TheLeong.com

They'll give anyone a website these days

This blog started out as being a page of random crap, with no goal or reason whatsoever other than to kill time for a college student who wanted to make a website and see what the whole blogging thing was about.  Then for a while I got “into” the whole blogging thing more, fueled by friends around me doing the same thing.  Everyone was blogging at that point, and by everyone I mean maybe 5 of my friends.  (I only have 5 friends so that’s pretty good.)  Then that kind of died out, but my blog was still going like an aging neighbor who doesn’t know when to shut up and go back to their own house.  I just so happened to be moving to Japan around that time though, which meant that my blog would maybe, kind of, possibly, in theory, have a theme or something, considering that most of my stories would be then  about what I found funny, weird, and/or annnoying over in Japan.  Okay in hindsight mostly annoying.

Many years later, I’m now back in the US, none of my friends are really blogging in this sense (thanks a lot Twitter and Facebook!), but I’m still paying around 50 bucks a year to keep my recently re-designed website up and running.  “What is the purpose of TheLeong.com, exactly?” you might ask.  And if you did ask that I’d probably laugh in your face because the “purpose” is the same as back in 2002 when I started this: there is no purpose!  OK that’s kind of a lie.  I’ve said this before a few times, but this website is more for myself than for anyone else.  It’s nice for me to be able to go back and read stuff I wrote years back and reminice about all the great and meaningful things I’ve done.  Yes that usually just means ridiculous food I ate or times when I got so frustrated with stupid people that I actually went so far as to go home, sit on my computer, and write about it for an hour (they call me Mr. Confrontation).

I always tell myself that I need to do something slightly more meaningful for this site, which one day I might (don’t hold your breath).  For now I’m determined to continue blogging and maintaining this site – it just might take me a few months to actually get on track to have a focus or theme.  Of course there’s always the overlying theme that it’s about my life.  Which is of course super exciting.

M.A.N.T.I.S.

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On my way back to the parking lot after class tonight, I ran into this:

カマキリ on キャンパス

How do I always find these gigantic bugs? Probably the biggest mantis I’ve ever seen in person.

HK bonus story of terror

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Even though the previous blog post is dated September 8 (the day I started writing it), I didn’t actually get around to finishing and publishing it until earlier this afternoon. I almost totally forgot about the return trip from Hong Kong, which was quite possibly one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had. The day I was leaving HK, it had been cloudy and raining here and there for most of the morning. My flight wasn’t until about 3:30 in the afternoon, so I had a pretty easy morning and got to the airport super early.  Checked my bags in, grabbed some roast pork and duck for lunch, and everything seemed to be going fine.

しかし!!

Things did not turn out fine. Due to thunderstorms, our plane was stuck on the tarmac for over 4 hours. This was after we had already boarded and everything, so that entire time we were sitting on the plane, without drinks, TV, food, good air circulation, etc. All the captain/attendants would tell us over the intercom was that fights were delayed due to weather and they would let us know when we would be moving. Oh, and they apologized several times. Which, unfortunately, does absolutely nothing to actually ease the pain of having to sit on an airplane that is not moving for longer than your actual scheduled flight time. I’m sure there are safety regulations to keep planes from letting their passengers off after they’ve boarded once, even though that would have been so much nicer. Better yet, they shouldn’t have boarded our plane at all if they knew that the storms were severe enough to keep us from moving. It’s not like the thunder just came out of nowhere between the time they started boarding and the time they closed the hatch on us. I fell asleep a few times but the time still passed by pretty slowly. Then we finally took off, so you’d think that would be the end of the nightmare.

Nope! About halfway through the 4 hour flight, the captain comes on and tells us that since our arrival time is now looking to be around midnight (8:00 scheduled + 4 hour delay), we will be unable to land at Narita Airport as scheduled. Apparently Narita, the biggest international airport in all of Japan, closes at 11:30 at night. I still don’t understand this one, since I’m sure it doesn’t actually close. But regardless they were no longer going to be taking me to the airport that is about 45 minutes away from my apartment. No, they’re instead going to Haneda, the primarily domestic airport south of Tokyo that is about an hour and a half away from home. That is, if there are trains running. Which there weren’t, since most Japanese trains stop running around midnight. I realized very quickly that I was going to be stranded as Haneda airport with no way to go home, but there wasn’t much I could do before we landed. The air staff also assured us that they’d “take care of us and help us get home” which made me think, with the slight bit of optimism I still had left at that point, that they would either put me up in a hotel near Haneda or pay for a cab all the way home. I should have known that wouldn’t happen.

