TheLeong.com

a website

Browsing Posts tagged travel

Me-hee-co

2 comments

On the beach in Mexico

Just a few weeks after traveling to California, I went down to Mexico last month for my brother Al’s wedding.  Yep it must have been wedding season again, because aside from the two family weddings I also had a few friends get married too.  Anyway this was a destination wedding down in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico near Cancun, where from what I could tell 75% of the area is devoted entirely to all-inclusive resorts for Americans.  The other 25% of Riviera Maya is devoted to trashy looking stores alongside the crazy highway that probably cater to the locals (who almost all work in the resorts).  I had never been to Mexico before, so this was a pretty interesting trip, although going to a resort means that you’re pretty much still in America and don’t exactly get to experience a Mexico for what it is.  Instead it’s kind of like a very spoiled version of the US, where food and drinks are all free, you don’t have to wear pants or shoes, and you live next to the beach.  So while I didn’t get to experience what Mexico as a country is really like, I did get to experience what it is like as a vacation spot.

It was a small group going down for the wedding – pretty much just family and a few friends of the couple.  We were at a resort called Dreams Puerto Aventuras, which I heard is supposed to be one of the smaller places but it was still pretty awesome.  There were at least 5 different restaurants on the property, several bars around the beach, a few swimming pools, a creeper danceclub/bar inside the main building for older people to dance to disco, and other random activities inside the main building and around the beach.  It was all inclusive, which is a pretty amazing concept that I hadn’t experienced before.  Basically (and I have no idea if this is standard for these kinds of resorts, but it probably is) you pay 1 price per person, which includes round trip airfare and your room at the resort for x number of nights.  While you’re staying at the resort, you don’t have to pay any extra for food, drinks, etc.  It came out to be really reasonably especially considering how much food and drink we gorged ourselves on.  The food was pretty good quality too, and room service was included pretty much 24/7 (more on that later).

It’s a little hard to remember what order we did stuff in since we were all pretty much just relaxing the whole trip (I’m not including Al and Amanda in that, who actually had to do some planning for their wedding).  For the first two days we pretty much just ate and hanged out around the beach.  The resort’s signature drink is the “Miami Vice” which is basically just half pina colada and half strawberry daiquiri.  And I am not embarrassed at all to admit that I drank these (not exclusively of course).  WE WERE ON VACATION AT THE BEACH.  OK maybe a little embarrassed.

One night my parents and my other brother Joe took a cab off the resort to the local town called Playa del Carmen.  It was actually my mom’s birthday and we got info from the concierge about a local casino.  Apparently it’s not advertised too much that gambling is legal, but the place we went to called “Win Pot” was real modern if not a little small.  They had only machines, including a digital roulette setup which was pretty cool.  Also minimum bets were super low (it being Mexico).  When we came back to the resort that night, we headed to the beach/restaurant area.  There was some kind of event going on, and over the loudspeaker I hear my other brother Al on the microphone introducing himself.  “Al from Missouri.”  Huh?  So yeah we got closer and apparently they were doing some kind of dance contest and my brother was unwillingly one of four contestants.  They had one of the staff members dance to the song “Kuliki-taka,” and the contestants then had to imitate the dance/do their own thing one by one.  It was pretty hilarious.  Even better that Al ended up winning.  No prize, but the best story of the trip.  It was really dark so we couldn’t get any really good pictures, and when he was actually dancing we were too shocked and horrified to get any photos or video.  Probably one of the biggest mistakes we made, but the story will undoubtedly live on forever at family gatherings.

Al getting ready to win the contest

Night before the wedding, Al had to stay in me and Joe’s room since the hotel didn’t have any open rooms for him and he wasn’t allowed to see the bride after midnight.  And instead of going out to drink or something, we ended up staying in the room and ordering room service.  No, let me be more specific.  We ordered a TON of room service.  I think between the three of us we got like 9 dishes, and this was after we had already eaten a normal dinner.  Why did we do this?  Because we could.  The guy showed up with the food as was like “Hola seniors!  Somebody’s huuuunggrryyy!”  There’s not really much else to say about how ridiculous this unnecessary second dinner was, so just go ahead and take a look for yourselves:

Somebody's hungry!

