On the 21st of December 2013, I set out on a journey unlike any I had ventured on before. I boarded 20 planes, twice as many trains, buses and taxis, 18 boats and flotation devices, and exactly one rickshaw. Dozens of times did I hop onto the backs of friends’ motorbikes. I walked, hiked, ran, swam, scuba dived, bungee jumped and piteously attempted to surf. I went to all the Shansi sites I had yet to visit, plus a couple countries I never imagined visiting, and even went back home for a while.
I traveled for grand total of 88 days.
Here’s a map of the places I traveled to:
My travel itinerary looked like this:
Japan (December 2013) → China → Indonesia → Japan (January 2014) → Malaysia → Indonesia → Australia → New Zealand → Japan (March 2014) → United States → Japan (April 2014)
Traveling to so many places for so long has helped realize how incredibly privileged I am to be a Japan fellow. Having visited all of the other Shansi fellow sites, stayed at their houses, and played in their streets, I find that I have no reason to complain about the my apartment, no matter how old or far away from the train station it may be. As a Japan fellow, my standard of living has gone way up compared to my life in the US. The same cannot be said for any other Shansi site. Japan fellows make surprisingly more money than any other fellow, and this has granted me the privilege to travel as much as I have. If I had been any other fellow, I certainly would not have been able to travel as much, especially since I started Shansi nearly penniless.
This is not to say that I look down on the other fellows’ living accommodations and neighborhoods—far from it. In fact, if I could do Shansi again, I would be happy to be placed in any other site. I’d especially love to move to Banda Aceh, even if it means bucket showers, giant roaches, and waking up to mosque prayers at 4 in the morning. The bucket showers were refreshing in the luscious heat, the roaches were so big I could do nothing but laugh and see them as housemates, and there was something warm and reassuring about being brought back into the waking world by mystic song. Not to mention the gorgeous beaches in near proximity, the freedom of riding a motorbike around town, fragrant nasi uduk, and Indonesian hospitality—what Aceh fellows may lack in amenities like hot water and water pressure, they make up for in so many other ways. I feel the same is true for fellows in Jogja, Taigu, Madurai, and Daramshala. After visiting each site, I found that they are all gems in their own special way. There are countless small details about these places that provide a source of fascination and comfort that the quiet, clean, often impersonal streets of Machida and the greater Tokyo area cannot provide.
That being said, I am now back in the streets of Tokyo. Being in Japan after traveling to places where I didn’t understand ni papa has made me significantly more confident in my Japanese language skills. This is because I was absolutely incapable of communicating in Chinese and I was at little-tiny-baby-level in Malaysian and Indonesian. Occasionally I would run into Japanese tourists, and I would unconsciously eavesdrop on their conversations. Japanese would just float into my ears and understanding almost unconsciously followed. The first time it happened to me, in Jogjakarta, I stopped in my tracks, and almost turned around and talked to the young Japanese couple shopping for batik prints behind me. That would really surprise them, I thought, if a random, clearly non-Japanese native just casually commented そうだよね. あのお土産の方がいいと思う。(Yeah, that souvenir’s better.) Instead, I just smiled to myself.
And now, my top ten photos from all the places I’ve been this trip:
10. The Shire, Matamata, New Zealand
9. Finders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia
8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
7. Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia
6. Taigu, China
5. Queenstown, New Zealand
4. Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, United States
3. Taigu Agricultural University, Taigu, China
2. Penang, Malaysia
1. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
I arrived back in Tokyo with a deep tan, an empty wallet, and a mind full of colorful memories.