Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Last days in Japan, Hibernation & Afterthoughts

Last days 
My last stop in Japan was Fukuoka.  It’s located next to Nagasaki on the northern part of Kyushu.  I didn’t get to see much of Fukuoka except the main city but I was able to spend a lot of time with my host and in the end, that’s all that really mattered. 

I couldn’t wish for a better ending for my first half of the trip.  My stay was with a wonderful Japanese woman, Sumire, her two sons, 12 year old Souma and 2 year old Hikaru, a dog Colin and a cat Ninja.  Writing about Sumire, doesn’t give justice to my feelings towards her.  She is sunlight, strength, wonder, curiosity, mess, cook, mother, friend, teacher, adventure, optimism, smile, laughter, and so much more.  We stayed most days at home. We talked, cooked, taught lessons, chased kids and animals in the garden, bonded, felt connection grow with every passing second. 

Sumire drove me to the airport.  We embraced tightly and couldn’t let go.  She waited until I walked inside before leaving.  We will see each other again.  Soon.  
Hikaru & Colin

Kids hanging out in the garden

Sumire, Hikaru & Colin
Autumn in Fukuoka

Holiday Lights in the city

I left Japan on November 30th.  3 months flew by faster than I could have imagined.  But I have a very comforting thought.  I will be back soon. 
The plan is: hibernate in Taiwan in December (my sister is teaching English in Taichung city) then go to Thailand in January (meeting my two girlfriends from New York there).  And finally in February I will return to Japan.  I still haven’t seen Okinawa, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Tokyo and so many more  cities and places.  I will be patient.

May be some of you might wonder why my blogs are usually filled with so much enthusiasm and positivity.  Is it possible for a person continuously experience so much luck and wonderment?  But in reality what I encounter are regular places and normal people.  It just I am able to see magic in the most ordinary things and people.  I live every day in wonder.  I appreciate every nod and smile from a stranger, every field and mountain of the nature, every custom and quirk of the culture.  Some might look at a rice field and see grass sticking out of the ground and never give it a second look but I look at it and see stocks swollen with nourishing rice grains swaying gently in the wind and bathing in sunlight glow.  And tomorrow they will feed a young child who has an unsurpassable curiosity for the world.   
Some might look at this child and shudder at her blunt stare towards this person's direction and feel uncomfortable and annoyed.  But I look back and smile, study her just as carefully as she’s studying me and wonder what kind of person she’ll grow up, how much love she receives at home and whether her parents hug her every day and tell her how much they love her and how important she is to them.  Some might see a stranger hiding his curious look and following at distance pace and think he is a stocker with bad intentions.  I will come up to the stranger, start a conversation and find out that fate has brought us together through the most remarkable circumstances to spend an incredible day together and teach each other lessons we needed to learn at that specific point of our lives.   

Never underestimate each day given to you.  Today is the day you will be greeted by your wife with the most loving smile you’ve seen in years because you believed it would happen.  Today is the day you’ll walk outside and the sun will shine so brightly on you, you will close your eyes, turn your face towards this incredible source of warmth, energy and light and think how incredible our universe is and how lucky you are to be alive and feel the sunshine on your face and it will lift you from your deepest sorrows and you will feel the wings growing and remember the dream you had years ago and will become determined to fulfill this dream no matter what.  Because no one else has the power to change your world except you.  “Happiness, health and extravagant abundance are all inside jobs!”

I am living my dream because I always knew I would.  I knew I can from the moment the thought came into my head so many years ago.  It was the most difficult decision I had to make in my life.  Leave a steady job during economic downturn, leave my mother who just saw her two younger children leave for other countries and relied so much on my physical, financial and emotional support.  Leave a steady life of abundant opportunities of warm vacations, good restaurants, great nightlife.  Leave the man who has finally made a journey across the ocean to be with me.  Leave my older brother in his toughest moment of his life: lost business, broken heart and very low spirits and belief in tomorrow.  Leave my Godson who brings me so much joy and leave his mother, my best friend, who has been by my side for 13 years. 

