Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, Japan is a mix of the old and the new – and I loved it!

The trip started when Blair, Sarah, and I found each other at the airport in Osaka and took the train to Kyoto. Figuring out the train system took all three of us. We had to take one train to get from the Osaka airport to Kyoto then find the right train to get to the stop where our Airbnb place was. But we did it.

And stepping off the train felt like I had stepped back in time.

We arrived in Kyoto around 10:00 pm on a Friday. Blair and I were starving because we hadn’t yet eaten dinner. We wandered around for a little while before coming to the sad conclusion that our only option was 7-11. Granted, the 7-11 had some awesome selections, but, still, we were kind of excited about eating authentic Japanese food.

No such luck.

The city had shut down for the night.

We got our convenience store noodles and followed Google Maps to the Airbnb place. A key was waiting for us in a lockbox that the owner had messaged to Blair, and we went up to the apartment that was ours for the next three days.

It was one of the tiniest places I’ve been in: teeny foyer area to take off and leave your shoes, narrow walkway with a kitchenette on the right and doors to the bathroom on the left (one door for a luxurious toilet with heating and bidet options and a built-in sink on the back, amazing, and another for a regular sink and shower area), then a closet and three beds.

We sat at the tiny table squeezed in by the closet and ate our cold noodles. Since it was closing in on midnight, we settled in for the night.

The next day we set out to explore. I was beyond excited. Japan was a dream destination for me, and I was practically vibrating with excitement. Everywhere I looked there were women, men, and children dressed in kimonos walking along behind women, men, and children dressed in the latest Japanese fashions. Everyone appeared so fashionable, even riding bikes or walking on the street.

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The bridge to Starbuck’s – isn’t it wonderful?!

After a quick caffeine fix and map download at Starbuck’s, we left for the first destination of the day – the Golden Pavilion. The Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, is a Zen Buddhist Temple set in beautiful gardens with a pond in front. The top two floors of the building are covered in gold leaf plating which literally glows in the sun. It’s absolutely stunning.

Sarah left us at this point because she had gotten a bad cold and was feeling horrible so Blair and I went to Nishiki Market which was a bit of a disappointment although the place where we ate lunch, Tiger Gyoza, was fantastic!

After that, we headed to another temple, Fushimi Inari-taisha. Fushimi Inari-taisha is an important Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of torii gates and fox statues which are thought to be messengers to Inari, the god of rice. Individuals and corporations pay for the gates, hoping to garner favor with Inari.

Walking through the gates at dusk had a surreal, reverent feel to it despite the many tourists surrounding us. The orange and black color of the gates cast a warm glow over everyone. Since it was getting dark, we didn’t walk too far before turning back to head to the train.

The walk to and from the train station was lined with food and souvenir vendors so it was a lively and entertaining walk. We met back up with Sarah in the room and freshened up for dinner. Deciding to walk around the Pontocho area and find a local restaurant, we found out that we should have made reservations. Nobody had anything available.

So, here we are, traipsing through narrow alleys (which were so cool!) and asking if we could eat at these tiny places that looked like you needed a secret password to gain entry. And nobody had any tables available. We finally found a Japanese barbeque place that had a table and sat down.

It was a tiny place, each table only sitting four people with a little grill on the table so there was very little room for a plate and drink per person. We ordered some meat and vegetables which we cooked ourselves and shared. It was pretty delicious, but we didn’t order very much. It felt cramped and was hard to relax on the tall stool with our feet dangling. We ate what we ordered and headed out.

Blair and I were still hungry, though. Sarah was starting to feel sick again and headed back to bed, but Blair and I set out to see if we could find something better.

We did.

We found a teppanyaki place. Heaven.

For dessert, we had a taste of home at a Baskin-Robbins.

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The next day was more site-seeing at Arishayama. I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this place. It was gorgeous! I wish we could’ve spent more time there because we only had time to go to the Monkey Park which was pretty great, but I wanted to go see the Bamboo Forest and a few other things.

