Reflection

Hope everyone had a very merry Christmas.  I had a wonderful time with my family, but am currently suffering a case of the Christmas Blues.  This is a yearly occurrence with me, caused when I have to leave my family and go back to my lonely apartment.  While I love Albert, it’s just not the same.  Oh well, I’ll get over it soon enough.

 

I know I’m a few days early for year end reflections, but I doubt much is going to happen in the next 6 days.  So, without further ado, 2012 in review:

Job: I worked at AAA all 12 months – 9 months in the weekend unit, and 3 months in a regular unit.  Luckily, I didn’t have to work weekends regularly after February.  Unluckily, I had to work a hellish catastrophe. I still don’t like what I do, but at least now I like the majority of the people I do it with.  I’m actively looking for a new position, but I’m not as desperate as I would be if I were still working weekend claims.

Love life: There’s literally nothing to put here. I don’t think I went on a single date or had a single crush. The only thing that might fall into this category is Mark’s possible crush on me, but I think I snuffed that out fairly efficiently. 

Travel: Seattle and Vancouver at the end of June.  Glad I went, don’t need to go again.  Japan in November.  Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Family: We’re as close as ever.  I get to see them at least once a month, and usually more. This is an improvement over 2011, when I was working most weekends and would be lucky to see them on a bi-monthly basis.

Grad school: I applied to Chicago Booth’s part time mba program with a 2013 summer semester start, but after going through the interview process and having some one-on-one conversations with the admissions director, a mutual decision was reached that it would be better if I got a few more years of work experience and relocated to the Chicago area before applying again.  So, that’s the plan. My GMAT score doesn’t expire until October 2016, so I have some time.

Health/Fitness: I spent a night in March getting a blood transfusion in a hospital because of extremely low iron.  Several tests later, I still have no idea why it happened, but my iron has been normal ever since, so I’m not worried.  I worked out nearly every day, moving on to more challenging workouts as the year went on.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with my health.

 

Now, looking ahead to 2013:

Job: I want out of AAA asap. Ideally, I’d like to get out of insurance, but if I have to take a job adjusting claims at another company with an office near Chicago that I can transfer to, I’ll do that, since it’s much easier to find a job in a city if you already live nearby.

Love life: No plans. If it happens, it happens, but I’m not going to be looking for it, especially if I’m trying to relocate.  Now if I get to move to Chicago, things may change….

Travel: This one’s up in the air.  My initial plan was to go to London and Paris in September.  But I want to take my brother with me to Rome, Venice, Munich and Berlin in June 2014 (Italy’s for me, Germany’s for him), a trip which will cost me a substantial amount of money and time.  Depending on my next job’s salary and vacation policy, I may push London and Paris to 2015 and take smaller trips to NYC and LA in 2013.  Or maybe an Alaskan cruise with mom. It really all depends on that next job.

Family: I struck a good balance in 2012, my only goal for 2013 is to keep it going.  Even if I move to Chicago, I still want to see them at least once a month.  It’s not that far away.

Health/Fitness: Staying out of the hospital would be awesome.  Other than that, just keep chugging along doing what I’m doing. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Santa got me weighted kickboxing gloves 🙂

Where did the time go?

It seems like just yesterday I was lamenting how the Christmas season had started before Thanksgiving even began; now, suddenly, it’s t-minus 1 day until Christmas Eve! Where did all that time go? I’m not ready to let go of the holiday spirit just yet.  I spent the bulk of yesterday baking cookies with my family (meaning me, my mom, and Sydney, since dad and the brothers are way too cool to help out in the kitchen).  We usually only make sugar cookies, but this year mom decided to branch out.  There were sugar cookies, m&m tollhouse cookies, thumbprint cookies with strawberry and peach jelly, and chocolate fudge.  As the baker, I naturally had to try one of everything.  You know, to make sure it was up to par.  One word: deliciousness.

