(ii) just wanna be with you, hanoi

My favorite part about Hanoi was perching on balconies overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake or the ever present roar of motorbikes on the street below; drinking iced coffee with treacly condensed milk, creamy fresh milk, or decadent egg cream whilst listening to compilations of romantic French chansons or bopping along to the self-appointed DJ’s mix of S Club 7 and Eurythmics. Every single day we visited at least 2-3 cafes. Partly to grab wifi to plan our next stop or meet with our Hanoian compadres, but also just to feel the wind in our hair and sit cross-legged on plush cushions. After kicking up dust all day in Birkenstocks, working on that calf curvature, my favorite thing to do was unstrap my shoes and put my feet up whenever we stopped to drink coffee. That probably sounds really gross, but no one cared and it was so comforting and freeing to be outside of my rules-based existence in Tokyo.

In the course of 3-4 days in Hanoi we visited no less than 7 cafes: Note Cafe, Pho Co (2x because this was my favorite rooftop lookout spot), Cong Caphe (2x as this is a chain), Giang, Loading T (2x because the owner Sun was such a homie), Tranquil Books & Coffee, and Dinh Coffee. I have no regrets.

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the sky really was this pink as the sun set overlooking the lake…IMG_8317IMG_7772on Sunday when the street is open to pedestrians only and a festival atmosphere invades the Hoàn Kiếm District…IMG_7788life is tops at Cafe Pho Co, my personal favorite cafe…IMG_7844IMG_7840feat. my super fly manicure from Orchids SpaIMG_7873IMG_7863little girl practicing her roller blading in Lenin Park (Thong Nhat)IMG_7883.jpgVietnamese Women’s Museum [looking down]IMG_7990.jpgIMG_7969.jpgIMG_7818.jpgCaitlin was my travel partner for our 9 day trip in Vietnam. We met on move-in day for college dorms and we’ve remained good friends to this day, never letting more than a year pass before we see each other, and always in different places (so far Richmond, VA, Washington D.C., San Luis Obispo, Oakland/SF, and she visited me in Tokyo). We both have ambitious dreams and every time we reunite we treat our time together as check-ins about where we want to go next. Most importantly, I cherish the honesty in our relationship. We are both very growth-oriented and want to continuously improve and learn from our human errors and vulnerabilities. As much as friends should be cheerleaders in our lives, they should also be able to point you towards real obstacles and inspire you to overcome challenges. I love that we’ve maintained this beautiful support system and our first international trip (where we were both traveling) was definitely a friendship level up! This trip was just 5 days before her graduation from medical school. Congratulations Caitlin! I love you so much ❤

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Saint Joseph’s CathedralIMG_7754IMG_8350.jpgIMG_7942IMG_7939Dan Q. makes a Hanoi cameo…IMG_6561IMG_7875IMG_7994IMG_8392a night at the Hanoi Opera…IMG_7929IMG_7914IMG_7918.jpgIMG_8485IMG_7758IMG_8365.jpgwhen lovely strangers want to take a photo with you…

IMG_8343IMG_8341hello from the Long Biên BridgeIMG_8440One
You’re like a dream come true
Two
Just want to be with you
Three
Girl, it’s plain to see
That you’re the only one for me
And four
Repeat steps one through three
Five
Make you fall in love with me
If ever I believe my work is done
Then I’ll start back at one

‘Back at One’ by Brian McKnight is the inspiration for this blog title. It also happened to be the first dance song my brother Will and sister-in-law Priya chose for their wedding ❤

xo your friend alice

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

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alice dreams of sakura

Cherry blossoms represent the impermanence of life and beauty; they bloom brilliantly and fall with the gusts of wind and showers of spring in about one week. On March 10, we came upon three trees in Yoyogi Koen already flowering; quite early for the sakura season in Tokyo (full bloom is forecasted for April 3 this year). All the other trees were still barren, stubbornly bearing their winter visage, and there was hardly any one else around.

