As first semester came to a close, a new journey would begin for me. A mere days after the semester wrapped up, Jesse–my roommate from last year, a previous exchange student from The Netherlands to Linfield–came to Beijing. I couldn’t wait to begin our travels together! I took him everywhere I knew around the Capital, all the best spots–The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Great Wall, etc. Having some more local knowledge, I also brought him to more obscure places, hoping to give him a more authentic feel of Beijing. We didn’t come across any major issues until one night. In order to save some money, we decided to stay at a hostel. The hostel was fine, especially since we were out and about nearly all the day anyways. One night however, we had a bit of an experience. We had just laid down to go to sleep, it was probably about 11:30 pm or so, and it was just us two and one other patron. Minuets away from falling a sleep, a noisy, middle aged man barged into the room–and not only once. For whatever reason, he went in and out of the room for around a half an hour, terribly noisily. Finally, he laid down to go to sleep. Thank God we all must have thought as he finally drifted off. But just as we thought it was over, the nightmare began. Within 10 minuets of the man passing out, a snore began to emit from his mouth–a snore that only grew louder and louder. After about 30 minuets, the three of us just got out of bed. I spoke with our fellow patron and asked what we should do about it. We decided to talk with the desk lady–she merely told me to whack him and tell him to can it. I figured this wouldn’t do any good, because it would just continue when he went back to sleep. Therefore, we simply decided to go out in order to avoid the loud drawl. After hanging around a McDonalds (the only place open at the time) for what seemed like an eternity, we finally returned to the hostel in wee hours of the morning in the hopes that our newest roommate would already be gone. After a few seconds of silence, our hopes we dashed when it was broke by a loud snore. We groaned, went to bed, plugged our ears, and eventually fell asleep. The next day, I asked the lady behind the counter about it and she said, thankfully, he had left.
Other than that experience, things went well with Jesse in Beijing and Xi’an! I took him to all the places I know in the Capital, including many areas already featured on this blog. After 2 weeks of traveling China together, Jessie and I boarded the plane bound for Tokyo, Japan. Upon arriving, we immediately began hanging out with some of our closest friends we have been so lucky to meet, entirely thanks to Linfield. Our friend and fellow Linfield student Yuria Osawa picked us up at Haneda, and thank god she did; it’s unlikely either of us could have navigated the complex Tokyo train system without her to our hotel. The next day, Yuria took us to visit nearby Yokohama, where we saw the pier, the famous ferris wheel in Yokohama, the Yokohama Chinatown, and the Cup Noodle Museum. Chinatown, for obvious reasons, intrigued me a lot. What would a Chinatown in Japan be like? Why was there such a concentration of Chinese there? I had a lot of questions! It certainly didn’t disappoint me; I got to speak with some of the locals, who directed me to a Hunan restaurant where we got lunch and I got to talk with the waiters a bit. I learned that they mostly moved to Japan to earn some extra money, but just ended up staying after enjoying life there. The waiters I spoke with were from Fuzhou (福州), capital of the southern Fujian Province (福建省). They all also spoke excellent Japanese! We then met up with some of our other incredible friends (Asahi, Rei, Yuria, Edna) at Shibuya for some food later that night, reconnecting and catching up after half a year of being apart.
A day later we met up with our good friend Nono, who took us to see the Tokyo tower, which was incredible! I noticed the colour got more and more yellow and less and less red the closer you got to it for whatever reason. Regardless, the tower is truly and icon of Tokyo, and the view from up top is absolutely stunning. The three of us then met with Kiki and Zeno, two other previous Linfield study abroad students. We all got some dinner and caught up. A day later, me and Jesse planned to go to a Comicon in Tokyo and meet Yuria there, however we ran into some trouble on the way there; we got horribly lost on the Tokyo trains. See, in Beijing, the subway system is run by a single state-run company, keeping a single, integrated system extremely convenient and easy to understand where to go. The Tokyo system, while very fast, efficient, and clean, is instead ran by multiple competing companies such as Japan Rail and others. This means if you get a ticket to ride on one line, that ticket is only good for that company. Additionally, there are dozens of different maps, each only showcasing the lines ran by the company of that line. Thinking the Tokyo system was integrated like Beijing, you could imagine the confusion when I tried to navigate the two of us across Tokyo. Lines that appeared to be transfer stations on my phone weren’t
displayed on maps, our tickets could only be bought so far, etc. Long story short, we spent so long trying to get to the convention we unfortunately missed it, arriving as it closed. Despite this, we didn’t give up on the day. We decided to go to the Skytree and see what it had to offer. We took a cab and went into the line. An American lady working for the tourist group running the Skytree tourism approached us to sell us our tickets; I noticed on her name tag she could speak Chinese! I spoke with her using Chinese, and interaction that granted many stares from onlookers. We discussed Japan and China’s differences, and then talked price. After learning going up the Skytree was nearly $40, me and Jesse decided to look at the aquarium instead. While our first two attempts to do anything had failed, the aquarium was well worth it. The main tank showcased a large shark, three massive rays, and a smattering of other sea creatures. The penguin enclosure was awfully cute!
Pretty soon, the New Years holiday was upon us. As planned, we went and stayed with our amazing friend Emi and her incredibly kind and welcoming family. The moment we walked into that house, we could feel the love and kindness from her siblings and parents, who were excited to return the favor many American families had given Emi while she was at Linfield by hosting us for a few days during the New Year. After meeting with her family, settling into our rooms, etc, we had some incredible home-cooked Japanese curry, which was to die for. Emi’s mother really knows how to cook! On New Years Eve, we all ate traditional Japanese New Years Eve food, watched the New Years program, and Emi’s family was even gracious enough to include me and Jesse in the tradition of the parents and elders giving their kids packages with money inside, a tradition carried out in many East Asian cultures and known as Hongbao (紅包) or red packet in Chinese. After the clock struck midnight, Emi took us with a few of her friends and her friend to a nearby shire where we participated in Japanese New Years activities, such as paying a small penance then praying, ringing a large bell, and others. After New Years, Jesse and I went to some other nearby shrines and interesting places where we got some food and just did other touristy things. A day or so later, Emi took us, Zeno and her sister to Mt Fuji and its surrounding areas! We visited the infamous suicide forest, which was far less creepy than the movies make it out to be, a nearby village with a gorgeous view, and of course the famous hot springs later that night. That day was one of the best we had during our time, and I can’t thank Emi enough for giving us the opportunity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay at Emi’s house forever, despite not wanting to leave the kindness of her and her family. We went back into Tokyo to the hotel a few days later for the later half of the trip.
We then met up with a few other of our friends in Japan, including Hitomi, Marina, and others we had seen previously. Marina took us to the Tokyo zoo one day, which was really fun. We got to see a lot of really gorgeous and fierce animals, and we tried Takoyaki–a snack involving fried octopus–for the first time! On the last few days, Jesse and I made it a point to hangout with all of our friends and say goodbye. I bid farewell to Jesse after a month of travelling together as he took off to catch an earlier flight–a flight he ended up missing due to confusion on the trains, although he later got a different one. I met up with my friends that morning before I left for Narita, and was soon welcomed back to Beijing with it’s bitter wind. I was glad to be back home, so to speak, although I missed Japan. I was, however, extremely grateful for the amazing experience I was given by going there. I’m so thankful of my friends there and to Linfield for bringing us all together in the first place.