Top 4 Japan Moments

by Jackie D on May 10, 2017

Jackie Travels JapanHere’s everything I miss about Japan so far: the food (the FOOD), the temples, the fashion, the pork buns from 7/11, the obsession with cats that seems to permeate the whole country, the fancy toilets (never have my girl parts been so pampered by anyone or anything, ever), the friendliness, the cleanliness, the unspoken rules that everyone follows, the subways, the high-speed train (one of the few Japanese words I know: shinkansen), the trees, the views from our hotels, the smog (reminds me of LA), the cab drivers, the vintage shops, the food.

I don’t remember when I first became obsessed with Tokyo, but I do remember the day that two guidebooks I ordered online arrived at my office in New York. I was so excited that I couldn’t even wait until I got home that night — I took my lunch break right then and flipped through as much of the books as I could, and then I almost missed my subway stop on the way home that night as I continued to devour them on my commute.

I have so much to say about the trip and I think I’m still mentally processing it (and my stomach is still recovering), but for starters, these were my four favorite parts.

Crazy Tokyo Streets

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Tokyo streets are as crazy as you’d hope. People going in all directions, neon lights stuck to every surface of every building, people dressed in costumes, girls with owls on their arms trying to lure you into the myriad cat/owl cafes, vending machines selling all sorts of weird drinks (I accidentally got hot tea out of a vending machine. You’d assume that any drink that comes in an aluminum can would be cold? Related fact: hot aluminum cans really hurt your hands).

But weirdly, there is a structure and almost an order to the chaos. People actually wait at crosswalks if the light says “Don’t Walk.” Somehow, despite the crowds, people avoid shoving past you. If someone does accidentally bump into you, there is always an apology. In the subway stations, there are arrows painted on the ground showing you where to line up as you wait for the next train to arrive, and PEOPLE ACTUALLY OBEY THESE ARROWS. If New York City painted arrows on the ground in the subway stations, people would pee on them.

The Shrines and Temples (in particular, the CAT TEMPLE)

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It shocked me how much I loved the shrines and temples. I’ve seen enough western churches to last me several lifetimes — not only am I not interested them, I actively avoid them if possible. But I knew I had to at least try to appreciate the temples, which are such a massive part of the history of Japan.

There are several things I like about Shinto. One: they don’t try to convert you. Either you practice it, or you don’t. Two: Humans are considered to be fundamentally good rather than fundamentally evil — evil deeds are thought to be caused by spirits. (I prefer this to Catholicism’s take that women are generally the cause of most evil) Three: there is a huge focus on how amazing nature is all the time.

Also, there was a temple that was entirely dedicated to worshiping cats. Obviously, more on this later.

Japanese Obsession with Cats

Jackie Travels Japan

I would just like to state for the record that getting to feed a group of cats in the Cat Cafe in Shinjuku was without a doubt the happiest moment of my entire life up to this point and nothing will ever live up to it. Basically, you pay by the half-hour to spend time in this hip cafe area with a bunch of cats (one drink included in the entry price), and that’s it. Unless you pay 5 dollars extra for the privilege of offering the cats their afternoon treats, in which case:

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Once again: more on this later. Much more. Possibly the sole focus of this blog from now on.

“Just Eat”

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I ate so much amazing food on this trip, thanks largely to my cousin, who did extensive research before we left. I will try pretty much anything, and did: I ate a whole squid off a stick, lollipop style; I ate a cone of cotton candy larger than my head; I ate things without even knowing what they were, just because a chef was handing them to me and I knew that he knew what he was talking about.

My favorite part of the meals was that everything had a rule: eat this part first, then that part. When you’re eating this part, just this sauce but not that one; for the second bite, use the second sauce. Use this salt but only with this fish; and sometimes, when we were waiting for instructions, the chef would look at us and we’d raise our eyebrows expectantly and he’d wave a hand, urging us to hurry. “Just eat,” he’d say, without indicating any sauce or salt or number of bites.

And “just eat” we did. All the time. So much. And the amount of probiotics I’m taking to get my stomach back on track right now is 100% worth it.

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A Weekend in Amsterdam

by Jackie D on April 5, 2017

jackie desforges amsterdamI visited Amsterdam for the first time about 8 (!) years ago. It makes me feel crazy-old to say that. It was my first solo trip to Europe, and I was visiting Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Vienna. I chose these cities because I was just coming off a summer studying art history in the south of France, and I wanted to visit some of the art museums I’d pored over in all of my late night study sessions.

When I got to Amsterdam, I was tired. I hadn’t packed well — my suitcase was too big and heavy for me, and my feet were already covered in blisters. I was lost immediately. Just when I thought I might never find my hostel, I rounded a corner and made eye contact with a cute guy around my age.

