Sunday, January 18, 2015

TRIP TO CHINA + JAPAN

Wow. Where to even start?

From December 22, 2014 to January 2, 2015, I spent overseas - one week roughly in China with family, one week roughly in Japan with Charles. It's been 10+ years since I've been back to China, and it was my first time in Japan. I pretty much underwent a mix of culture shock and sensory overload the entire time. (And then on the way back, a sort of reverse culture shock coming back into the states, haha)

The trip became more than just a family reunion, more than just a tourist's trip. It was a welcome break from the life back in Boston, a welcome change with a different perspective, and I wanted to share some of the stories I have of the places I had gone.

Warning: This will be an extremely long post!

TL;DR:

  • I attended a huge birthday party for my 80 year old grandfather (on my mother's side), and visited my other grandparents (on my father's side) in the countryside!
  • I rode the high speed rail from Beijing for the first time!
  • I visited Todai (Tokyo University) for the first time!
  • I attended Comiket for the first time! (Only the last day though)
  • I went up Tokyo Sky Tree for the first time!
  • Other places I visited in Japan: Akihabara, Meiji Shrine, Harajuku
For all the details though, read on! The post will be divided into the following sections:




China

I
Dec 22-28, 2014
High-speed rail
Visiting Grandparents on both sides of the family

The view outside my Hotel window in Beijing.

Picture taken at my grandpa's 80th birthday party-
Over a hundred attended!

The panorama from the roof of my Grandparent's (on my dad's side) house.
Yep, the roof. I climbed up with one of my Uncles. 8D



Tokyo

II
Dec 29, 2014
Todai
DMM.Make
Akihabara

AKIHABARAAAAAAAAA.

Yoshihiro-sensei demo-ing some very awesome circuitry magic.
Draw a circuit on a piece of photo paper with a special marker...and PRESTO.
Instant working circuit. Check the video out below!

video
TA-DA.
It's AWESOME.

Other projects the Todai students are working on!



III
Dec 30, 2014
Comiket

Tokyo Big Sight is in sight!

Titan spotted!

My favoraite Itasha spotted during the trip. : >
Zenbonsakura Miku!


A video compiled from smartphone recordings
I made during the Tokyo trip.
(Excuse the shakiness!)


IV
Dec 31, 2014
Tokyo Sky Tree

Tokyo Sky Tree, at 634m, or 2080ft, tall!
The tallest tower in the world and the 2nd tallest structure in the world!

The view from the Tembo deck of the tower.


V
Jan 1, 2015
Meiji Shrine
Harajuku
Kinokuniya

Meiji Shrine on New Years day afternoon-
(Still packed with lots of people, haha.)
Located in a beautiful park!

While walking through Harajuku, I noticed Pepper!
Of course I had to go in and try and say 'hi', hehe.

The famous Takeshita Street in Harajuku!
Charles and I bought some clothing here, hehe...


VI
1-2
Tokyu Hands
Homeward bound!

The view from our AirBnB room.
Last day in Tokyo!

Browsing through the megastore of Tokyu Hands.
Charles and I wanted to buy a lot of things here, haha.
They have a whole floor dedicated to DIY!

DRAGON 2020 MIKU FIGURE!
One of the things I bought in Tokyo!


CAUTION: LONG POST AHEAD!
Click below to read more about my trip!

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-
I
-

China
Dec 22 - 28, 2014

The first leg of the journey was from Boston to Beijing. The day before I had to leave for the airport, I was extremely restless - excited, sure, but also very anxious. So much so that I had cleaned the house twice over and arrived at my flight gate two hours before my boarding time. Perhaps being early was meant to be, since I was privy to a particular event before I even boarded that set the scene for the rest of the journey.

While I was waiting for my flight to be called and the passengers of the flight before mine to disembark, I noticed a woman, around 50 or 60 years old, grey hair brushed neatly into a bob, walk with pointed purpose from my left towards the same gate I was waiting for. Several other people noticed her too, not because she looked particularly strange, or was doing anything peculiar. She was simply holding a couple of red, white, and blue star-shaped balloons, along with a white poster sign that had the words, "Welcome Home, Patrick." Complete with her camouflage blouse and bouquet of flowers, it was clear to anyone watching who she was waiting for.