But I made the right decision.  I know, with my heart, my soul, my whole being that this trip was meant to be.  There are a lot more discoveries to come but for now I want to thank every single person who has crossed my path on this journey.  There are hundreds!  Hosts, strangers on the street, drivers who picked me up on the side of a road.  And some shine brightly in my mind.  Yacchi of Sapporo, Toby, Stephanie & John of Higashikawa, Yufuko of Abashiri, Adam of Kushiro, Yukiko of Sapporo, Charlotte of Kazuno, Scott & Masako of Kamo Aosa, Adrian of Sakata, Kevin & Yamato of Fukushima, Ryota of Matsuyama, Bahti of Beppu, Alexa and Sandra of Saiki, Victoria and her children of Takachiho, Prerna of Miyazaki, Keyu of Beijing, Asuka of Nagasaki and Sumire of Fukuoka.  

Thank you for coming into my life.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Since meeting Keyu in Miyazaki, I have traveled through 3 more prefectures.  I visited beautiful Sakurajima, an island with an active volcano in Kagoshima prefecture where I met a mysterious Japanese man who accompanied me around the island without saying a word.  I saw Aso-san, an active volcano with the largest caldera in the world in Kumamoto prefecture where I met an Indonesian young man and a Chinese girl from APU (an International University in Beppu) and with whom I spend a great day at the mountain.  I spend two rainy days in Saga prefecture watching movies on my laptop at my host’s place during the day and eating delicious Indian food at night. 
Me with smoking Sakurajima  

Mt. Aso'  caldera

Finally I arrived to Nagasaki.  I was staying with a young Japanese girl.  She was adorably messy and super beautiful.  She had two obsessions: dinosaurs and Middle-East.  Her room was adorned with dinosaur posters and toys, her bed was decorated with long lianas hanging from the ceiling, her DVD collection contained every dinosaur movie and cartoon ever made.  She has traveled to Pakistan, India, Turkey, Bangladesh and Iran to fulfill her middle-east crave.  We had many stories to share over karaoke and late night dinners.  Unfortunately, Asuka was busy during the days and so I set off to explore the city on my own.
Karaoke with my host Asuka and her friends

My first stop was a park near Asuka’s house.  What I didn’t know at the time I visited that it was the epicenter of the atomic bomb explosion on August 9th, 1945.  The park was simple.  On one side a beautiful statue of a mother with a child and on the other, a strange structure which, from far away, looked like a bunch of bricks. 

I stood in front of the “Mother with a child” statue for a long time.  Getting on my knees, I prayed.  I prayed for peace, I prayed for love, I prayed for victims, I prayed for their families, I prayed for those who inflict pain onto others.  I got up emotionally drained but optimistically happy, wanting to change the world, one person at a time.  I vowed to spread as much love and light as I possibly can.  It is us who make the world the way it is.  And if we can make a choice every single day: to be good, to smile at strangers, to spread the light - the world will reciprocate.

Then slowly I walked over to the brick structure.

Within 5 feet an awful smell hit my nostrils and then a huge wave of a powerful negative energy hit me.  I couldn’t move.  My limbs went completely numb.  I felt death with every fiber of my being.  I do not remember feeling this much horror even at the Holocaust Museum in Israel.  Without realizing what I was doing I turned around and ran.  I ran and ran and ran.  Thoughts scattered, I couldn’t breathe. 

The further I got away, the less I felt the grip of death.  Finally, I couldn’t feel it anymore and slowed down.  I had to recuperate fast.  I didn’t want the negative energy to linger in me.  Turning on the best uplifting song I could find in the iPod, I tried to clear my head.  Remembering the faces, conversations and places I’ve encountered while traveling in Japan, I soon felt better. 

The mood lifted exponentially within the next hour.  Walking by Nagasaki Station, I caught an amazing performance of Okinawan Dance Eisa by a high school group of students.  The beat of taikos (Japanese drums) transported me into the land of rhythm, chanting and freedom.  I no longer remembered the park.  

A few minutes later, a Japanese man in his early 40s approached me and offered to be a guide around the city and in turn he wanted to practice his English.  I spent the whole day with Taizo-san.  He showed me the beautiful hills of Nagasaki which reminded me of Hakodate and San Francisco.  We ate a local specialty, chanpon, while teaching each other our languages.  We discussed history and politics standing on top of a mountain, looking down at the whole city, marveling at how powerful the force of survival is.

Spectacles Bridge

Nagasaki during day

Nagasaki at night