And here’s where I messed up. I scheduled tickets for us to go on the Sagano Railroad then take a boat back down the river, but I scheduled us too late. We were able to ride Sagano Railroad, but the boats had stopped running by the time we arrived. I was so sad.

We made up for it that night when Blair found us the most wonderful, authentic, old sushi place for dinner. I literally think about this meal all the time. The place was small and crowded, and we sat around a kitchen area with an all male staff hustling around cutting and stirring and scooping. They didn’t crack a smile. They just worked.

Our last day was a tour that Sarah had done before. It took all morning and was so great. I would recommend it to anyone. It was a walking tour with Waraido. There were people in the group from all over the world, including Japan. That made everything so much more interesting.

We walked for five hours. We went to the Higashi-Honganji Temple which I can’t even describe. It’s the main Buddhist Center in Japan and was so spiritual. People store their family’s remains there and go visit them and pray for their souls. There were many people visiting when we were there so we had to be very quiet in the main hall. The hall itself is beautifully designed with wood that naturally repels insects and has intricate carvings. Everything about this place is amazing.

We left there and went to several Shinto shrines, one especially for women which I loved!  We walked around Gojo-rakuen, a former geisha area, and housing the original Nintendo company. That was pretty cool. Apparently, Nintendo started out with just card games. I didn’t know that.

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We also went to several traditional workshops – for tofu, fans, pastry, pottery, and candy. The fan shop made gorgeous fans! I wanted to buy some just because they were so pretty – but where would I put them?!

It was a long day but so worth it. As we walked, everyone asked questions. One of the other guests on the tour asked what the Japanese thought of foreigners. She said they liked them as the country is so homogenous, but what is difficult is when they cancel reservations. It is an insult in Japan as everyone has worked hard to prepare for you. It’s not about the money; it’s about the pride they take in their work and presentation.

Presentation came up multiple times: when we browsed handmade ceramics and she discussed the different dishes used for meals; when we went to the candy shop and had tea; when we went to the first temple and learned what different bows mean.

How old things are – the shops that have been in families for centuries. This isn’t old. It’s only been around since about 1865. Ha, ha!

We learned about Kyoto vs. Tokyo as the capital and being ruled by samurai. Note that Kyoto and Tokyo have the same letters which are actually two names – Kyo and To then To and Kyo. But Kyo with To after it. Kyoto means Imperial Capital or Western Capital depending on who you talk to while Tokyo means Eastern Capital.

And we walked by a toilet company. The toilets in Japan are AWESOME and the Japanese take great pride in them. They have heated toilet seats, music to play while peeing so others can’t hear, sinks on the back of the toilet, and more. Fancy toilets – who knew that was a thing?!

By the time the tour was over, we were done, exhausted, ready to head back to the airport and home. And we had the long trek back to the airport first. We got a last meal of ramen on the way, bought Tokyo bananas (gourmet Twinkies!) to take back to Taipei, and finally got on the plane.

It was a wonderful trip – and we packed a lot into two and a half days!

Big Little Lies

Is anyone reading or watching Big Little Lies? If you’re not, start immediately. The book is a quick, easy read and the show is only about seven episodes long. 

When I looked up the show on internet, I saw that HBO classifies it as a dark American comedy/drama and IMDB classifies it as crime. Okay, fine. In my opinion, this is a women’s drama with women’s issues that occur in every country and told from their point-of-view. It’s about their friendships, their loyalties, their pettiness, their real problems, and, ultimately, their strength.

The author addresses many issues that face modern women today which immediately draws me in. Since most of the drama centers around the childrens’ school and school events, there are no women without children in the story, but I forgive the writer her oversight since she can’t be expected to address every woman’s issue. What she does do well is address a select important issues and peel back the problems inherent in them.

The story centers around three mothers: Madeline, Celeste, and Jane. They are all very different women and mothers whose struggles are as diverse as their lives. Despite their differences, they become close friends, learn from one another and support one another as they form a strong bond. But even the women on the fringes of the story are vivid characters who play vital roles in the overall story line.