 

I turned down an offer to go out to dinner with my parents and older younger brother because I had plans to meet up with some friends…or so I thought. Brian (my coworker who got a new job and has been away at training for 2 months) was going to be back in town and wanted to do a happy hour with the “original gang,” aka the six of us who started at AAA at the same time. Somehow it fell to me to coordinate everything, even though I work in a completely separate building from the rest of them. Go figure.  We had a date, time, and place set: Dec 22, 7pm, Press Box in Chesterfield.  I arrived right at 7 more by accident than design.  I wasn’t surprised that no one else was there. The guys are rarely on time for anything.  20 minutes later Mark showed up.  No one else did. Considering that I was only out there because Brian had been super-excited to get together with everyone, I was a bit annoyed, especially since I had turned down free dinner and family time. I ended up going with Mark while he got a cheeseburger before heading home.  I would have preferred to go straight home, but he guilted me into accompanying him.  Not that I don’t like Mark, but he’s always giving vibes that he likes me likes me (despite the fact that he has a girlfriend), so I really try to keep the one-on-one time to a minimum. Brian has yet to answer the “you guys here yet?” text I sent him at 7pm.  Annoying. If he calls for a raincheck, I’ll tell them to plan it and text me once they’re already there.

 

Unfortunately I have to work until 12:30pm tomorrow (remind me again what the point of having an insurance company open on Christmas Eve is, since no one we work with is open?), but I suppose I should be grateful that it’s only a half day.  After work I’ll head home and help mom make pasta and salad for Christmas Eve dinner at grandma’s with dad’s side of the family. I’ll spend the night so we can do Christmas morning nice and early before heading over to my other grandma’s house for Christmas Day lunch with mom’s family.  Can’t wait! 🙂

In Memoriam

I’m not one for effusive shows of emotion, and the web already has thousands of pages of people releasing their grief and anger at the tragedy which happened in Newton, CT on Friday, 12/14, but it wouldn’t feel right to let it pass without comment.  Maybe it hit me harder than other shootings because my sister’s in first grade.  But then, maybe you don’t need a connection like that to feel completely gutted at the thought that a psychopath walked into an elementary school and killed 20 helpless children and 7 of their teachers. The details make me sick to my stomach. I can’t even begin to comprehend what the families are going through.  I wish I could do something, anything, to help, but what is there to do?  Nothing’s going to bring their babies back. Nothing’s going to make this better. The rest of us will be sad for a while, but we’ll inevitably move on and think of other things.  For those families in CT, this will never go away. I know it will take a long, long time, but I hope, eventually, they’re able to find some semblance of peace.

RIP

Charlotte Bacon, F, 02/22/06
Daniel Barden, M, 09/25/05
Rachel Davino, F, 07/17/83
Olivia Engel, F, 07/18/06
Josephine Gay, F, 12/11/05
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, F, 04/04/06
Dylan Hockley, M, 03/08/06
Dawn Hocksprung, F, 06/28/65
Madeleine F. Hsu, F, 07/10/06
Catherine V. Hubbard, F, 06/08/06
Chase Kowalski, M, 10/31/05
Jesse Lewis, M, 06/30/05
James Mattioli, M, 03/22/06
Grace McDonnell, F, 11/04/05
Anne Marie Murphy, F, 07/25/60
Emilie Parker, F, 05/12/06
Jack Pinto, M, 05/06/06
Noah Pozner, M, 11/20/06
Caroline Previdi, F, 09/07/06
Jessica Rekos, F, 05/10/06
Avielle Richman, F, 10/17/06
Lauren Russeau, F, 06/82
Mary Sherlach, F, 02/11/56
Victoria Soto, F, 11/04/85
Benjamin Wheeler, M, 09/12/06
Allison N. Wyatt, F, 07/03/06

Reflections on Japan

Finally, just over a month after I got back, I’m ready to write my last post on the trip.  I’d meant to do this last week, but after forcing myself to write the last four posts all in one sitting, I was all blogged out.

Contrary to my normal style, my Japan posts consisted of many more photos than words.  That wasn’t out of laziness or boredom, it was a reflection on the trip itself. This post will likely contain more English words than I spoke during my nearly 2 weeks there.  Aside from some storekeepers in touristy areas and some of the younger generation, the number of Japanese who spoke English was fairly small.  Add in the fact that I’m naturally reserved around strangers (and the Japanese are naturally reserved in general), and it’s no surprise that there wasn’t a lot of small talk going on.

