Then and now: Things I’ve learned in moving to another country

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It’s May. Damn.

It’s actually the end of May and I’m realizing that I haven’t posted on here in some time.

The last time you heard from me, I was talking something bout buying gifts for your travel-minded family member or distant friend. Wowzers!

Anyway…In case you’ve been wondering, I’ve been busy getting my life together and preparing to move to another country. Yes, you read right! We’re moving away from Japan to Ethiopia! (No worries, I’ll probably back date a post or two about that dark and desolate time in my life later on)

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There is pee in my boot.

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This past week, I went on a field trip with the grade 11 students from my school. We went to Gunma Prefecture to do some outdoorsy stuff and be at one with nature. Now, I am not the most outdoorsy type of person so I had my reservations initially, but it ended up being really awesome.

The camp is about 3 hours outside of Tokyo, so I put on my headphones and got some work done on the ride with about 35 talkative girls. No biggie. The scenery was amazing on the way up and you could just smell that mountain air once we arrived. We dropped our bags and put on our swim suits to get ready to go rafting not moments after we stepped off the bus. I had been rafting before, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

They suit us up in uncomfortable wet suits, life vests, and helmets and we head off to the river. They put all the teachers in the “cool raft” and we are given brief instructions on how not to die while in the raft. It was comforting. We set off and did pretty well. The scenery was amazing and I often found myself looking around, rather than looking at what was ahead of me. The river was at a 1 or 2 grade, so it wasn’t that bad and often we could get out to swim in the water. At one point, we all docked and jumped off a big rock. It was really incredible out there.

So, fast forward to day 2 where we were to go canyoning. For anyone who doesn’t know what canyoning is, it’s basically you are wading through a rocky river and sliding down waterfalls. Not sure why it’s called canyoning rather than waterfalling, but whatevs. We did that. I even did the ones where I was upside down getting tossed over (I have this thing about doing anything that requires me to go head first). I was proud of myself.

On this day, we had to wear more gear than we did the first day because we would be in the water most of the time and the water is colder up in the mountains. We were given socks, and extra jacket, and gloves to wear. And the water was COLD! We were also told to go pee before we put on our wetsuits because “the wetsuits are not toilets”. So I did and instructed the girls to go as well. All was well until about halfway through the course.

I’m sitting there waiting my turn and after one of the jumps or whatever, my body is like “Um…we gotta pee! All this cold water isn’t working well with out ability to hold our bladder.”

And I’m like “Um…ya’ll gonna need to hold it because I can’t go pee in this thing.”

And they were all “Right.”

So about halfway during the course I did one of the slides or jumps and my body said “fuck that” and just started to pee. I was trying to remain calm as the stream just continued to fill up my suit, but my face was like “ohshitohshitohshit” and I just had to go with it because it was a little too late at this point. I figure, it’s a wetsuit, maybe if I linger in the water a bit, it will flush all of it out some kinda way.


It’s a wetsuit, doing what wetsuits do. So my bodily fluids just hung around and I had to open up a leg so that it could move elsewhere. I figure I could get it out some kinda way and just keep jumping and eventually it all would flush out. “Ain’t no way I’m getting back on that bus smelling like pee”, I kept repeating to myself in a panic.

So we’re moving along and I’m trying to stay in the pools of water as long as possible to get some of the pee out and all of a sudden, I feel this flush of warm liquid around my left foot as we’re walking.

Yep. There’s pee in my boot.

Despite my best efforts, the pee did not filter out of the wet suit as I had hoped. But rather, found its way into my left boot and settled. It was funny, walking with one cold foot and one warm one, slushing my way up the creek. Conveniently putting my foot into puddles to try to dilute the solution before heading back up the hill to the bus. It was quite comical.

Thankful for the open windows on the bus, my anxiety decreased when I realized that I might not be sniffed out. After we got back to camp, I tucked into separate shower area from the girls to strip off my suit and quickly chucked it into the wash area to avoid anyone else smelling me out.

Funny enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve lost control of my bladder. I mean, my son was huge, weighing at almost 9 lbs, so they tell me this is expected, right? But this was the first time it’s happened in a massive amount and with a group of people for which I could be forever ridiculed. Teenagers are harsh, yo.

Pee incident aside, the trip was really fun. I was able to chaperone and participate without having to really do anything. I challenged myself in ways I never would have without the security and encouragement that the staff at Canyons gave. The guides were amazing and really took care of us. I definitely am going to try and get the boy back here and have some fun in nature.

If you’re ever in Japan and have some time on your hands, look them up. It’s really a great place to experience and the staff are super helpful and have the greatest sense of humor. I think had they known I wet myself, they would have found a way to make it funny and a little less embarrassing. Maybe.

