Monday, March 31, 2014

A Good March

          I've never liked the month of March. With no holidays, it was always exceptionally long and busy. March has never given me anything to celebrate or be thankful for... until this year.
          It is quite poetic that this is the time of year in Japan when people wait for the sign of hope - the sakura.  Blooming on cue of comfortable weather, the flower with over 200 species in Japan has come to symbolize, finally, the end of winter.
          Strangely enough, my experiences and emotions have been in-sync with the weather since arriving to Japan in last September. Fall was a beautiful breeze. Winter was cold and dreary. And now spring is bright and beautiful. This has taken me by surprise since I've never had an interest in spring while I worshipped the idea of winter from afar (Thailand). I guess that was a premature move on my part. I still am not all that into spring -insert clip from Bambi- but I can't help but interpret the blooming of sakura as a "Hey girl, your life is beautiful right now." Dammit.
          It really is though. To put it inaccurately softly, I was stressed out about my future in December and January. Rather than sleep, I worried every night about credits incompatibility between universities and about finding ways to sustain myself in Tokyo. On top of that, my sick high standards for academic performance just wouldn't let up despite hitting the roof with number of classes one can possibly take per semester. Yea, winter was dark.
          Now in March, I am doing an internship that is very meaningful to me and also have a part-time job. Yet though I am extremely busy working 7 days a week, I have somehow managed to be healthy physically and socially this month.  In fact, just this weekend I had the most random day of being continuously inspired by people, ranging from 6 months old to almost 90 years old. (So okay, I did take a day off this week.) I reunited with some long lost cousins and got to meet their family (toddlers) and friends for the first time. Absolutely nothing was planned in advance, and that was the great part about it. It was nice piecing together everyone's story, making up for the lost years, because to be honest my relatives and their company are such friendly and caring people. 
          That was the later half of the day. My day actually started at 9:30 a.m. at Ueno Park. Expecting nothing more than a guide or two to lead me, unnecessarily to admire sakura trees, I was instead met by the most wonderful group of young-hearted citizens who walked me through how Ueno came to be and the paralleling events in Japanese history. It was so personal: they each wrote and presented in turns their own informative speech... in English. 
          I am getting emotional now, just remembering it. It's not only the sign of their vitality, motivation to keep themselves sharp in their old age, and generosity to share their wisdom with us callow youths that inspires me, but how they treat each other with the same sincerity and compassion as they do to us guests. They never miss a beat in encouraging one another about the speeches they have worked so hard on. Age doesn't make you immune to self-esteem issues about speaking in public in a non-native language. They fully understand that and take it to heart. 
          The sakura was perhaps only 80% bloomed on that day, but it didn't even matter to me. There were more special things to appreciate and be grateful for that day. 

A Good March

My cousin Christina and her daughters.
Nami (left), Yuna (right)
My cousin Kenny on uncle duty.
Omikuji - I got good.

          I want to end here with a special mention about the guy pictured directly above. He is reaching 90 years old. Unbelievable. Even more so if you meet him. His speech moved me. When he spoke about the Tomb of Shogitai Warriors, he added that his great-grandfather is buried in there. I have also never known any human being with more beautiful cursive. To me, he exemplifies what it means to enrich your life and live it to the fullest. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The "Happiest 5K on the Planet"
Came to Japan!

          Despite both waking up at 6:40 to get ready for it, Estella and I were close to almost not making it in time for the last round of the first Color Run in Japan, at 12:40. We met up with Kosei and Richard - strangers to me at the time - at Tokyo station and almost missed the train that we needed to get on to go to Anegasaki Station in Chiba prefecture, the middle of nowhere.
          On the hour and a half train ride there, as city architecture became more sparse and then nonexistent, replaced by fields and rustic communities, we figured that most of the people on the train were hiding a pair of sneakers and a Color Run T-shirt somewhere inside their "Tokyo" guise and tactically decided to rely on their navigation skills. 
          Sure enough, it got us there. It was also a stroke of luck that the Color Run decided to send out shuttle buses for free to us poor transportation-less castaways. (However, we would have to find our own way back.) 
          The weather was actually ideal for running outside and getting powdered paint thrown at you. Despite the cold, windy, and rainy days that preceded it, Saturday was perfectly sunny and cool. The Color Run isn't much of a run either. Not only is it just 5 km, if you ran the whole thing you would have missed the point of it. As ridiculous as it sounds, the Color Run is the happiest 5k on the planet! The point is to be a blank canvas at the start and a vibrant painting at the finish. Moreover, you should take the time to admire other "paintings" and assist those who have trouble getting all their white spots covered (Richard). ;) Even when you've reached the end of the track, which I must tell you comes way too soon, you're not done having fun. At the finish line, staff wait to hand you Lush pots of more powdered paint so that you can continue to have your war with a group of friends or join in the big music and dance rave a little further up ahead towards a stage.
         The most phenomenal thing about the Color Run is that all types of people show up for it. Old and young. Local and foreign. Families and friends, or even strangers. There are people wearing tutus, not exclusively women, people wearing afro wigs, and perhaps only in Japan: people in wedding attire. 
         The journey home was a long one, starting with trying to look as normal as possible. Then I believe Estella, Kosei, Richard, and I walked further than we did in the Color Run to get to a station to go back to Tokyo. It was quite an adventure, complete with a spontaneous visit to an abandoned shrine and gratuitous transit advice from a really strange and loud obasan. It was only when we were finally sitting inside the right train that we had time to sigh, be tired, and think about what an amazing day it was. 

