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November 27 – January 4

This holiday season was filled with travel travel travel (and unfortunately not as much productivity on the writing front as I would have hoped).

First up: Back to Orlando for my birthday (28!) and more wedding planning (sarcastic yay). Turns out planning weddings are stressful – surprise! I consider myself pretty low maintenance, and I’ve already had at least 2 wedding meltdowns. For my single friends: I recommend town hall and a nice honeymoon. You’re welcome. Anyway, we officially have the date, venues, dress, invitations, photographer, videographer, invite lists, and are about to confirm menus. My latest project is the wedding website which apparently needs to be finished before we can send out the save-the-dates (gulp). Unsolicited advice for grooms (or the less ‘involved’ of any same-sex pairing): you are not doing your partner any favors by deferring all decisions to them – that just means they now have to do more work. Heaping more stress on someone is not a gift >_<

Venue spoiler:

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After that ‘fun’-filled week, I headed off to Telluride, CO for Kellogg ski-trip. Unfortunately, there was very little snow and not a whole lot else to do if binge-drinking isn’t your thing.

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I ended up bagging on the trip early to go spend some time with Ryan in San Jose before heading to Tokyo (but really I just wanted to see star wars). While hanging with him, I did get some good news on the writing front to wrap up the year: a story I wrote made it to a final round at Clarkesworld (something like 30-40 stories out of 1200 each month make it this far) – that felt like a pretty big win (though I’m still waiting to hear back on if it actually sold). Unfortunately, after sharing the story with Ryan post-this good news, we’ve discovered a few typos in the prose – whoops. Too late now. I also heard back from Odyssey Online (a writing organization that has online workshops in the winter). I was waitlisted for the class I applied to – which bummed me out for half a day, but I now consider a pretty big honor. I’m getting closer! The waitlist notification also included a couple book recommendations that I’ve started – so far these have been helpful!

Come Christmas, Ryan and I headed off to Tokyo. Needless to say, the food was wonderful and Japan remains one of my favorite countries to visit.

For New Years, we headed to Seoul to meet up with a few friends and explore the city. I was very impressed with the people of Seoul and enjoyed learning about South Korea’s history and culture. I definitely recommend a visit (particularly to the War Memorial Museum), but maybe schedule your trip for warmer months (at least Seoul prepared me for my return to Chicago!)

After such a long time away, I was excited to get back to the US and (finally!) work on some writing – so of course I got super sick and now am pretty down for the count. Still, I’ve thought up a new book idea I am pretty excited about and hope to get more subs out the door before starting back at Northwestern next week.

Hope everyone had a great New Years! Looking forward to 2018!

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September 5 – October 4

Well, Fall has really swung into gear! I can’t believe how fast the weeks go (and how slow the days). Business school is already feeling like a blur!

So far life has been pretty good though. I was re-elected to be our first year MMM representative and was chosen for a first year director role in the Kellogg High Tech Club. Both exec teams are STACKED. I have great friends on both and am pretty pumped for what we’ll be able to do. In general, I feel like I am getting closer to some MMMs and my KWESTies. I always struggle a little bit to make friends, but I am happy with the trend line there at the moment.

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Classes are good, though I don’t quite feel like they cover what I am most excited to learn (next quarter?) – For Research, Design, Build we are working with a client that was recently revealed to be Harley-Davidson. I am pretty pumped about that (though can’t talk about the exact project).

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On a personal front, I’ve been struggling a little. A family member is dealing with some health issues that seem pretty serious to me. On top of that Ryan has had to switch jobs (long story that isn’t exactly public yet) and left for his month-long Japan vacation (what was before a work-cation, but now is just for fun). I’m also writing a lot and still getting rejected a lot. Overall though, I’m trying to focus on the good things happening (which there are a lot of) and the journey.

Also, pumped about our New Years plan for this year: Mexico City – the crew is great: Joel, Tessa, Me, Kiki, Stefan, Andrew, Chris K, Chris M, Lisa – and we have 2 more spots in the AirBnB if others want to come. It’s going to be a blast!

