Remote Year Month Six: We Out Here Backwards in the Future in Japan. Thoughts From Over Year Later in Ailing America

I started writing this last year a little over a year ago in my time living out of a suitcase trapezing through the world. I meant to write each month to reflect on the year past, but my brain has not been operating at full capacity with the pandemic last month.

Today marks 46 days of not talking to anyone in person other than saying hi to building staff and store clerks. I’m certainly not being able to fly anywhere I want. The lesson I learned that month feels urgently relevant.

I wrote…

Japan evokes complex and more personal feelings than any other Remote Year destination. My first international trip was to Japan when I was kindergarten or so, following that my first trip to Taiwan. My own story in a larger historical context involves Japan’s colonization of Taiwan and pillage of China and Asia. 

What I learned is how some places can be advanced but backwards at the same time. Development factors are not longer linear. Societies can be glittering but stacked rotten moribund layers, even if they have the resources to change them. I really feel that living in COVID-19 overrun America now.

As I moved through the world, I could feel that gaps between the so-called developing and developed world closing rapidly. In some aspects, countries we consider less resourced or advanced are able to do some things better than the so-called rich developed West. The US and Europe feel a lot less special. Latin America feels more like United States and vice versa. Asia feels like the future. Well except for Japan, where it used to feel that way.

That paragraph I wrote a year ago feels so prescient given how COVID-19 called America’s bluff, and Japan, the world with the oldest population, has been vacillating in terrifying denial.

I learned Places Can Be Advanced But Backwards. The world no longer consists of a dichotomy of First World Superpowers or Third world Banana Republics. All places now have spaces in between. In a way, you can look at COVID-19 as the natural result of places that have Third World wet markets literal blocks from affordable First World Global transit. Medellin has one of the world’s most innovate public transit systems. Vietnam, a competent public health infrastructure. I actually got vaccines and needed medical treatment while in Vietnam, and while the buildings felt a bit dilapidated and communist era, it has a competent, courteous, and efficient staff. I felt completely safe and taken care of. Both places look like what we’d in the US consider Third World, but I wouldn’t give gold stars to America for public transit or public health. This is the world we live in now.

But back to me in Japan 2019. For so long, we Taiwanese looked down at ourselves through colonialist lens and inferiority complex, especially to Japan. I’ve been on trips with Taiwanese people who look at the clean streets and organized crisp lines in beautiful Japanese cities and say “well we lost to them here.” I have a very distinct memory of that one beautiful summer in the 2009 walking along in Hokkaido hearing those remarks from older Taiwanese travelers.

I feel different now. Japan feels less impressive. It’s still impeccably clean, with a refined hospitality, and a perpetual obsessive eye for craftsmanship. But the neon glow doesn’t feel that impressive, even in Tokyo. Shanghai and Seoul feel more energetic and creative now. Japan shows its age.

Japan still is what I’d consider the only place in Asia that truly feels first world to American eyes, and it feels a lot of a lot more first world than the US – safety, on-time trains, and the like, but the mentality is what I consider truly backwards. The treatment of women, the work culture, and the unanswered questions of war crimes and colonialism still haunt Asia. I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany, and the contrast could not be more apparent.

I remember reading about how when Riz Ahmed stares at the grandeur of London, he remarks “My blood is in these bricks.” When my mother came to visit, we walked by a temple and she pointed out how they took people from Korea and Taiwan during the colonial era to build these temples. Now, tourists all over the world go to Kyoto to admire them. Hiroshima has a monument to Koreans killed by the bomb and vague references to the “Chinese sacrifice” in the war devoid of some important context. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For too long we have felt inferior to them, and no. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I really love going to Japan and as a Taiwanese-American, I feel an undeniable connection to the culture because of history for better or worse. I’m grateful for the generous hospitality I’ve experienced in Japan and look forward to visiting again. Sushi is always on the menu for Thanksgiving Dinner at my house. But Taiwan has a female President and is an exemplar of tech innovation handling COVID-19.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last several weeks in shutdown NY, listening to sirens that have thankfully slowed down. More than 13 thousand people have died here, four times the number on 9/11. I literally live two blocks from the 9/11 memorial, so this is palpable for me. 