So yeah that was pretty disgusting.  We didn’t even end up eating it all, and had to hide the remains so they didn’t think we were total jerks.  Todo valle!

The day of the wedding, it was pretty relaxed until around lunchtime, then we had to start getting ready for the big event, which was scheduled to happen in the late afternoon so they could have pictures at sunset.  Luckily Al did not throw up on himself like I might have suggested, although he was feeling pretty nervous about the big day.  He also ate about 3 bottles of Tums.  But the wedding went off pretty much perfect, although I still can’t believe that my brother threw in a “That’s what she said” during the ceremony.  Afterwards about twenty thousand photos were taken, and me and dad creeped around and took a bunch of pictures ourselves, even though Al and Amanda ended up buying all the professional ones anyway.  There was a small cocktail hour and then a private dinner on the beach, with a violinist who I think only my dad clapped for between every song.

Congrats to Al and Amanda!

My brother is not actually that tall.

And what better way to wrap up a nice wholesome family adventure, than to go on a fishing trip?  Um.  So yeah the morning after the wedding, everyone’s still tired but for some reason we had scheduled to go deep sea fishing.  We all piled onto a fairly small boat, just us and three crew members, and went flying out into the ocean.  Horrible, horrible idea.  At first I guess it all sounded pretty fun, and even during the mini orientation we had at the dock it sounded like it could be a cool trip.  You have a chance to catch a lot of different fish, including huge ridiculous ones like marlins and swordfish.  For some reason I did not really take into account the whole seasickness factor, and we forgot to even bring the Dramamine we had bought for this purpose.  I can’t actually say I’ve ever gotten seasick before, yet of course I’ve never really been on a boat this (relatively) small in the freaking ocean.  I don’t get carsick usually and never get planesick, but I don’t like roller-coasters.  And that’s pretty much what going into the ocean on a little diesel-powered boat feels like.  A constant up and down, up and down, giving me (and my brothers) a pretty bad feeling in the stomach.  Please note that during this whole time my parents are both smiling and looking like they’re having a great time, apparently immune to this horrible up and down feeling as the boat was propelling towards what felt like Liberia.  Note: things are about to get a little gross in the next paragraph.

I think I sprayed this guy with puke.

Near the beginning we caught a few small bonitas or tunas, just a foot long or so.  At one point when it was my “turn” we had a huge sailfish on the line, that actually jumped out of the water and looked like a dimetrodon, but it got away.  I find it amazing how fish can even manage to grab onto the tow lines coming off the boat, considering we are moving at mach 5.   By that point the up and down feeling had gotten pretty bad, and I just stood up and announced “Yep, I’m going to puke.”  I think everyone thought I was kidding since I said it pretty normal, but then they saw me hanging over the side of the boat spraying chunks all over.  It was even worse because we were cutting through the turbulent water so fast that salt water would spray all over me with every wave.  I pretty much felt like a torture victim, hanging on for life while puking and being sprayed with water and wind.  I thought Al was being really nice when he asked if I wanted to turn the boat around and go back, but I said to keep going on as planned. He actually wasn’t being nice or anything, it’s just that he also felt like crap and wanted to go back.  So yeah after a few minutes of puking I went back and used all of my energy to make myself fall asleep immediately.  Thank goodness that worked, and I was able to pass out for most of the remainder of the ride.  If it hadn’t been for that special power it would have been a pretty miserable few hours.  My brothers were in pretty bad shape too.

I don’t care that I’m not a sea-man.  I’d rather stay here on land and order room service.

And that is the end to this drawn out account of my trip to Riviera Maya.  It was overall a pretty awesome trip (I could have done without the boat ride) and I’d totally go down there again sometime (But seriously, no more boat rides.)

California 2010

No comments

Palo Alto, CA

I went out to California in mid-October for my cousin Mei’s wedding.  We flew into San Jose and traveled up to San Fransisco twice during the trip, but the majority of my time was spent in Palo Alto, on or around Stanford’s campus where my now cousin-in-law goes to school.

Pretty much the entire trip was spent eating, which I guess is pretty much one of the only things a guest at a wedding needs to worry about.  That, and wearing something decent for family photos, of which we took approximately five thousand.  I can’t imagine how many total photos the bride and groom were forced to take, but it was probably closer to a million.

