Two weeks more to New Mexico and New York!

Remember my solo trip to Japan? I remember it like it happened yesterday. All I have to do is close my eyes and travel through dust, colours, space and time to a breezy autumn day where I met a lovely couple in Otaru. Sometimes I believe the universe works in mysterious ways; a serendipitous meeting halfway around the world is one of them. I mentioned Ray and Satoko in my earlier post, they were the couple I explored Otaru with for an entire day after a fortuitous train ride.

I spoke about my fascination with the cosmos, planets, galaxies and above all, the simple pleasure of camping and stargazing – something Singapore will never offer. And he described the most beautiful skies from his porch and told me to plan for a trip to US next to visit him and Satoko. I politely acquiesced and put it out of my mind because I thought he was just being nice, you know, offer without any real intention of fulfilling it. How delightfully wrong I was!

In 2 weeks time, I’ll be flying over to New Mexico, Arizona to stay with Ray and Satoka-san. Words can’t adequately express my excitement. I’ll be hiking with them, and we’ll be camping outside their house to stargaze at night – which by the way is at the foot of Gila National Forest. More than three million acres of beautiful, rugged landscape and wilderness. It’s the heart of old country.

Part of my trip includes traveling back in time (no TARDIS or Dr Who), where outlaws and bounty hunters rained bullets on each other, leading or ending to epic victories and deaths. I believe I’ll be staying in Silver City where Native Indians prospered and thrived before their land was…taken. A famous Apache Indian Chief lived there, Geronimo. More of him later but Silver city, where Ray and Satoko live has the second highest population of Native Americans after Alaska, something which I am quite excited about.

I’ll also be visiting Tombstone, a place steeped in history as old as civilisation. One of the greatest gang fights took place at Tombstone, led by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday against gunslinging frontier outlaws. Then off to Bisbee, and down to Gila National Park. I knew there was a reason I loved reading cheesy romance set during the civil war, deep in the south with cowboys, gunslingers, Native Indians, bounty hunters and lawmen in spurs. I fell in love with Regency romance after that, but I do have a soft spot for western historical romance. (Next year, to see England and Scotland, of course) I’ve stopped reading romance and returned to fantasy where dragons rule, but hey, once in a while, every girl deserves a non-committal fictional lover – minus the utter 50 shades of rubbish. Now that I’m done rambling…I can’t wait to walk the roads that Billy the Kid and his cronies ruled, and follow the footsteps of Wyatt Earp – metaphorically.

After a week of southern hospitality, I’ll be flying off to New York for a different kind of therapy. A peregrination of museums, parks, historical landmarks and…shopping and Broadway! Plus, I can’t wait to see The Cripple of Inishmaan; I’ve read such amazing reviews about Daniel Radcliffe’s performance and I’ll finally be 5 rows away from him. I can’t believe all these will happen in 2 weeks time. I’ve waited 8 months for this trip and I think Time is on a stately SLOW march, moving at a glacial pace. A good friend will be flying over from Singapore to meet me in New York and we’ll be having our first girls’ city trip together. It’s going to be great and I can’t wait to check out the scene; blues bars, live music, great food and to have a slice of the Big Apple.

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Japan needs the love doctor, pronto.

Japan needs the love doctor, pronto.

I have to admit that this is one phenomenon that has intrigued and confused me thoroughly in Japan. During my daily commute in their subways, I “people-watched” a lot, and I noticed something disconcerting. Absurd in many ways and perhaps you can call it an anomaly, really. Men don’t check women out (I’m talking about straight men). Seriously disturbing. I think I counted just about five men over different days, throwing furtive glances at someone who caught their eyes before looking away. Serious what the fu*k.

I explicitly looked out for men checking women out (or vice versa), totally sacrificing my fascination with the Japanese fashion! Pffft. I gave up fashion-watching for couple-spying instead so to speak. I was there for only ten days and I know it isn’t the greatest sampling, but from my mere observations during the trip I saw less than 10 dating couples.  I’ll say it again; this isn’t based on a 3-month stay based on the study of relationships/courtship between a man and woman. But if a visiting outsider like me made a startling observation such as this, it’s really proof of how pervasive the issue is.  Japan also happens to be facing a population crisis. No prize for guessing why. No one is dating, or no one is interested in what follows after dating…that is probably (hopefully) falling in love, getting married and having a family.