I’ve talked often about how I love working in the US, but I’d love to live in Asia. America is the land of Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, the NBA, and scrappy immigrant dreams. People from all over the world flock to work here to build dreams and empires. Here you can get the highest salaries, live how you want, and be embraced for it. The cost is the risk of living in a decling empire. But I’m used to American salaries and perks, a bit too Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman. I’m a fat American, an Asian woman who literally can’t fit in Asia. Ironically though, Taiwan has become kind of this progressive wonderland run by competent people at a societal level even though I can’t live there.

To me, what it feels like the US has lost a collective confidence and a willingness to yield to the extreme voices rather than bold ideas for the future. We’re a rich country that feels like a poor country, the World’s First Rich Poor Country. I remember pre-9/11 America and miss it. 

I’m watching what I learned about Japan now mirrored. The country of my parents’ birth and where I still hold a passport feels like a nice place to go now. But I love New York, and have chosen to stay. I love the good things about America, especially the opportunity to live shoulder to shoulder with multitudes of restless ambitious people from around the world who have chosen to make this place home and dreams come true. I lament the things that are so backwards: the healthcare system, gun violence, and repetitive cycles of racism. 

Inequities have grown more extreme within countries and globally. I felt that viscerally in Japan and in this moment now in the US. This is not a lesson I wanted to live through again this way at the other end of it. Countries can be progressive and advanced but backwards and regressive at the same time, and unfortunately it depends where you sit in society whether you’re in the good or the bad of it. 

Remote Year Month Five: Feeling Reborn in Vietnam

2019-01-19 17.01.19

After spending time in places like Croatia, Bosnia, Czechia, Germany, Portugal, and Spain and then reading about their recent histories, I was in a pretty nihilistic and depressed mood. For a lot of the places I saw, I had the distinct sense the best times for them were over, especially Portugal’s problematic love affair with its far bygone “Age of Exploration” (read: slavery and colonialism), and that things weren’t going to improve significantly anytime soon. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also given the backdrop of what was happening in the US at the time and still happening in the US and the West, I couldn’t help but think the post-War period was ending and not in a good way. After corporate December back in the real world didn’t help lighten the mood, a friend I had lunch with was probably legit concerned I was in a dark place. 

2019-01-01 16.24.36

Thank goodness I was getting on a plane to Asia at that point. Seeing Vietnam in its current stage of development after endless conflicts with France, Japan, the US, Cambodia, and internally, it was good to see a place so young, alive, optimistic, and reborn. Indeed, that is the feeling of being in all of modernizing Asia for someone who is Asian, who was born in a time when the rise of the East was not yet written in destiny. Even going elsewhere on the continent still feels like a journey home

Even though I’m obviously not Vietnamese, for the first time in Remote Year I felt in my element. Vietnam has that wild wild developing East feeling a lot of places have lost, quite frankly in a good way, but nonetheless it’s exciting being in that sort of place in a way only a first world person could feel. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hanoi remains the most vivid and out-of-body month I had on Remote Year, a sense of what the French called depaysement, maybe because it was the only month I didn’t take a side trip out of the country and started to make real friends on the trip. It also felt super familiar. In many ways, Hanoi is so modern, yet it easily feels like I got dropped in 1980s Taiwan. 

2019-01-18 16.02.342019-01-13 17.14.312019-01-09 14.34.07

It also felt like a true re-birth. I learned last year in January that places and people can be re-born and heal. Considering all the malaise in the West at the moment, and as someone who finds herself often between New York and London, the rot feels real, but now I know, not necessarily permanent, especially given all the resources we have. I hope a sense of will finds us, but I’ll fight to keep the Asian will that’s inside of me still, one that will always survive and perhaps find a way to thrive as well.

So finally I also have to give props to the mighty Vietnamese, for resisting China, France, the US, and now resisting China again, a young country full of hope and confident its best days are yet to come. I write this now remembering how special it was to be there during the eve of Tet and flying back to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year shortly after.

