Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the written word as art. The only good thing about not being able to read Japanese is that I can look at it from a purely aesthetic view, not assigning any meaning to words (a skill that is completely unhelpful when I need directions or have questions about what’s on a menu.) As frustrating as it is to not be able to communicate, I relish in the fact that I can appreciate the language in a way that a person who is literate in Japanese can’t.
This week I started learning Shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. I’ve noticed that it’s quite calming, even if you’re not very good at it (like me). I’m reminded of how I learned to write the English alphabet in kindergarten and first grade. We would practice writing each letter, one by one, over and over. You don’t realize all of the components that you had to master with your first language until you try learning another language.
Shodo requires patience and intention. Starting with making the ink, every action is purposeful. As I was practicing today, my teacher reminded me to breathe and be calm while creating the characters, which is funny because it’s the same advice that I give myself when I’m trying to speak Japanese.
Tokyo, Japan – Sushi is one of those things that people either love or hate. I don’t remember when I first tried sushi, it was sometime during my freshman year in college. I just remember trying to convert my skeptical friends, like a sushi evangelist. One friend was adamantly opposed because of the raw fish. I think if you strip anything down to its disparate parts, it has the become unappealing but sushi is more than just raw fish. The combination of freshness and immediacy makes it special. An experience. Add to that the skill of the chef and well, it can be a bit intimidating.
Today I learned how to make sushi. It was quite simple. Notice I said ‘simple’ not ‘easy.’ I imagine a person could spend half a lifetime trying to perfect the art of making sushi. I have a great deal of respect for people who make (good) food. They’re artists. Anyone who has ever had bad sushi recognizes that there’s an art to it. From material preparation to presentation, there seems to be a purposefulness to everything.
Having a teacher is my preferred way to learn most new skills. There is no substitute for it (pun not intended). Our teacher today has been making sushi longer than I have been alive. I had to let that sink in. I observed him, how he placed his hands, how he moved, everything. When you’ve done something for so long, it becomes second nature so when trying to explain your technique, some things may not translate (another pun, BAM!).
In Tokyo, it’s acceptable to eat sushi with your hands. You have no idea how happy I was to hear that. My chopstick skills are at an intermediate level. I mean, I can use them just fine, but it takes effort. Removing them was like removing a barrier between me and the sushi. It became a more informal and enjoyable experience.
My only problem now is that I can’t wait to get into my own kitchen and practice.
Whew! These past 4 months have flown by. My time has been dedicated to wrapping up a project which had a mid-October deadline and because I’ve been moving around so quickly, I haven’t been posting as many blog updates as I’d like. Also, the lack of consistent internet prevented me from getting a lot of things done, which was a source of frustration. Well, I met my deadline and I am now in a place that has reliable internet so expect more frequent updates! Also, check out my Instagram (@myieshagordon) as I post there pretty frequently.
Here’s where I’ve been so far:
NYC > Dallas
Dallas, Texas > Detroit, Michigan
Detroit, Michigan > Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida > San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico > São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil > Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil > Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina > La Rioja, Argentina
La Rioja, Argentina > Uyuni, Bolivia
Uyuni, Bolivia > La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia > Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru > Lima, Peru
Lima, Peru > Santiago, Chile
Santiago, Chile > Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas, Chile > Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia, Costa Rica > Panama City, Panama
Panama City, Panama > Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico > San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California > Tokyo Japan
Which brings us up to date! Yesterday I arrived in Tokyo (one of my dream destinations). I’m looking forward to exploring the city and telling you about it.
One of the most difficult things about long term travel is trying to develop a daily routine. Having a routine is important to me. I have a propensity for going with the flow so I know how important it is (for my being productive) to create schedules, goals, lists, and order for my daily life. Travel interrupts my ‘normal’ daily life so there are a few things that I make sure I do to create some stability while I’m on the road.