Arrived at Haneda, and everyone is stranded. The airline, ANA, gave all passengers 5000 yen (about 50 USD) as we exited the plane. That’s all. No hotel stays, no coupons for flights, nothing. And of course at this point there are no trains, and a taxi back to Chiba would have cost me well over 200 (maybe even 300) dollars US. There was a super pissy Australian guy with long hair who made a bit of a whiny scene at the payphone lobby, but there’s not much to go into there. So yeah I was trying to figure out what to do, and eventually I decided to just take a taxi to the southernmost (i.e. closest) part of Tokyo, where hopefully there would be a capsule hotel or a net cafe. Talked to the cabbie and told him my situation. Shinagawa was close but there weren’t really any net cafes there. So I opted for Gotanda, which was fairly close and has some net cafes (in addition to lots of super shady stores and people around the vicinity). Taxi fare cost me like 7000 yen, and I had to spend the night in a cheap net cafe, which cost another 2000 yen. Thanks a lot ANA for a great welcome back.

I went home the next morning at about 8AM tired, still pissed, and lugging my suitcases around. The only extremely minor benefit from this excursion to the net cafe was that I got to watch Ame-Talk for the first time, which is actually a pretty funny talk show. But yeah that was it. The ordeal wasn’t enough to ruin the HK trip necessarily, but it was a pretty terrible way to end my last vacation during my stay in Japan.

Almost forgot – HK 2010

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HK dai pai dong

It’s officially too late to write about this, but here goes anyway.  Back at the end of July I took a trip to Hong Kong since I figured it would be a lot easier and cheaper to do it from Japan than from the US at some point later on.  Got a pretty cheap flight from HIS and off I was to HK for about 5 days.  Derek and Christy were nice enough to take those days off from work to hang out and show me around.  Also got to meet up with Sunny and Chris on my second day in town.  This was like my fourth trip so by now I at least know how to get around and stuff, but there’s always new stuff to see, explore, and eat.  Despite my fairly limited travel experience (compared to most “global travelers”) I still think that Hong Kong has the best food on the planet overall.  It doesn’t help that I was raised on Cantonese food and love eating in general.  But I mean come on – it doesn’t get any better than dim sum, does it?

I arrived in HK on a Friday night.  Bought a prepaid SIM card for super cheap (100 HKD?  Only around 15 USD) and put it in this crappy unlocked phone I had.  Talk about easy!  Even my prepaid GoPhone in the US didn’t seem this easy to set up.  I think it only took me about 3 minutes to buy the SIM chip, install it, and make my first call.  After that I snagged a taxi from the airport to Derek’s place which wasn’t too far away.  Cheap taxis in Asia are always a nice change from Japanese taxis, which might be cleaner but are also about 10 times as expensive.  The next day got dim sum for brunch and checked out a huge mall in the afternoon.  And yes the legends about Derek are true – he has a Spiderman Golden Master Pass to every gym in HK.  During our visit to the mall he ducked out for a 15 minute workout in the gym that was conveniently located inside the same building.  About an hour and a half later he was finished.  I totally thought Hiroaki was joking about Derek doing this, but it’s totally true.  The man is a machine.

Anyway that night we had Chinese hotpot which is a lot different from Japanese nabe or shabushabu even though the basic premise is the same: take a bunch of pieces of food, put it in boiling soup until it’s cooked, eat, repeat.  This was at a chain restaurant called Little Fat Sheep, and it was great.  It’s all you can eat for 2 hours although they don’t really care about the time limit since it’s pretty impossible to eat hotpot for 2 hours straight.  Tons of meat, vegetables, and “other” keeps coming at you on little trolleys, and you have two soups on a burner in the center of your table to put it in.   One was like a standard mild soup, and the other one was a spicy one.  Spicy in China is not the same as spicy in Japan.  Here, the soup was literally filled with red chili peppers, cut in half so as to release their spiciness throughout the pot.  You couldn’t put your ladle in the pot to scoop out your cooked meat without getting half a scoop of chili peppers every time.  Since I didn’t want to die, I left a sizable pile of uneaten peppers on my plate.  I hope I wasn’t the only one since I’m sure I looked like a wuss.