A man named "Patrick." A US soldier. Her son.

Seeing the mother stand there patiently, watching, waiting... As one by one, people from the incoming plane filed out of the exit intermittently, past her, smiling at her sign and balloons, immediately understanding why she was there, connecting with her story. Minute by minute passed, more and more people filed past her... but not 'Patrick'. Not yet.

And then, I suddenly saw the woman give a cry of delight, then smile-- Near the trailing end of the passenger line, a young man beamed just as wide, his free arm opening up to receive a hug, and I thought, "Ah... He must be Patrick." The mother and son duo embraced for a long while after their reunion, as the father looked on from behind, and I couldn't help but also smile at the scene.


I took it as a good sign. A prelude to a good trip, with favorable winds that would bring me safely to my family, who I had not seen all together since 10 years ago. A sweet reunion, a warm embrace of loved ones. ...And a safe return.



The heartwarming scene at Boston Logan Airport.

One of the things I drew while waiting for my flight.
I was actually finishing up this sketch when I noticed
the scene described above.

Touchdown in Beijing was smoother than expected, and it wasn't long after that I was picked up by my dad, aunt, and nephew. Dad and I were shuttled to the hotel we would be staying at that night before we would leave Beijing the day after. Before I left, however, I had dinner with my aunt and nephew, and I met back up with Charles, who had been in China for a week already, the next morning. Charles and I took a walk towards a local park, where we spent some time catching up. (You can read more about Charles's adventure in his blog, too!)


At the local park was this large pagoda.
A few people were playing music and dancing in front of it
a few minutes after this was taken.

Walking shadows with Charles!

More of the park - the lake was frozen over.

Near the back of the park, there was a group
of elderly people standing stone-still.
There was a radio spouting some speech;
I caught something about "emptying the mind."

Strangely enough, the elderly group was stationed
next to a train display, which Charles and I
checked out with more interest.


After essentially a day in Beijing, dad and I boarded a high speed rail train to begin our "Visiting the Relatives" chapter of the trip. First stop, dad's side of the family.


A video compiled from smartphone recordings
I made during my China trip.
(Excuse the shakiness!)


Arriving at ZhenZhou station with dad.

Panoramic view of from my grandparent's house (on my dad's side).
You can actually see the high speed rail pass by from their house.
(Click for a better view!)

Dad and his brothers helped buy my grandparents
a new electric bike-carriage.
This version had a fold-down bench.

Coming up on our right is my grandparent's house.

I've seen these things all over China.
They're solar water heaters!

Chickens in the back courtyard!


One of the interesting things I learned was that it was also the first time in a few long years that Dad and his brothers had all gotten together like this to meet with their parents as well. After taking several pictures together to commemorate the event in many various places, taking a tour of the house, and eating a meal with everyone, dad and I packed up again and left on the high speed rail to our next destination: The birthday party that was planned for Grandpa's (on my mom's side) 80th birthday party.


A common sighting along the way on the train.
The juxtaposition of giant new construction buildings
beside flat plains and older, lower-floored apartments...

For me, hearing that I was about to attend a ~120 person birthday party was daunting. Especially when I consider they were mostly all family on my mother's side, the majority of whom I had no idea about and had never met. Granted, many of the attendees even my mom didn't know who they were, but the fact remained that I, as the daughter of the 3rd daughter of my grandfather who had studied in the US and graduated from MIT, was at some point going to be a novelty to this crowd. And with any novelty that people had not seen for 10+ years (or at all) and had only heard stories and rumors about, there was no doubt going to be a point where I would be tossed, even if for just a moment, under the scrutiny of the social spotlight.

...I wasn't particularly looking forward to that.

But it wasn't terrible. Sure, there were a lot of social customs and different cultural customs and probably many little things I did wrong socially (like clink someone's glass at the wrong level), but in the end, all that didn't matter.