He laughed and said, “You look really lost.” Grateful to hear a fellow American accent, I asked him if he’d seen the hostel, and he said he was staying at the same one, and he pointed me in the right direction.

jackie desforges amsterdamThe next morning at breakfast, I saw him again; later that night, when I returned to the hostel after a day spent wandering through the art museums, he was chatting with a few other travelers on the stairs in the courtyard. Later, he told me he’d been sitting there hoping I’d pass by.

We spent the evening traipsing through bar after bar, wandering the streets while I probably rambled on about art museums, eventually stopping in the park long after midnight to catch our breath and lay down and enjoy the beautiful summer weather.

He convinced me to stay in Amsterdam for one extra day. I changed my train ticket and we found a room on a houseboat on one of the canals. We toured the Heineken brewery and stumbled through more bars, and he tried to convince me to stay even longer, to cancel the Vienna portion of my trip and stay with him until it was time for me to head back to the US.

I refused. It was my first trip alone and I didn’t want to derail my first independent foray into the world just because I had met some guy — no matter how cute he was. For some reason, I was so terrified that I might never get to travel to Europe ever again, and so I didn’t want to ruin my only chance to see all of the cities and art I wanted so badly to see.

jackie desforges amsterdamSo I went on to Vienna, and I hated it. I was lonely and there was no one to talk to, and the streets were ugly and I was tired of art museums. I wished I had stayed in Amsterdam. Eight years later, I still wish I had stayed in Amsterdam.

I don’t think anything serious would have happened between us, but I don’t understand why I was so scared to change my plans, or why I was so stubborn about traveling alone. Why did I think that would be my only chance to do so?

Now, about a dozen visits to Europe later, I got to see Amsterdam for a second time. My suitcase and shoes were both more manageable, though I did still get lost on my way to the hotel. As I wandered through the streets — alone this time — I recognized a few of the places we’d wandered past together. The people were just as friendly as I remember, but the flower market had gotten more crowded and more touristy. There are still bikes surrounding you everywhere you go, and crossing the street without getting hit is almost an art form.

On this trip, instead of seeking out art museums, I wanted to be outside. I visited the famous Keukenhof Garden (only open for 6 weeks every year); I stopped by the sample sale of a local designer and got $300 boots for $50 (more non-blistering shoes!); I sought out a doughnut shop I’d seen on Pinterest; I passed by the Anne Frank museum (still too long of a line to get in); I popped into a few ceramics stores; I had a beer on a patio in the sunshine.

jackie desforges amsterdamThis past weekend’s trip was the one I had imagined when I was twenty — a relaxing, quiet, independent weekend in a beautiful European city, completely free of anyone telling me where to go or what to do — but I’m really glad it wasn’t the trip I got back then. That first weekend in Amsterdam is one of the best memories of my life, and I imagine it could have been even better if I’d been more willing to derail my plans for a few days.

The fact that no cute guy popped around the corner to help me out this time around reminded me how rare those encounters are, how it’s not actually normal to meet someone like that every time you venture out by yourself — and if you do, you should probably go with the flow.

I used to think that traveling by yourself meant that you have to be by yourself the entire time, and I was terrified that if I let someone else dictate even just some of my plans, it would somehow make me weaker or less independent.

jackie desforges amsterdamI actually saw Amsterdam Boy again about two years ago. Turns out we both ended up in Brooklyn, about a mile away from each other, and we came across each other via another chance encounter: this time, it was a dating app. We met up for a drink and marveled at how strange it was to run into each other by chance TWICE in a lifetime, on two different continents.

“It’s such a good story,” he told me, and I agreed, admitting that I’d often relayed it to groups of friends whenever the topic of epic travel stories came up. I’ve never written about it here — my most intense travel stories are the hardest for me to write about (read: the entirety of my Central America trip) — but revisiting Amsterdam this weekend made it impossible for me not to relive this one all over again.

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French Lessons: Talk Like a Computer

by Jackie D on March 31, 2017

We can’t figure out how to change the language of my work computer from French into English. We went into the control panel and updated the language settings there… but nothing happened. The computer decided to stay in French even though we’ve switched it to English.

Perhaps it’s my computer’s attitude that I need to change, rather than the language?

In any case, I think it’s actually a good thing. I’ve been learning important computer terms like copier (copy), coller (paste), supprimer (delete), brouillon (draft), rogner (crop), Powerpoint (Powerpoint with a French accent), raccourci (shortcut), and so on.

One week during my French lesson, I told my teacher that I was trying to take a raccourci on my way home the other day. She looked at me like, “You know the word for shortcut and yet you can’t tell someone that the year is currently 2017?” 

I’ve tried to use some of these other words in real life and have continued to receive some bewildering looks. I imagine that I must sound somewhat like a robot when I speak. I wonder if this is more or less offensive than sounding like an American?

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