Every now and then my wanderings around the internet cause me to stumble upon a personality that draws me in like a whisper. Nancy Zhang is a painter and fashion illustrator in Berlin whose love of coffee, fashion, books, and travel touch the marrow inside me like she could be my blood donor. I recognize that these are broad categories that many people are interested in, but her exact aesthetic and sprite-like essence reached out to touch me amidst all the internet noise. She paints strangers who strike her on the streets and in trains and weaves narratives about them, wondering about their intimate histories. She is moved by them. I want to be her friend. I’ve gone through the entirety of her blog and the realization of her intention to grow as an artist is very apparent from 2011 to the present. She develops from a cutesy whimsical style to something more geometric and careful.
Okay, I’ll stop fangirling now. You can find her art on her page: nancy-zhang.com
But I probably won’t stop daydreaming about moving to Europe and wishing I was an artist…
I have befriended kindred spirits who inspire and energize me on a few occasions. You know, the type of people whose minds and hearts you are eternally curious about. Megan Kang is one of them and really, she was a big source of inspiration for this blog as she has a natural instinct and eye for uncovering beauty. We met on the first day of a history seminar our last year in college and by happenstance encountered each other at a campus leadership event. That same evening we attended a new moon women’s circle and solidified our bond. The thing I cherish most about our friendship is that I always come away from our time spent together with greater clarity and organization to my thoughts and goals. She always challenges me to give basis to my assumptions and think critically about my motivations with a gentle hand, and I love that about her. When I stop to consider who I feel most inquisitive about, I realize that most of these individuals for me happen to be Asian women. Growing up in Salt Lake City where there were very few other people of Asian descent, I did not have very many Asian friends during my formative years. But I guess there is a certain feeling of affinity that underlies charm. The recognition that the other person is either similar to something you see in yourself (partly due to shared experience) or is a representation of what you aspire to be. I am happy whenever I stumble upon these personalities through different mediums, whether in-the-flesh encounters or leisurely perambulations in cyberspace, as it breathes life and urgency into my soul.
xo your friend alice
Location: Tokyo, Japan
a pair of kick ass ladies
photo credit: papa suzuki
Location: Kyoto, Japan
feat. Erika, Shirley, Kelly, Yusaku, Diane, Ebony, Dustin, Kei, Matt, Midori, Cynthia, Justin, and Fernando (other friends not pictured, I still love you)
I went to work on my birthday this year. I know, tiny violins can be heard in the distance–but since I have a summer birthday I am usually off school or off work because it coincides with the week of a major American holiday. That doesn’t apply in Japan so instead I am taking long weekends to Okinawa this weekend and Osaka the next. Plus I got to have lunch with some of my favorite
office boss ladies 🙂
To celebrate this year, I had a tequila & gyoza-fueled party at my house. We introduced a few Japanese initiates into the wonderfully varied college drinking game known as ‘beer pong’, followed by an attempt to go dancing in Roppongi which instead ended up at a costumed karaoke-kan. I wish I had taken more photos but, you know how these things go. I always get worked up trying to say hello to everyone and just manic with happiness that I get to see friends together in one place. Party theme this year was RED and I ended the weekend with my first trip to Disney Sea which is the only one of its kind in the world.
I am so grateful for the beautiful relationships I’ve made in Japan. Community is what makes the experience of living in a place much richer. Thanks again to everyone for coming out!
xo your friend alice
Location: 蔵前 Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan
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.
[text continued below]temple of literatureon Sunday when the street is open to pedestrians only and a festival atmosphere invades the Hoàn Kiếm District…life is tops at Cafe Pho Co, my personal favorite cafe…feat. my super fly manicure from Orchids Spalittle girl practicing her roller blading in Lenin Park (Thong Nhat)Vietnamese Women’s Museum [looking down]Caitlin 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 ❤
looking up at the Women’s Museum
beautiful ao dais at the Women’s Museum
Caitlin in Hanoi
Dan Q. makes a Hanoi cameo…a night at the Hanoi Opera…when lovely strangers want to take a photo with you…
hello from the Long Biên BridgeOne
You’re like a dream come true
Just want to be with you
Girl, it’s plain to see
That you’re the only one for me
Repeat steps one through three
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
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*
This 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
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)best cotton candy of my life and I am no stranger to candy floss I’m tryna telll you
no ramen no life
tower records shibuya
kawaii Mone-chan sippin’ on her ringo juice
my 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
“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 Osakaa call to ramen // smiles brought to you by strong zero chuhai
kitty sunning himself, Westin Osaka
girl smiling, O river
lessons in samurai-hood
keys to the castle
osaka castle plum orchard
We 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