Me and the lovely Estella before the run.
Estella's shoes after the run.
My face after the run.
The only time you come out of a run looking a thousand times better.
My yakisoba
Sights on the way back.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Changed Perspectives On Travelling And Long Distance Relationships (Of All Sorts)

          My trip to Australia has made me realize appreciation for something I never thought I'd even want to ever deal with - long distance relationships. But before I get into that, a little premise. I used to be under the impression that I loved traveling, but now in my 20s I see things in a different light. I don't really like the idea of trotting the globe in a year or 2 or before I'm 25 or whatnot. In fact when I read this article that many of you have probably seen floating around on your Facebook newsfeed a few months ago, "Don't Date A Girl Who Travels", all I could think of was how this girl is NOT me. (Don't you all start asking for my number now.) But why then do I run something that could pass for a travel blog? There is in fact a great explanation to this perplexity. Here it is: I like settling
          This blog actually started with my first experience "settling" in somewhere new. I visited the infamous Richelle at her home in San Francisco and had a blast doing what we would normally do day in and day out for a month. After that, I've either blogged about my daily life in Thailand or some famously exotic countries I tried to tour-out on restricted schedules... Guess which out of the two I enjoyed more? (Answer: A)
          Again, I am a fan of the seemingly mundane. So, it follows that I like my experiences abroad local, personal, and most importantly, peaceful. I mislead myself into thinking that I will be "here" for "some time" and therefore there is no need to rush to sight-see. I like not making a big deal out of a new location, but rather taking it in organically while my routines go on uninterrupted, even if time is in reality limited. 

 Trips of such attributes, in my experience, transpire from long distance relationships. 
          And I'm not just talking about your boyfriend or your girlfriend. I'm also talking about your best friend from high school who moved away. A short-term visitor to your country who you really connected with. The particularly unforgettable individuals you met when you went abroad that one time or another.  People who, out of everyone you know, mean the most to you but just can't live in the same geographical area as you at this point of time. I perhaps have the worst of it, growing up among third-culture kids and now studying abroad short-term myself. (Not to mention my love life.) I am ruined by long distance relationships. It is an endless cycle, one perpetuating another. But it isn't a bad kind of ruin.  Literally on the plane ride back, I asked myself, "What [where] would I like to see next?" And whereas a decade ago or half that, I would have had handy a mental list of capitals and attractions, now I can only think of names and corresponding faces to that question. I don't think that's a bad thing.
         I no longer have desires to visit countries; I yearn to visit people who have impacted my life so positively and who hopefully feel that I have done the same to theirs. And when I get the chance to now, the need to observe the guidebook like the Bible never arises. I'm instead consumed by the simple reality of getting to be a part of their lives again, in the absence of pressure and pomposity. I don't care if we do nothing but talk over coffee everyday. I don't care if we do have adventures everyday because that is our thing, Namwan. It's the closest thing we have to jumping in to a time machine and going back to good ole days, and that is what I truly value, not tourism. 
          So then why appreciate the distance you ask? Isn't what I ultimately wish for an elimination of distance? Not really. Assuming that the distance fulfills other necessary aspects of wellbeing at the moment - i.e. education - it honestly is a part of life I appreciate. Moreover, personal experience has made me cocksure about something: physical separation, whether we welcome it or not, puts our values into painfully clear perspective. We need separation to miss. We notice what matters most to us when they are gone. I'd much rather live in consciousness of these. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blog Update: HOPE Page Renovated

Dear Readers,
I'm pleased to inform you that after long neglect, the page corresponded to the "HOPE" link on the right side bar is now beautiful to my standards (hopefully my standards are acceptable  and ready to be looked at and read. The content itself is nothing new. Sorry to those who have known me long for whom it may now seem very redundant. But for those of you who haven't known me long, this story is something I carry with me like a photograph to all the new places I go to and all the new people I meet.
- Mika

Sunday, March 2, 2014

This Didn't Fit My Suitcase:

This blue-haired beauty
Graffiti lanes
Fight Club soap sandcastle
Silly birds that can't fly
Homemade cuisines
New friends
Photogenic buildings around the block
Cookies made by cuties
Day markets
And night ones
Quaint cafes
My collection of coffee drinks
Surfers' Paradise
This drink
My dear chef