Well, it`s good to be back home, or my “home” away from the one in Chicago anyway. Resting up in Ageo city after 2 weeks spent traveling up north to Japan`s Yukiguni or “Snow Country” and then across the Sea of Japan to Beijing China. It was an amazing time with equally amazing friends who enriched the experience. I`d been through Yukiguni before and ended up staying at the same place in Echigo-yuzawa. The region is called such because of easterly winds from China and Siberia that trap moisture between the Japan Alps over the surrounding area, creating heavy amounts of snowfall and lengthening the winters there. It is truly the perfect time to visit this winter wonderland. The onsen hot springs make it that much more beautiful.
Then, it was on to Beijing. China has always been a mystery to me compared to Japan. I have been to the latter many times in the last 12 years and have become quite familiar with many aspects of the country. I can get around relatively easily with Japanese that is still growing. In short, I am comfortable in Japan, it`s neon lit streets and fragrant rice fields are a warm blanket to me. Not so China. Now, I don`t want to give the wrong impression, I really enjoy the country and all it has to offer, but even stepping off the plane and into the airport, one becomes incredibly aware that this is not Kansas anymore (or Tokyo). As a kid, I had innocent impressions of what other countries would feel like. A different smell, people wearing strange clothing, an alien vibe even. It`s this vision that draws some of us to pack a bag and leave home and the mundane behind, for others however, it can make you want to just watch some other “weirdo” do it on public broadcasting network. Yet, after a third time into China`s borders I still feel very out of place and somewhat out of time. Yes the country is making giant leaps in modernization but it still has that other worldly feel. Hutongs, ancient alleyways that have teemed with real community life for centuries, still bustle in Beijing. They snake in and out of plain sight from the main road, beckoning you to try and find your way through. Guards and even factory workers drive their work loads down the street in communist styled olive long coats, old men playing chess in matching red starred hats. The street food amazing and bursting with flavor and still all together different (scorpion on a stick anyone?) All of this and more can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but once enough time and thought is spent on the new surroundings, the people`s smiles, curious eyes and matter of fact personality disarm you and get you off that high horse, if you dared mount one in their country in the first place! This was the first of my three trips to China that I actually got to dig a little under the country`s exterior and a heartfelt appreciation cannot help to be had for a place that has held on to it`s history and culture in the face of the negative aspects of world globalization. Understanding this in regards to any culture is the first step to sitting down at the table to reason together and hopefully, share the message that will benefit all nations. Ok, I feel like relaxing and being a bit less serious now which is exactly why I bought that couch and little kotatsu to keep warm. China I will see you again soon, glad to be back home in ol` Nippon!