*commence dream sequence*

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_MG_6446.jpg_MG_6418 (2).JPG_MG_6448.jpgThis is the last of the CHOLA series for this trip but stay tuned for CHOLA island later this year. We haven’t pinpointed a location just yet, but we’re thinking of somewhere in the Caribbean 😎 I love and miss you all

Location: Yoyogi Park, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan

tokyo vice, a CHOLA joint

Multiple cups of espresso-based coffee, strong zero tall boys, vitamin C capsules, and precious few hours of sleep later, our heroes make their triumphant return to Tokyo. But wait, their senses are on high alert. They smell, they feel the energy of this electric city. Trap behavior abounds–there is dancing in subway stations and wilding out yet to be done!

feat. Meiji-jingu shrine, Takeshita-dori Harajuku, Shibuya Crossing, Asakusa Senso-ji, latte art at Reissue Cafe, Tokyo Metro & JR, Yokohama Noodle Museum, and our ever-constant companion, Strong Zero (with a special appearance by Mone-chan, daughter of our new friend Yo)_MG_6389_MG_6391_MG_6396.jpg_MG_6370.jpgPhoto Mar 10, 12 33 42 AM.jpg_MG_6471_MG_5573.jpg_MG_5581.jpg_MG_6500_MG_6456_MG_6454_MG_6462Facetune (1)best cotton candy of my life and I am no stranger to candy floss I’m tryna telll you

_MG_6489_MG_6490_MG_6509kawaii Mone-chan sippin’ on her ringo juice

_MG_5594_MG_6494my boys ❤ ❤ ❤

Trap behavior led every single one of our young adventurers to miss their separate return flights to California, so that’s one for the books. But no one is going to tell them to 止めなさい よ (yamenasai yo–stop it)!

Will our best friends achieve ultimate mask-off nirvana? To be continued…

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan

trap la la land (osaka ed.)

“Forgetting the hour for departure, forgetting everything, the picknickers opened up casks of wine and proclaimed drunkenness man’s greatest delight.” – Ihara Saikaku, poet and novelist from Osaka (1642-1693)

feat. Dotonbori, Osaka Castle, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, and the Westin Osaka_MG_6219_MG_6230a call to ramen // smiles brought to you by strong zero chuhai

_MG_6227.jpg_MG_6241bros 4ever

IMG_5009.jpgphoto-bombed ya

_MG_6295osaka castle plum orchard

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_MG_6350_MG_6352We only spent one night and one day in Osaka, but I think I now have an inkling of understanding about the long-touted rivalry between refined Tokyo and its rebellious brother Osaka. But I laugh at the idea that people in Kansai are somehow too friendly, as I found their openness and good humor quite refreshing. I’ll reserve my judgment though and try to soak it in a bit longer when I’m back for a visit in July.

P.S. I’m really not much of a drinker–mostly because I’m terrible at it. But my friends love to instigate and because I love them dearly I can translate their energy into a kind of contact high. All the fun with none of the side effects and someone to make sure we get home safely. Cheers to you, Osaka.

xo your friend alice

Location: Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Kansai region, Japan

the gang goes to kyoto

E715DE24-86E0-4E85-BCCC-808277BD2EB8.jpgEvery person has a hierarchy of relationships. Like most people, I have acquaintances, friends, close friends, and blood relatives. I’m also lucky to have a best friend, a seester (not biologically-related, but someone I will grow old with), and friends who have become family. They satisfy the self-actualizing segment of the hierarchy of needs because their thoughts stimulate new understanding and inspiration within me; we work together to solve problems using our individual strengths, and our collective honest opinion helps us each to face uncomfortable truths. We all agree that we feel free to be our best, most honest selves when we’re together because we have complete acceptance of each other. Surrounding myself in this love and mutual admiration is what family means to me.

I met this tribe through a college student group and since we each graduated and made our way in the real world, we have reunited just about every year in different places: Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Las Vegas, New York, and now JAPAN.

Somehow we came up with the name CHOLA back in school; it’s just the first letter of each of our names in an acronym (Chris, Harmeet, Oscar, Lindsay, Alice), and it stuck as a loving reminder of this chosen family.