Next day hit up a Vietnamese place for lunch and got on a bus for Shenzhen, China.  Last time, I took the train up to cross the border, but the bus was also really cheap and fast.  You have to change buses when you get close to the border, but it’s an easy process and in just about 2 hours total we had moved from a shopping center in Hong Kong, which sold global luxury brands like Gucci, Prada, LV, and Coach, to the giant mega shopping center in Shenzhen who sold copies of global luxury brands like Gucci, Prada, LV, and Coach.  That evening we went to this spa place, which at first sounded really sketch, but when I got there it was actually really nice and clean.  The place was called Water Cube, or 水立方 in Chinese.  No, not the Water Cube from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but a spa in Shenzhen who has cleverly stolen the name.  At first when Derek and Christy were talking about going to a spa/massage place I had imagined like a super shady happy ending place.  But when we got there it was more like a family-oriented resort fused with the nicest high-end Japanese internet cafe you can imagine.  You get there and go to segregated locker rooms.  You can shower, use the hot tubs, jacuzzis, etc., then you head to the main area (which is co-ed) where everyone is wearing the same goofy Chinese pajamas.  You don’t have to carry your wallet around with you, since any charges are just billed to your locker number which is on a plastic wristband you wear around.  Drinks and fruit are free, but there’s a restaurant in the building where we got some dinner.  The food was good and cheap, since it’s like that pretty much everywhere in China. You’re free to roam around the place – there were tons of sections of super comfy leather easy chair recliners, pool tables, ping pong, fruit and juice bars, a video game corner, and even a room with a giant projector screen.  Each chair has its own TV and there are attendants running around everywhere whenever you need something, or are too lazy to go to the juice bar to get your own glass of watermelon juice (which is the nectar of the gods).  You’re charged a really low entrance fee and can pretty much stay as long as you like.  There’s TV, internet, and magazines and stuff to relax with, then of course there are massage packages and individual massages you can get.  Everything is pretty cheap and they just add it to your bill.  You can even sleep there over night if you want on the recliners: they turn the main lights off and everything.  The whole place is pretty much just a huge awesome internet cafe with better food and with massage options.  I’m not really a huge massage guy, but I did get a “foot scraping” where an old Chinese dude comes and uses a straight razor to shave dead skin off your feet.  It sounds horrible, but that was probably the weirdest and oddly awesome experiences of my trip.  I definitely recommend hitting up one of these types of places in Shenzhen if you get a chance – you probably  need to take someone who speaks Chinese with you though because otherwise you have to do a lot of sign language which sometimes works but is kind of a pain in the butt.  My favorite gesture is the “I dunno” head shrug with both hands.

Did some of the standard shopping in Shenzhen for bootleg movies and cheap clothes before heading back to Hong Kong on the train.  Stopped by Temple Street on my way back to do some shopping and eating at the dai pai dong street stalls, which are amazingly cheap and delicious.  The last day of my trip was pretty much just buying souvenirs for friends in Japan, and eating.  It was a great trip and I really hope I can make it again sometime.  And hey now I can get back to writing about stuff that didn’t happen 2 months ago!

Blink

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I’ve been back for about a week and a half now. Things are pretty good. I’ve already gotten into a decent routine, and jetlag never got to me too bad. I didn’t really have a chance to be jetlagged, since I had to start work the Monday I got back, and I don’t think it’s possible for it to catch up to me now. Even after I had been back in the US for only a week, it felt like it had been a lot longer than that. Not in a bad way at all – just that there wasn’t much transitioning at all. I just kind of came back and everything went along smoothly. Almost too smoothly, if that’s possible.  Hard to describe. I knew I wouldn’t really have too much “reverse culture shock” but I thought it would at least be a little more weird, having been abroad for 4 years. But it’s not like I never came back home, and it’s not like I was disconnected from the world outside of Japan. If this were 50 years ago it would have been a different story (disregarding the fact that everything else would be so different it wouldn’t have been possible for this whole situation to occur) and there would have been a much higher chance of being totally reverse culture shocked. But no, I’ve kept pretty darn well connected over the past four years thanks to technology. With Facebook I’m in the loop about things my friends and family are doing, and also strangely very aware about what most people from high school have been doing too. Thanks to Bittorrent I’ve kept up to date on current American TV shows, being horribly disappointed by Lost and Heroes just as much as anyone in America.   Daily news, memes, pointless time wasting YouTube videos, and pretty much everything else also has been brought to me via internet.  There are of course small things that I’ve missed out on, but they’re so minor that it doesn’t really matter.  For the record I don’t think I knew until about a year ago who Hannah Montana was.

Someone mentioned to me a few days ago that my last blog post made it sound like I was depressed about moving back.  I didn’t really have that intention when I was writing it and I don’t think I really felt like that anyway, but looking back on it I can see why some people might think that.  Nah, things have been pretty good this whole time with the packing, moving, and getting re-settled in the US of A.  Sure I’ll miss hanging out with people in Japan but it’s not like I’ll never see anyone ever again.  I’m sure I’ll think of some kind of scheme in the near future.  OK it might just be something as boring as going on a vacation over there but who knows.  But yeah don’t be reading this and thinking I’m sitting here weeping over having to come back to the land of awesome pizza.  (I do really wish I had some good sushi though.)