But the lack of spoken words didn’t diminish my experiences and observations. Here are just a few of the things I want to be sure to remember when I’m elderly and senile and looking back on the good ol’ days:

1. Japan is CLEAN.  Amazingly clean.  I’m used to NYC – often dirty, even in the richest areas, and full of rude, ignorant people.  Tokyo is larger and more crowded, yet I never saw the slightest bit of trash on the ground, not even a cigarette butt, despite the fact that a great many people smoke.  Even the subway platforms were spotless.

2. The Japanese are also almost-flawlessly polite.  I never heard a raised voice the entire time I was there, no matter how crowded or miserable the surroundings were.

3. It’s weird to be the only white person.  I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of us, but I also thought there would be a sizable enough ex-pat population so I wouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb.  No such luck. I can’t tell you how many times I discreetly glanced around the subway car/city block/museum/store and confirmed that, yes, I was indeed the only non-Asian person in the visible area. I was stared at nearly everywhere I went, especially when I was purchasing food in the local convenience store.  But, true to the polite nature of the Japanese, they weren’t malicious stares, and no one ever said anything….that I could understand, anyway 😉 The only slightly unpleasant experience was when a group of seven-or-eight year old boys decided it would be a great idea to come over and swarm around me to satisfy their curiosity   But, having a ten year old brother myself, I know boys will be boys and there was no harm done.

4.  Traveling is about going outside of your comfort zone.  When I travel in the US, my meals usually consist of Subway and/or McDonalds, because they’re cheap and not extraordinarily unhealthy.  But in Japan I made a concerted effort to try new things….within reason, of course, because I’m allergic to seafood and didn’t want to spend my vacation miserably sick.  I think I did fairly well.

5.  History is beautiful. There’s just something about walking through a temple that was built 1000 years ago.  It’s especially striking when you can walk 1/2 a mile in any direction and be in the center of a bustling metropolis.

6.  Adjusting back to the US was almost as hard as adjusting to Japan.  I had a layover in LA on the way back.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to remind myself to walk on the right side of the hallway (not the left) and to say “excuse me” and bite back the “sumimasen” that automatically bubbled up if I bumped into someone. It was weird.

7. If I ever moved to Japan, I would become more fashionable by default. If you picked out ten random girls, one might be wearing jeans and one might be wearing flats.  And they wouldn’t be the same girl.  Next to all of these impeccably dressed ladies, I felt like a slob in my dark jeans and black sneakers.

8. It’s ALWAYS best to blend in as much as possible, but sometimes you have to bend the rules a little.  I’d been wondering whether to post this story or let it fade away in my memory, but just because I’m not proud of it doesn’t mean I should ignore it. You see, I bought a ticket from Tokyo to Narita airport for 1200 yen on the day of my departure.  I misunderstood the fare signs and thought I had purchased a ticket for the super-express train (since I had paid only 1000 yen to get from Narita to Tokyo on the 1st day, I assumed the extra 200 yen charge was for the 10 minute faster trip).  When the ticket collector came by, I learned that the ticket for the express train was really 2400 yen, and the 1200 yen ticket was just an increase in price for the same train I’d taken on the way there.  Here’s the problem- I didn’t have 1200 extra yen, I was down to my last 800. The conductor told me to talk to the people at the airport station to settle up.  I fully intended to get some yen out of an ATM and pay the difference (1200 yen is about $14), but when I got there, there were no ATMs or anything similar in sight.  And the gates to go through to the airport didn’t have any barriers.  So after about 10 minutes of deliberation, I just walked through.  My flight was going to leave in a couple of hours and I had no idea how long check-in and security would take.  Missing the flight was not an option.  So I skipped out on half the fare.  Am I proud of it? No way. I felt sick to my stomach.  But I did what I thought I had to do to get home and, in the grand scheme of things, it was an honest mistake and not such a heinous crime.  Next time I’ll triple check the fare charts to make sure I completely understand what I’m getting into. And keep more extra cash. Live and learn.

Day 12- Tokyo and Departure

My flight left at 3:55pm local time, so I had the morning to do some last minute exploring/souvenir shopping (you know, the obligatory souvenirs for my grandparents and friend’s mom which I really didn’t want to buy but didn’t have much of a choice since she always brings me stuff…).

 

The main stop of the day, planned since Day 1, was the Starbucks overlooking Shibuya crossing.  There’s just something about people watching from above that is sooo interesting. I followed this up with a quick walk around Shibuya and Yoyogi Park and a quick lunch at Meiji before picking my luggage up at the hostel and heading to the airport for the long, long journey home.