I’m already slipping out of chronological order, which is not good for continuity or coherence.  So first up was a fairly early Thursday morning flight to LA, where we changed planes to go to San Jose.  I don’t think there was much to note about the two flights other than me falling asleep almost immediately on both of them.  In LA since we had like a two hour layover we got California Pizza Kitchen for lunch, which kind of a mistake at LAX considering each 10-inch pizza costs about the same as a semester of community college.  From San Jose my uncle picked us up and drove us up to Palo Alto, where our hotel was.  After checking in and saying hey to some relatives, I jumped on the CalTrain, which happened to be right next to the hotel, and rode it up to San Fransisco since it was going to be my only free night to hang out with friends there.  Got to catch up with the VidSF crew, Kieran, Steve, and Ray, and checked out the shared office they use which was pretty awesome.  We got dinner and drinks in Japantown at a place called Mums which had shabu-shabu tabehodai and nomihodai for a pretty good price.  It was like being back in Japan already. We were pretty stuffed by the end of it.  Mueller is out in SF too and he showed up about halfway through at Mums, so it was great to see him too.  Stayed out until last train (haha just like Japan!) and managed to get back to the hotel in one piece around like 2AMish.

Dad's favorite restaurant, Bow Hon

Next morning, woke up and loaded into a car with my parents, brothers, cousin, and uncle and drove up to… San Fransisco!  Yeah, if I would have planned it better I should have just spent the whole night there but oh well.  Anyway the main goal of this little excursion was to check out Chinatown, where my family used to come quite a bit for family trips.  Things are pretty much exactly the same as I remembered, which isn’t saying a whole lot since they are just very general memories.  These include:

  • Lots of old dudes gambling in the one main pigeon park.
  • Lots of restaurants with awesome food.
  • Lots of stores selling junky crap, like coolie hats, snap ‘n pops, chopsticks, and those postcards with naked ladies on them.
  • More old Chinese people.
  • Some funky smells on the street with origin unknown (for the better).

.

So yeah, good old SF Chinatown!  I actually really love this place and wish we would have had more time to stay there.  We ended up doing some browsing at random stores, buying food at at least two bakeries, and then later eating lunch with another cousin and her family.

After eating way too much food in Chinatown, it was time to pile back into the car around our boxes of mooncakes and get back to Palo Alto for the rehearsal dinner.  This was at a very authentic Italian restaurant.  Having an all-Hispanic staff is pretty authentic Italiano, right?  I am pretty sure there were at least 4 main dishes at this dinner.  Two of my uncles had joined us by this time, so pretty much we had my dad’s entire side of the family in one room for the first time I can actually remember.  Too bad my Uncle Ron missed out on that $50 bottle of wine.  Shoot. Oh yeah –  I can’t really remember now, but the men’s bathroom at this restaurant was pretty sketch.  There were either breasts everywhere (paintings, pictures, sculptures, etc) or penises.  I only remember being uncomfortable.

That night, the night before the wedding, there was a traveling party of sorts with the groom’s friends on Stanford campus.  I don’t want to go too much into this whole exciting evening, but somehow Stanford being a private campus means it is a bizzaro land where the police don’t act like you would expect and you can wheel an active keg around all you want.  Me and my brother were all ready to devise some kind of exit strategy at the library but we didn’t even need to.  Pretty crazy.  After the non-incident with the police, my brothers and cousins decided it was time to head back anyway, so we walked from campus.  Little did we know that this would be like a 45-minute hike.  It’s a straight shot, but Stanford’s “driveway” has got to be several miles long.  We couldn’t even see the light from where we started when we were like midway through.  To make up for all that walking we ended up driving to In N Out that night at like 2AM.

Congrats to Mei and Josh!

Day of the wedding, we were all up fairly early to get dressed, etc.  Headed back to Stanford, this time on a bus (thank god) and the wedding ceremony was held at the school’s chapel.  It was a shortened version of a full Catholic ceremony, which made it much shorter.  There was a lot of stuff that was different from my image of a Catholic wedding (as seen on TV), like the circle of power, the chairs up on stage, etc.  And also, not being Catholic I was a little thrown off when the audience had lines and everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to reply back to the priest when he called out.  I have no idea.  Also at the end there was like a “give me your energy” hand motion salute thing that struck me as a little awkward, but all in all it was a really nice ceremony.  After the nice ceremony we all went outside where around 5000 photos were taken.

