Tag Archives: Asia

Going Places

This summer, I went to a handful of places: the town library, the town pool, the grocery store, the yoga studio, and the Adirondacks—always a late-summer favorite. While neighbors and friends went on vacations to cool places, I stayed home and tried to spend as little money as possible. I looked and behaved like a suburban hausfrau. The rest of the world was happening somewhere else, not in my ‘hood. When not grocery shopping or borrowing library books, I browsed Twitter for the latest Donald Trump bashing, worked on corporate writing assignments, or read some fabulous books including Paul Yoon’s “Snow Hunters,” Roxane Gay’s “Hunger,” Annie Gray’s “The Greedy Queen,” and Emily Ruskovich’s “Idaho.” See? Lots of trips to the town library.


I’ll need plenty of books for the fall season of globetrotting that’s kicking off on Monday. I’m in Italy for this amazing Hedgebrook conference, then I am squeeing over the fact that I will be going to Macau in October and Australia’s Northern Territories in November as guests of the local tourism boards. In fact, four days after I fly home from Macau, I turn around and fly to Australia. If you knew me, that last sentence would make you laugh your head off because you’d say, “Hey, you don’t like to fly.” True, being stuck on a plane isn’t my preferred state-of-being, but neither is getting my yearly mammogram, sitting in Lincoln Tunnel traffic, or waiting in line for interstate fast food I don’t even want to eat but I have to because I’m starving and there’s nothing else sold on the interstate and I’ve run out of snacks. I’ve decided I like travel more than I dislike flying, so airplanes it is. The klonopin and donut floatie are ready.

My last (and only) trip to Asia was a 13-hour flight to Tokyo in 2013, so I’m rusty with long hauls in the sky. Plus, I’m not a spring chicken and I do like my sleep; the idea of being 25 and “powering through” sounds ludicrous to me. I don’t want to “power through” anything. I want to savor all of it, not rush any of it, see as much as possible, and get enough rest so I can keep not rushing things. Twenty-five-year-olds do not think this way.

I have no idea what to expect when I go to Italy (well, okay, this is my third trip to Italy so I have some idea), Macau, or Australia, but you can follow my reactions, inner monologue and photos here. Also, all three of these trips are solo. My biggest accomplishment from them will not be a published clip but to instill a sense of empowerment in my 13-year-old daughter, to show her that the world is hers to explore, that it’s a world of yes, and if anyone tells her no, she keeps pushing forward, that despite society being rigged to benefit white guys, she can still succeed.

I feel very lucky to have the travel opportunities that I have. I know that people see the trips and assume it’s a glamorous life, but as any travel writer will tell you, it is anything but glamorous and few travel writers I know earn any real money writing about interesting destinations. Tumbleweed may blow through my wallet, but I have a long list of interesting experiences to share. Assuming I can afford to get into the party, I have enough cocktail party stories to keep the night lively. I usually don’t have a hard time at cocktail parties as long as someone else is paying for the drinks.

Stay tuned, and we’ll see what stories emerge. I can promise you that I will try to use the word “cerulean,” one of my favorite words ever anywhere, as often as possible. You’ll likely get sick of it, maybe even find it pretentious. I can’t help it, I love that word and that color. To date, “cerulean” has appeared in three of my travel articles, including my most recent piece which is in the October/November print edition of National Geographic Traveler where I talk about my obsession with hotel swimming pools (it is indeed a long-running thing). I have my second story coming out in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, where, sadly, the word “cerulean” didn’t apply, but there are several references to “green.” It’s a coming-of-age essay set in London coming out any day now.

So off we go! Join me on the journey. No sugar-coating, I swear.

Japan Part 1 – Urban Explorers’ Schlep and First Impressions

Who schlepps in Japan? No one except a trio of New Yorkers hauling luggage, cameras, books and kids toys around Tokyo and Kyoto. Yes, we went everywhere with a giant stuffed “Perry the Platypus.” Locals seemed amused. The Japanese don’t schlepp; they stroll…purposefully, quietly, and the ladies often wear high heels whether they are at a stinky fish market or a smoky cafe filled with hipsters and two curious goats (more on that later).



