Sunrise at Sun Moon Lake

Sunrise at Sun Moon Lake

Hey guys, how’s your summer going? Is anybody else relieved that the humidity is slowly but surely starting to die down? Just me?

In my two visits to Taiwan, I’ve dipped my toes into several areas outside of Taipei proper. Yilan. Yangmingshan. And for today’s topic, Sun Moon Lake.

Continue reading “Sunrise at Sun Moon Lake”

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Compliments come in all forms

When I was studying abroad in Tokyo, I lived in a one-room apartment in a four-story building with a bunch of other foreign students. I’m sure there were some Japanese folks living there too, but we never saw them. It was a great setup, really; we all had our own private spaces, but the building also had a common room with a computer, free wifi, a microwave, and a couple really old, beat-up couches for us to hang out on. I spent many a weekend morning in there using the wi-fi to chat with my family while some poor hungover classmate lay face-down on the opposite couch.

Ahh, good times.

I kept my room pretty spartan, because I was only intending to live there 6 months. Therefore I didn’t see the point in making everything look nice. After all, I’d just have to tear it all down again soon after, right?

But not everybody followed this train of thought. Enter my French classmate, who I’ll call L-chan.

L-chan was a friendly, outgoing lady who loved food, loved company, and seemed to love studying in Japan. We somehow hit it off, and I was lucky enough to be invited into her apartment a few different times for tea and snacks.

And oh wow, what a room.

The first time I walked in, I was hit with the scent of it. The place smelled like homecooked food, and tea, and cinnamon. She must have used softeneer on her sheets, because I could smell that too. Everything was full of color; rather than stick with our allotted sheets and curtains, she’d spent her own cash to get what she wanted. In short, the room felt like a home.

“Your place smells so good,” I said to her, and she beamed as she hustled me onto one of her two tiny chairs for tea. As she got separate strainers for our tea and set out honey, milk, sugar, and separate teaspoons for us to use, I marveled at how very Adult she seemed to be. From someone who had until that point lived at home and had just hit 20, I thought it was like magic.

Someday, I said to myself, I want a home just like this. A place that feels like a home not only to me, but others.

Fast forward. L-chan and I have sadly not been in touch for ages (here’s hoping she’s still doing well and still making delicious crepes!). I’m in Japan, living in a slightly larger apartment (two rooms instead of one).

My room is not what you’d call “adult”, but it does look colorful. Purple bedsheets, wintery kotatsu covers, corkboards full of pictures of people I have come to know.

As for the smell?

This morning I made banana chocolate chip muffins. Last week I made peanut butter and molasses cookies. I use my slow cooker for roasted garlic chicken dinners or chili or pumpkin soup on the regular.

And I have friends that, every time they come over, say, “Your place smells so good.” They settle in at my kotatsu table and I’m able to provide matching sets of chopsticks, or wine glasses for fancy drinks, or mugs for tea. Basil and succulents line my windows. “I wish my place smelled like yours.”

Just like L-chan, I find myself beaming with pride.

Look at me being all Adult.

Shopping adventures! (Or the lack thereof)

Today I waltzed into my nearest AEON Mall and bought myself a new shirt and pair of pants without a second thought.

A lot of you are going, “Yeah, and?” Let me break down why this is a big deal for me.

I’m pretty average in size, at least for an American white woman. I generally grab medium-sized stuff off the rack back home, so I never really need to worry about things fitting- just fitting correctly. In Japan, though? When I first got here it was a miracle if anything fit at all. 

If you go into your average boutique in the shopping arcades, you can expect to find sizes ranging from small (S) to extra large (LL). Here’s the thing, though- sizing here is different from the States, and as a general rule you’re going to have to go up at least one size in order to fit. So if you’re a medium, you better start with a large. 

(This doesn’t necessarily apply to foreign brands like H&M or Gap, which tends to show the US and European sizes on their tags.)

But what do you do if you have a butt, or something else that gives you shape? Better go up a second size. Only now, we’re getting close to being sized out of the average shop.

The first few times I shopped in Japan I was very dispirited about the whole thing. Nothing fit, or rather, it might fit- but in a way that looked gorgeous on a Japanese woman and horrible on me. I refused to even consider buying pants here at first- I would only buy them from home when I went back to visit.

But in the past year or so, things have changed.

While there are still plenty of limitations on what I can buy here (many self-imposed; drapey clothes look lovely on the locals but baggy and frumpy on me), I’ve found myself figuring out how and where to get the clothes I need. For example, if you need clothes with a bit more wiggle room, AEON Malls tend to offer plus-size sections. There are catalogs and online shops that offer bigger sizes even if you can’t find them in the stores. H&M has proven to be a godsend, housing not only clothes that fit but ones with colors beyond wine red or soft pink. Zara sometimes offers things at a reasonable price, but I personally don’t shop there as it isn’t my style.