The world is full of problems and sadness, writing on the heels of a New Year of catastrophic ecological disasters, strongmen on trial, and a possible pandemic. But Vietnam shows us what is possible and for many people globally, it’s a true belief that the best days are yet to come, and this is determined by the will of the people despite lack of control of their governments or their economic state. 

Thanks for the lesson and rescuing me out of a nihilistic state, Vietnam. 

2019-01-18 16.29.08

Sidebar: It’s important to note that Vietnam in Western eyes is not even looked at a place with real people, but a war that somehow happened to Americans. I empathetically push back on that, and that Vietnam should most be looked through its people, especially by people in the United States whose perspective as been obscured by decades of terrible movies centering White American men (no more Apocalypse Nows or Deer Hunters please). I recommend this first book that explores the ethics of memory

Remote Year Month Three: Dictatorship Depression in Portugal

I feel reflective in a good way re-reading and editing disjointed thoughts from last November and December a year later. I’m filled with an optimism rooted in the benefit of experience and perspective despite world events.

I capped off three months of Remote Year in Europe. I spent the better half of December opted out of RY in a slog of work and family commitments between NY and CA. I was in what Remote Year calls the “Growth Zone,” but my mind was also slipping into the “Danger Zone” of negativity. During our orientation, we were warned Month 3 is hard, because this is now real life and not always easy.

I had really looked forward to Lisbon after a magical summer trip there, but November 2018 wasn’t that. I remember my first visit and looking at the narrow roads, ailing infrastructure, and happy visitors. I thought to myself that this place is about to blow up with tourism, and it is not ready.

2018-11-06 11.39.482018-11-06 11.39.16

When I came back, tourism had exploded. All the ills of tourism and part-time residents from the EU and further abroad, from “too overpriced for locals” housing and businesses to petty crime, had arrived full force in Lisbon. This was the only month I had something stolen off me. This was also definitely only place all year I felt I was definitely causing harm as a digital nomad in a tight housing markets.

It’s also the place, looking back, I felt most uncomfortable. I’ve noticed visiting former colonizing empires, eg. UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Japan, versus not, eg. Czechia Croatia, Bosnia, is that they’re a whole lot more racist because their education and societies laud their past empires. I get a sense when they see someone like me, the first impression is 1) oh no Chinese tourist 2) then some sort of twisted racial jealously at this American-accented English-speaking Asian woman, someone whose socio-economic standing globally challenges their notions of superiority. After a decade of traveling in Europe for fun and for work, it’s gotten real old. There is a jingoist part of my mind that says, “Yes, I’m an upper-middle-class American, and yes, I’m an Asian woman, and you don’t rule anything anymore and America is still number one, get over it.” 

I knew it was bad when at one point I took a picture of this old beautiful blue tiled building in Porto, and a woman came out and told me it was sold already so don’t bother. 

2018-11-21 17.41.49

Portugal is a country still struggling with its colonial past, recent dictatorship, and what I consider current victim of unintended neoliberal excesses, cursed as a cheaper place with good weather and good living too accessible by richer neighbors and nations. It wasn’t just tourism crowding people out, it was digital nomads and richer Europeans buying second homes. 

To be sure, I enjoyed many beautiful, singular experiences in a city of rich history, but it’s not one for the rainy winter season. The creature comforts started to drag a bit. Living out of a suitcase is something I never got as use to as my travel companions. I’m too old, yuppy, and spoiled. I wrote that a feeling of “the movement of time yet a trappedness” started to settle. I don’t know if people who haven’t had the experience will understand how time passes on Remote Year, you are doing the same stressed out corporate life crammed with so many life experiences in month that some people will never experience in their lifetimes while trying to stay sane and healthy. The days and months, are all long in a beautiful way, but emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting way. 

I remember thinking about Anthony Bourdain vibes and how traveling would make him depressed. I remember his quote often that, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” The thought crossed my mind that maybe all the travel exacerbated whatever demons he was struggling with.

past2

After I had a month back in corporate America, especially super negative and competitive NYC and Silicon Valley, and months spent looking at endless exhibits on the horrors of World War 2, Communism, and Dictatorships that came after, my depressing takeaway from last month that that generations can be lost to unfortunate tides of history and misfortunes that you are born in such a time, the wrong place at the wrong time, and how little individual human life and will can matter felt deep. 

