2017 year end musings

Thoughts and experiences that changed me in 2017…better a few weeks late than never 🙂

  • For the first time, I had the experience of living with a roommate who was abusive, petty, and tyrannical. I know that sounds really dramatic, but if you ask anyone else who was witness to the situation (i.e. my other flatmates), they’d agree. This person went so far as to throw a chair at me, return home drunk and yell at us late in the evening on different occasions, and even stomped around the apartment slamming against walls and screaming while my mother was visiting and asleep in the next room with only a thin sliding door separating us. She woke up and was very upset and confused as she does not speak English. This (former) roommate is an alcoholic, not to mention a misogynist. Living with people can be difficult and I will not pretend I was faultless, but this really took the threshold of acceptable roommate conflict to the next level. Every time he spoke I felt my fight instincts perk up as I had to prepare to defend myself verbally and physically. I am so happy to be out of that situation but as I always try to see a silver lining, I am also grateful that I had the experience of living with someone I fundamentally disliked. It was an essential character building experience and I became close with my other roommates as we allied against our common foe. In the future I will utilize my ‘F*** Off Fund’ much sooner to get out of toxic situations like that. Sure, the rent was cheap and the apartment and location were superb, but future me will know better.
  • I witnessed the birth of the dragon fan club. This is going to sound real cheesy but, having this family called CHOLA in my life (which I described back in this post and this one too), I never expected I’d find an equivalent chemistry in another friend group. I have always been better at relating to people on an individual level and as much as you can introduce your friends to each other, it’s not often that you will all have the same level of intimacy with each other. We all work together and were individually friends, and somehow organically over weekly viewings of Season 7 of Game of Thrones, we became a unit. Every time one of us needs a drink, a shoulder to cry on, or a meal to share, we’re there for each other and that has been a really beautiful and unexpected gift this year. So here’s a shout out to Nessie, Longerweenie, and Shushu ❤ ❤ ❤
  • The new countries I traveled to this year were South Korea, Vietnam (Saigon, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay), and the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo & Punta Cana). It’s kind of crazy to think about, but this was also my first full year abroad without any trips back to the States since I was a small child. I made trips around Japan to Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, FukuokaOkinawa, Kagoshima, Yakushima, as well as return trips to Kyoto, Shimoda, Los Angeles, Miami, and Taipei. I love shaking up my external environment as it encourages me to both reflect deeply and step outside myself.
  • It’s amazing how many deep connections with people you can cultivate over time without fully appreciating it, and again this year’s reunions have been rewarding and refreshing. I am grateful to all the people whose friendship I have had the pleasure to re-encounter in Japan this year. (Shout outs to Deanne, Dimitri, Colleen, Oscar, Chris JY, Harmeet, Heather, Molly, Dan, Elise, Chris C., Sam, Sarkis, Will, Priya, Charat, my mama (parts I, II, III, IV) and to Caitlin who I met up with in Vietnam!)
  • I read 11 books this year, which I think is pretty weak. Now that I’ve finished taking the blasted LSAT and applying to law schools I will have more time freed up to read and I hope to blast through my usual diet of novels and add more non-fiction and science books to the mix. Sapiens by Yuval Harari for example has been recommended to me by several people. I think The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories was my favorite this year, which is funny because my favorite book last year was also gifted to me by my friend Fernando. Where will I turn for book recommendations when we’re not living in the same town @moveitlikef3rny? Guess we’ll just have to keep up a long-distance book club 🙂 Typically I read one book and concentrate all my energy on it, but in these past few months I’ve been reading 5 different books at once. My attention span has been flighty, but I much prefer losing myself in one imaginary world or way of thinking before moving on to the next. That way, each period of my life is demarcated by the magic of a particular set of written words. Check out more of this year’s reads on my Books page.
  • My blog continues to be a source of inspiration, blood-letting, and self love. There have been days where I’ve missed a close friend only to scroll through the pages preserved from our time spent together and have those vivid memories come rushing back with full view of the photographic evidence. True to form, talking to myself has proven to be one of the best ways to work through my issues. This year I have had visitors to this page from 56 different countries on 6 continents (for some reason Antarctica does not appear on the wordpress visitor statistics map). Hello to friends far and wide! Thank you for stopping by.
  • The most important lesson I have taken away from this year is the bittersweet embrace of impermanence. So many times in the past I have mourned the lost of certain relationships/friendships, routines, or wonderful daily sights. As I collect experiences that enrich my worldview, I encounter again and again this sadness over the loss inextricably tied to transition. But no moment can last and our true appreciation of the Eternal Present lies in knowing that it can never be lived again. This notion has brought me peace as well as pain. I read a book over the summer called The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy which interprets Stoicism as a school of thought and applies its principles to how to live a good life in modernity. It shares that to hug a loved one as if it could be the last time you will ever be able to do so can bring tranquility instead of anxiety. This reminder of appreciating every moment encourages me to not regret when things change, because I know that in the moment that it was, I loved it completely.

These were my goals for 2017:

  • run my first marathon
  • apply to law school
  • go on a mid distance bike & camping trip
  • get scuba certified
  • learn to pull espresso
  • string together some legit japanese sentences

So how did I do?

√ Crossed the finish line at the Tokyo Marathon.

√ Applied to law schools and am waiting to hear back.

X Sadly, I did not get the chance to go on a biking trip in Hokkaido and instead opted for a hiking trip on Yakushima instead. I hope to complete a multi-day cycling trip in 2018.

