Kyoto, with its overabundance of temples and shrines, fantastic food scene, and a wide array of small artisan shops filled with intricate handcrafted wares, is widely considered Japan’s most tourist-friendly city. Our first 24 hours in Japan felt more stressful than relaxing. It wasn’t until we checked into our AirBnB in Kyoto, took a stroll around our neighborhood, and immediately stumbled on a covered arcade lined with cute shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we felt like our vacation had truly commenced.
Posts tagged ‘thoughts’
Japan – the land of chatty appliances and heated toilet seats; gas station sushi, seaweed snacks, and breakfast udon bowls; tiny hotel rooms and indoor slippers; inscrutable signs with dubious English and incomprehensible (to us) kana and kanji characters – has long been on our travel bucket list. In fact, before D landed an eleventh hour assignment that forced us into a three-month separation, we had planned to visit Japan during our transfer from Washington to Manila. It was only fitting that we’d make the land of the rising sun the first international destination during our first Asia tour.
Lakes, volcanic craters, and mountain trails abound just beyond Metro Manila’s urban sprawl. To reach them, one just needs to penetrate the metropolis’ omnipresent traffic. Gridlock can be a powerful deterrent for a day trip, especially since the only reliable solution for escaping it is to hit the road before the sun is up. There is usually no dodging the congestion on the return trip, but by that point an epic adventure is in the books, which makes a couple of hours in traffic seem like a small price to pay.
D’s mom, comparing life in America to the one she knew in the Soviet Union, once succinctly summarized the difference by pointing to a sign at a public beach, which enumerated prohibited behavior: “In America they tell you what you cannot do, and anything that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed. In the Soviet Union, it was the opposite: if it was not expressly permitted, then you couldn’t do it.”
The best part of D’s Manila homecoming was the two weeks of leave he took upon arrival in the Philippines. Ordinarily, we try to maximize our vacation days for travel. In fact, this might be the first time during our nine years in the Foreign Service – other than when our kids were born – that either one of us took an extended period of time off and just stayed home.
If expectation management is the key to happiness, then we came to the Philippines well prepared. Good friends from all three of our previous posts have either served or lived here, and a friend from our Nairobi days now calls the Philippines home. We did not know exactly what to expect – as so much of one’s experience of the Philippine capital depends on where in the city one lives – but, based on what they shared, we had a fairly good idea.
A bird’s eye view of Manila offers a fascinating glimpse of life in this city. Open up Google Earth and zoom in on the Philippine capital, and you’ll see a warren of densely populated construction – a telltale sign of a crowded metropolis. In fact, Manila proper – with an estimated population of just under two million – is the world’s most densely populated city. There are more than 41,000 inhabitants for each square kilometer of Manila, which easily dwarfs the population density of Mumbai and Dhaka – the next two cities on the list – each of which boasts just over 28,000 residents per square kilometer.
A few weeks before S’s departure for Manila, D spent a weekend in New York to see friends and bid farewell to the city he’s always called home. D had planned the trip months in advance to coincide with his favorite band’s three-night stand at a small venue in the far-flung reaches of Brooklyn. When he had conceived of the visit, we had thought we’d be traveling to the Philippines together. Even with the benefit of hindsight and our imminent separation looming, however, it is unlikely that D would have missed seeing the Slackers take a leisurely stroll through their extensive career catalogue.
July was the first month since we embarked on our Foreign Service adventure more than eight years ago that our blog remained completely inactive. Over the years, these pages have helped us stay in touch with our loved ones, served as an outlet for our creative writing needs, and helped us document our children’s early days. We have long wondered when the moment would come to retire this Foreign Service scrapbook, and though our blog has gone dormant of late, we do not think we’ve quite reached the point of calling it quits. Rather, we are in the midst of a hiatus, induced by our circumstances.