Saturday, June 07, 2008

asia + nostalgia

mittedly, i've not been very pensive of late. work has kept me rushing from place to place and from one task to another. i wake up most days between 5 and 6, log into email and begin hammering away at a task list which obstinately stays at the same length. mind you this does not mean that i'm rejecting family or social obligations, only that the combined effort of keeping all the balls in the air means that my moments of clear, uinterrupted thought are scarce.

somewhat humorously, as i was writing this we hit some turbulence on the plane (tokyo->taipei) and the 40ish looking japanese woman to my right grabbed my arm in fright and held it. like i was saying, this isn't bad, just a little distracting to say the least. truth be told after all this time flying i still get freaked out by turbulence. this might be due to losing my old pal mark stoehl on flight back from china when i was 20. i could also just be a big sissy :-)

coming to asia for me means visiting dear, old friends and revisting a time in my life when i had just graduated from university. in spring of 96, i had locked up a job at deloitte & touche in los angeles and had nearly limitless excitement for what lied ahead: an unwritten future full of palm trees, beautiful west coast women & a career in high-tech at a time when the internet boom was just beginning to blossom. looking back, i can't imagine a time in my life of more optimism and enthusiasm.

with all of this ahead of me, i focused at the time on wrapping up a couple jobs to fill my college student coffers before taking off for a summer of travel to singapore, indonesia, malaysia, and japan. i was working as a freelance web developer for a shady cat out of chicago my sister had introduced me to as well as a programmer for a professor at umich who wanted to analyze search engine results. way before google become a titan, i wrote a delphi application that parsed search engine results from hotbot, alta vista, yahoo, etc. in order to analyze their relative effectiveness. i was also polishing a web server log analysis tool i'd originally started in borland paradox for producing usage metrics for the biz school. we were actually using this to justify why we needed a website and procure add'l investment for developing the site. oh man, have times changed...

while i'm tempted to write a chronology of my summer travels, i don't remember my time so much as an itinerary as a collection of vivid snapshots in my memory. more of a series of loose photos than a video, so to speak. i recall my first taste of durian at jeffrey's parents' apartment in singapore, walking through crowded markets and garishly colored indian temples next to high tech shopping malls filled with chinese and malay singaporeans. along with jeff and his friends, arthur, wee teck and his eventual wife yen wuah, we traveled to bintan to spend a sun burnt weekend playing on the beach in bintan, indonesia.

i spent the lion's share of my travel that summer in japan, traveling from tokyo to fukuoka and back. sitting at the train station at some remote japanese city, traveling down to fukuoka to see my pal victor, a shinkansen shot through like a rocket, blowing back even my short-cropped hair. going through japan on my own was a rush, not only was the freedom intoxicating but i had spent 2 years of intensive japanese lessons and it felt great to finally use some of what i'd learned. there are those that accuse me of being an asia-phile b/c of this and my marriage to a korean, but i undertook japanese purely as an intellectual challenge having already excelled in all the romance languages and feeling like this would be the ultimate linguistic mountain to climb. to be honest, while i have very fond memories of asia i will likely always consider latino culture closer to my heart.

i remember going to see fuji-san with alex roberts, his mother and a shinto priestess who was her neighbor who had befriended me. her driving was so terrible that we all arrived at the base of the mountain nauseous and simply glad that we were no longer in the car, jerking along to the palsy of her seemingly spastic foot on the brake. i still have the ceramic & stone tea glasses she gave me before i left japan and i hope i always do. they serve as a beautiful, occasional reminder for me of this time in my life when we bring them out for a picnic or special occasion.

i will never forget going to a festival around a lake in fukuoka with victor and his then girlfriend. we ate fried tako (can never remember the name!), watched fireworks and drank entirely too much beer en route to closing out the evening with the best late night ramen noodles i've ever eaten. victor drove a cheap scooter that somewhat impossibly bore both of our weight down narrow streets and tight corners. i haven't a clue what ever happened to victor; unlike jeffrey, alex roberts and chou, he has faded out of my life with no clear means of retrieving his acquaintance. i admit this with no sorrow, it's inevitable and has happened with even closer friends. the tides of time seem to polish certain friendships into further relief and beauty while it carries others away with the retreating water.

there is a small garden somewhere in kyoto that has left a mark on me i hope to carry to the end of my days. i don't think it is a major landmark and may not live on a tourist map at all, but i recall walking up a narrow, stone street with alex roberts and finding a small entry way into a pristine buddhist garden. it was experty manicured and verdant green, the result of meticulous care and thoughtful design. as we sat and meditated, the occasional "clop" of the wooden mechanism for scaring off the deer broke the silence. the japanese name for this completely escapes me, but it fills with water from a source above it and only when weighted down with sufficient water does it drop to another wooden stick whose sloped angle encourages the water to drop from the tube that had just been filled by falling, gurgling water. it's an oddly musical, beautiful sound set against a backdrop of almost uninterrupted silence.

i just looked up and realized i've killed an hour or so writing this and have filled a couple pages already :-) time to wrap it up. off to taipei to make some new memories with alex chou.

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