Two Weeks in Asia

There’s a sense of comfort, I think, in sticky, white rice. After traveling in Japan and China for the past two weeks, darting in and out of cities, and checking off some of the most spectacular destinations in the world like an afternoon grocery list, I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with the unexpected. From hiking the Great Wall of China to clubbing in Tokyo, it’s intoxicating to wake up in a new city every morning, to encounter a new country every week, and to admit myself a stranger in a brand-new world.

 

Regardless of whether I was in Kyoto or Shanghai, or whether I ordered raw octopus or Peking duck’s feet or Kobe beef ramen, I was always served a side of sticky rice. White rice in Asia isn’t just better than white rice in the United States (because it most definitely is), but it’s wonderfully, delightfully consistent. No matter which audacious dish I was trying next or where I was sleeping that night or how much yen I had in my pocket, I could always rely on that bowl of sticky rice. And that small solace is symbolic of my experience in Asia.

 

I felt as though I could count on Japanese and Chinese people like I could count on their sticky rice. When I missed my overnight sleeper train to Beijing and found myself stranded in the Shanghai Railway Station with no way to buy another ticket, the woman behind me in line paid for me. When my phone died in a restaurant in the middle of Harajaku with the hostel address in my camera roll, the waitress charged it for me in the kitchen. When I was told that American gift cards aren’t valid in China, the Lululemon associate in Shanghai gifted me a free pair of pants, simply because she knew I liked them. When we showed up at the Kobe Airport at 4 AM before our flight to Tokyo to find the doors locked, we napped in the adjoining police station and exchanged jokes with the officer on duty who “didn’t want us to be cold.”

 

Kindness is everywhere. No matter how uncomfortable, tired, stressed, or uneasy I felt, no matter how strong the language barrier, I was surrounded by people who treated me as one of their own, who didn’t condemn me for my ignorance, but praised me for trying.

 

I found myself at home in Asia, with its fascinating intersection of postmodern urban centers and ancient architecture, its vibrant colors, sounds, and smells. I will miss the silent, introspective businessmen on the public transit, the full-cheeked children bundled in puffer jackets, the stunning, ageless women who passed me on the street and smiled. I will miss the people as I will miss their sticky rice, always giving me more than what I had asked for, always giving and never asking anything in return.

Images courtesy of: Stephanie Harris