What mattered was my time with my immediate family, who had gathered all together for each other. What mattered was the good food and good banter we had with each other. What mattered was seeing the lives my family lived here in China, so different and yet not so different from mine. What mattered was that my grandfather turned 80 and lived to see his three daughters and son and all his grandchildren in well-fed, well-off lives. What mattered was my grandmother who would not let go of my hand on the drive over to the train station when I had to leave.

A view from my seat in the room.

Grandpa and Grandma taking centerstage
during the main event.


Somewhere in the middle of mom's speech about my grandfather for my grandfather, my grandfather started quietly tearing up. She was telling the story of the first gifts she remembered her father giving her, during a time when even just feeding and clothing and sheltering your family was difficult enough, that helped define key moments in the rest of her life. It was a moving story, of tasteful length and well-narrated, and was the only speech that day to stir my grandfather to tears.

On my train ride back to Beijing, that was one of the most prominent images I recalled from my visiting my grandparents. To be at his age, to see his line so proliferated, to see his descendants happy and well-fed and well-off, when at one point in his life he must have had his own bout of sufferings and worries for his family...

...For the first time in my life, I looked at my family in China and really wanted to make them proud. To make my grandpa proud. To show him that everything he had worked for would not be wasted on me. In hard times, he brought up three daughters and a son, each of whom now had their own family and a child. It was the same with visiting my grandparents on my dad's side. Though they were farmers, they still managed to raise four sons and a daughter, each now with a family and a child of their own. I had come from such a lucky lineage.

And for the first time in my life.... I think I was truly proud of who I was and where I had come from. It didn't matter what others said about me being Chinese or Kentuckian, or whether my grandparents were this or that, or even what I thought about my own culture. Through all the murk of differences in culture and lifestyle and habits, I was of the same stock as them. A hard-working, resilient, grounded people that prevailed through difficult times. It gave me courage to know that the same blood ran through me.

It was the same feeling when I returned to Beijing to spend a night with Charles' aunt and grandparents. The hug his grandma gave him as we were preparing to leave, the tears his grandpa held back as he patted his grandson on the back....

At that moment, I remember thinking back to the event I had witnessed at the Boston Logan airport came back to me, the image of the woman who stood quietly waiting for the return of her son....


Family... was truly universal. It didn't matter what timezone you were in, what language you spoke or how you behaved. Deep down, the love a parent has for a child was immeasurable. And the realization that one's time left with the other is finite is a saddening reality.



-
II
-

Tokyo
Dec 29, 2014

Leaving China was a little heart-wrenching. I wasn't ready for how strongly I had felt about seeing everyone again. I still had qualms about the country as an entirety, differences I'll address at the bottom of this post, but from a family point of view, it was very much like coating a cool salve over an inflamed region of my heart where homesickness reigned.

The flight to Tokyo didn't take long. At the customs gate, our customs officer asked to open up Charles' suitcase, the one he packed the no-hands segway he had bought in Shenzhen. What that resulted in was an x-ray test from the device, since he wasn't familiar with it, and a request for a demo. Which Charles happily obliged.

We were fortunate enough to have Charles' aunt's friend pick us up from the airport and show us the way to Shinjuku (where our AirBnB apartment room was). Otherwise, we would have gotten seriously lost. She was so prepared! There was all this information she had collected for us beforehand - subway maps, subway card (preloaded!), maps to specific locations, info about tourist locations, how-to-sort-your-trash pamphlets, etc etc. Even with her expertise, we actually still managed to run into bits of quandry in the subway system and ended up arriving to meet our AirBnB host at the appropriate station near midnight (2 hours late).

In retrospect, we actually spent about the same amount of time getting from Narita Airport to Shinjuku on the trains as flying from Beijing to Tokyo.


Exhibit A. Tokyo subway maps.

.......????

Though our first experience with the subway system wasn't great, we made sure to plan out our exact subway ride the day before so we wouldn't be running into surprises. After a day or so, both of us pretty much got used to the system - next time we come, we would be much better prepared.


This is where we stayed in Shinjuku!

An upshot of the apartment building.
(We faced the back)

One of the first places we visited first was the University of Tokyo (Todai). Charles had two contacts from the university that we would meet up with first, Kawahara-sensei and Niiyama-sensei, both of whom had worked and studied at MIT previously.


