Wow. What a crazy awesome past 3 weeks. Last time I wrote we were just getting back to Taipei from Cambodia and preparing to head out the next day for Grand Rapids. Can’t believe how fast the time flew by as I sit on my couch in Taipei.
Grand Rapids. We missed you. When we signed up for teaching English in Taiwan we knew we we would be coming back to Michigan for a very special occasion. My best friend Jord was getting married to the girl of his dreams, Jodi….and I was one of the best men. Definitely couldn’t miss that! We celebrated the night away and couldn’t be more happy for them!
We were excited to go home. The day we left to go back to the USA was almost exactly the halfway point of our year abroad. We were super pumped to see our families and catch up with our friends. It was an incredibly busy 2 weeks. There was rarely a moment that wasn’t filled with meeting someone for a coffee or dinner, but it was rejuvenating. Ahhh….a home cooked meal, communicating in English, chips n’ cheese, Marshalls (Sarah), tap water, Meijer, and Marge’s donuts. What a great couple weeks spent seeing the people we’ve missed and eating the food we’ve craved!
I’ve been fascinated with Japan ever since I heard stories from my friend Marcus, wiki’d the crap out of every city in Japan, and “caught them all” in my all time favorite gameboy game, Pokemon. I had been dying to get to the epitome of this awesomeness. Tokyo. I had been calling Delta Airlines daily for 2 weeks trying to figure out how we could stop in Tokyo on the way back to Taipei without paying a fortune…it just wasn’t happening. I had tried and tried and there was nothing else I could have done at that point.
Then… we landed in Tokyo Narita International Airport for our 1 hour layover in Tokyo on our way back to Taipei.
“Let’s just see what they say, Sarah!!” I said to Sarah as we were hustling to our next gate. “You never know. Maybe they can just pull our bags and we can walk out the doors.”
So that’s exactly what we did. Delta pulled some strings, got our bags, and cancelled the last leg of our trip back….and it was 7pm….after a 14 hour flight….with absolutely no idea what to do or where to go. On top of that, we didn’t have the appropriate shoes or our camera along… got to love a last minute trip to Tokyo 🙂
We are constantly reminded that Asia is such a diverse continent and no two places are even remotely the same. I know all of you Asia N00bs think that China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan are all pretty much the same, am I right? Wrong! I thought the same thing…and going to Japan proved us wrong yet again. I had never experienced a city so magnificently huge and brilliantly neoned out as the hyper charged capital of Japan. From the window of the airplane, Tokyo looked like any other city, but once we delved further, we came to realize Tokyo was unique. Tokyo was ridiculous in every way possible. We freaking loved it.
The moment we arrived in Ikebukuro, Tokyo via the sleek N’EX express train, we knew it was going to be a memorable week. Tokyo felt different. We felt like ants in a concrete jungle that was actually eerily quiet for being the second largest city in the world. It took us a minute to figure out why it was so quiet….no scooters! We had been so accustomed to the perpetual buzz and roar of the countless scooters in Taipei. It was weird! We stayed one night in Ikebukuro only because we had no idea where to go. Turned out, Ikebukuro is the second busiest subway station in the world and houses many walking streets. We ditched out packs and immediately searched out a sushi joint. We ate sushi on a daily basis and it was absolutely deeeelicious.
We moved on from Ikebukuro to probably the most famous district in Tokyo, Shinjuku. We rented a tiny apartment 15 minutes walk from the center of Shinjuku as our headquarters. During the days we munched on Japanese crepes while strolling through Takeshita street in the Cosplay (costume play) haven of Harajuku, and admired ancient Japan at the Shinto Shrine of Meiji, Asakusa, and the Kan’ei-ji pagoda.
As you probably know by now, I LOVE the in-your-face, city lights of an Asian city. I thought we had it good living in Taipei as far as lights go, but Taipei has nothing on Shinjuku. It was visual overload. Massive buildings with scrolling LED screens, neon infused sings, and 5 stories high TV’s littered every single building. Every corner there were psychedelic signs displaying advertisements for the tastiest ramen or billboards urging you to try snagging an anime stuffed character at the arcade. I can’t describe it. You truly need to see it to believe it!
A trip to Tokyo is not complete without a trip to the anime/manga crazed district of Akihabara. Neither of us are into reading anime or collect action figures displaying strange and sometimes inappropriate gestures, but we are interested in feeling out of place and experiencing new things. Akihabara just bleeds SEGA, Sailormoon, Dragonball Z, and every other anime material that my very, very inexperienced anime cultured-self could tell you. It was bizarre, but in a new experience kind of way. We thoroughly enjoyed soaking up this element of the Japanese culture.
If you haven’t already booked your flight to Tokyo to see the city lights, here are our last pictures of the sensational lights at Shibuya and it’s famous crosswalk.
We are now back in Taipei anticipating the start of our second semester. We were concerned that going back home to the USA would bring back feelings of comfort and make it hard to leave, but we have grown to love Taiwan. Don’t worry Moms, we definitely love being home but we are excited to finish out the year strong. Being home was the refreshment we needed to come back to Taipei and accomplish our goals. With all that being said, Happy Chinese New Year! Let the year of the Ram begin!
Kyle and Sarah