still reeling

I’ve already written reviews for the Yoshida Hiroshi exhibit and La La Land, both of which I did back to back in that order this past Sunday. I have to admit though, that seeing those two things together was like a double-whammy. Two swift punches to the gut.

There I was surrounded by a lifetime of Yoshida’s incredible work, and when I wasn’t gushing over how much I loved and could relate to it, all I could think about was how much of a waste my art degree was, how little I’ve used it, and how much of an imposter I am whenever I say I’m an artist.

Not fifteen minutes after leaving that show I enter a theater, sit down to La La Land and am faced with a story of two young people struggling against adversity to find purpose and ultimately achieve their creative dreams. To be honest, it spoke so directly to my feelings at the time I found it more than just a little eery.

I’ll spare you the speech about how I’m going to change and start doing things differently and blah blah since I’ve made them all already to no avail. I’ll just say that I’m still reeling from this past Sunday, and it reminded me that the road I’m taking isn’t necessarily a straight line.

“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

— Audition, La La Land soundtrack

review: La La Land

Here’s to the fools who dream.

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An aspiring actress (Emma Stone) getting by as a barista and a down-and-out musician (Ryan Gosling) fighting for his integrity and creative license as a jazz pianist meet then sing some songs, dance a bit, and fall in love. That is indeed the main gist, but there is so much more to La La Land than just its amazing, thoroughly fleshed out, totally pure and compelling love story that is delivered perfectly by Stone and Gosling.

Yes, I know. I’m gushing. Anyway…

Damien Chazelle writes and directs La La Land with incredible vision and scope. The movie is like a love letter both to and from old Hollywood that is also about contemporary life in Los Angeles. Every scene is like a vintage postcard. The colors and lighting are gorgeous and each swing of the camera feels in rhythm with the lovely musical numbers sprinkled throughout. While watching I was mesmerized by the way Chazelle wove his viewers through fantasy sequences and sensual settings, and afterward found myself asking, “Wait, how’d he do that?” La La Land is such a technically exhilarating film.

The rush of optimism that is the main staple for most musicals isn’t missing from La La Land. Indeed, the gripping lovability of both Gosling and especially Stone have viewer’s hearts singing with it in minutes. That’s why its undercurrent of real-life melancholy is so bittersweet and heartbreaking. What happens when people have dreams that intersect and then go off again in different paths? What happens to love under the weight of responsibility and career? The ending sequence is as fulfilling as it is crushing in the wake of these two characters’ deep relationship, sacrifices, and adversities.

Before I give too much more away, I will stop and say that La La Land is simply a modern classic. I look forward to Chazelle’s budding film career, and am waiting to see how this film stacks up tonight in the Best Picture Oscar race!

review: Yoshida Hiroshi Exhibition at the Kurume City Art Museum

A short description from Fukuoka Now:

“Yoshida Hiroshi (1876~1950) spent his time wandering the mountains and fields of Japan in search of natural beauty to paint. His friends called him ‘the demon of painting’ because of his uncompromising attitude as an artist. This exhibition celebrates the 140th anniversary of his birth and will showcase his main body of work which consists of watercolors, oil paintings, and prints. Two different groups of paintings will be displayed over the course of the exhibition. The first set will be shown from 2/4 ~ 2/26 and the second set from 2/28 ~ 3/20. This is the first time his work will be displayed in his hometown of Kurume.”

Before I went to this exhibit I had never heard of Yoshida Hiroshi, despite the fact that he is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the shin-hanga style. For those who don’t know, shin-hanga is often called “neo-ukiyo-e” because of how it retains ukiyo-e tradition in terms of subject matter while being inspired by Western realism. The use of naturalistic light, colored lines, soft colors, 3-dimensionality, and deep space in shin-hanga are artistic innovations that break with the ukiyo-e tradition.

The first phase of his exhibition was massive and had a variety of different works by him, but my favorites by far were definitely his prints.

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I really fell in love with the way he used the same blocks to create totally different lighting and moods as well. He thoroughly explored this in his series of boats.

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He was also an incredibly well-traveled artist. Some of the places he visited and documented were the National Parks in America, famous attractions in Italy, Greece, Egypt, and India among many others.

Yoshida’s work really spoke to me. The wide open spaces of color in contrast with highly detailed and busy linework, the sense of light, shadow, and reflection, and especially his gorgeous color palettes — it all had me swooning. As a sort of traveler, hiker, and adventurer myself these days, his spirit of discovery and exploration and his desire to capture the beautiful moments he experienced while traveling and in nature is incredibly relevant and inspiring to me.

