Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Despite getting less than five hours of sleep on my flight over from China I was still able to make the most out of that first day in Tokyo. I started off my day of sightseeing by walking about ten minutes from my hostel to see a traditional Japanese Buddhist temple. While walking around the temple complex I had the pleasure of running into another traveler from the United States. Together we decided that having a couple of beers while touring different parts of the city sounded like a pretty good idea. To this day, I am completely ignorant as to what the laws are regarding open-bottle containers in Tokyo. If we did violate a city ordinance, I am at least glad that we were not caught during our time carousing together.
I started out the next day with a morning run alongside the Sumida River in downtown Tokyo. During the course of my time traveling abroad I have always tried my best to run outside at least one time in each place I have visited. Since Tokyo is a pedestrian friendly city I did not have any trouble finding a safe place to run; however, I am not always so lucky when traveling. Bangkok, Thailand is one such place that really sticks out in my mind as being exceptionally dangerous for pedestrians. Fortunately for me, I found that running in Tokyo was an overall relaxing and enjoyable experience for me.
After the morning run I decided it was time to visit some of Tokyo's must see tourists spots including the Asakusa temples, Meiji shrine, and Imperial palace. In the evening, I ventured out to the busy Shibuya district and enjoyed a dinner of Okonomiyaki; similar in concept to a western omelet. Afterwards, I walked around Tokyo's Shibuya district and enjoyed watching people get engulfed in the madness which planned obsolescence seems to have on consumerism today.
The following day already marked the end of my first leg of traveling in Japan. That morning I got up bright in order to catch a bullet train heading for Kyoto. Honestly, I can say that this awesome experience really left a strong impression on me. In earnest I can safely say that the Japanese public transportation system is the best I have ever been on in my life. Throughout my travels I have never been to a country which values efficiency in travel as much as Japan does. Sure enough, by 12:04:22 the train 12:04 bullet train bound for Kyoto left the Tokyo station racing towards its final destination. The ride itself was extremely smooth and comfortable. If the opportunity once again presents itself for me to visit Japan I would once again look fondly upon using the public transportation system.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
From an early I have always seemed attracted to the uniqueness of Japanese culture. In all honestly, if you asked me prior to living in China which Asian culture I was most interested in I would have definitely said Japanese. My fascination with Japanese culture led me to make the next most logical decision: travel to Japan. Due to my cultural interest in Japan, I would have been hard pressed to have lived in Asia as long as I have and not made the trip over to the country of the "Rising Sun".
Since I am actually not as prophetic as I had once imagined myself to be, I booked my flights, hostels, and JR Rail Pass in January of 2013 without the slightest sense that any unexpected life-altering event would cause me to strongly reconsider my planned voyage.
I found out in May that my father had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of blood marrow cancer, which put me on full-tilt. Of course, I can write all of the superlatives, "shocked", "traumatized", "frightened", etcetera and they would all be absolutely apropos for the course. As I will go into this event further in the subsequent blogs I see no need to elaborate any further in the present besides to say that this event almost caused me to alter my trip to Japan for obvious reasons.
Naturally, whenever one travels alone there is added pressure put on the individual. In my case, I also had the added stress of knowing that I was going to have to separate from my girlfriend for the first time in our short relationship. The fact that I was already a little nervous about my father's illness only worked to increase my sense of anxiety leading up to my day of embarkation to Japan.
The beauty of traveling is that once you start a new adventure all of the prior reservations you may have had beforehand seem to be replaced with the even greater sense of excitement that starts to posses you. This sense of excitement truly comes from being able to embrace the uncertainty of the situation about to unfold before you in a foreign land. In my mind, it is hard to overstate the visceral quality this emotion seems to impart on the adventurous soul.
On my flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo I was surprised to find that there was a group of American travelers on the plan representing a team from the television show, "The Amazing Race". The added celebrity on my flight over to Japan kept me engaged on the way over to Japan which had the unintended consequence of keeping me from doing much sleeping... Obviously, this is not the best way for someone to start off a new adventure on their own!
