If you told me six months ago that I’d be spending much of February in Japan, I wouldn’t have believed you! But it turned out to be a total delight. And a good reminder that even when you’re driven to visit new places, it’s good to go back and revisit countries you love!

Destinations Visited

New York, NY

Sapporo, Noboribetsu Onsen, Otaru, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, Japan

Favorite Destination

Tokyo! So much sophistication, such great food, and it all works seamlessly together.

Highlights

Flying business class with ANA. I almost never fly business class long-haul…so this was an absolute treat. ANA is fantastic in business class. I loved the privacy and the food! And I’m still flabbergasted that I went door-to-door from the Park Hyatt Tokyo to my Manhattan apartment in less than 17 hours…

Enjoying the best of winter in Japan in Hokkaido. I already wrote about it this month, so I won’t repeat myself, but Hokkaido is SUCH a cool winter destination! I highly recommend it, especially if you want to get off the beaten path.

Staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Lost in Translation is one of my all-time favorite movies, and this has long been my #1 bucket list hotel. It lived up to every expectation I had and I happily would have remained ensconced for much longer. That pic above is the view from my room!

Falling in love with Tokyo. On my first trip to Japan back in 2013, I fell in love with the country but no city stood out as a favorite. This time around, Tokyo really got under my skin! It’s Japan, but fancy Japan, sophisticated Japan, high-tech Japan. I’m fluent in the language of megacities and I find that Tokyo speaks to me that way. I think it now belongs on my favorite cities in the world list along with Paris, Bangkok, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Berlin and New York…

Spending time with friends in Japan. Seriously, the best thing about this job is getting to spend time with friends around the world. I met up with Jessica and Hai of Notes of Nomads, and they took me on an adventure around the Ikebukuro neighborhood. That evening, I met my friend Annette from Boston at the bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

Eating so much good food in Japan. On my first trip to Japan, I was on a limited budget and didn’t spend much on food. Even so, I still felt like I ate extremely well, as even Japanese fast food is immaculately prepared. This time, though, I had money to PLAY. From high-end tempura to Michelin-starred yakitori and the best tonkatsu in Japan, I ate SO SO SO WELL. I’m still dreaming of those strawberry-stuffed custard mochis…

I got a desk! So I’ve been working from home for 2+ years now without a desk. Which is kind of insane. I’ve just been using my dining table…and, um, the couch. But I went into West Elm the other day to use their bathroom (don’t hate, we all have our favorite public bathrooms!) and I saw they had a floor model of the Audrey Mini Desk I liked on super-clearance. It was a bit banged up, but not horribly, and it was small enough to take home via Uber, so I got it! It looks terrific and matches my bedroom’s textured-white-gold-gray color scheme perfectly.

Lots of good times in New York. It was a fairly low-key month, but when I’m recovering from big trips, I like to keep it simple. Spending time with friends. Trying out new restaurants. Zumba classes. RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties at At the Wallace with dinosaur chicken nuggets. Some unseasonably warm days going for walks along Riverside Park and in Brooklyn.

Challenges

My debit card got digitally stolen this month. On my first day in Japan I checked my bank statement and saw that someone was making several $100 withdrawals at a Wawa in New Jersey. (Really? How dare you sully Wawa’s good name!)

The good news is that I’ve had this happen before and know what to do. I always travel with two debit cards — one from Schwab (my preferred card to use while traveling) and one from CapitalOne. My second debit card sustained me, especially since so many vendors in Japan are cash-only. Always carry two debit cards when you travel!!!

Kyoto was a bust. I really enjoyed Kyoto on my first trip to Japan, but I just wasn’t feeling it this time around. I think part of it was the gloomy weather. I just didn’t feel like exploring temples this time around and I found myself quickly annoyed by the tourist crowds. My favorite thing was…the train station.

Osaka could have been better. Honestly, it felt like I spent most of the day lost on the subway. Seeing Dotonbori the second time was a bit of a letdown since my first visit was such a shock, but I’m glad I made time to eat some fugu.

And my apartment’s water has been out multiple times this month. Nothing like getting a head’s up the night before that the water will be down for a few hours the next morning, then after a few hours a sign in the elevator reads no agua todo el día…oh, and my buzzer isn’t working, so that’s fun…

Most Popular Post

Travel Burnout is Real. Here’s How to Deal with It. — Every traveler should read this one!

The Other Post

Visiting Hokkaido, Japan, in Winter — I loved this Japanese winter wonderland!

