my first class, I almost quit the program.  Making the decision to spend thousands (like, thousands and thousands) of dollars on education was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

San Diego sunsets for healing

Also,  I don’t know if it’s my program or what, but graduate school is tough as shit.  It’s like undergrad on steroids, crack and LSD all at once.  I spend every waking hour of my life (not exaggerating) either in class learning or at the library studying.  I probably read close to 500 pages of text and write up to 5 papers per week.  I realized that graduate students are the ultimate masochists, because we pay so much money to suffer.


Yet, I have no regrets.  I’m learning an insane amount of information.  My view of the world, and the U.S. government, has been flipped upside down (and in a good way).  My program has four career coaches to help us find employment.  95% of the graduating class is employed.  I’m in good hands.

I also have to say that: If I went to any other graduate school (including the expensive ivy-league ones), this degree would probably not be worth it.  My school is highly ranked, has incredible faculty; teaches us applicable, real-world knowledge and is affordable.  The value of graduate school is definitely in the caliber of the school and faculty more than the piece of paper.

And Finally, The Big Announcement

Atop the peak of Mt. Whistler, Richard popped the big question.


I now have even more to look forward to in 2017.  Time to plan that wedding.

Happy New Year Everyone!

2016 had some bad (ok, a lot of bad), but it definitely had some good.  I’m hoping that, despite our idiot president and all, 2017 will be a good year.  I will graduate, get married and hopefully find that career I’ve been striving after for so many years.  Although I’m not looking forward to the wedding planning, I’m definitely excited about the next chapter of my life after graduate school–and most of all, starting a new life with Richard.


Have a happy 2017 everyone!

22 thoughts on “The Ruby Ronin’s 2016 Year in Review

  1. Congratulations. I thought I saw that word ‘fiance’ slipped out somewhere, but I didn’t want to say anything. Glad I waited. Happy happy new beginnings to you and Richard. All the best, xxoo

    1. Thanks Lani! Yeah, I did mention fiancee on here (and other blogs), just never got around to ‘officially’ announcing it, haha.

      Wishing you the best in Siem Reap with you and your bf!! Here’s to a new and exciting year!

  2. Congrats, on everything, especially surviving grad school. I am sure you will kick ass.

    And, um, gulp, may you kick ass at wedding planning. Because that can be a whole job, too. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Autumn! I hope someday I kick as much ass as you do.

      Haha yeah wedding planning… oh god. I can’t even think about it right now.

      Hope you have an awesome new year too!

  3. Congrats on the engagement! It sounds like doing this degree was a good choice, hope you’ll find a job you’ll love after graduation. Happy 2017!

  4. Happy new year, Mary! I hope your studies continue to go smoothly and you travel even more in 2017! Oh, and that you successfully plan that wedding. I also hope that for myself hahaha. I’m kinda down now as yesterday I finally chose a dress and it’s not exactly what I wanted. After visiting 30 shops and not seeing anything that I loved I just kind of gave up haha. This dress is okeish but I honestly don’t know what I wanted/expected. I hope I like it more when I go to try the final thing on (it’s tailor made). And if not, at least it was not expensive hahaha.

    Ah, I’m also so glad your dad recovered!

    1. Thank you so much Marta!!! I hope I travel more in 2017, I need it, haha!!

      Oh you found a dress!?! Oh my god I haven’t even started. I have 10,000 things to do, like send out invitations and book the venue and blah blah. Are you doing your wedding in China? Are you going to wear a qipao?

      I’m definitely going to have a discount wedding dress lol. Man, I am so cheap and awful.

      My dad is doing great! Thank you!

      Have a wonderful year Marta! YOU’RE AWESOME!

      1. I’m doing two weddings, one in China and one in Spain.
        The one in China will be in May. I have the place booked, a wedding planner and my 2 dresses (wedding dress and qipao). The dresses were very cheap, at least compared with the prices in Spain. I still need to think if we are going to get a band, who’s going to be the “priest”, what gifts to give to the guests, what menu we will eat… God I need to start working hard after the Chinese New Year holidays haha.
        The Spanish wedding is in October, I already have the place booked but little else…

        Jia you!! We can!!

  5. Happy New Year, Mary. Many congratulations on your engagement.

    Wedding planning is every girl’s dream, well, almost. Is it a simple affair or the Wedding of the Year?

    1. Thank you very much!

      Well, it may have been my dream in 2nd grade but now I’m over it. It looks like a looming nightmare. So much work.

      It’s going to be somewhat in between? Close friends and family. Most of my close friends and family live abroad, so my wedding party and reception will look like the UN talks. I’m going to have a simple, rustic wedding in the mountains. I need me some trees.

      Thanks again for your well wishes, and I really appreciate you reading my blog. Have a wonderful year!

  6. Congrats on the engagement! Wishing you all the best for the year ahead. I too am anxious about the impact a Trump presidency will have on the world.

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