Before arriving at Tokyo-Narita Airport I was extremely curious to see how I would respond to traveling completely alone in Japan. In my time abroad I have often traveled with others and not taken the initiative to plan out an entire trip on my own until I did so in Japan. Thus, I was actually quite interested to see how I would respond to such an original experience for me.
Once our plane landed, it did not take me long to realize that I was a more experienced traveler than I had previously thought. I was able to navigate the currency exchange, light rail, and metro of Tokyo all without even the smallest of problems. In reality, the only vexing issue I ran into on that first day was trying to find my hostel's street address after exciting the metro in Tokyo.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Once I had returned to the United States it did not take me too long to realize that maintaining our long distance relationship was going to be extremely difficult for me. Even in the beginning, the thirteen-hour time difference between Minnesota and South Korea seemed to be a difficult obstacle for me to overcome. Overtime, I noticed a positive correlation between the decreasing lengths of our conversation on Skype and the lessening degree in which I thought about our relationship in my daily life.
By this point, I forced myself to take some time to really think about the harsh turn reality was taking in my life. Since the direction of our relationship seemed to be going in a negative one I knew that it was time for me to turn to reflection, prayer, and guidance in regards to moving forward in life. Together it became clear to me that it was time to accept the reality in front of me and do the right thing.
Writing this portion of the blog has really helped me to put a finger on the necessity of this difficult decision: COMPASSION. If I had every really cared for this individual then I had a responsibility to free her from a dead-end path in which our relationship was currently heading on. Since I am as egocentric of an individual as most humans I also was concerned about my own self-efficacy moving forward. Thus, I had made my final-decision and now was going to have to implement my plan of action in the most humane way possible. I was going to tell the truth.
In hopes of being able to leave Lainey with some sense of pride I tried to explain the logic of my reasoning as clearly as possible. Despite of our best efforts to strike a pacific chord in life our protestations often times fail to hit the mark in reality. In my case, this could not have been closer to the truth as my first messages resulted in confusing more than enlightening Laney. Over the course of several clarifying messages we were both able to finally realize that our break-up was truly the only possible solution to the current state of affairs between us.
In hindsight, I am extremely grateful to have had such a great learning, caring, and rewarding experience with Lainey. In the course of my personal maturation, I am certain that I have not matured more in as short of a time as I did with Laney. I can say with great certainty that I am today a more whole person for the experience. Therefore, I must say it once more, thank you Laney for everything!
Friday, March 7, 2014
The Parting of a Couple: How to Prepare for the Unknown?
As the semester began to wind down a new and unfamiliar dilemma entered into my awareness. Mainly, I knew that it was going to be difficult for us to abruptly part ways at the end of the semester. In order to tolerate this end, I attempted to assuage my bereavement by telling myself comforting half-truths. After going through the moment, I can definitively say that this effort at denying my true feelings undoubtedly was a defense mechanism I put in place in order to protect myself and others from emotional distress.
Since I was not really ready to move on at that point in our relationship I made an effort to try and become imaginative regarding where our relationship would go from there. In my defense, I really did want to find a way for our relationship to maintain itself even during our extended period of absence. The harsh reality was that both of us were living two different lives in two different countries. Unfortunately, even returning to Chongqing would not afford us the chance to see each other since Lainey is pursuing her two years master's degree in Seoul, South Korea. Since long distances apart push even the most steadfast couples to their limits if they rarely communicate with one another.
Honestly, I have always thought that the physical presence of the other partner in the relationship is a crucial part of maintaining a sustainable relationship over time. Summarily, I like to use services such as Skype only when the distance that separates you from those you are attempting to contact is too great to overcome through any other means. This feeling of impending doom and loss had the accumulated effect of making me doubt all of my actions going forward as I attempted to do the right thing in our relationship.