But I couldn’t take that chance.

Just for kicks and giggles, here is a video montage of the canyoning 🙂

Have any of you had any embarrassing incidents like this? How did you recover or save yourself from complete humiliation? Let me know in the comments!

24 hours in Abu Dhabi: Pt 2

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Early this summer I caught an amazing flight deal from Tokyo to Milan for a little over $300. (WOWZERS!!) The only catch? It had a 24 hour layover in Abu Dhabi. You should know by now that I love taking advantage of a layover, so this was perfect!

Now, for some this would completely freak them out. What am I gonna do in Abu Dhabi? Is 24 hours enough to see anything? I don’t wanna be stuck somewhere for 24 hours, that’s too long (or short) of a layover! (wah, wah, wah)

But for us? We were excited to be able to freak two vacations in one. I had visited Dubai last year, but was excited to see what Abu Dhabi had going on. The boy was hype just to check off another country on the list. Win-win.

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5 things you need to know before traveling to Tokyo.

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I’ve been living in Tokyo for a year now and it’s a beautiful and exciting place to visit. I’m often asked a lot of questions from people interested in visiting and I thought I’d put together a few things that I think are important to know before coming to visit.

Here they are…

There are no public trash cans. Or very few, rather. There are bins that collect bottles and cans near vending machines and sometimes outside of conbinis (convenience stores). But don’t bank on these being everywhere. It’s not uncommon to have bags of trash in your book bag because there is nowhere to put it. Sometimes it’s left for days because I forget it’s in there.

Remember: Suica or Pasmo. Tokyo hosts one of the most efficient and reliable mass transit systems in the world. And with 13 million residents, traffic can be insane and frustrating. Therefore it’s best to buy a Suica or Pasmo when you get here. Not only can you use it on the 158 number of trains and regional lines and 41 bus routes, you can also use it at convenience stores to buy food and beer and at some vending machines. You can even use them when you miss the last train and have to take a taxi home. (But I wouldn’t recommend this) It’s a convenient way to reach all corners of the city and cuts down on the hassle of buying tickets and guessing the fare.

Also to note: The trains trains will be crowded. People will squeeze in as much as possible. No way around it during certain times of day. It’s all part of the experience.

Do not take a taxi if you can avoid it. Simply put: Taxis in Tokyo are expensive. The flag rate is 730 yen for the first two kilometers and rapidly increases from there. It’s also important to note that rates increase between 11pm and 5am. This is important to remember if you happen to miss the last train home.

Trains and busses usually stop from midnight to 5am, so if you end up at a random bar in Rippongi and your hotel is in Omotesando, you might end up paying close to 100 bucks to get back to your hotel. Just avoid it if you can. Pay attention to the last train information or plan to make it an all-nighter. It’s Tokyo, so it’s pretty easy to do if you’re a rockstar.

Never leave tips. I know in a lot of parts of the world, tips are considered customary. However here in Japan, they can be interpreted as an insult. Something about pride and whatnot. Just remember, most of the things you pay for not only include the service charge, but also the taxes. Expect to get your change back when paying at a bar or restaurant and remember to take it with you. You will get chased down and they will insist you take it back. And speaking of restaurants…

No, the service is not bad. With restaurants in Japan, you have to flag them down to order. Someone will seat you, bring you water, and even might ask for your drink order. But when it’s time to order, you will need to flag them down with a polite sumimasen and someone will rush over to take your order.

It’s also important to know that they may not come back to check on you unless your plate is empty. Unlike in the States, where they come back every 5-10 minutes to see if everything is okay. I think it might be that they just want you to enjoy your meal without constant pestering and they figure if you wanted them, you will let them know. It took some time for me to get used to this as well. No worries.

Best time to go. For the most part, you can visit Tokyo any time of the year. My recommendation is to come during Sakura season (mid-late March through early April). This is the best time to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom, participate in a hanami party, and eat all the wonderful food and drinks that are sakura themed and flavored. It’s my favorite time of year here and the weather is really amazing. The summers are horrid and humid and frankly, unbearable. The winters are mild, but makes for really bad sight-seeing if you’re looking for outdoor activities. I would absolutely avoid Tokyo during typhoon season, which is end of August until early October. If it gets really bad, everything closes to avoid damage and injury. Don’t let a typhoon, or even really bad humidity, ruin your vacation. Come during the spring or fall for the best weather.

Plan ahead and do you research. I would never suggest someone coming here and winging it. I can’t even really do weekend activities without some kind of plan. Between navigating the transportation to beating the crowds, you really need to know what you’re doing and where. And also search where things are. Tokyo has a lot of nooks and crannies to discover and although it’s fun getting lost in a new city, getting lost here is a whole nother beast. I would say, make room for impulsivity. You can definitely end up in a random bar in Shibuya and find yourself in a middle of a karaoke battle with locals or smack dab in the middle of a Brazilian festival in Asakusa. It happens. Embrace it, but do plan ahead just in case. You can lose a couple of days if you get lost in Shinjuku station. Seriously.