Todai gates!!

Todai campus!!

Todai (very epic sounding) departments!!

Draw your own circuit!
(Check out the video I put in the early part of my post!)

Pneumatic-motion origami!

video
Video showing the paper crane in action!

The bug-like six legged walker bot!
It was super fast, super twitchy, and really cute~

A project some lab was working on!

Another... project some lab was working on!

The skinniest building was the location to a hackerspace!

Inside the hackerspace, we found printable circuits!!
(like the light-up pinwheel!)

Aahh... hackerspaces.
Strange how there's something familiar and
comforting about hackerspaces looking like this.
At least to me.

Also, this.
THIS.
Kawahara-sensei's business card can be plugged into
the USB port of a computer, and the LED will light up!
SO AWESOME.

After trading info on their project works with us, they led us by taxi to Akihabara. Taxis. With automatic doors. And wheels on the right side. And driving on the left side of the road. It was a strange moment to wrap my head around. But really cool! It felt like being chaffeured in a high-class mini limo... That sort of experience I have never gotten until now from riding a taxi.

Also - did you know you could use your subway card to pay for food and drinks at certain places, and pay for your taxi fare? In Japan, yes you can.

First look at the Akihabara back roads!

Yeeees, look at all the open air electronics markets!
They don't compare with Charles' Shenzhen pics of
electronics markets, but Akihabara still has them!
America, where are yours?

A large anime/game goods store!

Colorful Akihabara street view!

In Akihabara, there are also professional,
company-sponsored hackerspaces.

Kawahara-sensei and Niiyama-sensei showed us into a large corporate building, went up a two sets of elevators, and down a hall, and then suddenly - BAM. You've entered the glorious space called DMM Make. This place had a dedicated space for everything you could possibly think of - circuits, screen-printing, painting, molding, sewing, CAD-ing, etc etc etc.

Open workspace - there's a kitchen too!

Busy people using the open workspace area!

The view from one of the conference rooms you can reserve.

AND they have their own shop!!

It's super organized and clean and shiny and new!!

Did I mention they have a dedicated space for CAD-ing?!
(They use CATIA. And Up-Minis.)

And they have computers built into the desk.

And a whole QA lab.
(Shake, drop, shock, pressure, you name it.)

And their own pick-and-place machine.
How much money did DMM invest in this???
Nevermind, we asked. Nothing specific, but quite a lot.
....Quite. A lot.

Also, here's the inside of a pick and place,
if you were ever curious, hehe.

There were some awesome chalk drawings around this place.

From left to right: Niiyama-sensei, Charles, and Kawahara-sensei.
THREE VERY AWESOME MEN.

Oh, and did I mention they have clip racks with locks
for their umbrellas? Because they do.

One of the great things about DMM Make was that it was both a space for individuals and corporate entities. Both startups and non-affiliated fans can join via a fee (costly, but worth it!). Plus, the fact that there was so much support for all the equipment and materials and space is awesome - who'd have realized that DMM was an adult-goods company? (They've branched out a lot!)

After touring DMM Make and being mindblown by all the cool stuff there, we parted ways with Kawahara-sensei and Niiyama-sensei and went back to explore Akihabara a little more.

First itasha spotted!!

Aaaah.... Akihabara.
Perhaps the only place in the world that will put
cute Japanese anime characters are huge billboards.

My first candy-vending-machine-like thing!
(It ended up being a Jean keychain, hehe)

Charles taking a shot at the claw game for the miku bear plushies!

He got one!!
We tried getting the other one too, but we failed pretty hard, haha.
We found the exact plushies later at another shop and
just ended up buying the whole set.

A little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served
GIGANTIC portions.

Like this.
....I think it's larger than my face.
See? Not everything is bigger in America!

First food I bought at the nearest Family Mart!

First day in and we were already loving it. I unfortunately got a bad stomachache on the first day, but even that did not detract from my experience.


-
III
-

Tokyo
Dec 30, 2014

Comiket. The legendary, ultimate, mother-of-all anime conventions that I'd read and heard so much about. And today, I was going to experience it for the first time.