It’s a miracle Portugal is a free and liberal European state. The whole EU is a fucking miracle despite its problems. Current generations don’t appreciate it enough because we’ve begun to lose the living memory and connection to those times. I remember visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp and realized the school aged children visiting there were different from people my age in that they personally don’t know or weren’t raised by grandparents who survived the horrors of World War II. We’re in a different era now. 

So I learned this month that places can be beautiful but broken and mired in the past, but we risk forgetting and even misremembering. Places can be victims of unintended consequences or perhaps intended consequences of neoliberalism, eg. looking at over-tourism in Barcelona and Lisbon.

Places can change too quickly in good ways and bad ways. Looking back, part, I could say the same thing about myself. Personally, I felt the shackles of independence. It was my most lonely month, but one where I felt like the travel started to change me. In the heaviness of the old continent, I can write now I could feel myself being reborn on my mother continent the month after in Hanoi and months after.

Looking back, I do feel indulgent using places I am foreign to to hold up a mirror against my own history and place in the world, but that’s also what travel is. 

2018-11-16 12.07.45

Remote Year Month Two: A Prague State of Mind

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Month One of Remote Year: Maniac out-of-body adventure. Month Two: Finding my emotional center grounded in a sense of gratitude and wonder. Meandering in this beautiful European city and working out of the most beautiful of workspaces felt like a gift every single day. 

I also started to get to know people in the group. Still, I was very much in my head and put a lot of pressure on myself on the work I needed to get done. In hindsight, I did a lot but wish I leaned into just milling around more around Prague. Just means I have to visit again, ideally with a bit less neurosis. 

What I Learned

As a group of mostly Americans, we really tried to lean into the America avoidance but not really, considering how much watching bad of Trump news and Kavanaugh’s nomination was done by our group of mostly women. Escapism was in order, but like with my Croatia neurosis, couldn’t help but be in historically reflective state-of-mind.

This part of Europe’s contemporary state remains tied culturally and economically to its recent Soviet past. I didn’t know that Czechoslovakia had been an industrial power, one that could have easily rivaled today’s Germany if history had been kinder to its people. 

The Czech experience taught me of how it easy it is to be a victim of history, of simply being born in the wrong time, and how generations could be lost. Dictatorships, authoritarianism, and destruction are much more the norm in the human condition than the exception. For all the problems inherent in myths of American exceptionalism, it is exceptional that no large-scale conflict has been fought on American soil since the Civil War. The rest of the world has suffered on catastrophic scales.

It’s always boggled my mind how multi-generational American mindsets and especially White Americans exceptionally lean into the Just World Theory, but it made a lot more sense with the tangible contrast. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So many of the exhibits I saw in Prague and when I traveled in Germany cautioned against totalitarianism, from the twin experiences of the Nazi era and Soviet oppression. During the Centennial celebrations of Czechoslovakia, we got to experience how the two present day states were celebrated their shared history. So much of what I saw felt the last of an era was closing, and with a new era opening with far-right nationalisms brewing globally without a coherent response. I felt pretty pessimistic, especially since being a person of color with my own historical baggage – I’m the opposite of drinking the Just World Theory kool-aid to a fault. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In Germany, I walked with my co-worker through Munich, who talked about misconceptions in the US about how all Germans are taught to be ashamed of themselves because of the Nazi past. He told me a lot of that is a misconception, now used by AfD and other Far Right groups, the truth is they are told about the truth, not to forever feel shame, and that the truth has to be upheld and remembered. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t automatically inoculate them against race-baiting fake news and propaganda, though it definitely makes a difference.

Looking at the truth honestly in complex manner to understand history and therefore our current situation is something we Americans lack as a nation

Looking back I wrote a little more than a year ago today at the end of 2019, today I feel a bit same same but different, but we have a lot more control over our destinies in the US than others, although it’s definitely eroding in the wrong direction. The lesson for me from Month Two also is, the future is not yet written for us, but we must always be mindful that our futures can be written for us. 