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

It often surprises me what does well on Instagram. After all the crazy Japan photos taken with my real camera, the winner of this month was a simple iPhone sunset shot from Riverside Park, right near my apartment. For more updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

What I Watched This Month

Queer Eye! I loved this show back when I was in college, though admittedly I view it with a more critical lens today. It was a breakthrough for the early 2000s but relied heavily on stereotypes and de-sexualized the guys. I was skeptical about whether it needed to come back. Well, this new version is so lovely. It’s a kinder, less snarky version of the show, and all five of the guys seem so sweet and portrayed in a far more nuanced way.

Some of it was well-intended but didn’t hit the mark (the Black Lives Matter subplot with Karamo, who is black, getting pulled over and his subsequent conversation with a white Georgia cop). But watching them give AJ the confidence to finally come out to his stepmother and introduce her to his boyfriend…if you didn’t cry at that, you’re made of stone.

Also, I LOVE the fact that Jonathan referenced the #1 thing that I remember from the first round of Queer Eye — the best way to apply a fragrance is to spray, delay, and walk away. Thank you, Kyan — I still think about that every time I put on perfume!

I can’t believe they only made eight episodes. At least give us a full season!!

What I Read This Month

I’m continuing to work toward my goal of reading books by authors from around the world and this month I added three countries whose authors I’ve never read before: Pakistan (Hamid), Democratic Republic of the Congo (Uwiringiyimana), and Chile (Allende).

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018) — This is the best book I’ve read so far in 2018. Celestial and Roy are a young Atlanta couple 18 months into their marriage. While they fight occasionally, they’re overall very happy and ready to start trying for a family. Then Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Celestial and Roy try to work through this sentencing, but over time their relationship becomes strained and Celestial becomes close to her childhood best friend, Andre. Then all of a sudden Roy’s conviction is overturned and they have to figure out what comes next.

This book is fantastic. Every now and then you need a book to nearly break you, and this one came so close to destroying me. I fell in love with each of the characters and ached for their choices. It’s not just about relationships, it’s about the prison industrial conference and the dangers of existing while black in America.

A less talented author would have filled it with cliches — the husband gets out and wow, he’s so surprised, his wife loves someone else! But Jones handled it with so much nuance. This wasn’t a shock — Roy knew things weren’t good with Celestial when he was released. I love that the story was not about “What happens when he finds out?” but instead, “How do we work through this?” Also, Oprah recently chose this for her book club pick and it’s available through Book of the Month as well.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) — Another phenomenal book, and one of Obama’s favorites of 2017. In an unnamed city that becomes increasingly unstable — it could easily be somewhere in Syria, Somalia, Yemen — Saeed and Nadia are two young lovers who endure the violence until it becomes too dangerous to stay. Soon rumors swirl of “doors” that will whisk emigrants to new countries. Saeed and Nadia take the chance on a door and it sends them on a journey around the world where safety isn’t as easy to find as they hoped.

Normally I’m hit or miss on magical realism, but I think it works so well in this book. I feel like it’s the heir to The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (my favorite novel of 2016). It’s a supernatural journey to new, safer destinations, only each of them have different dangers waiting beneath the surface.

Most stunningly, I think that both liberals and conservatives could use this book to make points about immigration policy. For liberals, the story illustrates the hells that refugees are facing in Syria and the need to help them. For conservatives, the story is a cautionary tale of how open borders can lead to immigrant takeovers. How amazing is it that a single book can do both of those things?

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta (2017) — This memoir tells the story of how Sandra Uwiringiyimana and her family survived war, persecution, and a massacre in their native Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Her younger sister Deborah was killed in the attack; miraculously, the rest of them survived, including her older brother who was kidnapped to be a child soldier. Her family, as refugees, were moved to Rochester, New York. The book covers their tragedies in Africa, their difficult journey to fit in as Africans in America, and how Sandra ultimately became an activist for refugees.

This book will rip your heart out. I think it’s absolutely essential to understand the refugee’s experience in America today, and also an examination of what can happen when people who have been through trauma don’t get mental healthcare. I had never heard of this massacre before, and it really illustrated the kinds of things that go on and don’t get headlines. I always say that literature can teach compassion, and this book is a fantastic example.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (2000) — I was determined to read a book by a Japanese author while on my Japan trip, and after enjoying Murakami’s trippy 1Q84 last year, I decided to check out this much loved novel. Norwegian Wood tells the story about a young college-aged men and some of his early loves from that period, including his dead best friend’s former girlfriend Naoko and the quirky and lovable Midori.