We had spent the rest of the previous evening planning out how to get to Comiket the next day and reading up on how to work it. There were many guides (even Charles' aunt's friend had procured us a guide), and despite the amount of research we had done, we were ultimately ill-prepared for the true sheer size of it all.

The big saw. And streaaaaams of people all around me.

Taken near the end of Comiket, facing away from the building.

I completely underestimated the amount of people at this. Charles and I mainly used the Otare Report's complete survival guide for the event, and it helped a lot. (I highly recommend giving that a thorough read if anyone wants to attend Comiket in the future.)

For the last day we were there, we toured the East Halls, and didn't even get through 25% of the booths! East Hall, which was mainly doujin work, was further broken up into two separate halls, of which we mostly spent our time in the hall that held all the Vocaloid artists. Each smaller hall East Hall was comprised of was the size of a football field, each organized in double rows all the way down (like this). There are unfortunately no pictures of the inside because they didn't allow it (unless you're officially allowed), but the Guide I linked was very accurate in its depictions, so you should hit that up for interior pictures if you'd like!

We ended up seeing some awesome cosplay, lots of non-kid-friendly doujin works (haha), a bunch of Vocaloid artists we recognized, and a loooot of fans and very talented creators. And honestly, that was about as much as we could handle in the 4 hours we were there. To think there are people who line up overnight and/or attend all three days! Such stamina...

A lot of cute cosplay!

A lot of interesting cosplay too!


And a lot of random cosplays!

All the vocaloid stash we collectively got!
Yes, we bought the table there too, hehe.
It's a Miku table!

On our way back with our haul, we also stopped by an Ariake car park to check out some awesome cars! Itasha is the name given to the cars that are skinned with usually anime-themed graphics, and comes from juxtaposing "itai" (painful) and "sha" (vehicle). They've got a pretty big fan base internationally and this was the first time I saw one in person. There were some vans that seem to be trending the low-rider stance, so Charles took a bunch of pictures of them too, haha. Too bad we couldn't stay for the weekend car showing Akihabara usually has. >n< Maybe next time!

This one was my favorite. (o u o )///

This was a close second to my favorite!

Third place! (In my opinion, hehe)

There was a wide variety of cars that were itasha.

And a lot of cool graphics!

And some amazingly unique ones, hehe!

We even found a itachari!

Low-riders in a line~

One of them had a sound system in the back!
I got flashbacks to Tokyo Drift, haha.
Behind this line was also another row of low-riders vans.
(not pictured here)

The sunset from the car park.
(You can see Charles sneaking into the shot, hehe)

AMAZING crepes from a crepe shack
near where we stayed.

As what was going to become a pattern the next few days, we only had enough energy to do one big thing per day, and today was Comiket. We returned wishing we could have had more time with the experience, and wanting more. Personally, I'm glad it was only a day we spent there however - my wallet would have been crying had we stayed more than one day, hehe!


-
IV
-

Tokyo
Dec 31, 2014

For New Years Eve, we visited a tree. Tokyo Sky Tree!

Tree by a tree. Hehe.

We were going to go in the afternoon, but the wait list was incredibly long, so we got assigned timed tickets to return later in the evening. Taking advantage of this, Charles and I skipped off back to Akihabara and spent our wait time there exploring more of the area. We accidentally ended up buying things there that we had to take with us up the tower, too...

A pretty walkway in Akihabara.

Cosplayers spotted in Akihabara!
What's in the bag? My Dragon 2020 Miku figure!

A vending machine with a dedicated cup trash can
we encountered on the way back to Tokyo Sky Tree.
This thing had the BEST strawberry milk!!

Back in the Tokyo Sky Tree, we walked past some awesome
animated murals depicting the key parts of Tokyo.

The animated mural's depiction of Akihabara!
Notice the batteries, capacitors, LEDs, plugs, ad more??
So cuuuuuute~

Out Sky Tree tickets!
Does everything in Japan have a cute mascot?

The view from the Tembo deck!
There were an insane amount of couples there-
Guess this was a popular date spot for New Years Eve.

