It’s been almost a week since I’ve been back in the United States, and while I’ve been nothing short of busy from moving to a new apartment, looking for a new job, and getting ready to go back to school, I find that the time I’ve had to reflect on my experience in Japan and my readjust to life in Miami is quite plenty.
When I came back from my first year abroad in Thailand I remember feeling like people were so standoff-ish in America. Now coming back from Japan I feel quite the opposite. It’s kind of strange to have people being so open with each other compared to the quiet and reserved nature of Japanese people. While there are many things that I’m having to get used to again, there are also some things that seemed to come back naturally to me. Like hanging out with family and old friends, which has grounded me in a way that makes transitioning back to American culture much easier. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve been able to eat all the foods I’ve been missing while meeting up with these people. But already I find some aspects of life in Japan that I miss.
From my last trip within Japan to Nasu.
Funny enough, I’m already missing the transportation system that Tokyo offers. I miss the freedom that it gives, especially considering I don’t have a car here. I miss the feeling of calm that Japan has. Stemming from the fact that Japanese culture is so centralized around not being an inconvenience to anyone, traveling around the city and just going out in general has a much more calm atmosphere than what I’ve been experiencing so far while back and it’s been admittedly kind of hard to get used to. I also miss the dynamic that I had with my friend group in Japan, specifically knowing that the likelihood that we’ll all be able to hang out the same way that we used to is impossible, at least for a very long time from now.
Another photo from Nasu.
My overall takeaway from coming back has been one of general acceptance. While life in Japan and Miami is so completely different, I’m glad to be able to say that living in Japan and learning about the people and culture and language has made me grow and given me a better perspective of the world. I’m feeling positive about the reintegration process so far, and am glad to have such supportive friends and family to help me through it.
This photo is from my hotel room in Narita.
Traveling for long periods of time is, I know, intimidating. But when it comes down to it the personal rewards and experiences that you gain from studying abroad are so much more beautiful and amazing than any of the difficulties or challenges it brings. Which is exactly why I know that traveling and studying abroad will never not be an important thing to me, and that it will continue helping me to grow and change for the better.
And this is a photo from my balcony at my new apartment in Miami.
Prior to studying abroad, I considered myself extremely open minded and understanding. I contribute these characteristics to my creative nature and unique background and interactions with various kinds of individuals from loving, kind and intelligent souls to racist, ignorant, and arrogant ones. However, what I am learning about myself in my time in Hong Kong is that I am not as understanding as I have perceived myself to be. Understanding Hong Kong culture, especially its work culture, has been a ball of confusion, sometimes met with frustration. I cannot understand the idea of dedicating so much of yourself and your time to an occupation, especially if the occupation is not a fulfilling one. I do not understand how when rules are set here, there seems to be no wiggle room whatsoever. Laws and rules are followed as they should be, but when these rules prevent productivity and lack compassion, it seems that logic and rationality become useless within the machine of society.
I understand that I must learn to live by the rules because at the end of the day, I am still a guest in this country and have no right to try changing ideas that have been cemented into their society ages ago. Becoming aware of my lack of understanding is just another example of how I am growing so much here, in the beautiful, yet sometimes confusing place that is Hong Kong.
This is my amazing boss Rainbow Chow, who is one of the people who has challenged my understanding and helped me grow. She is a true inspiration and has taught me so much. Never have I been inspired by an individual so much.
I remember boarding the plane to China, being really excited for the next twelve hours and feeling overwhelmingly nervous the final hour before landing. I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried about not speaking the language and not knowing anyone in my study abroad cohort of students. The first week was hard because I was missing home, friends, and most importantly my family.
The following week was a lot easier, I got to know my roommate, Juan, who hails from Argentina. We discovered that we have similar viewpoints, took turns cooking, and when we had overlapping free time, we would explore Shanghai together. Then Juan relocated and once again I was alone. When one door closes another door opens and sure enough that’s when I met Manav who has been my closest friend throughout this experience. I can honestly say my time abroad would not have been as eventful as it has been had we not become friends. Manav introduced me to Jagger who introduced me to his roommate Alec, and later we welcomed a new addition to the group, Luke.
The five of us have shared some great times together and I’m thankful for each one of these guys. During the week after we get off work, we all meet at my apartment and share a meal. Manav is Indian and the rest of the guys are American. I also have a lot of Chinese friends from my university back in the United States, but they are all scattered across China, which is a little bit smaller than the U.S. but with triple the population. My friend Peter drove three hours to come visit me and brought a lot of house warming gifts which meant a lot.
