Japan, the Sunrise Land

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This past May I took a trip to Japan while living abroad in Shanghai, China. Japan had always held a significant interest for me, as Japanese culture was embedded in the DNA of Hawaii ever since they and other Asian countries started immigrating here to work the plantations before WW2. The two places have had a tumultuous relationship, but you cannot talk about Hawaii without talking about how Japan has made its way into our culture. Cartoons on Toonami, films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, eating Japanese food, going to Marukai (a Japanese/Asian super market), the Okinawan Cultural Festival, going to Waikiki and seeing tourists and signs in English and Japanese. These sights, tastes, and experience were all engrained into my childhood.

Everything Japanese was all at once familiar and foreign; the fascination of seeing a land, a culture, a nation I only partly understood led me to put the Land of the Rising Sun on the very top of my travel list. I would go even as far as to say a big draw of living in China for me was its proximity to Japan, making my number 1 travel dream something I could realistically pull off in the year I was there.

在中国一年。A Year in China.

 

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The street right outside my apartment building

I grew up with very vague, red and gold dyed images of China. I imagined that it’d mainly be like downtown Chinatown; smelly, loud, shops selling warm produce, jade jewelry stores lined up next to dim sum and roast pork holes-in-the wall. Communism. The Great Wall. The Forbidden City. Dragons. Tea. Mao.

And there was all of that. But it was much more than that. In my year in China, I can say that I’ve probably only scratched the surface of the history, modern culture, food, people, et cetera, et cetera.

To distill the whole country into one article would be like describing Kaneohe, HI, and saying that’s what all of the US is like. So I’m going to skip it, because the socioeconomic, political, and cultural stuff has been talked about by people way more knowledgeable about those topics than I am.

Rather, I’ll talk about China through my eyes, as I lived and saw it. This is hard to write about (as evidence of this being at least a couple months after returning to the US) because there’s just so much to unpack. So of course, we’ll start from the beginning.

Krabi, Thailand

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“Everything I was I carry with me, everything I will be lies waiting on the road ahead.”

― Ma JianRed Dust: A Path Through China

Postcards. Random wallpapers on office computers. Vague images in my head of a small boat cruising through towering island formations just off shore of a white sandy beach. Everything I knew about Thailand couldn’t fill an annotation in a book, yet in the Spring of 2018, I headed there with a friend, ready to escape the cold grind of work and weather that had occupied the first quarter of 2018 in Shanghai.

Hitting the Wall

In a 3 mile cross country race, there’s several phases. There’s the start, full of energy, anxiousness, nerves, hope, and stampeding around to try to get out of the pack and get ahead. Then, most people settle down, take note of their position and surroundings, and settle into a pace they believe they can maintain. And then things get hard.

Bali

Southeast Asia (SEA) was never on my radar in terms of places I dreamed about traveling to. My knowledge of areas like Malaysia and Indonesia is pretty limited, as the most interface that I got with the cultures from SEA was mainly in the form of Thai and Vietnamese restaurants back home in Hawaii, and from a couple movies that I had seen growing up (Full Metal Jacket). But when the opportunity to go to Bali during my Chinese New Year break with a friend, I knew that I had to go. Expanding my world and seeing and experiencing as much as I possibly can has been a sort of goal, or modus operandi, for me for a while. The world’s too large to stay in one place, looking at one scene for most of my life.

All I knew about Bali going in was that it was a small island in Indonesia, with beaches and yoga. After that, it was a complete mystery for me, which was exciting in its own right.

Hong Kong

If Shanghai is the city that mixes New and Old (Bleeding edge modernity with ancient tradition and culture) then Hong Kong is a city that clashes its hyper urban development with towering mountains and nature. The breathtaking beauty of the mountains surrounding the Po Lin Monastery vs. the bustle and vibrancy of Kowloon’s nightlife. The modern office buildings of Central vs. the towering Victoria Peak right behind it. I saw Hong Kong as a mix of natural and human landscapes in jarring contrast to one another- in a way that made my short three day trip there unforgettable.