October 21 – October 27: New City, New Rules

Well, I’ve left Japan, BUT not without a little drama.

Turns out Osaka has more than one airport (take note!). So, waking up at 5 am (four hours before your flight) and following the subway signs to “Osaka Airport” is NOT a sure-fire way to end up at the right place. Which, is what happened to me.

At 7am (2 hours before my 9am flight), I discover that Osaka has two airports and I am at the wrong one. Oops. Also, I learn that, while there is a bus that drives between the airports, the ride takes about an hour. Double Oops. Oh! And guess who has just run out of all her yen and if she goes to exchange for more will miss the bus that has just pulled out in front of wrong-airport and will have to wait 30 minutes for the next one? Yeah ….

And this is where my faith in humanity is restored! Not only did a very nice attendant at ITM make sure I found the right bus, but, upon learning I had no money to pay for my ticket, a very nice couple comped me the few dollars I needed.

I arrive at the right airport this time one hour before my flight takes off. I find the Air China counter and, guess what? My flight has been MOVED UP 15 minutes. Great. Oh, and it is final boarding call.

And once more, humanity rocks! The woman at the Air China counter grabs me, takes me through the crew security line, runs me to the right tram, and I board the flight just before the gate closes!

Whew — what a way to leave Japan!

So now I am in Shanghai. After one week here, my thoughts are as follows:

The Good

  • OMG the food! Street food all day, everywhere! And it is awesome (and SO cheap — like <$1). See this guide that roughly describes what I am eating every day: LINK HERE
  • The history is incredible. There are tons of museums here, but so far the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square is my favorite. The museum is filled with different forms of Chinese art (pottery, porcelain, jade, statues, seals, calligraphy, etc.). Many of the items on display are literally thousands of years old. The museum is massive and incredible. A must-see!
  • Mass transit is awesome here. The subway systems are vast and inexpensive (albeit a bit crowded). Shanghai is huge, but the city is very accessible
  • Fitness is actually really huge in the city (not something I experienced while in Japan). I am doing Crossfit on an outdoor track (see next list for why on a track) and there are constantly people around playing soccer or ultimate frisbee, dancing to traditional Chinese songs (in impressive unison), performing tai-chi, ballroom dancing, etc. There are so many parks and places to exercise that it is pretty much a constant no matter where I’ve been. I love seeing so much activity!

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The “Could-Be-Better”

  • As you’ve probably heard, much of the internet is blocked here. I am talking Google (and Google products such as Gmail and Google Maps), Facebook, most blogging websites, etc. Bring your VPN (/ more than one VPN option). The Chinese government is not relenting on blocking these sites and is constantly updating its firewall. My normal VPN could not break through. As of today, ExpressVPN works — go crazy!
  • The Chinese government really is king here. My crossfit gym found a notice on its front door 2 weeks ago saying that the government wanted their land for a new construction project and they had one week to move. Ouch. Par for the course I hear. BUT, before you start raging on how totally unfair this is, I do hear the government generously compensates owners when land is seized (hey! have you ever heard of eminent domain in the US?). It just sucks if you are a renter and don’t get a ton of notice (the government moves FAST on these projects).
  • Drivers are INSANE here. I have never seen such poor adherence to traffic lights, signals, signs, etc. Oh, and I include pedestrians in that. Everyone pretty much just does what they want. The green lights even have countdowns to yellow on them and I’ve still yet to see a red light actually stop traffic. Be careful out there!
  • You really stick out as a white foreigner here. I actually think I saw fewer white people in my time in Japan, but I think the Japanese are more exposed to Western culture and english than the Chinese are (or at least it is painted more favorably). Those I have met here in Shanghai who are expats or have spent any time outside of China are totally friendly to me, but from those who appear never to have left the country, I don’t feel as welcomed. Now I have only been here a week and haven’t wandered into every non-touristy / less-commercial neighborhood in this very large city, but the places I have wandered, I will say that the stares weren’t exceptionally friendly.

And that’s it for my first week! Will check in soon with more adventures!

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Shoot muffins! I had thought I had published the above a while back, but looks like I merely saved the draft and moved on with my life. Whoops. So this will be a bit of a double post!