Since it was the boys’ first time in Kyoto I took them to the famous hot spots I had already visited during my trip back in November. I introduced them to a traditional kaiseki meal, shojin ryori vegetarian cuisine that Kyoto is known for, and took them to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Iwatayama Monkey Park, Fushimi Inari Taisha and Kiyomizu-dera temples, as well as the Gion and Pontocho districts. I always leave Kyoto wanting more so I think I will try to return sometime later this spring when the weather is a bit warmer.

% arabica coffee_MG_5754.jpgIMG_3715.jpgakahime kimono rentalIMG_5492.JPG_MG_5859.jpg_MG_5872.jpg

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_MG_61580217C2BB-336D-41DD-992F-ED0E2E62D5C3.jpgsee the sky through my eyesIMG_4070IMG_4162

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_MG_5850_MG_5843_MG_5942_MG_5911_MG_5993.jpgIS ANYONE ELSE SEEING THIS? naughty monkey!
_MG_5971I fed him anyway…I’m such an enabler._MG_6140album cover
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_MG_6175.jpg_MG_5796Many of these photos were taken on iPhone 7, can you believe it? You can hardly tell the difference between them and the ones off my DSLR. The apple camera function is getting real clean my friends. Hit ’em with the depth effect!

Location: Arashiyama // Fushimi Inari Taisha // Gion // Kyoto, Kansai Region, Japan

the kawaii life chose me

IMG_5049.JPGプリクラ (purikura)

You must’ve heard of these rainbow sparkle Japanese photo booths that erase all blemishes, print onto sticker paper, and make you and all your friends look like adorable baby aliens. The final embellishment after your designated exposures (in which they advise you on what かわいい kawaii poses to hold), utilizes a touch screen wand to decorate your images with small animals, hearts, and airbrush makeup. Some even allow you to be temporarily blue-eyed and purple-tressed. I love souvenirs that are both a physical experience and conjure a specific memory, so I have these strewn about my desk at work of puris with friends who have visited Tokyo (including Dimitri, my former roommate in Oakland pictured here). Whenever I am feeling a bit tired or overworked, I take a quick glance and they remind me of moments of freedom and silliness with cherished people, and then it all doesn’t seem so bad… ❤

This was after dinner for my mama’s last night in Tokyo (for now), where she raved about all the dishes we had at an izakaya called Shirube. She is not easily impressed by food, so I was glad we could please her one more time. I miss her already.