I really need to get to sleep but I figured I should at least try and get some words out to form a somewhat readable blog post, since I already have WordPress open and everything.  I guess one thing I’m happy to be catching up on back in the US is books.  TV, music, and movies can mostly be “obtained” online or through more traditional methods (like paying for them) even while living abroad but books, at least to me, always seemed a bit more difficult.  Sure I could probably find PDFs or eBooks or some titles online but for me a book is still something that should be on paper, held in your hands, and read either on a couch, recliner, or toilet.  I now have a literal giant stack of books to get through, many of which are newer books that I didn’t have access to (I guess I could have spent a lot of money to get them over there) when I was in Japan.  Also I went to this used book fair over the weekend and got a whole bunch of other books to add to my stack.  I’ll be doing a lot of reading over the next few months, which is a good thing.  I think.  I mean, it’s better than doing something psycho like strangling little animals with my toes or building a scarecrow made out of tin foil.

That’s about all for now.  I’ll try to write something more coherent over the weekend.  Good night America.

I have returned.

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Well. I am sitting at LAX waiting for my flight back to St. Louis. Moved out of my apartment in Chiba on Monday night, was in a hotel for a few nights while I finished taking care of stuff and seeing people, then got on a plane Friday in the late afternoon bound for North America. The customs guy at Narita asked me if I was coming back to Japan and voided my visa and kept my Gaijin Card when I replied no. “Please make a new visa.” Hmm don’t know if I’ll ever really ever need anything other than the basic 90-day tourist visa in Japan but who knows.

So yeah I no longer live in Japan. It’s been a pretty hectic few weeks, from even before my trip to Hong Kong. I plan on writing a lot of catch-up blogs later for no one to read, but for now I figured I should at least write something to commemorate my return to the US. This is the first blog I’m writing back in the US, and I’m finally back to live rather than just a short trip for a week or two. Also, it will be the first time I’m “really” living in St. Louis since high school I think, with a couple of summer and Christmas holidays excluded. This should be a pretty interesting few weeks of getting readjusted to living in the US. I’m also going to need to get a cell phone very soon too. Possibly the iPhone?

There is actually a good deal of stuff to get caught up on here on the blog: HK, Bizzaro Y’s, Final party at the real Y’s, moving out of my apartment, and all of the other random BS stuff that comprises most of this website’s content anyway. Most of it will get done sooner or later, although if I wait too much longer it will be pushed back to super mega extreme later. I’ll try to avoid letting that happen.

Nothing’s really planned in stone right now. It’s hard to believe that I was living in Japan for almost 4 years. I definitely hadn’t planned on staying that long, but it was a great experience and I met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have ever met otherwise. It’s a weird feeling moving back to the US and leaving a lot of stuff behind in Japan. I think also since up to now, with school and whatnot, there were very natural breaks for everything. In high school and college there is always the academic calendar to kind of guide things, and after graduation it’s natural for everyone to move somewhere and start a new life. Even after I started working, things were kind of ruled by employment contracts, and since most of the people I went to Japan with arrived around the same time, we were all on more or less the same schedule.

The previous few sentences probably don’t make a lot of sense, but what I’m trying to say is even though I am technically coming back to go to grad school/university (albeit very part time) at the end of the month, my return to the US in mid-August doesn’t feel like a natural break to me. It feels in some ways that I just abandoned (left?) Japan at some random time. It also doesn’t help that it was just me leaving. Bryan and Saori, who were actually the first people I met up with in LA yesterday, left Japan about a month before me so it doesn’t feel exactly like we left at the same time. So even though I’ve known more or less for about a year that I would be moving back to the US, and have known for around 6 months when exactly I would be coming back, it feels very strange that I returned. Yes this is a lot of rambling that I’m just writing as I think, without much editing to clean it up for coherence.

So many people in Japan asked me “so when are you coming back?” as if it was guaranteed that I would come back. But I guess the more that I think about it, I will definitely be back sometime, although most likely just to visit. If I ever do end up going back to Japan to work I don’t think it would be for a few years at the earliest, plus it would have to be a pretty sweet gig for me to go. That being said, it’s not that I don’t want to go back, but to think about my future and career situation and stuff it didn’t make sense for me to stay for much longer. Japan doesn’t really feel like a foreign country to me anymore, and I was so used to living there that I was probably just as comfortable there as I will be in St. Louis. Even during my last week, it was so strange to think that I was packing up everything and jumping ship that it was almost unbelievable.

There’s a lot of “deep” stuff to think about and reflect on about the life-changing move from one side of the planet to the other. I’ll likely never really get to actually writing much more about that stuff, but I will end up complaining about America at least for a while. The grass is always greener or something overly used like that.

More to come later. It was an awesome 4 years in Japan, and I really want to thank all my friends (American, Japanese, and other) for making it such a great experience. If things weren’t so fun and interesting, I don’t think I would have possibly stayed for so long. I’ll be back to visit for sure, but look forward to hanging out with people in the US too. Let me know if you’re around anywhere and I’ll do my best to come meet up. I’m looking forward to starting a new life here in the US. And wow I just realized how Japanese that sounded.

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