Tokyo is a vast land of tradition, fashion, food, and entertainment. You can find almost anything under the sun to do and experience while you are here, but it’s not one of those places you can just stumble through. Because of its deep roots in traditions, there are things you should know before coming, to avoid being a stereotypical gaijin or foreigner.

Respect the customs, enjoy the history, and interact with the people. Tokyo is an amazing place and I hope you enjoy your experience if you ever find yourself here.

(and yes, I know those were more than 5 things. I’m a rebel and I do what I want)


24 hours in Abu Dhabi: Pt. 1

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This is a rant. I’m just gonna put that out there first. The TripAdvisor review will come later. I’m hot and stinky and really really tired, so this is what you get right now.

We begin our journey landing in Abu Dhabi Airport at 2:30AM. We left Narita Airport at 9PM, so I really don’t know what time my body thought it was by the time we landed. I didn’t sleep well, but the boy remarked that he “slept like a baby”. So I was already irked.

We landed 2 hours ahead of schedule, therefore we had to wait for the Good Samaritan we solicited to wake up and come get us. No biggie. We just enjoyed the wonderful sights and smells of the airport arrivals area until our electronics died. 

Oh, the smells…they were a-plenty!

I have to also mention that we are in the UAE during Ramadan. For those of you who don’t know, Ramadan is the month in which Muslims around the world fast from dawn until sunset, which can be up to 15 hours. This observance is in accordance to the five pillars of Islam and it is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement, and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are required to refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids (including WATER), and having sexual relations.  Most begin fasting as soon as they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, without disabilities, and aren’t pregnant or in old age.

Breaking fast, which occurs around 7PM, is Iftar and all who care to can join in and break bread in a communal way that encourages connection and celebration. All over the city there were tents set up, providing a free meal for all those who wanted to take part. We were told that tens of thousands come to take part in Iftar in each of the many tents the government sets up.

For those of you who don’t know, we are not Muslim. But we are in a Muslim country that requires not only it’s citizens to observe Ramadan, but it is also law that any visiting non-muslim has to observe as well. This means, no eating, drinking, smoking, or whatever in public. Seriously, I saw someone get chased down for walking down the street with a bottle of water. They don’t play.

But I knew this ahead of time so to prepare I checked out websites and blogs that offered suggestions to get through the holy month as a tourist. You can eat at the airport, they said. Everything is okay as long as you don’t exit the building, they said. But they didn’t know that my flight would get in before anything really opened. Whatever. We waited.

We’re picked up and headed to a friend’s house. She was amazing and picked up some water and fruit to get us through the day. I ate that and the boy had waffles. This was around 6am. We relax in her house until it’s time for us to get dropped off for our first tour at 8:30. We have about an hour before we are picked up, so we check out the Starbucks she told us was open to serve us. At this point in the morning, the heat was already coming in at about 38 degrees (100.4 F) and we walked as fast as we could to get to the Starbucks.

We arrive and set to order our drinks and the boy’s donut. We’re all happy to be in the air conditioning and the guy making the drinks says something to me in Arabic. I look confused like “What did he just say?” The cashier goes “Oh, you can’t sit down”. 

Come again?

He goes on to explain that we can order, but we have to leave to eat it. So I ask, “How am I supposed to eat it outside of here without getting arrested?” He says “Oh.” Really. He just says “oh.” like he didn’t think about that part of the equation. He eventually says that we can hide in a corner of the place and eat and drink quickly so they don’t get in trouble. So I change my order to cold drinks for quicker consumption and we hide in our corner and scarf down everything. Even hide the evidence, making sure we aren’t still chewing when we leave.

Back to the heat.

We are picked up for our tour and see the amazing Grand Mosque and date market and heritage market where we saw how Emirates lived back in the day and all that. In the heat. At this point it was up to 45 (114 F). 114 fuckin degrees!!! 

For real. 

I’m not sure at what point things spontaneously combust, but I’m sure we almost got to that point. For the second half of the tour, the boy elected to stay in the van. He was like “I’m seriously over this shit”. He didn’t say shit, people. But his body language did. I was pissed because I brought an outfit to change into to be more modest and get into the Mosque, and was told that I was still showing too much clavicle and had to wear an abaya on top of the long dress and long sleeved shirt I was wearing. I was sweating in ways I could have never imagined.