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October 28 – November 10: China Rage

China continues to prove itself a wild and challenging place. Fortunately I have a friend who lives here in Shanghai who I’ve had a chance to hang out with. Ganesh and his girlfriend, Gabby, have invited me to join them for a bit more upscale Shanghai dining. Spending time with them has given me a chance to see more of Shanghai at night, explore the Bund, and eat some amazing food. They’ve also explained to me that my frustrations (what they dub “China Rage”) are normal feelings foreigners have when they spend any significant time living in places throughout China. Apparently discomfort with the chaotic lifestyle of the locals is normal, whew!

I’ve also been able to take a few day trips outside the city. Not as easy as day trips around Japan, but possible. Hangzhou and Suzhou are great (water towns! — think: Chinese Venice).

And I have found a new box in the city that has really tough (read: awesome) crossfit classes.

Maybe my most exciting update is re: my book (tentative title: Sandwatcher). I will probably finish my first draft THIS WEEK (I’ve said “tomorrow” for the last few days, so I’ll refrain from saying that again here, but I do really think tomorrow is the day!). I have a ton of revisions I’ll need to make to get a second draft ready for review by others. But, I’m feeling good about the core of the work and am excited to keep plowing ahead!

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Now I am off to Singapore (!!!) for a few days for a b-school interview. Looking forward to warm weather, western-ish food, and more english speakers 😉 Ramen at Bugis anyone?

October 14 – October 20 – Last week in Japan

Well, my time in Japan is just about over. I have very much enjoyed my time here and will definitely be back (hey! I haven’t even been to Tokyo yet!). The Japanese people are kind, respectful, helpful, and generous. I am so glad I decided to come here.

My last week was not too eventful. I took a few day trips to see more shrines around Osaka and Himeji Castle just outside. I visited my first ever cat cafe (pay ~$8 to spend a full hour in a room with 20 cats — I was admittedly a little scared), explored some incredible used and new bookstores throughout the city, did my first handstand (ever!), and competed in my first ever crossfit competition (where I was dead last, but it’s the journey not the destination!).

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Oh! And I also found a Denny’s (!!!) near Nagai Park:

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Well, I am off to Shanghai. I am a little nervous about acclimating to a new place, learn a new public transit system, and find my way in a new foreign city (again!), but I am excited too.

Goals for China:
+ Explore outside of Shanghai
+ Kick butt on whatever business school interviews I get (so far Kellogg and Booth)
+ Keep doing Crossfit (new box!)
+ Finish (!!!) the complete first draft of my book

Next time I will be sure to report on the move!

October 9 – October 13 – Nara

Nara is a wonderful town about an hour outside of Osaka. One of Nara’s claims to fame is that it is a town full of wild, but social deer. These deer, according to the Shinto religion, are messengers of the gods.

Admittedly, I thought the tales of wild deer were exaggerations before arriving in Nara, but turns out the city’s reputation is spot on. Any place there was grass or forest, you saw deer. And the deer were indeed social (some maybe too social). It was so much fun to walk down the road with a deer or two in toe, sit with one beneath a tree and read a book, or buy some crackers and watch as, seemingly out of nowhere, twenty deer would pop up and, like puppies, hop around you begging for some treats.

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But Nara isn’t just about the deer. There is also an incredible temple complex, called Todai-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage site, that contains the largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana in the world. The temple was started in the 700s and is truly impressive. The monuments, buildings, and artifacts surrounding the temple are breathtaking and the gardens it sits within are well worth exploring.

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I am coming up on my last week in Japan. One final week of exploration!

October 2 – October 8 – Hiroshima

If you haven’t already heard, public transportation is AMAZING in Japan, but unlike in *some* places in the US, the amazingness of Japanese transport systems spans the entire country. Getting from one major city to the next is super easy and fairly affordable.

Thus I decided to take my first longer distance trip in Japan on the light-rail (this time the Shinkansen) to Hiroshima.