Another great concern of mine was that we had not spent more than a few months together before our extended separation was set to take place. Typically, the idea of dating in China is taken much more seriously than it is in the west; likewise, the ramifications of said relationships are much greater since dating is seen as the precursor to the inevitable marriage between the couple. Unsurprisingly, I found that these other cultural differences had the combined effect of making it more difficult for me to maintain our relationship going forward.
In spite of all of my misgivings about preserving our relationship while being apart, I firmly believed at the time that I had made the right decision to extend our relationship while apart. Likewise, after talking about it with Lainey we both agreed that we wanted to give the long-distance relationship a shot. Since we had both already had experiences living abroad the daunting nature of the task ahead of us was a forefront concern in both of our minds. Nonetheless, I do not think that I really grasped the gravity of the struggle ahead of us.
Saying goodbye to Lainey was truly one of the more difficult things that I have done in my life. I really was feeling all out of sorts as we sat in the airport together before her flight was to take off for her home in 河北省 (Hebei province). On the eve of our departure we exchanged gifts which we had prepared for the other person to take back home with them. Lainey's gift really showed me the depth of her spirit. She gave me a handcrafted memory book which had pictures in it taken from all of our experiences together while dating. Believe me when I say that this gift really was something that I will treasure forever.
During the semester I began holding tutoring lessons on the weekdays at one of the campus' nearby coffee shops, Coffee Dream (咖梦). This particular coffee shop was frequented by many foreigners living in Beibei which gave it a distinctly international feel compared to some of the other establishments near campus. Another unique fact about Coffee Dream is that the owner is a retired Korean-American entrepreneur. Both of these unique traits combined to create an atmosphere which promoted cross-cultural exchange between Chinese and foreigners.
During one of these aforementioned "study" sessions I was blessed to meet the great person, 陈诗文 whose English name is Lainey. At this point in my development my Chinese language skills had already progressed to conversational; furthermore, I also felt confident enough to engage anyone I wanted to in Chinese. Regardless if it was really unwarranted hubris or confidence, I was extremely excited to use my Chinese skills at this point in my experience living in China.
During this fateful night I chose to engage the personable Lainey and a friend of hers in their mother language of Chinese. Although I was tired from a hard day of work and study I was definitely aware of Laney's quiet forbearance as she patiently allowed me room for error while speaking about more abstract topics. During the conversation I was also struck by her desire to engage me in her mother tongue instead of trying to speak to me in English. I guess after spending a lot of time in China I really appreciated the fact that she would grant me the opportunity to speak with her in Chinese. In my mind, there is no greater respect you can pay a person than to use their mother language while engaging them in conversation. Being able to share this gift with Lainey was truly special to me during this time.
I was equally captivated by her personality and enjoyed hearing about some of her unique experiences while studying abroad in South Korea. At the age of twenty-three her prospects were bright as she was already tri-lingual and had been accepted into a graduate program in Seoul, South Korea.
Even with all of these aforementioned characteristics, I was above all attracted to her enthusiasm for life. Lainey is a person who exudes positivity in all faucets of life. At that time in my life I was really missing Lainey's proclivity towards fun, excitement, and extroverted personality. Since she had all of those personality traits in abundance spending time with her was always a blast for me.
Feeding off of the positive energy of the conversation I gathered up the courage to ask her out on an informal date. Now, since losing face is really inappropriate in a public setting in Chinese culture, I guess I should not have been surprised that Lainey would have at least feigned interest at an incoming admirer. Even with that being said I definitely felt that there was a deeper connection between us at the time, and would have been let-down if she would have turned down my offer for dinner the following week.
At the conclusion of the second date I knew things were going in the right direction, and to my pleasure I was able to once again find greater meaning in life while spending time with Lainey.
As the status of our relationship changed from "dating" to a "couple" we continued to find happiness in each other's company. Nonetheless, I can truthfully say that during this period of time I really began noticing some of the changes which couples go through as the "your perfect" honeymoon begins to wear off. I will not attempt to bore you with the banal details around some of the more trivial disputes we engaged upon. In truth, the more minute the dispute the more ludicrously we both seemed to want to argue out our opinion as if every word would make our viewpoint more reputable.