In the very beginning, the reader/viewer immediately sees the cliques the mothers form mostly based on working moms and stay-at-home moms, and the judgments that fly around for both. There is envy from both sides which creates this division. Stay-at-home moms are envious of the success and sense of identity in the working moms; the working moms envy that the stay-at-home moms get to be a greater presence in their children’s lives. This is a modern day, developed country issue that should bring women together but often divides.

 

Divorce and co-parenting is a topic – with two big challenges. The challenges inherent in ending a relationship with someone, worse when it was a bad ending, then having to see that person move on and create a happy life for themselves.  It’s hard to completely get over a person when it’s in your face all the time. Ugh. I can only imagine.

Then, of course, there are the challenges in parenting with a partner who has different parenting styles and different ideas of how the child should be raised. If you’re divorced, you have less, maybe even no, say is how your child is being raised in the other house. It’s amazing how different people can become after you end a relationship and to have that person be an influential part of your child’s life would be difficult if you grew in different directions.

Divorce and co-parenting is an individual and highly personal issue. If you are lucky enough to get a co-parent like the character in the story, Nathan, then being the bigger person and finding peace with the fact that your child is getting the best of two different worlds is the only way to do this, but it’s certainly not easy. Being a bit of a control freak like Madeline, I would have similar struggles to her with letting go.

 

The biggest issues, however, revolve around the male/female relationships. Since I think these are the hardest relationships we have in life, it makes sense. Abuse, the price of abuse to those around you, and betrayal are the ones that ultimately lead to the final act of murder that is present throughout the novel but the person murdered is only revealed at the end. I will not give it away, but I will say that I cheered. I kind of loved the ending.

 

If you have watched it or read it or do so after reading this, I’d love to hear what you think! 

It’s Okay to Feel Bad

Find a place inside where there’s joy. And the joy will burn out the pain. – Joseph Campbell

I’m struggling tonight with some depression. I guess big life changes do that to me, and my future plans changed dramatically about six weeks ago with a break up. I keep getting frustrated with myself for not being over it, for still being sad, and I keep trying to be super positive about the future.

And writing this makes me feel super vulnerable and weak, but I’m putting it out there anyway.

You see, logically, I know that the future is going to be great. I’m theoretically excited about where I’m headed. But, today, that excitement didn’t penetrate anything. I felt depressed and tired and worthless.

I struggled with serious depression for a long time. I was on medication – and nothing really helped. I think the medication actually made it worse. Over time, though, I was fortunate enough that I learned to and was able to manage my depression most of the time. I feel joy almost every day, and I’m happy about living.

Days like today always scare me. I’m afraid the depression won’t go away. That it’s back for good.

But I know that’s not true.

It will go away. I will have a better day tomorrow or the next day. I just have to ride this out.

Of course, I’m sick again so that doesn’t help. It’s my third cold this year – and it’s only April – so I’m sort of pissed off about that. Well, a kind of numb pissed off, the way all emotions translate when I get like this. Nothing that’s too extreme penetrates. It’s such a weird feeling like I’m wrapped in a heavy blanket from head to toe that weighs me down and muffles the world.

The terrible thing about feeling this way is that I never know how long it will last. It feels like nothing is ever going to be alright because I’m not good enough. The voice in my head says that I’m always sick, I’m not good at anything, I contribute nothing to the world. Logic doesn’t work. Talking makes me feel like even more of a loser because I feel like I’m whining. And I just want to disappear, cease to exist.

Then I feel like a coward because my life is great. I have nothing to complain about. I’m so lucky to have friends and family who love me even if I don’t always understand why. I have a place to live, a job, food, and so on and so on. I am grateful for all of these things.

But I’m still miserable.

And people telling me that someone else would love my life doesn’t help.

Telling myself about people who have nothing doesn’t help.

It makes me feel worse, selfish for not being happy when I do have a good life.

But I have learned that sometimes I just have to let myself feel miserable with the understanding that it won’t last forever. I think part of the problem with being depressed is the voice in my head constantly telling me to snap out of it. The problem with that voice is that it just adds more pressure to feel good, to be happy.

IT IS OKAY TO FEEL BAD.