Japan was sensory overload, and I’m still processing everything I saw, smelled, heard, touched and tasted. I have only been back in the United States for less than 48 hours and already I miss Japanese hospitality, its toilet technology, chu toro bowls, and the obsessive cleanliness that dovetails with the country’s endearing relationship with water (not surprising for a nation of islands). Tokyo felt like a Western city with Eastern touches whereas Kyoto felt like an Eastern city with Western touches. Tokyo’s cherry blossoms were just starting to fall while we were there, whereas Ma Nature flipped the “on” switch during our time in Kyoto, and the city was glorified in bouncy pink spring beauty. Kyoto’s undulating blue mountains, pink petals, stoic temples, and geishas and monks crisscrossing uneven, ancient streets, made it impossible to take a bad picture. Kyoto was the purpose of our trip and did not disappoint. Kyoto and Tokyo offered plenty for the senses, but this quick list doesn’t do it justice.


Mike is right; Japan sounds like a 1980s video game. Auditory cues for train stations, public service announcements, commercials, everything except what the Buddha is up to, cut through the air constantly. To my foreign ears, everything, even useful information coming through a loudspeaker over the train platforms, sounded like a pachinko parlor. Not understanding the language took a backseat to the constant cutesy sounds that I never heard in other major world cities.

Where to begin? If you’ve seen Sofia Coppola’s wonderful Lost in Translation, then you have a sense of Tokyo’s seductive neon glow. Tokyo IS the cleanest, safest city I have ever walked. I would let Anna eat off the sidewalks there before allowing her to pick up a dropped item on a New York City street. The dedication to cleanliness there is beyond exemplary. Where else can you walk around a city with a population exceeding 13 million and feel completely safe, free from panhandlers and from worries about stepping on someone else’s gum, spilled Starbucks green tea matcha latte or dog poop? Tokyo is a metropolis remarkably liberated from its inhabitants’ detritus. I could wax poetic about Tokyo Tower, the immaculate city parks, the Godzilla statue, puffy cherry blossom trees, and the Zen Buddhist temples (and I will), but the blinding cleanliness of such a busy place stands out. The other sight that stands out is Mount Fuji. I lived near Mount Rainier in Seattle and was always awestruck by it. Mount Fuji is more than 12,000 feet and coyly hid behind the clouds during our first two days in Tokyo. But when the skies cleared…wow.





Three simple words. Spring. Fish. Ginger. That’s what I smelled, and I loved it.


Azuki beans…can’t get enough of them and don’t understand why you can’t buy Azuki bean or red bean sweets here in the United States, unless you go to a Japanese specialty shop, which are few and far between. Americans don’t think of beans “that” way, though I think if you start them out by putting that delicious reddish-purple sweet Azuki bean paste in a Pop-Tart, the Azuki bean would have a fighting chance among Middle Americans. I will confess right now after a week of rice, fish, and pickled things that could sometimes not be identified, I craved cornflakes (Michael Pollan is right, there is way too much corn in the US diet!). I could drink green tea and eat seaweed salads every day, but then again, green has always been my favorite color.


Gelatinous, if I can to sum things up. Gelatinous green tea ice cream or cherry blossom-flavored ice cream balanced on a tiny cone. Or gelatinous fresh fish flesh, which gets sprayed on to you as you walk through Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market; gelatinous items in Bento boxes; gelatinous globs of sticky rice sticking to everything, including your kid’s hair; mushy mounds of smoked salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner; sushi that you squished between your chopsticks yet would bounce back and regain its shape when you accidentally dropped your sushi roll on to your plate, thankfully missing the dollop of wasabi.




My five senses are still digesting the experiences of the past nine days, but I did want to reflect on those first few impressions, which often color a trip. It’s those first few impressions that push us to get off the couch, spend money we probably shouldn’t spend and go somewhere that feels entirely strange and new. Daily routines dull our five senses; walking around New York City I can forget to see, smell, and listen to what’s going on around me because I am too focused on just getting there. Travel invites us to pause and look around, to absorb our surroundings the way children do, with trust and curiosity.