The ones holding hands and acting all lovey-dovey? The Taiwanese/Chinese tourists in Japan.  It’s easy to identify them, trust me. I’m an Asian living in a country with 75% of its population made up of local Chinese (but of course now I have to factor in Chinese from China and it’s all blurry). Point is, it isn’t so hard to tell that they’re not Japanese.  

Someone call the love doctor, please!

Satoko-San was telling me how Japanese men are stuck in their own little comfortable bubble. Playing games, reading comics, indulging in hentai and what have you. They rather be staring at their phones with games, chatting with cyber friends or staring into oblivion with glassy-eyed expression (seen this a few times there), than going on dates with the opposite sex. Nothing wrong if it’s a handful of shy men and women, right? Uh, yes, but when the statistics (courtesy of the guardian) point at a staggering 61% unmarried men and 49% unmarried women, then Houston, we have a problem. Oh, did I add that 45% of Japanese women (16 -24 years) aren’t interested in sexual contact. When I was 16, I was dreaming of Nick Carter, from the Backstreet Boys, confessing his undying love to me. I’m not embarrassed about this at all. Nope.  I also had long drawn out plans about my first kiss and how to get the boy to kiss me. Thank you, Disney. 

Ok, maybe as a future (but unlikely) parent, I may be glad that my teenage daughter isn’t in a hurry to have her legs up in the air, but what does this all mean?! When did everyone start thinking this way?

What, why and how did it become so wide-spread and… normal? On hindsight, the government should introduce this overly successful plan to India… (kidding, it won’t work there for obvious socioeconomic reasons, yet). But I’m blaming rapid technological advancements for the lack of boy-girl relationship and intimacy. If more men and women knew how to draw clear boundaries, and not get sucked into the abyss of technology, they’d be doing the horizontal mambo instead!

The men in Japan can even go without sex, learning how – as they put it – to live without sex. As a single female, this spells trouble for me if their secret gets out of Japan. Nothing wrong there if you’re an aspiring catholic priest, nun or monk. But we know they’re not the most religious either. In fact, that percentage is also dwindling. So what went wrong and where did it go wrong? I’m rambling about this because a friend shared an article with me from The Guardian earlier, and it cemented my unprofessional-ethnographic observation during my trip. He’s also planning to visit the sexually-starved girls there. What a Samaritan.

And I won’t be surprised if Singapore follows suit. But hey, at least my facebook page will stop flooding with friends’ baby pictures detailing their every facial expression in a span of 30 seconds. 

 

Day 3 – Oh, Otaru, how do I love thee

As I stood at the train platform waiting for the train to Otaru, I saw a man queuing up a few rows away (everyone forms a line to board the trains in Japan), and smiled at him. I thought he had the kindest face I’d seen in a while and also, he looked just like Jim Broadbent! If they ever need a double for Jim Broadbent, he’s the man.

I snapped a few pictures of the train parked across the platform. The Twilight Express is a thing of beauty. Coated in dark evergreen and gold typography, it looked beautiful outside and inside. It’s a sleeper train, and one day, I hope to travel in the Twilight Express – wherever it goes. (I just googled, and it’s the longest train ride in Japan from Osaka – Sapporo/22 hours – Woah nelly!) Think of a hotel that moves. I tried to snap a few shots of it before it started rolling away, and my JR Super Express screeched in the distance and appeared in front of me within seconds.

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Sorry for the bad quality, it was moving!

The ride to Otaru took us only about 30 minutes or so. I wasn’t paying attention to the time. Actually, the most beautiful part about a vacation is not having to keep track of the day/time (unless you’re rushing for the next train or something). I had honestly lost track of the days in Japan and for obscure reasons, I kept thinking everyday was either a Saturday or Monday in Japan.

I reached Otaru, and at this point had no idea of what I wanted to do, apart from visiting the Otaru Canal; and I didn’t know where exactly this canal was and what else to do. I had reasoned to myself that I could use the handy portable wi-fi to find my way around Otaru. I was walking across when a man asked me “And where are you from young lady”? and that fortuitous meeting is the highlight of my Japan trip. And although I’ve met superbly amazing people along the way, the meeting with Ray, Satoko-San and Ayana was a blessing. I spent the whole day with them, exploring charming Otaru and every little shop as we went by.