Why don’t we say that more? Why do we place so much importance on always being happy and positive and cheery? We’re human beings with emotions, and emotions don’t always respond to logic, no matter how great that would be.

I won’t give up, though. I’ll keep looking for the joy. It’s there. It’s just buried for now. And, hopefully, tomorrow will be the day that I feel better, that I find the joy, and I’ll be happy and positive and cheery and ready to take on the world.

One day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, one second at a time, one breath at a time – whatever it takes to make time manageable and know that everything will be okay.

 

 

 

Cooking Lesson

I had a cooking lesson with a friend this weekend. Well, that’s a stretch. The only thing we (she) cooked was the quinoa. Everything else was chopping and mixing. Still, the end result was made from scratch – including the dressing – and it was delicious and healthy and pretty!

We made a Thai quinoa salad from a recipe she found online. I’m not a very experienced cook and tend to be intimidated by anything that seems the slightest bit complicated. The dressing for this recipe made me nervous, and I wasn’t sure where to find the quinoa here in Taipei so I asked her to help. Thankfully, she loves to cook and was happy to take me shopping and to cook at her place which is much bigger than mine.

I understand why people find cooking relaxing. Even though I’m not very good and will get stressed if the recipe is confusing, I love when a dish comes together. There is something about organizing the ingredients, chopping, stirring that takes you to a zen sort of place. Your mind is occupied with something nourishing and delicious, and your senses are completely engaged.

The only sense I can think of that I don’t use much when cooking is hearing, but I usually have music on while I cook so that’s all part of the process for me.

Blair put on some music, and we both chopped up the vegetables. We barely talked during this part because, as I said, zen. She put the quinoa on to boil then started the dressing. This part was a little tricky because we changed the super healthy vegan recipe a bit since we had no idea where to get a few of the ingredients.

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For the dressing, she substituted natural peanut butter for almond butter, soy sauce for tamari, and rice vinegar for brown rice vinegar. The peanut butter was difficult to mix at first, but, once she started adding water, it got easier and turned out great. I say “she” because the only thing I did here was offer encouraging words and squeeze the lime. But that lime was hard to squeeze, dang it!

We also used black quinoa instead of white and used some different veggies, but it was awesome! The quinoa looks a little like ants, but I promise it tasted really good.

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Mixed with dressing

Here’s the original recipe and website  – Simply Quinoa – which looks like a wonderful resource for anyone trying to cook healthy food using quinoa.

Go have a zen evening making something in the kitchen!

Fiction: He Loves Me Not

Moolight cast a romantic glow across the sand, the water, the man.

“Adam, where are we going?” I was half-walking, half-running beside him, carrying a pair of gold sandals in one hand. There was nowhere special on this stretch of beach, but he seemed to have a goal in mind. His gaze was serious and focused ahead.

I was a little out of breath as the humidity and awkward pace strangled the romance of the night and made it hard to breathe. It frizzed my hair as well, but I was trying not to think about that. No matter how great I may look at the beginning, it never lasted long: my make-up somehow disappeared; my hair flattened or frizzed; I’d get something on my clothes. Adam, on the other hand, always looked impeccable.

I had tried so hard tonight. My make-up had been perfect, dramatic eyes since they were my best feature; my hair straightened since I hadn’t known we were coming to the beach; my favorite jeans and fitted, turquoise sweater. But nature didn’t care how hard I’d tried; I only hoped Adam did.

He abruptly stopped walking, face me and took both my hands in his.  “I have to talk to you about something.”

I ignored the alarm bells going off in my head and allowed my heart to leap with hope. Finally, after three years of waiting, this was it.

“Yes?” I asked.

He cleared his throat, looking at the sand. I waited for him to get down on one knee.

“I’m in love with Maggie.”

The smile froze. The crashing of the waves amplified in my ears. I pulled away from him, backed up a few steps, tripped and fell. I started laughing.  “Right. Very funny.”

“I’m serious.”

He reached down to help me up, but I scuttled backward like a crab.

“But you don’t even like Maggie.” I stood on my own, backing even further away from him. Maggie, I thought, fucking Maggie.