If all else fails, women can take a peek into the men’s section for things they are struggling to find in their size, but the shape of the garment may not be what you need.

If you live in a foreign country now, how goes shopping for clothes? Does everything-or nothing– fit you correctly? What about shoes, which is a whole other can of worms? 

Let’s NOT talk: private time in public transport

Who hates crowded public transport? Yeah, me too. It’s hot, sticky, and full of weird people. (To over-generalize.) As a resident of Kyoto City, there is no need for me to own a car- and several reasons for me NOT to, the least of which being how prohibitively expensive it is. I suppose that’s universal. Right along with how everyone in the world puts up with the woes of public transport with the same long-suffering.

But how we express that is surprisingly different.

Here’s the scene: Washington DC, cherry blossom season. The Metro is packed with tourists and poor locals who just want to get to work already. A train gets delayed, because of course it does. We all pile into the next one that trundles along. Many of us immediately have regrets because we’re brushing shoulders with our neighbors…At best.

Cue the woman next to me turning and laughing. “Can you believe how busy it is?”

“You’d think they’d plan for busy days,” a man concurs nearby.

“The Metro is hopeless, it’s a wonder it’s running at all,” bemoans a man in a suit- I imagine he’s a local.

Seems pretty typical, yeah? Standing around criticizing the situation, commiserating on everything from the people with loads of luggage to the unusually warm weather.

Let’s visit a similar scene in another part of the world.

I’m in Tokyo and I just boarded the train at Higashi Ikebukuro, an area with a massive shopping complex called Sunshine City. (Cool place, by the way.) The trains are coming every two minutes but that does nothing to alleviate the press of people on all sides as I try not to elbow anyone. I fail- there is absolutely no way to move without bumping into five people and having them, in turn, bumping you about with their umbrellas and briefcases.

But here, there is an almost oppressive silence.

The seated woman I’m standing in front of stares determinedly at her cell phone screen. The man next to her is attempting to read the paper, jostling several people every time he wants to go to the next page. Many are dozing, including a businessman next to me who has looped his arm through the hand grip so he won’t fall down.

How I think of this is: when you’re in a western country and feel your space being invaded upon, you push out, regaining some of it (mentally) by reminding everyone of your presence. Don’t shove me, I’m here talking to you. If you make eye contact with me you’ll feel more inclined to give me another inch of space.

But when you’re in a situation like I was in Tokyo, rather than assertively claiming space, you draw yourself in. Don’t acknowledge the person inches from your face; think about your last vacation instead. Feel someone’s umbrella tapping against your leg? Perhaps you nudge it once or twice, but if it fails to move, you play on your smartphone to get your mind off of the annoyance. You only have to deal with it until you can get off the train, after all.

How do you react when you’re in a public space that’s unusually crowded- do you push out, or draw yourself in?

Preparing to be sick

Preparing to be sick

It was only a matter of time before I succumbed to some sort of illness. Everyone around me has been hacking and wiping their noses and looking utterly miserable for the past month and a half, so it was less a question of “if” and more of a “when”. All the same, while I stockpiled tissues and lozenges, I wasn’t entirely prepared when the cold got me because I forgot one essential thing: the actual cold medicine.

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A year of conscious feedback

Something I’ve struggled with for ages is the concept of giving feedback to people about their products and services. I’m not sure why; laziness is very likely one part of it. But in the past when I bought things from big-name websites I’d delete their survey emails unread. When at a restaurant I’d be at a loss as to what to put on the questionnaires they passed out.

But something’s changed.

Something very big and political has changed, and you wanna talk about “trickle down” anything, that’s what happened to me in terms of giving criticism.

Make a phonecall to a representative. Write a review for a book online. Write a letter of protest or support. Donate to a cause. Comment on the fare at a restaurant to the staff.

Is this a turning thirty thing? Is it a growing up thing?

Who knows, but I’m riding this wave of conscious purchasing and reflection and enjoying it.

I can hear people in the distance saying, “Nobody cares what you have to say. You’re a drop in the ocean. It takes more than just one voice to change anything.”

There’s a grain of truth in that. I’m sure I’m not saying anything original or inspiring when I leave messages or make phonecalls. Still.

Do you have any idea how happy artists are when you reblog their work? How excited authors are to get a review–especially the first review on a given piece of work? 

Staff members brighten when I compliment their service/the food. Bloggers respond with thanks when I post even a brief message in their comments section.

It’s not so much about what I say, but the fact that I said anything at all. It’s that the person who created something or is doing something knows another human being is out there acknowledging them. 

I’m reminded of a line from the musical 1776, where a character is singing, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?” 

Yes, we’re here. Yes, we care. And we may not see exactly what you do, but that’s why we share our views with each other, right?