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Picturesque Otaru Canal

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A lone busker along Otaru Canal

Otaru is lined with shops boasting beautiful, delicate and pretty glassware from beer glass mugs to gorgeous plates and bowls. They come in all shapes and sizes, with intricate designs carved on them. 

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One of the biggest glassware shops

Another major tourist attraction is their music boxes. Dotted along the streets of Otaru are shops selling music boxes of all shapes, sizes and sounds. You’ll know you’re walking past the museum when you hear sweet tinkling sounds teasing your senses. 

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Otaru Music Box Museum

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Ancient gramophone (i think)

Ray’s from New Mexico, Arizona and his wife was originally from Sendai.  He’s the Chief of the Pharmaceutical department in Hillary Regional hospital in Silver City, but they come to Japan every year for a month to visit Satoko-san’s family, and to explore Japan as well. Ray’s a hilarious man, witty and full of jokes. He’d say something with a straight face, and I’d laugh out loud, whereas Ayana would look bewildered for a second before realising he was merely pulling a fast one on us!

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Looks a little like Jim Broadbent, doesn’t he? 🙂

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From left to right: Ayana, Satoko-san, Ray

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Us, just before sunset

Ray also made sure I never spent a single cent on food and kept saying “save your money for your trip”. I insisted that ice-cream was on me, and made sure everyone had an ice-cream! Apart from making me feel like one of them, he also had the warmest and kindest words to say. He said I had the most beautiful smile and that was one of the reasons why he even approached me! I really couldn’t think of what to say except thank you and told him the truth; that I smiled at him because he had the kindest face. Happy day, this 🙂  Every time I feel fugly or unworthy of anyone/anything, I’ll remember his kind words. I’m going to type this out, and will come back to read it whenever I need to. He had e-mailed me this.

“It was a wonderful day, better than I could expect when it started thanks to your beautiful mesmerizing smile, and charming personality. You are an absolutely exceptional gorgeous lady. One of the top 3 most beautiful and charming I have met in my life. I will send pictures and see you in New Mexico, and show you the time of your life.”

Yep, I am going to New Mexico next year to visit them. I can’t wait for summer ’14. His house is absolutely stunning; the view from his patio is picturesque and breath-taking. Saw pictures, just in case you’re wondering. Just thinking about it makes me happy!

 

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After sunset at Otaru before leaving this beautiful place

After we left Otaru, we headed back to Sapporo where they invited me over to their hotel room to check out the view of Sapporo – they live on one of the top floors with a ceiling to floor window – and it floored me. Ayana left as she had to work, but we went straight to the hotel bar on the topmost floor, chilled with a drink before I bade them goodbye with a mix of emotions. They’re really a wonderful couple; extremely kind and smart. I enjoyed talking to Ray about everything, ranging from U.S politics to camping and hiking. We’re keeping in touch through e-mails and it’s amazing to know I made a life-long friend on my solo adventure. 

What’s the main condition to sustain infinite potential such as ours, if not a big question mark always out of our reach.

What's the main condition to sustain infinite potential such as ours, if not a big question mark always out of our reach.

A really profound comic strip worth sharing. Click on the picture for the full strip.

I cannot disagree more. If we accept answers at face value, without challenging them, we will never look beyond our microscopic tunnel vision.

Answers never participate in the transformation dance of the universe. Whenever we get an answer, we stop seeking further. We rest on our laurels, and stop questioning. Answers sometimes become a parasite to imagination, creativity, self and everything that propels us further into discovery and exploration. Nothing is set in stone.

I shared this on facebook saying “Carl Sagan would agree” and a friend replied “And so would Jesus” Can bible thumping people realise not everything is about religion.

Reminded me of Douglas Adams and Carl Sagan.