They even had a glass floor!
(Though taking a picture of this was difficult)

The view of the Tree at night.
There were these gardens surrounding it,
full of couples and families of course, hehe.

Giant Totoro plushie spotted!!!
He was hiding in the display of a store
near one of the Tree exits.

We managed to find an empty train car on the way back,
so I snapped this pic. (It's difficult to take pictures in crowded
public spaces because it's rude to take pictures of people's faces
without consensus.)

I also found a Milk Tea bottle with Frozen on it!
It was a good drink, and so cuuuute~

New Years Evening was spent back in the apartment, waiting for midnight with Charles and a makeshift Family Mart dinner. We'd only been there three days and it was already clear we wanted to stay longer. Tomorrow would essentially be our full last day in Tokyo, and we had not even seen a decent fraction of the city.


-
V
-

Tokyo
Jan 1, 2015

In order to avoid the morning New Year's shrine rush, we woke up later than usual before making our way towards Meiji Shrine. But even then, there was still a sizeable crowd going there to pay their new year respects.

So we joined the long road of people hiking up towards Meiji Shrine, passing by gates and barrels and lanterns and other items of cultural significance. It would be another few minutes of walking before the Shrine came in sight, and even then, there were people en mass waiting in line to see the shrine. We followed them in, snapped a few pictures, then left, following the trail with the others that led past booths and booths selling new years arrows, plaques, wish-papers, and other items.

One of the gates we passed under on the way to the Shrine.

A crowd of people waiting to pay respects in front of the Shrine.

An O-mikuji wall!

We passed by a lot dedicated to food stalls,
and ended up getting food here.

I got a giant takoyaki!

Right across from the Shrine's park entrance/exit, was a direct entrance to Takeshita street, a famous street in Harajuku that sold quirky fashion and other novelties. This was the second stop of the day - It was here that Charles got a casual Visual-Kei-esque jacket and I got a punk-ish vest. Pretty fun!

Takeshita Street!
We actually accidentally came in from the back, haha.

Near the back where we came in,
we were greeted by Lotteria, a fast food chain.
Check out those huge burgers!
Who said everything was bigger in America??

Also, these were the softest burgers I have ever eaten.
They literally felt like they were melting in my mouth.

Walking down a parallel street from Takeshita, I saw Pepper
in the window! Of course I had to go in and check her out. : )

Meeting Pepper for the first time.
Unfortunately, she only spoke Japanese,
so I tried to connect using my broken Japanese, hehe.

こんにちは, Pepper-san!

A cool sign for a Architecture company we passed in Harajuku.

After Harajuku, we ended up heading to the
main Kinokuniya bookstore in Shibuya,
and browsed through their selction.

Every single day so far, we had walked quite a lot, carrying bags of figures or books or food, rode the subway (sometimes to the other end of Tokyo and back) and ended up exhausted by the end of the day. But in some strange way, I didn't mind the exertion. I was full of new sights and sounds and thoughts and feelings, I almost relished the labor that accompanied them.

The longer we stayed in Tokyo, the more we wanted to stay longer. But unfortunately for us, the next day would be our last day in Tokyo.



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VI
-

Tokyo
Jan 2, 2015

We had spent an amusing hour or so the night before making sure everything we had bought fit into our suitcases - it was good to learn we didn't need an extra suitcase or send something home via mail, haha. The last day was planned for checking out the large department store Tokyu Hands at Shibuya station, before we left on the Waterfront Line towards Haneda Airport.


This was one of the awesome things Tokyu Hands sold.
A super round, comfy plushie.
We were so tempted to take it home!

Tokyu Hands also had its own home depot,
tools and DIY section!
I wanted the whole department!!
Can we get Tokyu Hands in America?

I was so happy with the selectionnnnnn!!
I totally wanted to take stuff back for RWBY!

One of the things I will also miss in America.
The ever present vending machine!
There was one on every floor of Tokyu Hands,
not to mention every block and street we went on!

Our last meal in Japan was at a Mexican restaurant, hehe.

The flight back was much more difficult to adjust to. Not to mention the Canadian customs was incredibly more difficult than both the Chinese and Japanese customs combined, with an increased amount of hostility. We made it back without too much trouble though - despite the lack of sleep and usual uncomfortable seats on planes - and made it back Saturday, very tired, but also very happy.