A trip to the market.
Our ingredients from the market for our home-cooked meal.
Dinner with friends.
Last week my Chinese best friend Terry introduced me to his high school friends who took me out last weekend and showed me a great time. Frank came to my apartment then we met up with his friends; Ken and Gimy at a restaurant. We went to a very nice hot pot and they showed me their favorite hot spots. I am very grateful for Frank and his friends because they showed me that friendship transcends culture and language barriers (although they spoke very good English).
Hot pot with Peter.
Shopping for jerseys.
My friend Terry will visit again at the end of July, and then we will go to Chongqing which is very close to Sichuan and is famous for its spicy cuisine. I am very excited to see my friend as well as reunite with Frank, Ken, and Gimy. Afterwards, my Russian friend Val will visit China and we will meet in Beijing where my sister Manal is currently residing. After Beijing, we will visit Shanghai and explore the city with my new host country crew. Although I have a month left in China, I know I will miss this experience and the people I have met dearly. Everything from my job, my coworkers, my boss, and my new friends have exceeded my expectations. I am very thankful for this opportunity and the chance to document my experience through the Gilman Scholarship.
Let me start by sharing these two facts about me: I’m a huge foodie and Chinese food is an irresistible family favorite. I love everything about food whether it’s home cooking, gourmet dining, or searching for the most delicious palate. When I eat with my Chinese friends in the States, they always ask for the “real” menu. The notion of a secret menu that caters to a Chinese palate and another that offers Western-friendly options was very peculiar to me. Naturally, I was ecstatic to try authentic Chinese cuisine.
A home-cooked Chinese meal.
Chinese people are some of the most hospitable folk I’ve met in my life. When I arrived in Shanghai, my friend Alvin invited me to join him and a Canadian expat for an authentic Sichuan hotpot called Là Fû. Alvin ordered many dishes such as frog, rabbit head, cow intestine, brain, ox tail, and tongue. Initially, I was nervous about trying some of these but they were surprisingly delicious. It was there that I received my first lesson in the cultural differences between China, America, and Egypt.
Enjoying Là Fû.
First, the Chinese version of spicy is something you should probably avoid unless you’re a fire-breather or a dragon. Another part of Chinese etiquette is making sure that your guest has enough to eat. If your host sees that you have finished your plate that is his cue to order more. By the time I realized this, I felt like a turkey on Thanksgiving Day—stuffed. Alvin was very adamant about paying which brings me to my third lesson: The person who extends the invitation is usually the one who will foot the bill.
Last weekend, my roommate and I journeyed from our apartment to The Bund in search of Din Tai Fung. In 1993, this restaurant was rated top ten in the world and featured Shanghai’s most famous dumplings. We finally found it after an hour of walking and although the portions were small, it exceeded every expectation. This week my friend Nick came to visit and took me to a Korean barbecue called “B.C. 2333” where I was treated to the best Korean food I’ve had thus far. Afterwards, they took me on a native tour of Shanghai and I felt as if I was seeing the city for the first time.
Din Tai Fung restaurant.
At BC 2333.
There are many differences between the Chinese and Western style of dining. In both cultures, eating out is a way of socializing, but in China there is a greater emphasis on sharing and being a good host. Something I really admire about this culture is the round table style of dining. It is very personable and I like being able to share dishes with my friends. Finally, I would recommend bringing a Chinese friend with you because it is extremely difficult to order authentic food without speaking Mandarin. Unless you’re eating pizza with Italians, nobody knows pizza better than Italians.
As I sit crammed on Hong Kong’s famous subway system, the MTR, I am surrounded by tired souls. Gaunt figures that fade in and out of consciousness, as their limp heads sway with the train, returning home from their workplace.
Crowded MTR as the working class flock to their destinations.
Hong Kong’s work culture is like nothing I have ever experienced. It is a culture where unpaid overtime hours are expected almost daily and are the norm, where off days feel like a holy grail, where people are unable to de-stress by going to the beach, bars, or just sleeping all day. My local friend’s commentary on their work life is practically identical: It is a beast that consumes and spits you out with scars in the form of sunken eyes, irritable moods, stress, and fatigue. Perhaps this is why the people of Hong Kong are so strong willed and resilient. The work culture strengthens them, something that I’ve noticed is happening to me too. One of my reasons for studying abroad here was to develop myself as a professional, and Hong Kong’s work ethic is forcing this development in ways I did not imagine. This one of the many reasons why I love Hong Kong.