X Attempted to get my Open Water Diver Certification during my trip to Okinawa, but due to the restriction on flying within 18 hours of diving, I didn’t have enough days to accommodate the training. I hope to do this sometime in 2018.

X Pulled espresso like a boss at Fuglen Coffee in Shibuya. Yeah, that didn’t happen, but in 2018 I will knock this one out for sure.

√- And I can speak more Japanese than I did this time last year, but still, I’d give myself a C+ for needs improvement on this goal. Language acquisition is a process of life-long learning anyway.

what I want to do in 2018:

  • achieve B2 proficiency on the French DELF scale
    (In case you’re curious…The diplôme d’études en langue française, or DELF, has 4 levels: A1, A2, A1, and B2. The B2 is an advanced intermediate proficiency required for undergraduate and graduate education in France and it tests whether the student has a degree of independence that allows them to construct arguments to defend their opinion, explain their viewpoint and negotiate.  The candidate is expected to have a degree of fluency and spontaneity in regular interactions and is capable of correcting their own mistakes. I’d estimate that I’m at A2 level now but I am still awaiting the results of my official French language evaluation.)
  • travel solo in a foreign country (seems extremely likely to happen with my globetrotting days ahead, and while I have traveled solo in Japan, I also lived there so it doesn’t really count in my mind)
  • get scuba diver certification
  • multi-day biking trip
  • learn to pull espresso
  • travel to 27 countries by the time I turn 27
  • call my mother at least once a week!

take a peek at my year in review from 2016 here if you’re interested

Happy New Year my friends!

xo your friend alice

2017 best nine // @alicelenator on instagramalicelenatorLocation: Tokyo, Japan

Advertisements

CHOLA island (pt. I)

Ahh CHOLA.

It’s a somewhat dorky anagram of the first letter of each of our names which we made up one summer in college when we spent virtually every day together, and has stuck with us through years of friendship and life changes. (And before you say we’re racially insensitive I should disclose that it started out as HOLA, since we are welcoming of everyone we cross paths with, but it became CHOLA because we love Chris too.)

We met in Berkeley in 2011 and our travels have taken us to Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Las Vegas, New York, Japan (check out our adventures in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo), Miami, and now the Dominican Republic! I love seeing this list of hosting locales for our adventures expand with each year of our friendship. A big lesson in my adult life, and especially my time in Japan, has been the acceptance of impermanence and how the passing of time and change lends unquestionable beauty to life. As much as people and circumstances evolve, I know this core unit of family will always support and love one another and it is one of my greatest blessings in this life. Te quiero mucho mi familia de CHOLITOS y CHOLITA ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

img_5316
[L to R: Chris, Harmeet, Lindsay, Alice, Oscar]
Berkeley, California (July 2011 – Summer of CHOLA love)
IMG_9887.jpg[L to R: Lindsay, Harmeet, Chris, Oscar, Alice]
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (December 2017)

We visited the Dominican Republic for a week in December with 4 days in the capital city, Santo Domingo, and capped it off at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana. The second part of the trip is much as I expected–the blissful relaxation offered by an all-inclusive resort in a tropical paradise felt like unfurling a sail with a gentle breeze running through your salted hair while watching a technicolor pastel sunset–even if it felt a bit too gluttonous by the end. Santo Domingo is where I was really surprised.

The Dominicans we encountered were incredibly friendly and expressive. Their dance moves are bar-none and we happily gobbled up the local specialties every day (shout out to the mofongo and pescado frito!). On our first night we ended up at a bar called Parada 77 in Zona Colonial where it happened to be ladies night and while we were waiting for our free drinks courtesy of double-X chromosomes, the DJ put on Ozuna’s El Farsantewhich is basically Latin Trap music. Every single person in that bar was out of their seats singing along and it became the anthem of our trip.

Si todavía me amas como antes 
Ya nada me parece interesante 
Yo sé que en el amor soy un farsante 
Yo sin ti no vuelvo a enamorarme bebé

While we were encouraged by several locals not to wander the streets after a certain hour as tourists, we never encountered any hostility. I was really pleased that we made the decision to visit Santo Domingo first because as lovely as the beaches were in Punta Cana, we were confined to the resort there, and the experience felt quite sanitized. I don’t think I would have gotten as much of an impression of Dominican culture if we had skipped the capital. Santo Domingo is a highly underrated, majestic city and I really hope to return to the Caribbean someday to feel the carefree rhythm of bodies busting real moves on the dance floor and have another taste of that tender sancocho.
IMG_9875IMG_9942IMG_9944IMG_9902
IMG_9901IMG_9946IMG_9987


IMG_9992.JPGIMG_9982

IMG_0098IMG_0087

IMG_0095IMG_0117IMG_0107IMG_0067IMG_0073smudge on my lens and a smirk on my friend’s faceIMG_0070keep that el presidente flowin’ jefe IMG_0015IMG_0016IMG_0014


IMG_0161

IMG_0157.JPGIMG_0174our uber driver who serendipitously led us to the best pescado frito and johnny cakes we’ve ever had 😛IMG_0179IMG_0149IMG_0200IMG_0186IMG_0206Location: Zona Colonial, Los Tres Ojos, Meson d’Bari, Palacio Nacional, Catedral Primada de América, Playa de Boca Chica, Calle La Venezuela

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 

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

IMG_9409IMG_9241.jpgIMG_8018.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

[text continued below]IMG_8505


IMG_8595IMG_8580
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, participated in peer counseling, and 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