Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened

As I start to write this, which I did days ago, so I could capture thoughts, feelings, memories along the way, beyond what the blog itself was doing, the first thing that came to me was something from a tv show I used to watch, in high school I think, maybe middle school, im not sure.  but during that time, road rules was one of my favorite, cant miss shows, and its tag lines, ‘welcome to the ride of your life’, and ‘throw away your rules, these are road rules’, mean so much more now than they did then.

Because really, this has been the ride of my life.  The memories and photographs mean more to me than I could ever put into words.  Im actually not coming back with that much stuff…most of it isn’t for me anyway.  I wanted the experience, I wanted the days wandering Tokyo, the Shanghai nights, the Beijing history…everything from the foreign subways to the familiarity of mcdonalds.  I wanted the desire to experience it all and the thirst for more once it was done, and well, mission accomplished.

And, ‘throw away your rules, these are road rules’…this has totally been a way to let go of everything familiar and immerse myself in everything unknown.  Because, well, all the rules I once had are all of a sudden very different.

I am thankful for every minute…from getting to Tokyo and having to convince myself that I needed to shower and unpack before I went to explore, to the amazing time I had in Shanghai, to soul searching in Sanya, to my humbling trip to Beijing, to exploring there with friends and then not knowing quite what to do once I was dropped off at the hotel, and was once again alone.  To these last few days, realizing how far I had come, and how far I still have to go.  I’m surprisingly thankful for my ability to get lost, and even more thankful for my ability to always find myself.

And…I’m thankful for my ability to play charades.  Anyone up for a game?

So, what did I learn?  So much, and so much more than I could ever put into words, but to give it a shot…

  • Smile – it goes a long way
  • If you’re walking somewhere…strike that, if you need to go anywhere by a certain time, give yourself at least an hour to get lost – or find it beforehand
  • Brushing your teeth with the water will not kill you.  I’ve done it for 24 days…I haven’t gotten sick, not once.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no, and walk away quickly….otherwise you will end up with a purse, a watch, a bag, a bike ride, and god knows what else I was offered.  And don’t be afraid to scream if they actually grab you.
  • There is a magic chemical in Chinese sunscreen…it’s gross and runny, but somehow works like a charm.  I didn’t burn in Beijing, and I was the only one not to burn in Vegas.
  • Try anything, well, most anything – I did not try the street food and have not been sick.  But it’s amazing what you’ll find if you try everything else.
  • Take a deep breath and enjoy it.  All of it.  Because it’s such a ride…whether the trickshaw driver is like a salmon swimming upstream in traffic, or you’re at some random house, or taking a shot of Tabasco sauce, or wandering Tokyo to find the hotel.  Stop.  Smell the roses.  It’s amazing.  I’m not kidding.

Like I’ve said before, after all the preparation, I can’t believe it’s over.  But, I’m ready to get back to my regular life and where ever I go from here.  Will I do this again, most definitely.  This has been nothing short of amazing, and I don’t ever want to lose that.

Until next time….

farewell tokyo

last night in tokyo…i havent left yet, but looking back at everything ive seen, done, and learned, im pretty sure i miss it already.  the alleys that lead to a whole different section of shops, restaurants, and people….the people in full suits speeding down the sidewalk on bikes, the lady fighting with her basset hound on the sidewalk.  its very new york, but totally tokyo.

ive spent the past day and a half with the gap/old navy japan team, and they were wonderful.  we had lunch…and dinner….and i met…so many people.  from ops to hr, gap to value.  there was so much information, and as excited as i was to meet them and hear about what they do, they wanted to hear about what i was doing, and what things are like in the US.  they were curious about my bike ride through the city, thought i was good at eating with chopsticks, and brave for staying in one of the busiest areas of the city and venturing out to restaurants.

yesterday started with tb’s and coffee with brent and a solo visit to the gap store nearby, then an authentic japanese dinner with a few members of the hr team and ops team.  today, more tb’s – several hours with old navy operations – my biggest learning – japanese custom – customers like people to go to their house to apologize.  then, an authentic lunch with the ops team, and a tb with the head of all stores/brands in japan.

then, a visit to the odaiba mall where the old navy store will be.  its not open yet, but old navy is on the side of the mall, and there is a marketing store set up in part of it.  the windows and super modelquins are set up as well, and energetic associates are greeting potential customers and encouraging them to come into the store and check it out, and of course, leave their email address.  they have the ability to view the merchandise via ipad, check out old navy’s history, and watch clips of the latest commercials.