No alarm clock. This is critical for me, and has been one of my life goals for as long as I can remember. It may seem counterintuitive to not have an alarm clock to wake you at the same time every morning but I have found that my body naturally wakes up around the same time everyday and I feel more refreshed when I get sleep that is not disrupted by an alarm.
Establish a work schedule. Each day I have things to do – reading, writing, planning, editing, designing, researching, creating and then there’s the coordination of travel, which is fun but also time consuming. I have a set schedule for what time I will work each day. I usually do more mundane tasks in the morning, take a lunch break, then do more fun work in the afternoon.
Make lists. Lists help keep me organized and just the act of making a list helps me to remember other things that I have to do.
Incorporate comforts of home. I can honestly say that I’m not home sick yet. I know it’s coming but until then, I try to cultivate my own ‘norm’ while on the road. I am still traveling frugal but I have splurged on basic things like lotion and good food. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting to be in foreign places for long periods of time, so it’s important to have a connection to home. I recently ate at an American fast food chain while in Peru that reminded me of home and it was a great experience.
Schedule meals. I try to have meals around the same time every morning. When I was in Argentina, my schedule was thrown off a bit because my host family ate dinner at 10:00pm every night, which I wasn’t accustomed to. The good thing about having a routine is that it gives you freedom to deviate from your normal schedule and come right back. Muscle memory, perhaps.
I’m sitting on a bus headed to Rio de Janeiro, recalling my first week abroad.
Yesterday was July 4th, America’s Independence Day. Every year on that day, I try to meditate on how the birth of our nation was provoked by revolution; by rebellion. It was fitting especially after this past weekend in São Paulo.
On Sunday morning, I met a colleague for coffee. The weather was perfect: 80 degrees with a gentle breeze. Avenida Paulista, one of the main streets, is closed to traffic each Sunday so you’re likely to find vendors, locals, tourists, people hanging out and relaxing.
As we walked down Avenida Paulista, we noticed a crowd of about 80-100 people standing still in the street, being protected by police officers. My friend and I were curious and proceeded cautiously.
The crowd shouted in Portuguese, while holding signs. As we got closer, my friend recognized that they were supporters of a Brazilian presidential candidate, who is somewhat infamous in São Paulo.
As the group marched by, we stopped and joined a crowd of onlookers, most of whom were noticeably disturbed by the group’s endorsement of the candidate.
My friend yelled at the protesters in Portuguese, “You’re part of the problem!”
“I can’t help it,” he said to me. “This makes me angry.” He went on to explain that the politician has been known to say egregious things in public, particularly against women.
“He’s like an evil version of Trump,” he said.
We talked a little more about the political climate in São Paulo and everything was fine, until we had to run. Literally.
We witnessed a guy being hit with billy clubs by 4-5 police officers several feet in front of us. He was quickly able to escape and began running down the street only to be followed by the police officers who hopped on their motorcycles. For a moment it looked like they were coming in our direction so we all darted off the sidewalk, going in different directions.
After the police officers disappeared down the street, things seemed to calm down. My friend and I walked a few more feet and noticed more police officers and another group of people.
This time they were teenagers.
The police stood on one side, armed with their plexiglass shields, and the young people stood on the other side unarmed, some with bandanas covering the bottom half of their faces.
They weren’t carrying any signs, I’m not even sure of their cause but they looked like they had done this before, like this wasn’t the first time they were on the opposite side of those plexiglass shields. Their posture was like, “Don’t start none, won’t be none.”
Now, I have to explain. My usual strategy when encountering such a situation is to calmly and quickly walk in the other direction before things get out of control. But I was curious about why they were protesting. The environment was intense but didn’t seem to be dangerous. We stuck around for a few minutes to try to understand what was going on. We never learned why the teenagers were protesting but we suspect it has something to do with a financial scandal, which has left students without adequate food in their schools.
I had to be picky about selecting materials for my ‘traveling studio’. The sole criterion was low-maintenance. It was a tough decision and I’m not even sure what I’ll create with these things, but here’s what I brought: