shimoda is for mofos

a chill weekend at a beach house in shizuoka with some close friends ❤ ❤ ❤IMG_9555IMG_9559IMG_9632IMG_9575IMG_9591
‘shizuoka prefecture’IMG_9601IMG_9603lookit! ‘the longerweenie face’IMG_9577IMG_9619batten down the hatches for typhoon LanIMG_9630IMG_9557

Location: Kisami, Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan

 

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hunger of the pine

Deep under the cover of leaves and rolling mist, the trees whispered their secrets to me. My heart expressed its sorrows and the moss blanketing the forest silently understood. I have been experiencing some personal heartache recently, and as much as reason exhorts emotion to be still, sometimes all you really need to do to reflect on pain is to temporarily remove yourself to a different reality to encourage a likewise change in perspective. It almost always works for me.

I flew to Kagoshima and then took the hydrofoil (a fancy word for a quick ferry) to Yakushima for a strong dose of shinrin-yoku (森林浴 forest bathing), calling upon nature as therapy. My friend Daniel, who I met back in January on a ski/snowboard trip to Nozawa Onsen, joined me (*friendship level-up!).

Mononoke Hime, known to English-speaking audiences as Princess Mononoke, is based on this forest. Apparently Hayao Miyazaki, one of his main animators Masashi Ando, and a team of artists went to Yakushima to sketch landscapes for the film back in 1995. Japanese people hold a deep reverence for nature and I felt this peace ring through my body in my two days in these forests. I could not have asked for a more warm embrace by my friends the veteran 3000 year old trees, moss, gentle deer, sly spiders, and mercurial skies. Not only beautiful to look at, but they expect nothing in return and are the best listeners 🙂

Heartbreak can manifest in many ways, whether it be romantic or platonic, and I believe it to be an essential human experience. It’s okay to feel sad, just remember that you are magical and you will keep radiating love into the universe. You will attract what you express. You may stumble, but you will not stay down. IMG_9542.jpgIMG_9141IMG_9399

IMG_9121.jpgIMG_9398.jpgIMG_9248.jpgIMG_9252IMG_9281IMG_8038.jpgIMG_9323Japanese wilderness explorer uniformIMG_9333

IMG_9343IMG_9448IMG_9429hi cuties

IMG_9441IMG_9481IMG_9471my spidey senses are tingling…IMG_9541IMG_9547IMG_9422IMG_8032

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The woods are lovely, dark, and deep…

 

xo your friend alice


Location: Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

japanniversary (year two)

It’s September 24th again and time for another round of what did I do during my year in Japan?

This same time last year I thought I would be slaying the LSAT. Sadly I have not proven to be the all-natural standardized testing whiz I once thought I was, so while I ponder my fate as a legal professional, let’s take a look back on this wonderful year in Japan filled with a few transitions and leaps forward.

October

November

December

  • served on bonenkai committee for my company holiday party
  • saw one of my all-time favorite bands, the XX in tokyo
  • took the LSAT for the first time :/
  • trip to atami in izu
  • hakone xmas with mamaimg_4984

January

February

  • attended my first bikram yoga class in Japan at Bikram Ginza
  • ran the Tokyo Marathon and Friendship Run, raising ¥100,000 to support Special Olympics NipponIMG_5294.jpg

March

  • CHO(L)A takes Japan (a return to kyoto, my 1st time in osaka & kobe, and tokyo)_MG_6140_MG_6389
  • start of hanami season (yoyogi park)IMG_5508
  • celebrating the first day of spring in fukuoka

April

May

June

  • britney spears concert at yoyogi national stadium
  • Puroresu FMW (Japanese pro wrestling)
  • trip to fuji-Q highland roller coaster park & lake kawaguchiko

July

  • 26th birthday (star festival)
  • tokyo disney sea
  • trip to okinawaIMG_8647
  • maguro cutting & tokyo bay cruise
  • osaka & kyoto with the Suzukis
  • universal studios osaka
  • moved from kuramae to ginza (more on that later)
  • softbank hawks vs. nippon ham fighters baseball game

August

September

  • took the LSAT for the 2nd time
  • worked on law school applications *crossing my fingers & toes*
  • ultra music festival
  • booze cruise in tokyo bay

Firsts

Goals before I say Ta Ta For Now to Japan this December…

  • visit all 4 main islands in Japan [hokkaido, honshu, (coming for you!) shikoku, kyushu]

Looking back at this second year in Japan, I feel so happy and blessed to have witnessed so much beauty, both in humanity and nature. Of course there have been low points but they serve to make the moments of connection and growth all the sweeter. I’ve had a few personal revelations and challenges this year that I will save for reflection at the end of 2017. If you’re curious, take a peek at last year’s japanniversary post. Thanks to you for dropping by dear reader.

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan

meet taipei

Witness my ode to the homeland. A greasy food haven, resplendent with rich aromas and friendly folks. A place where locals move with swagger and you can pay $2 for 2 breakfast sandwiches, a green onion pancake, and a soy milk.

Speaking in Taiwanese and Mandarin felt so good. This was my first trip back where I wasn’t visiting family (my mom and brother are both in California right now) so I could fully practice without someone interceding on my behalf. It was the first time I haven’t followed my family around and was able to traverse the city asking locals for directions and chatting up store owners. (Though my haggling skills need a lot of work.) My mum lives in Tainan, in the southwest of the island so I actually have little familiarity with the capital city, making this trip a delightful and reassuring forecast of good things to come.

Now is a good time to share that I was accepted to a program in Mandarin Chinese at National Taiwan University and will move to Taipei at the end of December* when my work contract in Tokyo ends! I’ll probably get a part-time job as well so we shall see what pans out. I don’t feel that I’ll ever be ready to leave a place I have grown to love so much but I am looking forward to where the next step will take me.

*11/17/17 update
I will still be in Taipei for New Year’s Eve but have decided to move to another city at the start of the year…

feat. Taipei 101, Elephant Mountain (aka Xiangshan 象山), Jiufen Old Street, Yong Kang Street, Raohe Night Market, Shilin Night Market, and Din Tai FungIMG_8921.jpg

IMG_7658.jpgIMG_8863IMG_8831IMG_8927IMG_8913IMG_8911IMG_7689.jpgIMG_8884.jpgxo your friend alice

Location: Taipei, Taiwan

shiawase / シークワーサー

such infinite crystalline waters
I bathed my troubles in them and they emerged anew

still present, transformed 
refracted through the sea and my soul, ready to begin again 
as lessons

– Umi no shiawase by  Alice 

On several occasions I have had good intentions to attempt solo travel. I am an impulsive planner when it comes to discovering new destinations, always booking flights on the spot when I find good deals or jumping on trains to places unknown, and it can be difficult to coordinate these spur-of-the-moment schedules with friends. Each time though, I have happily had friends join along the way, like when I went to Vietnam over Golden Week or climbed Mt Fuji last summer. Or sometimes I go to a place arranging to stay with a CouchSurfing host and they end up being really easy to get along with so we spend the entire trip together, like when I visited Portland a few years ago (shout out to the wonderful Kuenzi sisters!).

This time, I booked a flight to Okinawa over a holiday weekend and found myself alone on a beautiful tropical island where the locals are friendly and have a life expectancy among the highest in the world. I started in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa prefecture, and made my way north up the Western coast to Onna, Nago, and Motobu.

I felt a sense of peace and stillness; away from the noise of emails, conversations, and city life. I felt I could really breathe, meditate, and be alone with my thoughts; no one to entertain but myself. I relished the freedom to go at my own pace, to learn the local bus routes, and chat with strangers in my limited Japanese. The day I flew back I had meals with friends in Tokyo and while it felt nourishing to my soul to bask in the warmth of their companionship, the peace I found in solitude was a familiar feeling that I cherish.

Several years ago, I was in a dark place. For a host of reasons, I had difficulty getting out of bed, finding joy in the things that once made me happy, and interacting with friends and loved ones. Depression feels so personal, and yet, a lack of community or even self-rejection of existing community is what further entrenches this feeling of disconnectedness. I have come away from this experience with a deep empathy for myself and others who have gone through feelings of helplessness. But at the time, I did what many unhappy people do, which was to retreat into myself.