The stash of plushies Charles got in Japan!

My DRAGON 2020 MIKU FIGURE!!

EEEEeeeeee~~~ I've wanted this figure since I saw it
for the first time last year.
And now I have it!!

Such a pretty design!!
And the way her hair whooshes~~!! (> 7 <)///

The book and souvenir stash I got in Japan.
Book highlights:
Miwa Shirow's Dragon 2020 Character Design book
Some of my favorite Yoneda Kou's BL series
Comiket Vocaloid doujins



-
Final Thoughts
-

Whew! Short trip, in reality. There wasn't enough time to do everything we wanted to, and every day was a rush to get somewhere.

But overall, in a word, my trip was eye-opening. (Or does that count as two words?)

There are so many things that were different from what I was used to, and many things I missed.

  • Trains in Japan are incredibly efficient and on-time. They had trains predicted to the second, and the seats were heated! Sure, they were more complicated, but we got used to the system in time. The stations and trains were always clean, the service crew was prompt, and overall, the subways were an awesome experience.
  • Driving in China is incredibly more chaotic than in Japan and the US, but the drivers seem incredibly more aware of all the other cars around them. I didn't witness a single crash in my time in China and Japan.
  • Cell phone reception in rural China is surprisingly really good (better than some parts of Boston). At least, from where I was in my grandpa's house. Dad and his brothers were fixing up an electric bike-cart for my grandparents and grandpa just went and answered a call from Beijing on his cell phone. (Then handed it to me to say hello to another relative, haha)
  • Todai is working on some kickass robots, and Akihabara has some giant corporations funding hackerspaces. I'm looking forward to the day that spaces like these can be seriously funded and acknowledged as incredibly necessary in America as well.
  • The Japanese trash recycling system was simple once you understood it - you had to separate bottles out from burnables and other categories. And after following protocol for just a few short days, we were still wondering why America hadn't adapted the system - were we as a culture just that much lazier?
  • Japanese vending machines that existed what felt like every few feet everywhere we went, always ready to quench one's thirst. I missed them once I came over to the US! So many cool selections that weren't just carbonated sodas and water.
  • After two weeks of seeing primarily just Chinese and Japanese people, who are generally homogeneous-looking groups, I felt kind of strangely weirded out that I wasn't seeing any diversity, because I had always been predominantly a minority in the places I lived in the US. It also surprised me how easily I could have slipped into the different cultures. I could imagine how much I would have changed, for better or for worse, if I were to stay in those countries longer.


And finally...

Grandparents. Family. Excuse me while I gush for a moment about my thoughts on this - the trip first started out as a visitation to family, after all.

For the first time, I think I'm truly realizing how strangely together my family structure is. Both sets of grandparents (on my mom and dad's side) are still alive, and still fairly mobile. Both sets have had children, who each in turn have had their own child(ren), and each branch is reasonably well-off. I'm more aware now than a decade before how blessed I am because of this, especially when I know of friends who are not so fortunate in their family situation, or in situations much worse.

How my grandparents must have felt... living through their own hardships in past times, and yet now still being able to see their kin succeed and travel to places they have never been, speak languages they never knew... see them thrive because of the decisions my grandparents made decades ago. How proud they must have felt... what relief to know that they did alright in the world, and the world did alright to them and their bloodline.

....What comes with it is a sense of duty, that the task of continuing such prosperity falls to you. I can understand in a sense how that sort of duty could be incredibly pressuring.... If I chose another path, would I be considered a failure?

But then I remember back to the woman I saw at Boston Logan Airport before I left for my trip. It was an uncanny event to take place... but perhaps I was thankful for it. It reminded me that no matter who I turned out to be, if I followed my own path with dedication and purpose, my family will be there for me. At the deepest core, they only want to see me happy and safe.


So I emerged from this vacation with a fresh look on myself. Where my weaknesses were, where my strengths lay, and a little more insight into who I was. I saw and learned much in this trip, and hope I can return again to see and learn even more.

Until then, here's to 2015!

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