The Meat Cafeteria: A Modern Version of the Meat Sweats in Prague at Kantyna

I ate so much my first meal here it made me sick. Then I went back twice for more. One of my few repeats during my month in Prague.

An acquaintance recommended Kantyna in Prague simply as a “meat cafeteria.” Kantya feels like an upscale art deco NYC deli. I guess it is a mother source via feedback loop of history since Central European Jewish immigrants brought the roots of that from this region of Europe.

The beef carpaccio, beef tartar, and cuts of brisket are standouts here. Pair wisely with potato pancakes and rotating sides.

2018-10-29 13.20.05

2018-10-29 13.20.02

2018-10-31 18.53.052018-10-29 13.22.452018-10-29 13.20.07

2018-11-02 18.44.54

2018-11-02 18.49.492018-10-29 13.14.07

I have to say, I feel a theme here of somewhat fetishizing the old cafeteria style dining and making it upscale, and I’m here for it. Even though I’m someone who typically loathes the notion that your food is suddenly better by “elevating it.” To me, it’s just modernizing a dining experience with nice flatware and decor, making something traditional super well that suits modern diners of every stripe, and cooking food faithful to the past and tradition. It’s really hard to do, and Kantya excels. Eat the meat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kantya is part of Ambiente restaurant group behind other great dining destinations I enjoyed such as Lokal, Eska, and Cafe Savoy that all highly recommend.

  • Website
  • Politických vězňů 1511/5, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia
  • ~$10-$25 USD depending on gluttony level 

Remote Year Month 1: Split, Croatia (and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina) Top Food Experiences

Soparnik

Detailed in my Top 7 Croatia Experiences. If you have a chance to try this fresh, or at all, don’t miss out. As far as I know, the family that made it from scratch for us sells it at the Split Greenmarket.

Michelin Star restaurant in Split that doesn’t disappoint. Recommended by a local for high quality traditional food that doesn’t break the budget. She mentioned they could charge more but don’t because they want people to have a great konoba experience. Make a reservation as it’s a bouncer-like.

Mostar: Tima Irma and Cafe Alma

Not Split, but a not-too-long bus ride across the border gets you to Mostar, which is very worth going to.

National Restaurant Tima Irma 

Worth the line and the gruff service. Insanely good prices for quality and quantity of food in a great atmosphere. Still one of my top Remote Year Food Experiences writing about it so much later. Get the Mijesano meso or mixed meat, which includes a generous serving of cevapi.

2018-09-08 13.42.36

Cafe Alma

Go for the Bosnian coffee, similar to Turkish coffee, but not, and served with Turkish delight. The locals will explain to you or watch vid in link. One of few if not only still coffee roaster in town, with one that “survived the war” as the family brags.

Luka Gelato 

Delicious gelato. Also a bit off the madness of the main squares of the old town and peaceful to sit near the fountain. Lots of unique flavors, not your average basic ass hipster gelato place.

Green Market 

Amazing farmer’s market with insanely good quality produce. Honest vendors and great prices considering how touristy the rest of the area is.

Dvor

Really beautiful, I mean, beautiful restaurant set outside an elegant old home and next to the beach. Think fifth date. Kind of a hilarious Remote Year memory for me as I went to dinner here for the first time with someone who would become one of my best friends on Remote Year, but kind of an awkward place for a first meeting. As with most restaurants like this, and especially in South Europe, it’s Slow dining with the capital S, but you come here if that’s what you’re looking for. We weren’t expecting it and went off a recommendation, but lovely.

Fisherman’s Pension

Rustic seafood island hopping. If you’re visiting and able to book a private tour to visit the islands, I’d request going to this place. A part of my Top 7 Croatia Experiences.

Uje Oil Bar

Worth a stop in the shop for an olive oil tasting and a meal at the delicious restaurant. I recommend their products to buy home for gifts, really good quality. Olive oil is what you’d expect sitting on the Mediterranean.

Bokeria

This restaurant is definitely kind of fancy tourist hipster, but is delicious and the restaurant group is committed to more sustainable tourism and being a good force in the community. Extensive Croatian wine list.

Find the location to all these restaurants and my other favorite spots this month on this map.

