Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Backpacking in the News: ‘The Faces of Travel’

Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Credit: Justin Mott for the International Herald Tribune

Credit: Justin Mott for the International Herald Tribune

I stumbled upon a great little slideshow from the New York Times yesterday, called “The Faces of Travel.”

“The people who help you during a trip often are the ones who make the journey truly memorable,” they wrote.

I couldn’t agree more.

And it’s not just the tour guides and tuk-tuk drivers, but also the random travelers you encounter along the way. Six years ago, My buddy Mitch and I met a 65-year-old Jewish-American guy named Howard in Vang Vieng, Laos. Spent two days with him. He was a real character and an amazing storyteller. He honestly made our Vang Vieng trip. We still talk about him to this day.

When riding a bus from Laos into Vietnam, I sat beside a Japanese guy named Kentaro who happened to be from the Gunma Prefecture. He assumed I’d never heard of it, but I informed him I’d actually visited Gunma on an exchange program when I was 16. He was floored. I spent a few days with Kentaro and we became friends. I ended up visiting him and staying with his family when I went to Japan a couple months later.

Come to think of it, Kentaro and I actually sat on tiny red stools, drank $0.10 beers and ate grilled cuttlefish in Hanoi — just like those two guys in the above photo. Good times.

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39. Lost in Translation

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

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For some time, I’d intended to write a post about signs, menus and other printed materials that featured funny, ridiculous or nonsensical translations to English.

But upon finding a NY Times slideshow (accompanied by an article by Andrew Jacobs and a readers’ gallery of submitted photos), I’ve resigned to the fact that I simply couldn’t do a better job than hundreds of people at once. Check them out.

There are some real gems among the submitted photos, such as:

#9: “Decent Public School” in Varanasi, India (taken by Justin Hefter).
#20: “Careful Drowning” in Putuo Shan, China (taken by Jonas Crimm).
#43: “Genuine Fake Watches” in Instanbul, Turkey (taken by Jules Villamor).
#44: “Each hour takes about 1 hour” in Seoul, Korea (taken by bmarconi).
#59: “Stay away from the deer with ANTLERS!!” in Miyajima, Japan (taken by cesse123).
#82: “No Wasting GARBAGE!” in Indonesia (taken by Anthony Zak).
#88: “Sorry we’re open” in Instanbul, Turkey (taken by Skidel).
#151: “Wikipedia fried with eggs” on a menu in Beijing, China (taken by cohenhead21).

Some highlights that come to mind, from my travels, include:

  • “Beatiful ladies” outside a strip club in Tijuana, Mexico [Beatify: to declare (a deceased person) to be among the blessed and thus entitled to specific religious honor].
  • “Sea products” and “Shepherd’s bag” on a menu in Bratislava, Slovakia.
  • “Meet balls” on a menu in Bangkok, Thailand (see above photo).

If you have any you’d like to add to this list, feel free to post them (with a link to the photo) as comments.

Taken in Spain by Rhett Larsen

Taken in Spain by Rhett Larsen

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38. Teaching English Overseas

Friday, May 7th, 2010

I get it. You have an Arts degree. You don’t know what to do with your life; no particular career path in sight. You enjoy traveling and experiencing other cultures. You’re really into photography, architecture, music, geography, politics, history and ethnic cuisine. Yeah, you already told me you have an Arts degree.

In many ways, teaching English is like working in a restaurant. You can cling to whatever shreds of youth you have left. You can make decent cash without putting in too much of an effort. You can plug away, take time off, travel, not have a mortgage. Surround yourself with other people who are young or want to stay young. You can screw your co-workers without all that drama. It’s a good life.

This guy is a huge pimp in Korean nightclubs.

This guy is a huge pimp in Korean nightclubs.

I’m not against it. I’ve done the restaurant thing and more than once, I’ve considered teaching English abroad. I have family members and close friends who have done it or are currently doing it. Still, you have to admit it’s become a cliché.

I’ve decided there’s a three-year shelf life for teaching English overseas. You can’t really keep doing it forever. People your age are getting on with their lives back home. Unless you’ve reached true enlightenment (i.e. abandoned your native social pressure toward adult responsibility) you eventually have to hang it up, come home, attend to your ailing parents, get a real job, etc.

Becoming enlightened requires you to let go of your former self, to become a new, more confident person. There are a lot of “fresh starts” on the English teacher scene. Band, drama or Magic Card nerds starting anew on foreign soil. Misfits who dig Indie music (and wear skinny jeans, scarves, Chuck Taylors, etc.), who didn’t really fit in in high school, some of whom got bullied and are still bitter about it. Virgins.

Many of these people flourish overseas. Finally freed from the judgement of the “cool people” they grew up with, they can party their faces off and convince new groups of people they are actually cool.

Some of these awkward, newly-minted swans not only lose their virginity overseas, they actually start scoring quite a bit. This is especially true for guys. White guys, however homely they may appear, can become rockstars. I’ve seen the goofiest-looking geeks rocking primo arm candy in Japan. These guys are macking on girls way out of their leagues — girls of this caliber back home wouldn’t give them the time of day. (On the flip side, Japanese girls might be the female version of Hal from Shallow Hal. Where we see a hapless loser, they see Brad Pitt.)

Many of these nerd macks enjoy their newfound swagger so much, they never come home. That, or they lost their virginity to a pretty Japanese girl who cooked them breakfast the next morning and they thought, “I could get used to this,” in which case they married the girl and stayed in Japan forever. Their parents back home, instead of being dismayed that their son will indefinitely remain a million miles away, are ecstatic that a pretty girl actually gave the bastard the time of day. They sometimes worry the Japanese bride will figure out she’s been duped, but they quickly dismiss those suspicions. Their kid is happy.

Besides, nerdy white guys cannot resist Asian women. My buddy, who is a hard-core F.E.T. (Far East Talent) man*, often likened himself to John Lennon. Not that Yoko Ono was super hot or anything. Frankly she freaks me out, but anyway, you know what I mean (see SWPL.com or Yellow Fever). Woody Allen and Nicolas Cage are a couple other celebrity examples.

*He actually came up with the F.E.T. acronym, too. A real pioneer.

I feel like I’m getting way off topic, but am I, really? This is all part of the Teaching English ritual.

Unattractive girls do it, thinking they can get a fresh start, too. Not in Japan, honey. Your male counterparts are too busy having a heyday with skinny/tiny/ageless/pretty/subservient Japanese girls. Meanwhile, the Japanese guys don’t wanna mess with your man hands and cankles. (Heaven only knows why Japanese guys don’t  fall for less-attractive white gals the way their countrywomen do for the aforementioned nerds.) It’s frustrating as hell, I know, but don’t worry.

You’ll only have to deal with it for three years, tops.

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