Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What A Difference A Decade Makes.

We last visited Tokyo August, 2005. It was the first city on our epic trip around the world, and while it’s been a decade since we’ve been here, most of Japan seems exactly how I remember it. After a week here though, there are some changes worth noting. So, in the spirit of David Letterman, here are the Top Ten changes we’ve noticed while in Japan.

10. Technology. Since this is one of the most technological countries on the planet, advances are a given, but when we last traveled here, we didn’t have iphones, texting was something that was just starting to happen here and not even seen in the U.S. and there weren’t data plans. We had to figure out everything the old fashioned way, with guide books and paper maps. 

9.  More technology. There have even been leaps in technology in the past two years since we lived in Europe. Our apartment here in Tokyo came equipped with this amazing invention called the mobile wi-fi device. It’s smaller than my phone and lets me access wi-fi without having to figure out an overseas data plan. It helps us use all the technology that we take for granted. Genius.

8.  Less smoking. Seems like there are either fewer smokers or there are more rules against it, but we’re seeing a lot less smoking this time. There are dedicated smoking areas now and signs on the street forbidding smoking while walking.

7. Guys wearing shorts. We barely saw men wearing shorts on our last trip here, but now, especially on the weekends, Andy is no longer the only guy flashing his bare knees on the subway. Still, don’t see women wearing shorts, but they do wear short skirts.

6. More Asian tourists. We’re seeing more tourists from other parts of Asia now. Maybe they were here before, but if there were, we didn’t pick up on the different behaviors of the Koreans and Chinese from the Japanese. 

5.  More ice!! Maybe someone got the memo I sent in 2005, begging for more ice in drinks, or maybe it’s the influence of Starbucks, but there seem to be more places that offer ice in drinks. 

4. Spending power. The dollar is stronger than the yen right now, so that 800 Yen (about $7) lunch isn’t such a bad deal.

3. Facebook. Thanks to our ever-growing connectivity around the globe, I can wake up and see what everyone else is doing and feel like I’ve never left home. That is, until I walk out the door. I can also post updates which for better or worse, allow me to share in the moment how our trip is going. I’m glad we didn’t have Facebook when we did our year-round trip. There’s something to be said for virtually as well as physically casting into the wild blue yonder without a trace.

2. Tsukiji Market. Back in 2005 it was possible to show up at the largest fish market in the world, wander the stalls and if you were lucky, attend a tuna auction, without having to camp out the night before. Due to an insane amount of tourists, like us, the market has had to crack down and limit access to everything. Now tourists are only allowed after 9 am, when most of the action is dying down.

1. Us!! The biggest change we’ve noticed on this trip to Japan is us! Not only have we traveled to over 30 countries since our last visit here, and have also lived abroad, but we’ve had much more experience traveling through Asia. While things don’t intimidate us or scare us as much, we are also no longer constantly wowed by all we see. Are we jaded, or just wiser? Dylan is no longer a pliable and impressionable eight year old, but a fully formed adult with her own thoughts, ideas and fancy camera, so she’s giving us a level of feedback we didn’t have before. We have a  greater level of comfort diving into different situations, and inherently “get” how things operate in Asia.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Going Amish.

I did it!  Managed to stay off Facebook, away from news sites, TV and even the radio for five days.  Here’s a snapshot of my week.

Day 1:
Today is the first day of my one week self-imposed media fast and all I can say is what the hell was I thinking? I forgot about NPR! I usually have NPR on while working at my desk, but I realized that even listening to NPR is distracting. Why couldn’t I have planned this during a NPR pledge week? My usual habit of getting up, grabbing my computer and reading mail, then reading Facebook, then reading Daily Mail, Huff Post, Salon, NY Times, etc. had to be abruptly stopped, so instead I got up, fixed Dylan breakfast and then peeled peaches. 7:30 and the house is quiet. Going to figure out how to work Final Draft again, and start the screenplay.  At least I can start with Fade in….

Just wrote 7 pages and it’s not even noon!  Walked dog.  Was so tempted to get on Facebook and see what the rest of the world is doing, but am going to go to Milos and see the real world. 

Managed to complete 10 pages of the new screenplay on Monday. Was grouchy by the evening because I couldn’t watch TV. Read a couple of magazines instead.

Day 2:
Got off to a slow start writing-wise. I managed to get an article and a query letter written between some batch cooking for us and friends.

5:37p.m. Twenty minutes before book group and all I wanted to do is check my Facebook page. It’s not an issue of how much time it could take away from writing, there’s no more writing getting done today. I’m realizing how much this has become a habit, I feel like a smoker really needing a smoke.  I’m so glad I’m going out with friends tonight. I do miss NPR, but a lot of the other media, not so much. 

Day 3:
12 years ago today I became obsessed with the news in a way that I (formally a journalism major) had never been before. The terrorist attacks on America left all of us feeling angry, scared and vulnerable and for me, part of dealing with feeling vulnerable, was having as much information as possible. After all these years checking the news at least twice a day has become more habit than necessary for survival.  

It’s interesting the conversations that crop up when talking about not being on Facebook. Some people hate it. They want to talk to their friends for real, or find the constant barrage of updates overwhelming, and/or often uninteresting. I get that. But as one of my friends pointed out, she has so many friends that have recently moved far away and it’s the only way she can feel in touch with them. I like to check it out because I’m home alone so much. It’s like stepping into a virtual coffee shop, a chance to see what’s going on with others and the world. Some of the people I read about, I don’t really know. We met once at a class, or used to hang out 30 years ago. Or I get information from businesses I “liked” at one time, it can feel like more online noise.

