“The flashing and golden pageant of California,

The sudden and gorgeous drama, the sunny and ample lands,

The long and varied stretch from Puget Sound to Colorado south,

Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air, valleys and mountain cliffs.”

 

 

“Fresh come to a new world indeed, yet long prepared,

I see the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,

Clearing the ground for broad humanity, the true America, heir of the past so grand,

To build a grander future.”

From “The Song of the Redwood Tree” by Walt Whitman

I really liked LA when I first got there. There were palm trees everywhere, and every person I met successfully met the West Coast stereotype that I had in mind. On my first night in my 80s-style, retro-sketch hostel-hotel I met a Ukrainian girl who was working at the bar. She spent the next two hours trying to set me up with a struggling actor. How LA!

As the smell of chlorine crept into my bedroom that night, mingling with the boozy night air, I felt restless and excited. How LA.

I was supposed to spend a total of five days in the city. It took me all of an all-day bus tour to realize that this city was unlike anything I’d ever faced before. No public transportation. How LA…

Perhaps more than any other place, superficial LA taught me to relax and enjoy the moment. I was stuck in a place for a pretty long period of time, but a place with beautiful beaches and very interesting people.

I was sad to leave this beautiful country that taught me so much in such a short amount of time. I really appreciated the emphasis on respect in Japanese culture, and I think it’s a lesson that I want to take with me everywhere I go from now on.

Text from “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami

A night at a capsule hotel. One of the bizarre, never-to-be-repeated but glad-to-have-done experiences I had in Tokyo.

This was my “room”. You can’t tell from the picture, but there’s actually a small TV in the upper left-hand corner with a radio and an alarm clock along the side. There are also quite a few little hooks and shelves for keeping your things. It was tall enough that I could sit up and work on my laptop.

To be honest, I felt like I was inside a womb in my capsule. There’s a stuffy compartmentalized feeling to it that’s kind of isolating. I spoke briefly with my neighbor, a twenty year-old student from Kyoto, but I got the sense that people tended to keep to themselves inside these places.

One stay is worth it for the novelty. Two stays would already feel a bit dismal.

On my flight from Tokyo to LAX I spoke to a Singaporean guy who said he had once stayed in a “drawer-type” of capsule hotel. He described it as a wall of beds that were literally kept in drawers. You pushed a button, the drawer opened and you hopped inside. You push another button and it closes with you in it. He stretched out his hand in front of his face to indicate how much room there was inside.

So this is quite spacious by comparison.

Address: 2-6-3 Kinshi, Sumida-ku, TokyoJapan

One of my goals in Japan was to learn to make matcha green tea the right way, with all the extra fixing and finagling involved. Okay, maybe not all of it. A proper sa-do, or Japanese tea ceremony, lasts anywhere from one hour to four and takes years to master.

I didn’t have years, but I did have twenty minutes. To the best of my memory, these are the main points you should keep in mind for matcha tea.

1. It’s essential that all your tools are immaculate and have been properly cleaned. In a proper ceremony, there’s a complicated, elegant process of wiping things down with a silk handkerchief and checking them at eye level, but I think for the sake of everyday tea-drinking, all you need to do is pay attention to the tools you’re using. Be sure to rinse tea cups with boiling water before use to remove any lingering scents or flavors.

2. Make sure everything is arranged neatly in front you. Add about half a teaspoon of matcha (depending on what strength you want, what kind of tea you’re using, etc.) for every half cup of boiling water you use.

3. Whisk. Two clockwise circles first, then some figure-eights, then some furious up-down motions until its frothy, then small M-shapes along the surface to create tiny bubbles.

4. Take some time to be grateful for what you’ve been given- the master told me to raise my tea cup near the level of my eyes in the gesture of an offering. Take the teacup firmly in both hands and enjoy.

Bitter, frothy, and a lurid, waxy shade of dark green- not an appealing description but an accurate one. If I could describe a taste as down-to-earth, matcha would fit that description.

I accidentally got on the local train from Nara to Kyoto. It takes over two hours but, on the bright side, is tourist-free. I guess I stuck out like sore thumb with my backpack and confused expression.

An old man sitting across from me struck up a conversation. He told me he was studying English and then showed me these dog-eared manuals he brought with him to read. Originally, they had pictures of the Capital Building and Rockefeller Center, but they were so worn that you could barely make out the picture.

His English was really great, though. He told me he was 80 years old but had never traveled outside Japan. He really wanted to visit the U.S. one day to see all these places that were in his language manuals.

I told him I was on my way to Kyoto, and he asked me if I liked soba (buckwheat) noodles. I told him I did. We went to a small noodle shop in the train station that he recommended to me. It’s the kind of place where you buy a ticket from a vending machine in order to get your meal. He bought me a bowl of soba with tempura for 350 yen, insisting on paying.

It was delicious. We slurped away in silence.

He walked me to my shinkansen train when we finished the meal. I thanked him and just as I was about to introduce myself, he abruptly left.

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