10 things I wish someone told me when I was 18

1. Map out a simple career plan (or goals) It’ll get you started. And let that plan guide you. Remember the episode in Seinfeld, where George Costanza walked out on his job, and had no idea what to do next? That is terrifying! Seriously, start thinking about what you plan to do for the better part of your life. Or, you’ll end up wasting thousands of dollars getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology, wondering what the heck you’re supposed to do with it. It’s ok to switch jobs; I’ve done that a few times (4 to be exact). But I was always sure about what I eventually wanted to do. It’s scary when a friend tells me they’ve no idea what they want to do. They drag themselves to work each day. The last time that happened I left my job. No, wait. They fired me. And I’m glad they did. I’m much happier!

2. Your first love is called first, because there will be others. Unless you’re really, really (feel free to add a few more lucky(s)) lucky, you’ll have your heart broken a few times, and mauled beyond the ability to feel. A few damned times. So, don’t fall too hard for the next guy/girl too quickly. Also, be honest and identify what went wrong and you’ll be a better partner for the next one. If you’re over analysing things, stop. If you have low self-esteem, don’t get into a relationship until you learn to love yourself. It’s not fair to project those fears on the person you’re with either, right?

 3. Brains > Beauty 
Looks matter, but it shouldn’t take over your life in any wayAnd almost everyone looks awkward with a bad haircut before hitting 21 – unless your mum is Gwen Stefani, you will resemble one of the ugly step-sisters from Cinderella.  It’s about carrying yourself well. Who said you had to look like Scarlett Johansson (I love her – but I’m not aspiring to look like her) or one of the VS angels. It’s THEIR jobs to resemble sticks on stilts! Putting in an effort to look and feel good reflect a lot about how you view yourself; it’s self worth and it’s telling in the way you carry yourself. If you feel like a prize, you also act like a prize and people will treat you like a prize. You can be 20 kgs overweight, and still look good.

4. Words can be poisonous. You will let someone’s words get to you, and it’s ok to feel shitty about yourself when that happens. A lot of motivational quotes advise us not to let others get to us. But sometimes our walls crumble. We are thinking, feeling creatures. I think the key is to not take it too personally, and get over it as fast as you can, before it causes too much damage. Do whatever you have to. Torture your best friend, by talking about it like a broken recorder for the next 2 weeks. That’s what friends are there for. To remind us why they love us. Repay in kind when they need your listening ear. Took a 5 point damage to your armour? It’s good practise. This way, you’ll actually realise that your colleague’s scathing remark about your deformed feet sounds like a compliment! And while I’m at it, it’s worth remembering that we could be someone else’s personal nightmare. Therefore, be nice.

5. Always pick your battles. ALWAYS. This is one lesson I learnt the hard way. It applies to everything; your personal and professional aspects of your life. I know people say relationships get stronger after arguments. That’s true. But too many fights can wear the strongest relationship down. If it isn’t important, take the high road. Fight if you must. But fight to stay together, not push each other away. Fighting brings out the worst in ourselves, and oftentimes, you can never take back the words once they’re spoken. And sometimes, your significant other will never let it go. He’ll never talk about it, but it’ll always be there, at the back of his mind.

6. Just because you have money, doesn’t mean you have to spend it. I wish I had listened to my parents with this piece of advise. Easy to say, hard to do. We never fully appreciate this until we’re old enough. Right?

7. Invest in GOOD bras and panties. Ladies, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of wearing the right bra. Get yourself fitted by the boutique assistant, and try to buy a new bra every month, until you have at least 6 good ones for daily wear. Lingerie for sexy time doesn’t really count, because let’s face it; we wear it for them to take it off (and when we do take it off, we want to look good naked when everything is hanging loose) ;D But the one closest to your skin for at least 8 hours; invest in a bra/undie that lifts and supports. I’m a Wacoal convert, and my only regret is not investing in it sooner. Urgh.

8. Don’t be a tourist, be an explorer. Travel and explore as much as you can, and never rely on travel books for the “next hot cafe” or “best beach in Thailand” You know how that turns out right? It stinks. The Internet is a better place to turn to for information before setting forth. Discover your own favourite secret spots by getting lost. I’ve never regretted getting lost when I was overseas. But please don’t start exploring at 3am in the morning. That’s tempting fate. I once went around Bangkok in a taxi for an hour around 11pm, because I kept telling my cabbie, “Sukhothai” instead of Sukhumvit. Sukhothai is a flight away. Genius, right? Sleep deprivation does that. That night also turned out to be a surreal experience, complete with an explosion that caused a huge fire, and we lost a bag of dirty clothes. See? Priceless memories and stories to tell. Get lost today. The best experiences are the random ones. I can’t wait for my Japan trip!