The sun made picture-taking difficult

The sun made picture-taking difficult

DSC03221 DSC03222 DSC03224 DSC03225

 

Food of the Day:

Matcha latte

Matcha latte

Deep fried tofu and soba. Doesn't get any better :)

Deep fried tofu and soba. Doesn’t get any better 🙂

Day 11- Tokyo

My last full day in Tokyo, and I made sure to make the most of it. In the morning I headed to the free observatory towers of the Metropolitan Government Buildings:

DSC03121 DSC03122 DSC03136 DSC03138

Then it was back to the artificial island/shopping oasis of Daiba:

DSC02408 DSC03147 DSC03167 DSC03170 DSC03178

 

Then over to the fashionable, up-and-coming district of Roppongi

DSC03187

This reminded me of Beauty and the Beast

This reminded me of Beauty and the Beast

DSC03190 DSC03191 DSC03192

DSC03193

Next was Ginza, which is the equivalent of 5th Avenue Shopping in NYC

DSC03197 DSC02425 DSC02428 DSC02430 DSC03196 DSC03199 DSC03203 DSC03204

DSC03207

Finally, it was back to Akihabara (aka Electric Town)

DSC02346 DSC02347

 

Food of the Day (another day of out of control snacking):

Matcha Latte

Matcha Latte

Very strong oolong tea

Very strong oolong tea

Oku-flavored yakisoba - fried noodles with 3 very over-easy eggs on top.  Yummy.

Oku-flavored yakisoba – fried noodles with 3 very over-easy eggs on top. Yummy.

Mini-Belgian waffle - these were also very popular

Mini-Belgian waffle – these were also very popular

Warubi Mochi and Green Tea ice cream... again :)

Warubi Mochi and Green Tea ice cream… again 🙂

Dango Tray

Dango Tray

Day 10- Tokyo

I have to apologize ahead of time for these last few posts.  I’d gone to most of where I wanted to go in Tokyo already, so I spent these days mainly going back to places I really liked.  Hence, fewer new things to post photos of.  Day 10 saw me back at Senso-ji Shrine:

DSC02257 DSC02259 DSC03049 DSC03048 DSC03053 DSC02254 DSC02263

 

Then Ueno

DSC02145 DSC02146 DSC02185 DSC02194 DSC02195 DSC02235

And finally, Ikebukuro

DSC02432 DSC03111 DSC03112 DSC03114 IMG_0895 IMG_0899 IMG_0901 IMG_0902 IMG_0904

 

Food of the Day (I’ll be the first to admit that the snacking got a little out of control…but it was all so delicious and fairly cheap :))

Amazake - sweet sake. It tasted just like it was supposed to - sweet, strong wine.  Not my thing

Amazake – sweet sake. It tasted just like it was supposed to – sweet, strong wine. Not my thing

Curry, soba, and rice.  Funny story, I was practicing eating the rice with chopsticks (and doing just fine), but the woman who ran the shop came over twice to mime using the spoon.  It's like, I know you're just trying to be helpful, and I know I'm a foreigner, but I don't need help to eat my food!

Curry, soba, and rice. Funny story: I was practicing eating the rice with chopsticks (and doing just fine), but the woman who ran the shop came over twice to mime using the spoon. It’s like, I know you’re just trying to be nice and helpful, and I know I’m a foreigner, but I don’t need help to eat my food! I got this 🙂

Bikkle.  Another yogurt based drink.  Another disappointment.

Bikkle. Another yogurt based drink. Another disappointment.

Dotour milk-tea.  The consolation prize for the Bikkle. Much better.

Dotour milk-tea. The consolation prize for the Bikkle. Much better.

Misc rice-based sweet.

Misc rice-based sweet.

I couldn't resist something called "The Pungency."  Especially when the ad campaign featured Cinderella.  It turned out to just be milk tea.

I couldn’t resist something called “The Pungency.” Especially when the ad campaign featured Cinderella. It turned out to just be milk tea.

Japanese Plum Monjya

Japanese Plum Monjya

Kibidango - yet another rice-based sweet

Kibidango – yet another rice-based sweet

Green tea monjya

Green tea monjya