i was also able to go behind the black curtain and see the set up of the store as it exists today…..boothsets, quick changes, fitting rooms….the gm walked us through all of it.  theyre so excited to open the store – the energy was contagious.

the day finished with dinner with brent at the best mexican place hes found.  it was off the beaten path, down a narrow, narrow alley – more so than any ive seen in san francisco, in a cool, hipster, chill, neighborhood.  great dinner, great conversation, perfect way to end my stay in tokyo.

as i look back at the past….four or five days, i continue to realize how big the world really is.  here there are so many people, all doing there own thing, and content to let you do your own as well.  tokyo is a clean and safe city….as much time as i spent walking around, i never once felt unsafe.  and everyone has been so helpful, even if it did involve playing charades.  there is a lot i can do, and for a few days, was able to get by, but i have a lot to learn….and am very small compared with the big picture.

as a side note, my first and really only negative experience – the washer/dryer in the hotel. the directions were awful, to the point that they were wrong.  someone from the front desk comes up, with different, correct directions – starts the thing, but doesnt leave the directions.  it gets done several hours later….and is damp/bordering wet.  of course, i dont have the correct directions to start only the dryer.  i need to pack everything and now cant….and oh wait, my pajamas were in there too.  awesome….was hoping i could sleep in wet pjs….

and my phone just told me i have bootcamp in 10 minutes…this time change thing is wacky…

as fun as tokyo has been, and as much as i will miss it, i am excited to move on to the next leg of my journey.  im sure it will be just as amazing.

so, heres to farewell to tokyo, to an amazing time in china, heres to so many more lessons learned, and to being able to access my blog for the next two and a half weeks.

not all who wander are lost…

well, sometimes they are, but they can just jump in a cab, and then find out the hotel is only a few blocks away ;).

so, today was amazing.  great cycling tour around the city…..navigating the subway….losing myself on the way back to the hotel. and, learning, way more than i ever thought possible.

the day started with the complimentary hotel breakfast.  when i checked in, they gave me a coupon for each day.  outside the breakfast area was a little box – drop breakfast coupons here.  that was it…no one checking, or anything.  im finding that everyone is very trusting and overall, the city feels very safe.  breakfast was simple – croissant type things and corn flake type things over japanese mtv and nicki minaj…..we export the best stuff….

i had to take the train to get to the bike tour, which was a little daunting, despite the directions provided by the hotel.  the machines werent in english…i wasnt sure which one to use…luckily, i found someone to help me.  once i had the ticket, it was really no more daunting than NYC.  and really, the train was easy compared to actually walking around.  trying to find the cycling place after getting off the train – pretty much impossible, despite the help of two different convenience store employees.  despite a phone call to the place, it still took some time to figure out.  between that, and trying to get back to the hotel after getting all turned around, it makes me wonder.  how many people like myself have i passed by?  i cant remember any, but im sure that i have.

the bike tour was fantastic – i didnt know it was possible to see so much of a city in a day: parks, shrines, temples, the imperial palace, sumo wrestlers, university of tokyo, trying a japanese sweet treat and japanese beer….the list goes on and on.  and the impromptu ladies in traditional dress and mobile shrine.  there were only five us, including two guys from san francisco, and two guides, so the whole thing felt very personal.

it was also a day to learn – they keep to the left, not to the right…but from what i could tell, it was only a rule of thumb.  maybe because it was sunday, so things werent as crowded.  bikes are allowed on the sidewalk, but this doesnt change the pedestrian traffic flow.  they still walk where ever, whenever.  add to that, bikes flying at you in the other direction, and its quite the adventure.

tomorrow, i think a run is in order, then, half a day with the japan team.  fingers crossed i can find the office….

hello tokyo!

i made it!  truthfully, it wasnt nearly as difficult as i thought it might be.  second flight was turbulent, but uneventful.  i had a window seat next to a couple – he would smack his lips and she would punch him to get him to stop….luckily, i slept through most of it.

customs and immigration were like i remembered them, but each one was a separate step and separate form here.  i dont remember that from either time in london.  but, the officials were helpful, had never heard of my hotel, and laughed at my suitcase contents – you mean it’s not normal to bring a bag of individually wrapped things of peanut butter and a bag of peanut butter gu?

then came the taxi ride.  the people running the taxi stand were really helpful too, and somehow i lucked out with a driver that spoke english…or at least some english.  like the customs people, hed never heard of my hotel, but was able to plug the address into his gps.  the cabs were interesting, somewhat old fashioned compared to the other cars on the road.  and the one i was in had doily type things over the seats and headrests.  i couldnt resist a photo.  the driver sat on the opposite side as in the US, and wore white gloves.  i thought the gloves were cool until he used one as a tissue….they lost the coolness factor real quick after that.  overall, he was a nice guy, asked where i was from but then let me happily gaze out the window.