 

My Top 7 Croatia Experiences

The first month of Remote Year: overdrive on the senses and mind, but some of the most beautiful experiences possible in a part of a world I knew so little about.

1. Soparnik

This one is a huge credit to Remote Year for setting this up. RY offers tracks each month, various local experiences surrounding food, the outdoors, and culture, or all of the above in one day. We went rafting, bit of hiking, and while that was fun, the best part of the day was going to a local family farm run by an older couple who made us Peka and Soparnik, some best things I’ve eaten on Remote Year, a perfect combination of amazing ingredients and traditional cooking. They both involve burying food and slow cooking, but being able to see the multi-step process and enjoy the Soparnik, a Croatian version to me of 韭菜盒子 ,still remains one of my top RY memories a year out.

2. Mostar 

I talk more about the experience in this other post, but visiting Bosnia and Mostar was for me, of those travel moments that truly shake you with its beauty as well as its sadness. I definitely had one of my best meals all year and best times chatting with locals in Mostar, but everything from the scarred landscape to how a blonde police officer forced our driver to pay 20 euros (feels really little) as a bribe really informs you about the condition the place is still in due to its recent history.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. Swimming in the Adriatic Outside Workspace 

My first Remote Year workspace conveniently had a beach outside of it. Given how crazy my headspace was the first month, my favorite part was getting up everyday and swimming in the ocean with Croatian families. It’s one of the few places I felt super comfortable going alone and leaving my stuff out all year, despite being a super obvious foreigner (as you can imagine there weren’t many overweight Asian women swimming at a beach off the tourist-y areas). I felt so lucky everyday to swim in the pristine water.

2018-08-27 13.19.362018-08-27 12.14.24

4. Greenmarket Shopping and Wandering Around Roman Ruins

The old town of Split, the old city center of roman ruins, incredible farmer’s market, and tourists galore (kind of gross). Even though parts of it are touristy-trappy, the farmer’s market is delightfully a place for the locals but friendly to tourists. I’ve had some of the best tasting produce I had all year and learned to enjoy it all with ajvar.

5. Island Hopping

Island hopping in Croatia from Split, can’t even describe how amazing, beautiful, and varied the experience can be. Swam in some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.  Fisherman’s House and Pension, run by a Scandinavian man who fell in love with a Croatian woman, served unpretentious fresh delicious seafood.

 

6. Meet the Barba: LAB Split Brewery 

Another Remote Year track “Meeting the Barba,” or the man behind one of first the craft breweries in Croatia. One of the best American Pale Ales I’ve tasted from the tap, can’t believe this guy just let us enjoy it. There’s not much high-end beer selection in Croatia, so this is your guy, who could easily go toe-to-toe with any California craft brewery.

7. Visiting a Working Shipyard 

Another Remote Year track and far off the tourist track, getting an up close look at the shipbuilding industry in Split. Took a look at the post-Yugoslavian socialist era to competing with much more modern and sleek operations globally. Wish them the best as they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Favorite Coffee Stops in Split, Croatia

The first thing my American ass I missed when I spent a month in Split was cold brew and drip coffee. Especially in the mediterranean, not really a thing. Croatia is still so recently a post-Soviet state with a small population to boot, so the sheer variety of such frivolities is still limited.

Luckily, a few places came to the rescue:

D16 

The most American style and first iteration of such coffee shops in Split Croatia. You can get Cold Brew growlers if you’re in town for awhile. Us American savages do not appreciate the slow drinking of espresso like the rest of the region.

Website

  • Dominisova ul. 16, 21000, Split, Croatia
  • ~$3-5 USD

4coffee soul food

More than decent stop for a good cup of brew while wandering around the old city. You can really feel the love for the bean here. They specialize in Italian style coffee, but have Cold Brew for American tastes as well.

Facebook Page

  • Hrvojeva 9, 21000, Split, Croatia
  • ~$3-5 USD

All the Feelings about Croatia, and Bosnia. Where I was at and what what I learned. 