9. Do something new, even if it isn’t the most exciting thing.  Pick up a hobby, start writing, go to pottery classes, or sway to some good music. Stimulate those brain cells. Don’t vegetate too much in front of the television, no matter how tempting that sounds. It makes you more interesting and you’ll appreciate this skill when you meet people. And the chances of meeting new people? So much higher when you do something new like signing up for AA (I kid…I kid…). It doesn’t get better than this. I plan on picking up a foreign language soon. I’ve been procrastinating for a while. Once I’m back from Japan, I’m signing up for either French or Italian. I can’t wait!

10. Everyone will tell you what to do, but there’s only one chair in the cockpit, and that chair has YOUR name on it. How you live your life is fully in your control. You don’t need to justify your actions to anyone but yourself. Disclaimer: This does not apply to criminals, ok? When people say “I don’t have a choice”, I wonder what they really mean. Because there’s always a choice. It may not always be the choice you want or like, but when that happens, suit up and take charge. In the end, do what you think is right. If it feels right to you, and you feel good about it, chances are, you’re on the right track. We do make our lives.
And… I’m off to bed.

29 makes you introspective

I turned 29 years old yesterday. And I’m excited about the impending 30, and perhaps a little apprehensive as well. Sure, I have 364 days left (that doesn’t seem like a lot now) but it’s 364 days closer to the BIG 30. Also, I find myself being introspective these days – something that never popped up in my early twenties. Maybe because I didn’t think I’d live to see 30? Naaah. Because at twenty, life’s all about having fun, setting goals, not accomplishing them, resetting goals and it goes on. But when 27 slowly creeps up, we normally start straightening up. And at 29? We really become grown ups. It’s a proud accomplishment for some. But are we any good as grown ups? Am I any good as a grown up. 

As I was thanking all my friends who wished me on my birthday, I asked myself if I’d been a good person and friend to them.  If I’d been kind. If I’d been a good daughter to my parents. I don’t want to leave the world behind someday, without making at least a small (but good) change or impression in/on someone’s life. I don’t want my biggest regret in life to be failures of kindness.  I ask myself this frequently (which is a little weird, I know): Have I been kind enough. It’s always the word enough. Could I have done something better? I hope I have.

So I left my friends this message 

Thank you for the innumerable birthday wishes, midnight texts, hugs and kisses  Above all, as I grow older, I hope I’ve made a tiny (but, hopefully good) difference in your lives; sharing a tub of calories, dancing/jumping (looking spastic) to awesome music, or having bimbo moments together (because smart girls have downtime, too!). I hope I haven’t let you down as a friend, and that I’ve been there when you needed one. kthnxbye! 🙂 

We have just one life, and I don’t want to spend all my time frivolously, without making a difference. We all need a purpose in life to keep moving. Even if my life’s purpose is to be the best mother to my children in the future (because I still need to find a kind and loving man whom I can love and cherish), although I seriously doubt that’s my purpose. I’m just using that as the worst case scenario. Kids frighten me. 😉

I’ll end by sharing this beautiful speech by Professor George Saunders. I had seen this clip two weeks ago, and as I was typing this I remembered this man’s brilliant speech. It complements my thoughts of the day. 

http://www.upworthy.com/if-you-want-to-be-inspired-by-failure-have-i-got-the-graduation-speech-for-you

 

Look hard for a husband early on? THANKS, BUT NO THANKS.

I just came across an article on Thought Catalog that got on my nerves; felt my skin prickling in anger and would’ve thrown a brick at the author if possible. The article title read, “Get married first, then focus on your career” and ended with

but you can control where you spend your time and energy, and you should look hard for a husband early on. Line up the marriage first, then the career.

Little surprise that most men believe every woman is out to lasso them into marriage. Get married, have babies. What? Am I missing something? Is this branded into our skin like a neon sign?