In all honesty, these disputes did not start to creep into our relationship until the unrealistic yet inevitable "your perfect" phase started to wear off between us. It seems that humans truly do have an innate desire to argue amongst one another, and sadly this is no less true when in the presence of those you care about. Even with all of the aforementioned negativity, I can still say that most days and times in her company were extremely happy for me.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The Makings of a Crisis: Knowing When a Breaking Point is Reached
In the midst of pursuing all of these great endeavors I found myself completely lacking any resemblance of fun in my life. Only after careful reflection was I able to realize that at that time in my life I did not want to admit to myself that I was reaching a critical breaking point in regards to balancing my schedule. I think that one of the keys to happiness in life is finding ways to consciously ask yourself are you living in a balanced manner in life? If the answer is no, then it may be time to think of some ways to try and solve, or at least ameliorate the problem.
I can safely upon reflection admit that at this time in my life I was not mentally or spiritually ready to admit my own limitations to myself. Fortunately, life always seems to have a new and unique of surprising us into reflection. In the midst of my second semester life decided to lead me down an unexpected road. Hindsight tends to make the outcomes of life seem quite obvious to us humans; however, at the time I was quite certain that everything I was doing was best for me under the circumstances.
I think that this may be true because humans seem to have a certain amount of self-vanity regarding the intrinsic and extrinsic things we value in life. Often times, even our friends will be unable to dissuade us from performing a task which we deem inherently important to the accumulation of something we value in life. This is especially true if the thing we are doing is something that we have been doing for a long time without cessation. Humans truly can be creatures of habit. Tragically, this is even true if the things we are accustomed to doing are distinctly harmful to us such as an addiction.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Second Semester in Beibei: Triumph over Adversity
Looking forward, I knew that it was time to really challenge my Chinese skills moving forward. In order to meet these lofty goals I was going to need to try and attend as many classes as were possible with the other foreign students studying Chinese, use Chinese every day, and spend more time studying the materials in class.
One unfortunate problem was that I had previously committed to working other part time jobs at Southwest University which would have the accumulated effect of adding more pressure on me. Initially, I accepted the other job in order to help a departing friend from the Netherlands find a replacement at his position. The new class I was to teach dealt primarily with helping students planning on studying abroad learn more about western culture and helping them improve their scores on the IELTS college entrance exam. Just because I think I may at times have a tendency towards masochism, I decided to take on a couple weekly tutoring jobs for extra cash too.
Looking back it seems understandable to me now, as well to you probably, that burnout was inevitable. Despite this fact I ended up progressing rather well throughout the semester; although, I did encounter several periods of declining interest in spending time with friends, exercising, reading, etcetera. Since these things are usually really important to me it seems clear to me know that I was probably over-working myself at times during the semester.
The highlight of my semester was being able to give two individual half hour presentations on the Rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany and Hannibal Barca's role in the Punic Wars. Both of these presentations where conducted exclusively in Chinese; likewise, my ppt presentation slides only had written "汉字" or Chinese characters on them which really was a challenge for me to present with. In my mind, this accomplishment was really the capstone of my entire year's work in the language, and I was really proud of myself for doing a good job of presenting in front of my peers. Naturally, I did also have a sense of failure at not performing the perfect speech; nonetheless, I was pleased with the progress that I had made in only the past few months of learning Chinese in a part-time classroom setting.
During this period of time I really made a conscious effort to speak only in Chinese outside of the classroom. I also found that in many ways augmenting the classroom experience by sometimes conflating the two languages was both entertaining and interesting for the students. Truly these couple of months really saw my Chinese take off, （飞黄腾达). Being able to recognize that all of the effort that I had put forth in order to further my language acquisition was paying off was a bone to my constitution.