—sidebar: About a year ago (September 2014), I took a vacation to Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary to visit major WWII sites and learn more about the war and its effects in Eastern Europe. It was an incredible trip. So, almost exactly a year later, being in Japan, I thought it would be fitting to visit one of the cities where the A-bomb that helped end the war was dropped. —–

Quick note on the high-speed light rail: Make sure you wait for the express trains when you are traveling from one major city to another. Do NOT take a local unless you have to stop at one of the areas not visited by the express. My trip to Hiroshima (on the express) took ~1 hour; my trip back (on the local) took 3 hours.

Also, light rails look like spaceships and are super spacious 🙂

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I was most excited to visit the Peace Memorial site and museum in Hiroshima, but I knew my time there would be heavy. So, as I made my way from the train station to the site and saw all these people walking to a sectioned off area under a big blow-up arch, I knew it would be nice to follow and have some light-hearted fun before a more serious afternoon.

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Rule of thumb: if you see something like the above while traveling, YOU MUST EXPLORE. Turns out, the gathering was a small festival in the heart of Hiroshima.

The festival had mascots, inflated bouncy houses, two performance stages, tons of arts and crafts, lots (and I mean LOTS) of pretty awesome food, and (my favorite) free samples!

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I have to say, one surprising (or maybe it shouldn’t be surprising?) aspect of spending time in Hiroshima, particularly at this festival, was it really confirmed for me how different all the major cities (or at least the ones I have visited) in Japan are. The food, the people, the culture of each place are very distinct while still feeling Japanese. I liked mingling with the Hiroshimans (?) a lot.

Anyway, from there I headed to the Peace Memorial and, like getting smacked with a ton of bricks, ran head first into the Atomic Dome.

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Even the park around the Atomic Dome and the museum was pretty somber. The Children’s Memorial (pictured below) had millions of origami cranes stored and I would later in the museum find out way (see below).

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The museum itself was sobering. Filled with visitors of all types of nationalities and with an entrance fee of roughly $0.50 USD, the place was incredibly accessible (just as one might expect). What was really powerful for me was that I had, up until that visit, never walked through a museum where we (the US) were the bad guys. Not to say the museum was negative towards the US at all (it totally wasn’t and I thought did an incredible job of stating facts as objectively as possible), but I couldn’t help but feel, as I went from room to room, reading of the horrors of the bomb, escapes through black radiation rain, the families who would never find out what happened to their loved ones, that Americans made the decision to do this to these people. Without having ever been in a war, I can’t begin to understand what it is like to make those difficult calls, but I couldn’t help but feel like what we created and did to these people was evil.

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The stories of survival and the survivors (some first-hand video testimonials) were incredibly powerful. The one that touched me the most was of a young girl named Sadako. The bomb had been dropped when she was two years old. Her mother had had to carry her through the black radiation rain in order to escape the blast zone. Sadako had a normal healthy childhood until she was around 10 or 11 years old. Then, suddenly, her neck began to swell and the doctor her mother took her to quickly diagnosed her with leukemia (sometimes referred to as “the atom bomb disease”). Unfortunately Sadako wasn’t the only child to suddenly show symptoms of “the atom bomb disease” around this time. Sadako was immediately moved to a hospital where her roommate would tell her of an old Japanese legend that said if one folded 1000 paper cranes a wish would be granted. Sadako, emboldened by this, learned how to fold paper cranes and folded over 1000 of them, wishing that she would get better. Although she achieved her goal, when Sadako was only 12, she passed away.

Today the Children’s Memorial in the park holds millions of paper cranes to commemorate her and the other children who passed away because of their exposure to the atom bomb. You can fold a crane or send one in to be added to the exhibit.

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Leaving, I couldn’t help but think that, had the roles been reversed and Japan had dropped an atomic bomb on some city in the US, would we as Americans today be as welcoming, accepting, patient, and kind with Japanese visitors to our country as I believe the Japanese are with Americans? My respect and admiration for the Japanese only grows.

I highly recommend visiting the museum if you are ever in Hiroshima.

Afterwards, I continued to explore the city (including a surprisingly well-stocked art museum). Overall I was impressed with Hiroshima. It was a lot more developed and bustling than I would have anticipated. And of course, even had it not been, the Peace Memorial itself was worth the trip.