Now…Murakami. My thoughts on him are conflicted. I roll my eyes at how all the female characters he writes tend to be manic pixie dream girls with an insanely promiscuous streak who are interested in mediocre men for some reason. It’s like he’s writing his fantasies. That said…his words are like water. Like a gentle stream floating through my mind. That’s what captivates me, and that’s what will keep me returning to his work. This book is more of a “here is what happened” than a tightly structured novel, but I enjoyed the journey, and reading it while in Japan made it even better.

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (1982) — This was my book club’s pick for the month (sadly, I’ll be away during the next meeting) and one thing most of us have in common is that we struggled to get through it. The House of the Spirits tells the story of multiple generations in a Chilean family, including a woman with clairvoyant abilities, and it ends with the revolution that installed Pinochet (though there are no names — they keep it ambiguous).

My big impression from this book is that it’s “Toxic Masculinity: The Novel!” The family patriarch is horrific. He’s a rapist. He physically and verbally abuses the women in his family. He attempts to murder men who get between him and “his” women. And the parts written in his voice are SO delusional — he thinks everyone is in love with him, but they can’t stand him. God. Overall, I found this book to be decent but not fantastic, as well as a good introduction to Chilean literature, and I’m relieved that it picked up significantly toward the end.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (2016) — Well, we have an early contender for the WORST book I read in 2018! I was shocked. This book was voted the best book of 2016 by Book of the Month readers. Not only that, roughly 80% of Amazon and Goodreads reviews are incredibly positive. I expected something so much better.

Wavy is the daughter of two meth manufacturers and dealers in rural Oklahoma. She largely raises herself, but she soon develops a friendship with Kellen, her father’s mechanic, when she’s eight and he’s 22. At first Kellen takes care of Wavy, brings her groceries, and makes sure she goes to school. Then their relationship turns romantic. Then it turns sexual. She gives him a hand job when she’s 13. Oh, but it’s okay because she initiated it and Kellen was too horny to think straight!

STOP. SEXUALIZING. CHILDREN. It doesn’t matter if she’s “quirky” or “intelligent” or “wise beyond her years” or if she’s the kind of girl who grows up to set up her unlucky-in-love college roommate with the perfect guy for her. Every time Kellen talked about holding Wavy’s “little tit” I wanted to throw up.

And you know what? The whole book romanticizes a relationship between an adult and a young child. The message at the end was, “Yes, it’s unorthodox, but it’s true love! We should accept it and celebrate it.” Jesus fucking Christ…

But the worst thing was that THE WRITING WAS NOWHERE NEAR GOOD ENOUGH TO SUSTAIN THAT DANGEROUS PREMISE. Lolita was successful for a reason — Nabokov made you fall for Humbert Humbert’s wit and charm even as you despised his actions. Bryn Greenwood is no Nabokov. Oh, and also, if you’re going to write from different points of view, YOU CAN’T GIVE EVERY CHARACTER THE SAME EXACT VOICE. Honestly, as a lover of literature, that offends me more than the pedophilia stuff.

I cannot believe I stayed up until 4:00 AM finishing this book. It was so not worth it.

Coming Up in March 2018

ANTARCTICA! It’s finally here!

I arrive in Ushuaia on March 1 and I ship out with Quark Expeditions on March 3. This is a two-week voyage filled with kayaking, penguin sightings, and even crossing the Antarctic Circle! I’m so excited to finally be reaching a destination that feels like the ends of the Earth. Visiting my seventh continent will be a nice achievement, but what I most look forward to is diving headfirst into the science and ecology of this remote land.

Most people have been asking me the same questions: “Where will you stay?” (On Quark’s Ocean Diamond, an expedition ship — it’s like a cruise.) “How do you get there?” (Flying to Ushuaia, Argentina, via Buenos Aires, then it takes two days to cross the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula.) “How cold will it be there?” (Usually 20 to 35F, or -7 to 2C, but it can get colder. Keep in mind it’s their summer right now.) “But what will you do there?” (Go kayaking, take tons of photos, listen to scientific lectures, hang out with adorable penguins, and hopefully make some new friends.) “Just promise me you won’t go swimming.” (Sorry, Mom, I need to do the Polar Plunge!)

I plan to have little-to-no internet during the trip, so be patient — I might be able to update a bit by text, but photo updates will have to wait until I come back.

(Antarctica image: Christopher Michel.)

Any suggestions for Antarctica? Let me know!

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