I am really excited to go to this show again and see the second phase of this exhibition.

i’m still here

A fond hello to all my readers (and by that I mean Nikki)!

It has been less than a month since my last post, but it feels much much longer than that. I never made good on that promise for my follow-up post about my trip to Myanmar and Laos, but I really do intend to! I have just been wildly busy these last few weeks.

What have I been up to?

Last week Monday I had to give a presentation at my monthly work meeting for all Fukuoka JET teachers. Even though it probably wasn’t that big a deal, I killed myself a little bit over making a Keynote presentation and matching pamphlet with information to hand out to my workshop members. And I got really nervous about speaking in front of everyone at the last minute and actually didn’t feel that great about it in the end, but ah well.

Before that I was busting my ass to put together an application for this administrative position at the Fukuoka Board of Education through JET. I’ve handed it in already, though technically the final due date isn’t until this coming Friday. If I got the job I would stop being an English teacher. Instead, I would be organizing the comings, goings and happenings of all the Fukuoka JET English teachers. On the one hand I am ready for a change and challenge, but on the other hand the task seems just a little bit daunting and like a lot of responsibility. Overall I want it though, and really hope I get a chance at the interview. Hopefully I find out by the end of this month?

I’ve also been planning two different trips that are forthcoming. The first is to Mongolia. Evan and I just bought our flight tickets (for the first week in May for Japanese Golden Week vacation) and are looking into various tours offered through the Gobi Desert. The more I see and hear about it, the more excited I get. Apparently going to Mongolia gives you this feeling of being incredibly isolated, like you’re the only person on Earth. The vast desert, harsh weather and terrain, the remoteness… there’s all this natural beauty, hiking, horseback riding, and on top of that you get to meet and experience really unique nomadic peoples who still maintain a rather archaic way of life. Electricity and wifi go out the window and you just live in the moment. It sounds like exactly what I need. And yeah, I am down for eating loads of mutton, tasting fermented mare’s milk, and smelling like a sheep for a week.

The second trip is home to Washington for my best friend’s wedding in July. I just booked the tickets for this an hour ago, and I am so looking forward to it! We’ve already planned a weekend getaway to Lake Chelan for her bachelorette party, and have booked nights at a nice casino resort to stay at for the rehearsal dinner and getting her all dolled up for the ceremony down the street at the Kiana Lodge. The last major things I have to do are buy my bridesmaid’s dress and start planning fun stuff for her hen party! And I am really excited to hang out with my family too. The last two times I went home to the states I couldn’t enjoy myself, so I really want to make the most of it this time! And I want to eat all the cheese and Mexican food, drink all the good on-tap beer, and buy all the clothes that actually fit me properly haha. Not to mention see all my friends whom I miss so much! It is going to be fantastic.

On the flip side, I want to look good for the wedding… A constant source of struggle is trying to work out more regularly so that I’m not a chubby marshmallow come July. Mostly because it is still so fucking cold here in Fukuoka right now! It is practically impossible to motivate myself to do anything other than hang out in heated rooms. I have started doing obligatory push-ups and crunches right when I wake up, and every Tuesday I am also going to an hour-long Zumba session. I have also been trying to run a few times a week, but staying consistent with that has been tough. I was happy last week Friday though because I managed to run 5.8 K with my high school students (in a damn snowstorm no less) and I felt pretty good afterward. What I really need to do is kick my sweet tooth and snacking habits, tack on some weights and toning, and then I should be all right. I think I am going to go hard and do another of those Whole 30 cleanses next month or in April… or if not that, start counting calories like crazy, I can’t decide.

Something I just bought that I hope will help motivate me and keep me health-minded is a Bellabeat Leaf. It is a health tracker made just for women. It counts steps and monitors activity, it can give reminders to get up and move around if you’ve been standing or sitting still too long, it has a menstruation calendar and it even monitors the quality of your sleep. It is all input into an app on your phone so that you can set goals and stay up to date with your daily health. It even has a part just for mindfulness. The app can lead you through meditations while the tracker monitors your breathing. Lastly, it actually looks really beautiful and has been termed “smart jewelry.” I haven’t received it yet, though it should arrive in the mail sometime this week. I will let you know how I like it and maybe take some snaps of it.

