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Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Post-travel depression

I don’t really get post-travel depression; not even for Korea, a country I finally visited in 2017 and was highly anticipated I literally ticked off days on the calendar. But after this recent trip, it’s quite serious.

I really miss Japan.

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve return to the States, and I’m still hankering to be back in that wonderful country. Undergoing the process of editing all the photographs I took certainly hasn’t help: every new picture is a stark reminder that I am no longer there, and instead, back to the reality of my regular everyday life.

Not to say my life sucks; far from it. This isn’t the typical sort of post-travel depression where the person who returns from vacation cannot bear the mundane grind of his life, that the travel destination is so awesome and spectacular that regular life becomes comparatively worse. Then the person struggles through it, holding back the anguish long enough to make it to the checkpoint of the next vacation, and the cycle begins again. That is indeed a stressful way to live, and if you so dislike your job and/or life, you really should make a change. Let the sadness be the catalyst.

In my particular case of post-travel sadness, it is because the culture of Japan fits me so absolutely well. No other place I’ve been to have I felt so familiar and at-ease, where the surroundings feels just right, and the mechanics of life there super in-tune with my personality. I concede that recency bias may be playing its usual tricks, but honestly I can say that perhaps in another life, I’d be living in Japan full-time. It is that special of a place.

A subject I shall greatly expand upon in the dedicated photo stories article on the entire 9-day Japan trip, an article I’m very looking forward to writing. Stay tuned.

A sight you definitely won’t ever see back in the States.

The kids are back in school

Today marks the first day of Fall semester for the K through 12 kids, so naturally the bus I take to go to work were full of the young ones, and for some, their parents also. What was for the past few months a sparsely ridden bus route returned to being a jam-packed slog, with each subsequent stop filled with hopefuls looking to squeeze in just beyond the closing doors. Today’s commute was easily 10 minutes longer than usual, though I didn’t mind it because I simply listen to podcasts until it’s my stop to alight.

The return of the pre-college kids on public transport is my specific signal that Summer is indeed over, and it’s back to the normal grind of the regular school schedule. Of course, I am sensitive to this because I work at a university, and we go back to our particular scheduled programming in a week’s time. As someone who prefers peace and quiet, I’m oddly looking forward to campus starting back up; the atmosphere of learning can be very contagious indeed.

The crowded bus today made me reminisce of the trip to Japan back in July, and how glorious public transport in that country is. Despite the enormous population density, the system there is super efficient, and has the adequate capacity to deal with the sheer number of people. Most importantly, everything is always on time, so schedules are completely dependable. I fondly remember taking the local train during rush hour, and despite the sea of humanity, there was a train every two minutes on the dot, so getting on wasn’t an issue at all.

Contrast that with my experience today, where my usual bus passed by our station with a ‘not in service’ sign, leaving the following bus even more packed that it had to be. The morning commute on the first day of school maybe isn’t the best time for that, SF Muni.

The dark side is the best side.

The dark side is the best side.

The cost of doing business

It’s perversely ironic.

I’ve only just returned from Japan, statistically the safest country on the planet, a country where I can roam around anywhere at anytime and not feel a hint of danger; I can leave stuff in a rental car in broad daylight and not have the slightest worry someone would break the window and steal it. Within the span of a week since coming home to the States, there’s already been three major mass shootings: one during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival; another one in El Paso where a dude opened fire inside a Walmart store, and not even 24 hours after that, a gunman shot up a bar in Dayton, Ohio.

All devastatingly tragic, but sadly, merely the price of doing business living in America.

The correlation between the amount of guns and the amount of gun deaths is factually evident. Firearms are heavily outlawed in Japan, and therefore the country suffers from insignificantly few gun-related crimes. After Australia banned guns, the numbers of deaths from firearms decreased exponentially. Yet due to our second amendment and various lobbying forces, there is absolutely no hope of massively decreasing the number of firearms here in the United States (short of a political miracle), even though we know for sure countless precious lives will be saved.

How exceptional is the country that our children get to perform active shooter drills, and to attend any event of significance, we need to go through security akin to checkpoints at an airport. And that every year, like clockwork, there’s bound to be a smattering of mass shootings, and all the victims will ever get for their deaths is ceaseless streams of thoughts and prayers. Someone on twitter said it best a few years ago, that when we as a collective accepted that it’s okay to gun down babies (Sandy Hook), the fight for gun control was already dead and over.

America is a great country, and it’s given me every single opportunity and items material that otherwise not possible had we not emigrated, but it’s a country where gun deaths are a part of the deal. What’s left for us to contemplate is whether or not the deal continues to be worth it.

All I want is just some peace and quiet.

Booking a room and renting a car in Japan

My friend and I are planning for a trip to Japan (finally!) in the third week of July, so periodically I’m going to talk about some of the process on here (trust the process).

A few weeks back I ranted about how it was cheaper to fly to Japan from LAX than our local airport SFO. The savings from flying out further south is quite significant, which is just as well because the next item on the list after plane tickets is accommodations, and it’s expectedly expensive in Tokyo.

It’s also astonishingly small. I’ve dealt with land scarce cities before, namely Hong Kong, but even the tiny hotels rooms there are generally larger than the ones I’ve browsed around Tokyo. Japan’s idea of a hotel room with two twin beds is an area that’s just big enough to fit two beds nearly stuck together, and not much else. Sure hope you didn’t pack a lot of luggage!

Obviously, the western branded hotels are slightly more hospitable to our American sensibilities of personal space, but those are prohibitively out of our price range. The space situation on Airbnb is better than hotels if you choose to rent an entire home, but even there you should plan to be somewhat cozy with your chosen roommate. The place we reserved is nevertheless appropriately tiny, but at least the two beds aren’t directly adjacent to each other.

Small living spaces is indeed how Tokyo manages to cram over 13 million people within its city limits.

After we sorted our living situation, the focus turned to renting a car. Now it must be said that we fully realize the public transportation system in Tokyo is robust and envy of the world, and we will be utilizing to the maximum. However, there will be a few days where we plan to leave the capital for the countryside, and the original plan was to rent a car because I’ve always wanted to drive on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country.

And as a car enthusiast, I really wanted to visit and drive on the famed Hakone turnpike, a toll road that absolutely requires a car.

Upon further research, it turns out it’s highly not recommended to drive anywhere within or near Tokyo. The grid structure is practically a maze, and the signage isn’t the greatest if you don’t know Japanese. Getting lost is almost guaranteed. Yikes.

So a change of plans then: we are going to rent a car closer to the turnpike, and instead will travel to Hakone via the reliable and fast bullet train.

Much more to come!

I think more people should buy cars in colors that isn’t a shade of white, silver, gray, or black.

SFO vs. LAX

I am in the midst of planning for my usual summer holiday, and this year the destination is the isle of Japan. My friends and I are targeting the third week of July for this trip, and the obvious first order of business is to secure our flights. So on to Google Flights I went and executed a search for nonstop flights from San Francisco to Tokyo.

Sadly, the results were shockingly expensive.

For sure it was never going to be cheap flying to the other side of the planet, but nearly $1,800 for a roundtrip fare in economy is incredibly high – I can fly to Singapore for not much more. That fare is simply too rich for our group, especially considering Tokyo’s cost of living is world-famous for not being cheap in the slightest. We can’t blow a massive part of our budget on airfare alone.

An alternative plan, then: we dared to look at one-stop flights. As a general rule I’m wholly against routes with layovers, principally because it’s an enormous waste of time to be hanging out for hours at a transfer airport waiting for the connecting flight. Vacation time from work is already precious as is (thanks, America), so if I can pay a bit more to save time, I almost always do.

Unless of course the nonstop flight is untenably expensive. For the trip to Japan we found a one-stop flight for significantly less at $1,200 that involved a layover in Incheon, which honestly for me isn’t the worst thing in the world. I still hold fond memories the South Korea trip two years ago, so the opportunity to spend a bit time in that country again draws no protest from me.

My friends and I were all set on that itinerary, except I remembered that we are heading for Los Angeles only two days before the departure date, so what if we flew out of LAX instead? Once again to Google Flights I went, and to my utter surprise and indignity (at SFO), a direct flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo is even cheaper than our one-stop flight out of San Francisco.

What the heck!?

I understand there’s a larger Japanese population down south, but Japan is a popular travel destination for persons of all ethnic backgrounds, so I’m really quite miffed at why a direct flight out of San Francisco is some $600 dearer. In a childish protest sort of way, that’s not fair!

It’s an easy choice then for us to fly out of LAX. We’re still very ahead of the SFO-HND route in cost after accounting for the additional rental car down to Los Angeles and the flight back to San Francisco on the return. More importantly, we get a nonstop route over the Pacific, which is just the ultimate.

I can and will go back to South Korea at another date.  

Rolling clouds over San Francisco.