Everyone has a bad Facebook user story. The person who picks a fight and keeps on going.  The person who posts pictures of every meal they eat, and the person who has a million posts a day. I guess I’m not missing much on Facebook, but it’s still hard to not check it out…

On the work front, I wrote out 15 cards for my screenplay today and went to my writing group, so I felt pretty productive.

Day 4:
It’s Thursday night. I’m tired and there’s nothing more I want to do than to sit down and read some news. I really HATE watching the news (I find the news on TV superficial—30 seconds for a complicated nuanced story—and the 24 hour CNN news cycle borders on idiotic when there is nothing new to report.)  I read my news, or listen to NPR. My problem is that reading news stories, like potato chips, are hard to stop at one.

Writing didn’t go as well today. Mostly because I’m having some big plot issues and I always try to figure out plot before anything else. Otherwise I could end up writing some vignettes or something that has nothing to do with a story. At least I know what my problems are, I just not sure how to fix them.

Day 5:
Just saw this article on Soul Pancake that is especially relevant.  It’s about getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t work and how to make space for the stuff that does.

It did work! I was much more productive subtracting media from my day, and so I think I need to try to limit myself to surfing the web, research and Facebook to after 5:00 p.m. I did miss out hearing about the floods in Colorado. Huge damages, much pain and so distracting, especially for the people who are actually affected by the floods. But for me in relatively dry Portland, there’s nothing I can do to help. I’m not affected, and I could let the images and stories distract me. Taking control of my time is going to be a deliberate and difficult process, but the feeling of actually getting some writing done really does outweigh the distractions.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Media Fast

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m suffering from adult onset A.D.D. Ask me to complete a thought, and the little train carrying information inside my brain derails somewhere between Miley Cyrus twerking (I knew it was only a matter of time that my name would be adopted into something totally crazy) and the fall line up on NBC. One thing about writing, no matter the genre, is that putting words on paper takes a sustained effort and concentration; two things I’ve lacked in the past six months. 

I think one of the many reasons for my epic fail (writing-wise) is that I’m constantly seeking out distractions. Between Facebook, the Huffington Post, Netflix (Orange is the New Black is the latest in must-see-tv) and other various forms of media, there are many sirens beckoning my attention. In order to get back on track I’ve decided to go on a self-imposed media fast. No online websites, (not that any single website is bad per se, it’s just that once I open one, it’s hard to stop) no TV, and definitely no Facebook for at least the next five days—Monday through Friday. I wont even be able to post a blog entry since that would entail being online. I’ve got some great article and story ideas going through my mind and I hope that this media fast will help me land them on paper. That said, if you need to get in touch with me—phone, email and texts will be answered.   

Friday, August 16, 2013

Turkish Delight

The sun was setting as we landed in Istanbul. After negotiating a bus and taxi to our hotel and finding a quick meal, we watched the sky grow dark. As we sat in the restaurant munching our kababs, we noticed a never-ending stream of headlights; cars driving past, heading up the hill. After dinner we wandered up the narrow streets past our hotel, tangled with cars and pedestrians, past families carrying bags of food and watermelons. We rounded the final corner and ran into thousands of people sitting on the grass, milling in the square and wandering amongst booths enjoying the warm summer night. 

We had landed during Ramadan and it seemed all of Istanbul was out celebrating. The locals were enjoying Iftar, the meal that marked the end of the daily fast, which is the most well-known aspect of Ramadan. At this point, I uttered the oft-worn expression, “guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  

And here is the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya)
Here’s how I feel about travel.  If I’m going to get into a flying metal tube and sit there for fifteen hours, when I get out I want to feel like I’m somewhere different.  The more exotic, the better.  Istanbul filled that need for me. 

Women covered from head to toe in black, herded children running around the plaza.  Men selling everything from corn on the cob, to huge chunks of watermelon, to hand spun candy were providing food and entertainment to the crowd.  The grandeur of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya  behind it, were backdrops to a temporary lane of stalls selling everything from rose-flavored lemonade to brass lamps. 

Speaking of shopping, one of the most amazing shopping experiences is an afternoon in the Grand Bazaar.  Described with superlatives, such as the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, it covers 61 streets, holds 3000 shops and sees 250,000-400,000 visitors a day. The Grand Bazaar is the Bazaar that all others are measured against. 

Istanbul is at a crossroads. It’s a smash-up of east and west. Having spent a considerable amount of time in both Europe and Asia, it was easy for us to suss out what seemed European and what seemed Asian, but in many ways it felt like we were on neither continent. Time and time again, with the exception of the monuments and grand mosques, Istanbul felt more like Cairo to us. The heat, the crowds, the calls of the muezzin, the ever-present fountains for washing, and a culture deeply steeped in Islam, rather than Christianity or Buddhism, has allowed Istanbul to develop its own flavors. 

This sweet lady who was selling scarves outside of the Blue Mosque helped Dylan fix hers. 

Inside the Blue Mosque

"Loki was here" This is honest-to-god graffiti left by the vikings inside the Hagia Sofya 

I wish every westerner could visit a Muslim country, just to see that Muslim countries are not all Al Qaeda and radicalism, like the United States is not all the Westboro Church or Snookie and LiLo.   People shop, work, and take their kids to school just like we do here in the US.  Well, maybe there are some jobs we don’t see in the US, like those of the urban porters who navigate streets too small for trucks.

My first thought, that's a weird car seat. 

 But the point is, despite the concerns and warnings about traveling to Turkey, especially after the protests in Taksim Square over the razing of Gezi Park, I’m glad we went and hope to return, except maybe when the weather is cooler.  

Turkish delight was sold here, but we were buying the many awesome baklavas.  The guys at this store waved Dylan behind the counter so she could snap some pictures.