Anyway, after all that we are dropped off at 2pm to find food. We were hot, sweaty and irritable at this point. Mind you, we hadn’t eaten ANYTHING since 6am. Both of us were so over this day and regretting any life decisions that had brought us to the UAE in the middle of all this heat and fasting.

Walking to find the mall (that we were told we could find lunch) the boy is complaining and I told him that we might need to get the Subway that someone told us was open. He breaks into a tantrum about how he doesn’t want Subway and that he wants pizza or something.

I honestly don’t really remember what he said because once the tantrum started and I heard “I don’t want…” I snapped. Like seriously was about to grip him up and all I remember was shouting “LISTEN! I had to sneak and drink water in a bathroom stall, you really think we have options on where to eat right now?!?”

No, seriously. I had to sneak and drink water in the bathroom stall. Not the open bathroom, but in the stall. Same place where I, and many other folk, pee and other things. Among bacteria and other thoughts I don’t even want to entertain. I was NOT about to woof down a chicken leg standing over a toilet. 

I’m not above doing a lot of things, but that was one of them.

That was one of many arguments we had that day. We generally have a good relationship, but heat that intense makes it hard for anyone to be a reasonable human being.

Needless to say, we were not able to get food at that mall. So we ended up meeting up with another helpful friend who lived in a more “western” part of town and he took us to a restaurant that allowed us to sit and eat like the civilized people we are. However, we had to be sneaky. This place was covered in drapes and dining areas were behind the partitions. This place looked like you needed to knock three times with a password like it was Hernando’s Hideaway.

But. That burger was everything. Literally gave us life and the boy and I emerged better people after that meal.

Beyond that, everything was great. I bought some clothes to change into because I was sweating in places I shouldn’t have been. We were picked up again for our next tour and went on a dune safari and rode a camel. The boy attempted to dune surf and I laughed at him.

We ate BBQ and I smoked shisha for the first time. I’m still trying to figure out what it really is. The boy thought I was getting high. Look at his judgmental face:


Overall, the day was amazing. There were some frustrating points and we were exhausted at the end of it all. Without thinking about it, we were up for 24+ hours from the time we arrived at the airport to the time we left at 2:45. We fell asleep as soon as we got on the plane and even slept through the food service. Insane!

This small stint in Abu Dhabi taught us a lot about ourselves and our relationship. We have bonded over the fact that we both hate summer officially now. 

We also have redefined what hangry means, have a new respect for anyone enduring this fasting month in or outside of the UAE, and an increased appreciation for the Muslim faith.

I have a thing for coffee shops. 

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Seriously. It’s almost an addiction at this point. And I’ve only become a connoisseur of coffee for the last few years, so this has been developing over a short time. Before, I would generally just go for Starbucks, but as they say: once you know better, you do better.

The ambiance, the decor and of course, anything coffee and coffee snack related. The mix of casual and comfort, but each place I go has been able to develop its own autonomy in this buddying culture. But what I have come to love most is the feeling of being in a creative space that I can never imagine curating in my own home. Somehow it just allows me to just flow and be in my element and get things done without the need to make drinks, do dishes, or create a dope ass playlist.

So, while leaving the final concert for the boy’s school we went to lunch at an amazing Indian spot and passed this coffee shop on the way home. The sign was attractive, so we decided to pop in for a moment to see what was up.

Man! We walk in and “After the Love is Gone” by Earth Wind and Fire is playing on the sound system, books are EVERYWHERE and nostalgic memorabilia are in every nook and cranny of this place. From Star Wars to The Beatles to Polaroid cameras. They even have vintage children’s games and books all over the place. The owner is chill and brings us over a menu written on wax paper and serves us animal crackers with our drinks.

The boy and I were in awe for a good 20 minutes before we were even able to enjoy your drinks.

Now I’m sitting here writing this post rocking out to Jimmy Hendrix playing feeling energized and contemplating moving to this side of town just for the possibility to be within proximity of this place.

Listen, if you are ever in Nakameguro, please come check out Under the Mat. This place is dope and all the books are for sale. I will most likely be taking home a few.

The weekend wanderlust.

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A summary of this week’s victories, lessons and roustabouts.

This weekend we met up with a friend from London who was visiting Tokyo for the week. We decided to explore Odaiba and entertain the children for a few hours. After eating lunch, we found ourselves at Lego Land Discovery Center and spent way too much time there. Afterward we went walking on the dock and found hover boards bubbles. My sense of adventure is halted at the risk of losing my balance and breaking my neck, so I didn’t try it. It was a very long and exhausting day chasing a toddler and a pre-teen behaving like one (because he’s jealous of the attention I was giving this adorable little girl).

In our exploring, I discovered there is a shore area where we can play in the sand and take boat rides. We definitely have to go back some other time and do more than explore headache inducing kiddy lands.