All right, well that’s most of the stuff that’s been on my plate. Overall it’s a bunch of really great, amazing stuff that I am really stoked about, but all of it has a mild edge of stress and worry. But it’s truly outweighed by the good parts, and I have to remember that. Hopefully I don’t stay away for too long again. Until next time!

review: the people in the trees

My husband and I were shopping online for new books to read the other night. Evan is about to finish his current book and was talking about what he’d like to read next, but never mentioned the book sitting between us on the coffee table. So I asked him, “Aren’t you going to read The People in the Trees?” To which he replied, “I wasn’t sure if I should since you don’t seem all that crazy about it.” I wouldn’t say that’s exactly true, but while reading The People in the Trees I admit I haven’t given Evan my usual occassional feedback or even mentioned it at all. But now that I have finished it as of this morning, I am ready to weigh in. ows_137599217788653

I had been sitting on the last hundred pages or so of The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara and somewhat dreading picking them back up again after my winter vacation abroad. It’s not because I didn’t like the book… sort of. It’s more because the ending and major plot points, all horrible and tragic, are made very clear right from the beginning, and so as the reader you are tasked with going through every page knowing exactly what’s to come. The only “surprises” are the exact details of how said events unfold, the precise depth of some characters’ self-delusion, and how terrible things could really get. This isn’t always an easy task.

I’m not the type of person to shy away from gruesome details, dark plotlines or questionable characters. In fact, it really bothers me when people say they hate this book or that movie because So-and-so in it wasn’t likeable. For the first time though, a protagonist of a book made me pause, drove me away from his own story, and made me hesitate not only to finish reading it but also to even talk about it. That’s how much I dislike Doctor Norton Perina. He actually makes it hard for me to profess liking the novel at all, something I don’t think has ever really happened to me before.

This leads me to my praise of Yanagihara. Her debut novel is as engrossing as it is unsettling, and as powerful as it is provocative. At the core of The People in the Trees are huge discussions on science, moral relativism, society’s fascination with the allure of youth, and so much more. And at the forefront is the voice of Doctor Perina, its unreliable narrator. It is a testament to Yanagihara’s writing that Perina’s world and story once read cannot be easily shaken off or forgotten, at least not by me.

Although this book is certainly not for the faint of heart, I do recommend it to anyone who is willing and able to step into highly uncomfortable, incredibly flawed shoes and come face to face with the well-known but hard to swallow fact that the world is far from black and white.

I look forward to reading Yanagihara’s other highly-esteemed novel A Little Life in the future soon (but not until after a long hot shower and a re-read of Anne of Green Gables or something).

for alex

Last week a friend of mine told me that a guy we knew from college was in intensive care for some sort of illness. She had seen people posting stuff about it and tagging him on Facebook. I felt a bit sorry about it, but the vagueness of it all, on top of the fact that I’m not even actually friends with him on Facebook myself sort of pushed it out of my mind. This morning I woke up to a message from that same friend saying that the guy had had cardiac arrest during a running workout and that he has been unresponsive ever since. So his family is taking him off life support.

I met Alex my freshman year in University. He lived down the hall from me. He was tall and lanky with long brown hair and a wide smile. He loved hiking and nature, ultimate frisbee and running. I didn’t really get to know him very well, and clearly we didn’t keep in touch after college. But he was kind, asked really thoughtful questions, and always seemed able to make genuine space for you in his life no matter where he was or what he was doing. He had a gentleness about him that was really warming.

One of my clearest memories of him is how he had only one bowl and one spoon that entire first year I knew him. He explained that the only thing he ever used it for was his cereal in the morning, and that after every bowl he would lick it completely clean and put it up again, without ever washing it with soap and water. When my then-roommate and I heard this we were scandalized and accused him of being gross. He wasn’t offended. He just laughed and thrust that bowl toward us, which made us dodge out of the way to avoid touching it, and as far as I know he went on doing it. He was quirky like that.

It seems to me like a terribly dark cosmic joke that Alex was struck lifeless during a run. Something about that burns and makes me angry. He was a strong and healthy young man, only 31 years old. I am sad to see him go, but not nearly as sad as the family and close friends who couldn’t even say goodbye. It’s all such a tragedy.

The suddenness of death has felt too close and too familiar lately. Maybe it is cliche to say so, but moments like these really make you stop and ruminate on your own mortality. Have I told the people I care about how much I love them recently? Is there a way I can be a better version of myself? How will people remember me when I die? Am I really making the best of all the things my life has to offer?