At the cocktail hour after the wedding, my Uncle Jeff ate approximately half the ocean’s worth of shrimp by scoping out where the waiters come out of the kitchen.  Sneaky.  Later in the evening we had the full reception dinner which was really good.  Then more photos, my cousin dancing, and I think that was about it.  Oh yeah, you know “Bros Icing bros?”  They did that at the reception to the groom and the groom’s father.  Normally I’d be against this kind of thing but it ended up being pretty funny.

We had brunch the next morning and from there headed back to St. Louis.  It was a pretty awesome weekend, and kind of counts as a mini family reunion as well I guess.
Congrats again to Mei and Josh!

HK bonus story of terror

2 comments

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

1 comment

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!

I have returned.

No comments

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.

新潟の景色

Over the weekend I got the hook-up from Brian and Bryan to go with them on a free bus tour to Niigata.  Niigata’s up like northwest of Tokyo near the Japan Sea and is famous for rice, sake, and ski resorts.  I’d never been there before and didn’t have anything planned so I figured why not.  It was overall pretty fun since it was like a short road trip with friends, but I don’t know if the actual planned activities on the tour were as awesome as I had imagined.  It was a pretty rough schedule too, so that might have something to do with it.

バスWoke up around 5AM on Saturday morning in order to get to Ikebukuro by 7:40.  The only people I knew of course were Brian, Bryan, and Saori, but whatever.  There were some actual tourists on the bus and some of B and B’s coworkers who seemed all right.  We took a Greyhound-ish bus from there up to Niigata, stopping along the way at 2 or 3 “service area” rest stops.  These are significantly better than highway rest stops in the US being that they actually have decent restaurants and shops, lights at night, and restrooms that have been cleaned this decade.  Also there is much less of a sense of “you will be gruesomely murdered here.”  The bus ride took about 5 or 6 hours, which was pretty grueling to be honest.  I was able to get some sleep but not as much as I would have liked.

にいがた酒の陣

After getting to Niigata we immediately went to the “main event” of this tour, the にいがた酒の陣 (Niigata Sake no Jin), a convention for Japanese rice wine.  They had over 500 different varieties you can sample, which meant by the time we got there around 2 in the afternoon, there was a huge crowd of old Japanese guys stumbling around totally red faced.  There were seriously people sitting on the ground completely wasted.  We also saw a women who had passed out in a pool of her own vomit get carried away in a wheelchair.  I heard her friends say something like “she’s resting.  She should be fine in about 30 minutes.”  What a country.  I’m no big sake connoisseur, but they had some good ones and some bad ones there.  In addition to just regular sake, they had plum wine (umeshu) and the unfortunately named and milky white in color jizake, a kind of unfiltered rice wine.

We stayed at the show for a few hours, even though it seems like most people on the tour, including us, would have been fine with leaving earlier.  We checked into the Toyo Inn and went to dinner, covered by the tour.  It was a pretty fancy sushi place, but unfortunately the tour only covered one drink and like 10 pieces of sushi.  I mean, the sushi was really awesome, but 10 little pieces of fish on rice isn’t what I would call a full dinner.  Afterwards a small group of us went out to get dinner and drinks at a standard izakaya.  This ended up being a pretty long night, topped off with some awesome spicy ramen.

せんべい王国Slept for a few hours again, at least actually in a bed this time.  Woke up for another 9AM meeting time.  We were taken to the せんべい王国 (Rice Cracker Kingdom), which sounds about 50 times more sweet than it actually was.  It was pretty much just a small senbei store that also had a small factory in it.  They at least had some funky little mascot characters I guess, but to be called a Kingdom I was expecting something more Namja-like.  We also hit up some kind of museum village or something that didn’t have much worth mentioning except we found a hidden PaRappa the Rapper in the wall displays.  Lunch was at some “wealthy mansion owner’s home” that has been converted into a tourist trap, but at least they had pretty good traditional Japanese food.

So yeah I’ve been to Niigata!

Powered by WordPress Web Design by SRS Solutions © 2019 TheLeong.com Design by SRS Solutions