The United Kingdom is the land of my childhood fantasies. I daydreamt of magic and dragons and knights and castles. Of quests and epics on a far grander scale than the peaceful time and small island I grew up in. I’m half-convinced my Hogwarts letter was dropped in the Pacific. Or that had the time and place and genealogy been different, I could’ve accompanied Arthur in his quest for the Grail.
To me, yearly goals or resolutions are like a mid-distance race. Start out too fast, and you’ll burn out. Too slowly, and you won’t have the time to catch up and finish strong.
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.
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.
“Everything I was I carry with me, everything I will be lies waiting on the road ahead.”
― Ma Jian, Red 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.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.” -Anthony Bourdain
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.
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.
Advertising in Shanghai is pretty different to US advertising, to no surprise. Of course the way you reach people in an entirely different culture is going to be different right? Still, there are some similarities between the two visually.
The New Year’s is a time when many make resolutions to better themselves in the coming year with hope and positivity, so I figured that I better get in on some of the positive vibes and share some of my goals for 2018.