September 22 – October 1 – Osaka & Kyoto

My adventures in Japan continue! I spent much of this last week exploring Osaka and Kyoto (~$10 train ride from Osaka).

In Osaka I have enjoyed just hopping on the train and seeing where I end up while also trying to hit the highlights. Osaka Castle is definitely one of them:

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In the heart of the city, Osaka Castle is a national landmark that played a huge role in Japan’s unification in the 16th century. It was surreal walking around this castle in the middle of a city. I was amazed at how well the structure was preserved (Osaka Castle is older than the United States!).

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The day I visited there was even a wedding (sorry I am a creeper, but at least I was not the only one):

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It was also funny to see Japanese tourists acting as kooky as American tourists often do (I grew up in Orlando so I have seen some wacky tourist behavior). For example, this booth where you could dress up in traditional Japanese attire and pose with weapons in front of the castle:

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There was also a booth handing out free drinks. Lesson: ALWAYS ask what it is before you take a swig …. unfortunately I learned the hard way that the samples weren’t water or Pocari Sweat (the clear Japanese gatorade) … they were shots of sake (OOF!):

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Oh and hey … if you were worried about where you were going to buy your Japanese shurikens, Osaka Castle has also got you covered on that front:

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Other fun things I’ve learned and seen in Osaka:

  • There are brothels in Osaka, but these aren’t very popular. What ARE popular are ‘hosts’ – young men and women who you can pay to hang out with you for a night (you buy their drinks, food, etc. and pay for their time by the hour). At first this concept was confusing to me, but it has been explained to me as being similar to paying for the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend for however long you pay them (minus anything physical). The hosts will treat you how you want and in return you get to live your perfect relationship fantasy. Awesome?
  • Over a third of Japan’s population is above the age of 60. This is a problem that the government is very concerned with as salaried work is often so demanding on the mostly male workforce that dating is difficult and seen as a drain on income and precious free time. You don’t see too many kids on the street or in parks walking around. TOO though, you don’t see that many elderly men and women. Interestingly enough, how convenient much of Japan is (there are at least 2 drink vending machines on every block in Osaka) also makes it easy for the older members of the population to stay indoors. Kind of bursts the “Japanese people are so healthy” stereotype I had certainly imagined before coming here.
  • Speaking of health — fitness is not a huge concern for many Japanese. If you are a salaried employee you probably don’t have a ton of time to work out and fitness in general is just not embraced in the same way it is elsewhere. As Sean, my crossfit coach says, “most of the Japanese in Osaka are skinny-fat; they have no muscle!” — while it is difficult to verify this, I will say my crossfit gym is the only gym I have seen in my wanderings across Osaka so far ….
  • Really, why isn’t Japanese fried chicken served in America? It is truly amazing. Below though are takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls!)

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BUT, the highlight of this past week was definitely my trip to Kyoto.

I took an express train (which again, round trip was about $10) that got me from Osaka to Kyoto in ~30 minutes. I barely cracked open my book (*side note: is that still an expression if you read from a kindle?).

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First stop was Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine:

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This shrine was gorgeous and my favorite sight in Japan so far. I cannot recommend it more! I would suggest getting there early / before 9am (being able to explore the shrine alone and in silence was fantastic) and be prepared for a hike (up steps) of about 1-2 hours. You will walk under literally (LITERALLY) thousands of toriis as you venture through the shrine.

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That last picture is of the final torii near one of the shrine exits. Apparently it is purposely unfinished as it is believed that the path (along with the torii gates) continue through the sky to heaven.

Really this shrine is so special — a must-see!

I also explored Gion, the Shoren-in Temple, and the beautiful park and shrines in between. Gion is a shopping area / street in a more traditional part of Kyoto.

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I have to say, I was surprised by how different Kyoto felt from Osaka. Even the food was different! Crab on stick? Grilled fish? Tofu flavored icecream?

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Well, my next stop is Hiroshima (excited to see the peace memorial). Will report back soon!