“Well, I didn’t.” He looked away and put his hands in his pockets. The moonlight reflected brightly off his hair and chiseled jawline. “But we’ve been talking, going to lunch, and I’ve gotten to know her better. We actually have a lot in common.”

I felt nauseated and swiped at the sand on my butt to distract myself, focusing on my task as if getting every grain of sand off my hands was a matter of life and death. “You have a lot in common.”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re in love with her.” He’d never said those words to me, but I had been confident he felt them.

“Yes, I’m in love with her.”

“Okay.” I had nothing to say.  What could I say?

I turned away from him and started walking in the direction we had come from.

Lightning suddenly split the sky, and it started to rain. Perfect.

“Kallie, wait.”

I kept walking. Blocking him out. Blocking his voice out. Pain roared through me as his words sank in, making me want to double over to keep it from tearing me apart.

“Wait.” He grabbed my arm, the rain making it slick, easy to pull away and keep walking.

I wanted to stab him in the heart and push him into the ocean, make my pain disappear with his body.

“Wait.” He stood in front of me. I walked around him, staring straight ahead.

No, I wanted to kill her, make her disappear so he’d have to turn to me.

God, that was so pathetic.

“Kallie.” He was behind me now and hooked his arm around my waist, holding me in place.

I stopped, the tears unstoppable now and mingling with the rain on my face.

He held me close to his body, and I savored the feeling, hating myself, hating him, hating her, hurting so badly that I didn’t know what to do, wanting to get away from the pain.

“Kallie,” he whispered.

I slid through his arms to fall on my hands and knees, burying my fingers in the wet sand, looking for comfort.

He kneeled by my side. “I’m sorry.”

I snorted out a laugh and tipped my head up toward the rain, the cool water falling harder, soaking me, soaking him. I felt weak and tired and sad and hurt and angry. The emotion built on years of friendship, of loving him, of doing everything for him that he ever asked, of dreaming of a future, surged through my body; the hope I’d lived on washed away by his words, his pitying tone of voice, and replaced with shame.

I cut off my emotional circus and faced him, looking him in the eyes. “Really? You’re sorry? For what?”

“For hurting you.”

“Gotcha.” I looked away and pushed myself up.

“I want to love you, but I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.”

I walked blindly in the direction we had come from, or at least I hoped I was.

“I care about you, Kallie. I don’t want it to end this way.”

Why did he keep talking? I needed him to stop talking.

“I want to go home,” I stated.

He trailed behind me, now blessedly silent.

I kept walking and hoped frantically that his car would come into view. I didn’t think we’d walked that far. I finally spotted it – standing alone in the parking lot under a light, looking like salvation. I hurried up the hill, not going all the way to the steps but taking the more expedient hill, stumbling and falling, getting up and moving, dirt now plastering my wet pants and hands. I didn’t care.

He hesitated to let me in the car as I stood facing the passenger door, focused on it as if I could will it open. Why wasn’t he unlocking the car? Why was he just standing there? I couldn’t ask because my throat was tight with emotion, and I did not want to break down.

Maybe he didn’t want me to get his car because I was plastered with mud and dripping water. Tough. The lock clicked open. I glared at the hand that reached out to open the door for me and practically tore the door off the hinges opening it myself.

The beginnings of guilt-ridden explanations choked off and angry words held back hovered and swam in the car between us, but nothing was said.

An eternity passed and then my apartment building came into view.

I walked majestically, at least in my own mind, to the building, but, once out of sight, I leaned against the first wall I reached and sobbed, my body trying to shake itself apart. When the tsunami stopped, I stumbled to my own apartment, my own door, and privacy. I stripped off my clothes, curled into a ball, and held myself tightly in the dark.

Cold, shivering, holding every cell together with my arms and sheer willpower, I stayed that way through the dark hours. I was brittle with the pain which was too deep now to even cry. My head pounded, my throat was tight, and time became meaningless.

My swollen, tired, burning eyes noticed light filtering in the bedroom window. I forced myself up and into a warm shower. The warm water thawed everything, and I melted to the floor.