I want to thank Alex for being a good person, a person I will remember with fondness and respect, and for reminding me not to take life for granted.

back from myanmar & laos

Evan, Fiona, Kohji and I all just got back from our winter travels this past Monday morning. It feels like ages since that trip started already, and yet I am still shocked that it’s January 14 already. Time truly does fly when you’re having fun! dmyanmarlaoscambodiaandvietnam-vi

For those who don’t know, here’s a rundown of our itinerary:

  • 2 nights in Yangon, Myanmar starting on December 26
  • 2 nights in Bagan, Myanmar
  • 2 nights in Mandalay, Myanmar
  • 2 nights in Vientiane, Laos
  • 1 night in Huay Xai, Laos (north against the border of Laos very close to Chiang Rai)
  • 2 nights in Bokeo Nature Reserve, Laos
  • 2 nights (sort of) in Luang Prabang, Laos
  • home by 10am on January 9

We were able to see and do so much in that short time, it is really pretty amazing. Although it’s very obvious that Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia share a lot in common, now that I have been to all four it’s clear to me that they are very different from each other too, both culturally and socio-economically.

Myanmar felt a bit more wild and less developed than Laos did. That was apparent just from walking down the street. In Laos the streets were generally pretty quiet. There were tuk tuks, but not a lot of motorbikes. Even in areas of high traffic there wasn’t a lot of honking and beeping in the streets either. In general, the cities in Laos felt more laid back and chill, and nobody seemed like they were in too much of a rush to get anywhere. In Myanmar there was a lot of traffic pretty frequently and tons of motorbikes on the road with two or more people on them (often whole families) except for where motorbikes were illegal, like in Yangon. The roads felt really hectic too, with pedastrians crossing at all times and a general disregard for street lights and signs. Add in the constant honking from all directions, and the simple act of walking down the street quickly ends up feeling like a high stress survival situation. That’s how it felt to me, anyway.

It wasn’t until we reached Mandalay and met a really nice cab driver with very good English that we started being able to decode the method to the driving and honking madness. We asked him how he could stand to drive in all the chaos and he seemed pretty mysitified that we were percieving the roads that way. He said the honking was just a way everyone communicated on the road, not a sign of rage or impatience like we thought. One honk means “I’m coming from behind you,” two honks means “I’m going to pass you,” and three honks means “I’m in a rush and going fast.” And while going through a four-way intersection, throw your hazard lights on to let everyone know you’re going straight. I wish I had known all that before riding our scooters around Bagan, a mildly harrowing and white-knuckle experience for someone with as little driving experience as me, even without all the sand threatening to put me in a tail-spin left and right. After learning the signs I do admit things did seem more orderly than I had realized before, but regardless I just don’t think I can get used to all that noise.

Something that stood out about Myanmar especially was how different the local fashion was. Practically all the local women wore long sarong-type skirts to at least the calf or ankles, which isn’t so different from Thailand, Cambodia or Laos. But in Myanmar, the men wear skirts too. The skirts are called longyi and they are actually over-sized tubes of fabric you slip on, grip tightly on the left and right side, then tie in a special knot in the front near your belly button. The majority of guys we saw all wore them starting from teenagers to elderly men. By the end of my time in Myanmar, I really learned to love the look of them.

Another Myanmar fashion that I haven’t seen anywhere else is thanaka. Thanaka is a yellow-white paste made from grinding a special type of tree. It is then applied on the face (mainly on women and children but sometimes men) in different patterns like stripes, circles and leaves. The designs are decorative, but the properties of the thanaka itself is supposed to protect against sunburn, cool the skin, and also prevent acne and fungus. Although I think it’s striking I wasn’t sure if I particularly like it, and I found myself wondering often about whether Myanmar men found thanaka attractive. Does a Myanmar man walk down the street and get drawn to a girl with the leaf patterns? Like, dannnnng I like a girl with leaf thanaka, look at her work that paste. Just a thought I had.

I uploaded my pictures to my computer just a bit ago, and I haven’t had time to go through them properly and pick out my favorites (the two pics above aren’t my own, just a couple I found in a Google image search). Tonight I will organize them so that I can post pictures between my rambling bits of writing. So for now I will cut this post abruptly short, and then finish my epic saga later!

To be continued…