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IMG_8587IMG_8589IMG_8590IMG_8568.jpgIMG_8626IMG_8636IMG_8645IMG_8539

IMG_8610img_8617.jpgIMG_8513It took me a year and even longer to recover from this mindset and its aftershocks. When I first made the choice to take steps to change my mental perspective, I began to read voraciously alone in my room. I didn’t feel that I could really create anything of value in that state of mind, so I just consumed stories and words. Slowly, as I felt light energy returning, I felt more comfortable venturing outside my house. I began wandering to new neighborhoods by myself, visiting art exhibitions, or taking the train to a different part of town just to visit a particular cafe or ice cream shop. This time allowed me to reflect on myself, free of any distractions and external expectations, to consider each feeling and thought. What were triggers for my sadness? What were my deep intentions? What did I want to feel and how could I manifest the state of mind where I could attract these feelings? How could I honor the people in my life who were no longer with me without wallowing in anger at forces beyond my control? Distance, drifting apart, and the dearly departed; these were all factors that contributed to my sadness. The loss of important relationships and imminently facing a future full of uncertainty. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you.

During this time I worked at a non-profit and participated in a 200 hour yoga teacher training where many of my class mates were also going through life upheavals or major transitions. The process of learning the asanas and alignments of muscles and bones coupled with intimate revelations from these people helped me to see my vulnerability as strength and to take steps to look deep within myself. Most importantly, I gradually shed the layers of resentment I held close, which had calcified to a hard mass of negative feelings, drowning out all the usual gratitude and joy for life I have. While this journey might have similar elements to others, I believe the process of recovery is necessarily individual. For me, the important steps were to forgive other people, let go of things I could not change and allow myself to feel sadness but manage its reactions, and to above all else, forgive myself for stumbling.

From a social perspective, it may seem like that year was a stagnant waste of youthful productivity and opportunity. But to me, it was a necessary time to really learn to understand my adult self and the many factors that have contributed to who I am today. These tools will stay with me through whatever changes I will face so that I may maintain a self-awareness of my core values and motivations. I learned to change my distorted perspective of anxiety and loneliness into strength, to find magic in solitude, and acquire an intimate knowledge of self.

I feel confident that I’ve reached a space where I am truly comfortable with myself though I am not content to remain as I am in this moment. As Whitman said, we each are large, and contain multitudes, and it is my intention to continue challenging myself to examine these dynamic pieces of self. Sometimes we need the gentle reminder of waves flowing over our bodies, of stillness and seclusion, as a chance to consider all that we are.

Shiawase (幸せ) means a moment when circumstances come together to produce a feeling of fortune, or a sense of deep and long term happiness, and シークワーサー or shikuwasa is an Okinawan (and Taiwanese) citrus fruit. Its bright rind and sweetly tart flavor serve as a memory for me of childhood and now, adult joy.

So thank you to the ocean, and thank you to Okinawa for giving me space to connect deeply with myself.IMG_8529.jpgIMG_8647xo your friend alice

Location: Naha City // Onna Village (Moon Beach, Tiger Beach, Cape Manzamo, Seaside Park Nabee Beach) // Nago Pineapple Park // Churaumi Aquarium, Ocean Expo Park, Motobu, Okinawa

one year all over the world

Happy anniversary to this little blog of mine.

In the year that I’ve had it I’ve visited Cambodia, South Korea, and Vietnam for the first time, traveled to several Japanese cities and islands, and re-visited Hong Kong. This brings my current tally up to 21 countries visited, 22 months living in Tokyo, 26 years wandering all over the world, and 56 blog posts! Fittingly, I am off to Osaka for a short trip with my mate Kelly-chan and her parents this weekend.

I love this space so much. I love the freedom of expression it has afforded me, the opportunity to practice my amateur photography skills and share my personal experiences. It truly feels liberating in a way that I did not expect when I finally worked up the courage to publish my first post. I have so many little anniversaries, and I love to celebrate them all on here (birthdays, japanniversaries, and revolutions around the sun). Most of all, it has nourished my love of writing, both reflectively and creatively. It has reminded me that I really love to write and most delightfully, gives me a forum to do it without any pressure or stakes. Thanks to my friends and family who follow along on my adventures, and thanks to readers on the internet for stopping by. You are loved and appreciated.

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan

(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.

[text continued below]IMG_7724IMG_7768IMG_7804temple of literatureIMG_6390.JPGIMG_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 ❤

IMG_7854IMG_7737IMG_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