Location: Shimokitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, Japan

2016 year end musings

Thoughts and experiences that defined my year…

  • I became comfortable riding a bike in traffic after a couple of scrapes and wipe outs. Tokyo is actually an extremely bike-able city as it’s expansive, not too hilly, and drivers are (generally) pretty polite. Also, there are so many people riding mamacharis, unlike a city like San Francisco where bikers tend to be hardcore messenger types with clip in cycling shoes. Here, people ride miniature folding bikes, converted mountain bikes, cycle while smoking cigarettes; women ride bikes in skirts, with their children strapped to the back, and salarymen ride in their suits. Commuting to work is good for my soul and in addition to my camera, my bike has been hands down the best material investment I’ve made this year.
  • I began training for the Tokyo Marathon and it has done wonders for my self-belief and focus. (I never thought I’d be the type of person to casually run 6 miles.)
  • I reconnected with so many incredible friends from different parts of my life thanks to living in a city that people want to visit and where they likely don’t know anyone else. (Shout outs to Jackie, Eric, Angelo, Hinh, Joey, Katy, Rainey, Dan, Anthony, Caitlin, Lily, Carson, my cousin Linda, my brother, his wife and my niece, and my mama!)
  • My big brother got married, and I cried the entire weekend from happiness and awe at how powerful romantic love can be. I was never the type to dream about a beautiful wedding, but after seeing my brother surrounded by his closest friends and witnessing the love shared between him and his wife, I understand why people love weddings. I felt closer to my brother during this time than I have in years and I am so grateful we were able to connect in the days leading up to the wedding and grow to understand each other better. And I love having a sister in-law
  • Forgiveness allowed me to heal old wounds. Specifically, one of the most significant friendships of my college years was torn apart in 2015, and in 2016, we were able to reunite with love for each other, and move forward from the actions that had caused so much pain. Healing does not mean that the damage never existed, but rather that it no longer controls your life. And for a long time, I related this story to whoever would listen because it was one of the greatest heartbreaks I had ever encountered. I learned so much compassion and self-discovery from this experience; it definitely forced me to grapple with my own character flaws. I wish only the best for this friend, whom I love dearly.
  • The heady power of introspection helped me acknowledge space for growth. I have especially noticed the cultural osmosis of Japanese values such as hansei in my life this year, which translates to self-reflection, the desire to assume responsibility and commit to improvement. The nature of life in Tokyo is simultaneously solitary and populated by other voices, people, and thoughts. I have noticed in myself an improved capacity to self soothe and be observant of my surroundings. I want to always be open to new experiences and feelings, but this year I have set forth a goal to improve my ability to set boundaries; to know the things that can hurt me and stop running headlong into them despite their seductive qualities.
  • I have also found that when living abroad, asking for help, is often the single best way to find a solution to a problem. I have been pleasantly surprised on many occasions which this has been true.
  • I started this blog in July and it has brought me endless hours of creative stimulation, thoughtfulness, and the real bottom-line: JOY. The interesting thing about this medium is that it’s 100% public for me but can be completely anonymous for readers. I don’t get the instant gratification of ‘likes’ and I have no idea who might be looking at it unless another blogger comments or a friend mentions they’ve taken a peek. Counterintuitively, this makes me feel absolutely free to write what I want. It has allowed me to cultivate an archive of beauty through my eyes, a space to record ideas and beliefs, and to share with whoever stumbles across this page a small slice of the idealism I hold dearly. I have nearly 40 draft posts that may never see the light of world wide web publication, but give me the comfort of having articulated my thoughts in sentences and images. I see so many bloggers with financial motivations behind their pages, which seems like a plum avenue to create income, but inevitably I feel that they lead to surface-level observations or artificial endorsements of products to generate clicks. I recently re-read A Tale for the Time Being, a beautiful whimsical novel about a Japanese girl who faces the challenge of assimilating back into her home culture after spending much of her childhood in California. On page 26, footnote 31, the author quotes: “Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.” Milan Kundera, Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1980). While I agree that the surge in social media channels makes it feel as though our acquaintances are shouting at us indiscriminately through the void of space and time, I do believe that writing allows each person to fully reflect and organize our own feelings and recollections; hopes and dreams are recorded for future referral. Such self-examination does not exclude the ability to listen; rather, it is how we choose to use these tools to achieve understanding. Do we listen only to those who agree with us? And do we stop to consider how others may feel? While this page has allowed me space to share my thoughts, it has also encouraged me to think holistically about the world and the experiences I have been lucky to have. P.S. People from 33 different countries and 6 continents visited this page in 2016–pretty wild!
  • The only new country I traveled to this year was Cambodia, but I also had the pleasure of visiting several new cities/islands including Nikko, Niseko, Shimoda, Rikuzentakata, Kesennuma (two cities in Tohoku worst hit by the 2011 tsunami), Miyakejima, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nara, Ito, Atami, Boston, and making return trips to NYC, Hong Kong, and Hakone.
  • I read 15 books this year, and The Sympathizer was my favorite. Read my review of it here. In the new year I would like to read many more books to continue stimulating my inner world and imagination. My last year in college I read at least 2 books a week, and I definitely miss absorbing information and beautiful sentences at such a clip. One desire for the new year is to read more in transit and before bed instead of scrolling through social media or watching netflix.
  • In my yoga practice, I learned to balance in headstand  (sirsasana) and get into scorpion (vriscikasana) while leaning against a wall. I hope to grow and improve my postures in the new year, take bikram classes, and return to teaching vinyasa flow yoga.
  • The most important thing I have taken away from this year is a renewed sense of my own intuition. To trust that if something feels right, then it’s meant to happen, and if there is a sneaking feeling about it, to reevaluate before rushing headlong. My strength lies in relating to people, and I feel that if I continue to be my best self, continually evaluating space for growth and gambarimasu (try my best), nothing is impossible.

xo your friend alice

2016 best nine // @alicelenator on instagramalicelenator.jpg
Location: Tokyo, Japan