Where I Was At 

Every month on Remote Year, I wrote a bit about my mood and what I learned from each place each month. I got more disciplined about this over time, even taking a spreadsheet grid of each place I went to and what I liked. I’ll start posting that in the months to come. But it’s been more than a little over a year since I left and almost two months into my return, so I should start.

I have to say, a lot of my learnings are not necessarily the most happy, especially in the beginning, but I hope reflective and needed to decompress from a year as unbelievable I’ve had. I’ll start on some of the fun stuff soon. 

To start, I had a dark predilection for visiting and learning about unhappy places and sectarian conflict. I can easily draw a straight line back to my own family’s history. You project your own history on the history of others in the tragic tapestry of the human experience a way to sort out one’s inheritance. It’s a particular Asian American refugee neurosis for those of us in the tribe and other with similar experiences, but difficult for outsiders to comprehend that constant state of mind. Given world events the past few years the awareness I’d soon no longer be considered young, I was in a kind of mood. 

I wasn’t ready for a routine and not ready to settle down. At this point, I’d also gone through years of feeling figuring out my identity, that didn’t fit in anywhere and deprogramming myself from intergenerational trauma. Unfortunately through that progress I had evolved into the sort Asian female yuppy monster – you’ve seen them on the streets of NY, SF and LA, a bunch of recovering ABGs never too far from a needless act of aggression. 

My co-workers affectionately told me “you broke out of a middle class prison” by job hacking to work remotely for a year. I digress to say we’re better off than most New Yorkers, so it’s some real first world urban elite complaints. Still I wasn’t feeling it, so with the encouragement of a dear friend and mentor who did RY I put laptop on my backpack and got on a plane to Croatia, which had to be the most fitting places for both literally plunging into beautiful ocean and into dark history. 

All the Feelings About Croatia and Bosnia

In between daily gorgeous swims in the Adriatic outside of our beachy hipster workspace, exploring the islands, seeing insane natural beauty, running through roman ruins, and still working my full time job, I steeped myself in really terrible news articles and reels about Srebenica and the Bosnian wars for probably more time than was healthy and read Girl at War  and The Tiger’s Wife. I remember also reading S in college and remembered what Dr. Quinn, shout to one of the best professors I’ve had, taught us about the unfortunate nature of how history repeats itself despite knowing it and the shock to Europeans of it happening again in living memory at their shores in the Balkans. 

This behavior was probably not something someone should do on a couch with a view of the sea or anywhere for their psychological and emotional health. This month I had in Croatia and the next two were weird places for dark historical tourism juxtaposed to a kind of magical European vacation and drunken party Eurotrip alongside serious work hours and pressure on top of the madness of the first two months. Your sense of time and experience becomes warped and compressed in this way on Remote Year along with a sense of displacement. A friend told me about a French word dépaysement that describes it well I think.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I felt this acutely traveling into Bosnia. It was really the first time I contemplated and saw blue hair blonde eyed White people in such a destitute ruins and recovering from such a recent and tragic history. 

In Croatia, it felt like the past wasn’t far behind, but the scars of war are visibly gone in most places a tourist would go. In Bosnia, bullet holes and no go zones with land mines are part of the tourism. It’s one of the early experiences that sticks with me. When I think about my time there, I think about one of the best meals I had all year and the beautiful landscape while sinking into a disturbingly recent shocking moment of humanity’s depravity. 

Dark tourism aside, I loved hanging out with a few college students telling me how their family saved the coffee roaster they got from Italy during the war and about Bosnian coffee. They asked me questions about what I was doing there and expressed how they wanted to join the EU and be like another EU member state, be able to travel and get jobs in places like Germany. Definitely a favorite moment of the trip, even if bittersweet. Really want better for them.

What I Learned

The enormity of how little I knew about this part of the world sank in, and I consider myself pretty cultured and well-traveled. Everything from the beauty, how charming the people were in a particularly slavic way, and histories I need to learn more about. 

So my lesson for the first month was fitting for the start: how little I actually knew and still don’t know. This would prove to be hypnotic contrast when I got to Asia, so in hindsight I felt grateful for the humility. I really leaned into that vibe as we traveled to Prague.

2018-09-29 13.44.49.jpg

First Transition Day aka traveling hoard of digital douchebags.