Crying.

Crushed.

He loves me.

Not.

Smile

My doorman is an older gentleman with limited English skills and a smile for me every single day. His face lights up when he sees me come in from work or from the market, and he immediately says, “Hello! Ni hao!” and laughs delightedly when I respond the same way. He’ll always make a comment or gesture toward a bag I’m carrying or to the weather outside and repeat whatever word I use to describe it.

Today, he was having wine in the lobby with some friends and immediately called me over to have a cup with them. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and poured me a to go cup when I motioned upstairs. Since I had been out taking pictures, I asked to take his. He posed with his friends then gestured for me to come take one with him.

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This is the second time he has invited me to drink with friends in the lobby of our building. Last time it was hot tea and oranges. Since one of the men with him spoke English, he had me talk to him. I think he worries that I’m alone here and don’t have anyone to help or watch over me.

It’s amazing what a difference a little kindness can make in a day. I always look for him when I come in, knowing that he’ll be happy to see me and want to talk for a minute. When I’m having a bad day, I sometimes dread it because I want to escape to my apartment and be alone, but I always walk away feeling a little lighter.

So smile at someone today.

I bet you’ll both feel better.

 

Just Move!

I talked to one of my best friends from the U.S. this week. We were talking about things we were doing to make ourselves healthy and happy, and I mentioned working out. She told me that she had been working out, too, and here’s the crazy thing. She’d been having joint pain for several years now and didn’t know the cause. The doctor suggested it was because she sits in an officeall day and working out would make it go away.

IT DID.

First of all, this made me feel really old. Oh my god, we are already getting joint pain. What’s next? We’ll need a walker? When I told this story to another friend who is younger, she laughed and said, “No, haven’t you heard? Sitting at a desk all day is the new smoking.”

So I looked it up. Sure enough, sitting at a desk for eight hours a day then going home to sit in front of the television is killing more people than smoking or obesity. What?! I mean, I guess it made sense, but that’s scary. The good news is, only one hour of brisk walking or other form of exercise a day is enough to combat it. That’s good!

Unfortunately, not enough people are doing even that.

The modern world is a place where physical activity is a choice. We sit in a car to drive to the market; some markets will now deliver to your house so we don’t even have to leave the couch except to answer the door. We have drive-throughs for banks and fast food so we don’t even have to get out of the car to run simple errands. We pay bills online so we don’t even have to walk to the mailbox. We can shop online and have things delivered to our home. We sit at a desk and look at a computer screen all day. We do home and sit in front of a television. We are not active enough!

When I moved to Taiwan, I loved the fact that I was forced to walk more. I sat all the time in the U.S. since I had an office job. Even though I hate it when it rains, I feel better being forced to walk from my apartment to the MRT station or the bus stop. I have to walk to the grocery store or the market and walk back with all of my purchases. I walk when we go out to dinner, when I go to the hairdresser, or when I want to visit new places. I only take a taxi cab if I’m running late, I’m dressed up, or I’m tired. I’m also teaching so I walk more during the day.

Now, I did go to the gym in the U.S. but not every day. I know I was one of those people who did not get enough DAILY exercise.  I go to the gym here but not every day. But I get way more than an hour of walking here every day. And I feel great. I have added the machines for my arms because I never use those muscles, and I am in the “over 40” age bracket, but I am outdoors more here than I ever was in the U.S.

And it makes me happy!

There are people who cannot move much because of health issues. When I got sick last year, I could barely walk. It was awful, and I hated it. I realized how lucky I was that I could move and walk and jump and climb. If you are one of the lucky ones, appreciate and utilize your body.

Don’t take it for granted that you can walk because sitting too much damages your health, and there are people who would love to take your place!

No matter where you live, make sure you get out and move as often as possible. If you
have children, take your children with you. They need to move as
well. This is not just a problem for adults but children as well. Not only is moving important for the human body, but it decreases depression and increases a sense of community.

If you are not already – please get out, make friends, walk around, step away from the electronic devices – and enjoy the world we live in. I promise, you will feel better in every possible way.