after he dropped me a block from the hotel, and the giant suitcase and i made it to the hotel, i find out that the hotel has overbooked, and as a result, theyve upgraded my room.  hello 21st floor….and really awesome view of the city.  and im pretty sure this studio is bigger than the studio i had when i lived in the sunset and has more closet space than i have at home.

showered, unpacked, and re-combobulated, i headed out in search of food.  and…i just wanted to walk around.  what little of the city i saw tonight was so cool….so many people, doing so many different things.  bikes on the sidewalk….red and green lights for pedestrians.  small, narrow streets with as many businesses as the main streets.  i just wanted to explore, but, food first.

so many restaurants…and so many of them looked like the japanese version of fast food….so many menus outside….i ended up just picking one that had at least some english on the menu.  at the start, i was the only one in the restaurant.  the waiter came over and starting chatting at me and i just nodded…then he held up one finger….i guess before he was asking if it was just me.  i ended up in a quiet corner with giant picture menus – at least i could see what i might be eating and guess what it was…since, well, the english was selective.  and i could point.  but then he brought me a smaller, english version of the menu.

i ended up with some strawberry cocktail, though im convinced there wasnt any alcohol in it.  then there were two sets of fried asparagus with some sort of sauce, two sets of chicken skewers, and fried pasta.  overall, a good experience for my first dining abroad adventure.  then, i couldnt figure out why no one was brining me a bill….finally someone came over and understood what i was asking for, so they brought it over.  i gave them what i thought would cover dinner and a tip, gathered my things, and made my way out.  on the way out, someone else handed me my change….i took it, but felt bad.  i didnt want to not leave a tip, but wondered if that might be customary.  as i was walking out the door, i wished i had done better research.  then i fell up the stairs….way to keep a low profile.

on the way back to the hotel, i stopped in a small liquor store for a bottle of japanese red wine.  this is me we’re talking about – must have my red wine….haha.  it actually tastes like grape juice, and im also convinced that there isnt any alcohol in it.  but, i got it, and made it back to the hotel in time to enjoy a glass while watching the sunset.  i took a few pictures, but honestly, they dont do it justice.

and the tipping thing, totally not customary in japan.  and, apparently it is customary to pay the bill at the register vs. having them bring it to you.  thank you google, now i know.  and ps, google shows up in japanese here….

tomorrows adventure – a bike tour through the city, but first a train/subway ride to get there.  for now, it is 8:30, and i think its bed time.

life begins at the edge of your comfort zone….

and here we go…my attempt to blog my way through three countries, five cities, and twenty four days.  and really, probably two countries, four cities, and twenty two days, cause the likelihood of me blogging in vegas is slim to none.  well, there is that whole time change thing.

anyway, im caught between the somewhat surreal feeling that this trip is actually here and happening, after all the drama surrounding it, and the OMG….what am i doing???  truthfully, im in a bit of a freakout, and the glass of cheap chianti isnt helping.  but, thats what this is all about, right?  an adventure, a breath of fresh air, life at the edge of my comfort zone.  what started out as small adventures on either side of a school trip has become my own happily married version of ‘eat, pray, love’, or something like that.  i havent read the book, but it is on my kindle.

overall, im so excited.  im excited to experience different cultures and different aspects of the gap business.  im also excited for an adventure…to explore, to write something that doesnt require citations and read something thats not a text book.  sure, its a little scary, but i did jump on a plane to the british isles at 13 (dannielle, if youre reading this, that was for you ;)).

thus far, its been a good experience.  what little of cathay pacific ive seen has been good.  they come and get you out of the check-in line and escort you to the check-in station.  a far cry from the ‘next’ im so accustomed to hearing at the airport.  they were patient while i dug out my travel documents and took the time to explain everything, even though i didnt need it.  hopefully the flight is as nice as check-in….though, i cant decide how i feel about 12+ hours of flying.  hopefully i can sleep….lord knows i have at least that much needed sleep stored up.  and when that runs out, theres that paper i need to finish…and those books i want to read…and that book i want to write.  plenty to keep me busy, i hope.

alright….the restaurant/bar ive been occupying is closing.  luckily, duty free is still open (kim, if you are reading this, that was for you ;)).  signing off for now…catch ya on the other side.