The world needed another pop-psychologist-wanna-be-know-it-all blogger to tell single women how to live our lives. Because if we’re single and have a goal that doesn’t involve a man yet, we’re in danger (YES, danger) of ruining future generations to come. The article was loaded with statistics too, because if there aren’t numbers to back the article, it all becomes a load of rubbish, right? I’m calling B.S on this article. And this was written by a woman. I wouldn’t be ranting if a man wrote this, because I’d be thinking “oh, poor thing…he truly believes this…”. But to see that it’s written by a woman. Enraged.

According to this author, women should focus on finding a man at 24 years old, wait 2 years before getting married and have kids 2-3 years later. Because statistically this is a recipe for a healthy marriage. (makes me wonder if she was high on crack when she wrote this) Wow. Divorce attorneys, you’ve been warned. What kind of ammo did she use? Infertility, down-syndrome baby and miscarriage.

All these may be valid, but how about addressing the fact that you may have a marriage, children and a career (or not), and not feel an ounce of happiness? What about not settling for a man if he’s not good enough instead of rushing into a marriage because society said so. And if any girl comes up to me and says “Sometimes we have to compromise and settle with someone”, slap yourself, sister. You better have expectations. Not materialistic expectations, but something deeper than that. Why? You’re planning to live the rest of your life with ONE person – because that’s what a marriage is. And if you haven’t found the right guy, KEEP LOOKING. But you know how you find someone great? When you focus on yourself.

I’m not saying find the perfect guy, because that’s dumb. I’m saying, find someone who makes you happy, and someone who loves you right back. Because if you settle for someone who doesn’t make you happy, that’s your future forecast right there. Cloudy with grey skies. Because a man isn’t going to change for you. Let’s just nail that down, ok? So, either you change – which means losing bits and pieces of your unique self; which eventually you’ll hate him for. The outcome normally leads to an unhappy marriage and a costly divorce. And another article will quote some new statistics with the headline “Divorce rates on steady rise”. No sh*t, Sherlock.  Or, worse than a divorce, you’ll settle for an unhappy life, with the man you settled for. Sometimes, being with a person doesn’t guarantee happiness. It’s like driving a car without wheels.

Instead of focusing hard on finding a husband, how about focusing hard on our happiness, setting goals (whether it’s career-centric or living a rich life of experiences) and attaining them. Chances are, men will naturally gravitate toward us, because we’re desirable when we’re happy. Change what doesn’t make you happy – because that’s the only good option. The bad option is to accept defeat and live unhappily; I rather focus all my energy on changing everything bad in my life to something positive. This means, even if I don’t find a man, get married and have children at a stipulated timeline, I’ll be happier than I was. When you’re happy with everything you have, you have everything you need.    

Note: I saw the article on my facebook newsfeed, by an acquaintance who recently got engaged to a man who has been known to physically abuse her! The feed was accompanied by this paraphrased message: Friends above 25, who have dismissed marriage and finding a partner for now, please read. And to the other workaholics on my list. Points for you to note about your body and future.

Has he knocked out every bit of common sense?! I MEAN REALLY. Points to note about your body and future? How about no black eye and freedom, instead?

Argh. Rant over.

Of getting lost and finding myself

Of getting lost and finding myself

I wish I had enough guts to do what this man did. To quit my job, sell off my possessions (which I don’t really have, apart from my books – and let’s face it, those are no longer considered anything of value to many now) and find myself in a country far removed from developed countries, skyscrapers, materialism and to get lost without a destination in mind. Like Lewis Carroll said, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” I’m sure I’ll also eventually find myself. 

If I could leave everything behind without guilt, I would pack my essentials and go in search of the most beautiful sunset or trek across China, Nepal, India. I’d go back to Sri Lanka’s beautiful Hill Country for a hiking trip and immerse myself with the people and culture; which I didn’t get to do last time. I’d love to stargaze without having to sneak out like the last time, explore the different tea plantations stacked side by side, with all the shades of green coming together to create a sea of greenery.

My Japan trip in October will be a small step toward my goal. And to do everything the travel guidebook says not to do. I refuse to conform to a few writers’ experiences. I’ll make my own.