Tomorrow I return to Japan after several weeks in the US. It had been 5 years since my last visit. I had planned to do a blog post every day while visiting but that never happened because A) if you don’t go to your country for five years there are a lot of people to see and B) there is no free time when traveling with a toddler.
But here are some quick observations before I really have no time once we return.
A lot of things change in half a decade.
Five years ago Bush II was president and the financial meltdown hadn’t happened yet. I expected America to be shabby and rundown, but instead I saw thriving stylish downtowns, lots of new construction, buildings that were in good condition, roads recently repaved, people out dining and shopping. Tomoko commented that people were better dressed than five years ago.
From reading the news I expected a society full of tensions, especially after a contentious election, political polarization and Zimmerman’s acquittal. But what I observed in day to day living was a multicultural society at peace.
Oh how I miss Oregon summers and California any-season. The weather was perfect. The kind of weather you don’t even notice because it doesn’t get in the way. Every now and then I’d think, “It’s so hot and humid in Tokyo right now everyone there is indoors or miserable” while sipping on beer in some outdoor eatery.
In Portland my friends all got off work early to meet me at around 5 for dinner. That could never happen in Tokyo.
Just about all my friends and family that I met are doing better than 5 years ago. That’s really all I want.
Food is healthier and maybe it was where I traveled but I don’t remember seeing one McDonald’s. Certainly not as widespread as Tokyo.
But there are a lot more Starbucks than I remember. Almost as many as Tokyo.
Health food and organic food is totally mainstream.
Energy conservation and recycling is integrated into every day life.
The tasty Keurig coffeemakers in every hotel more than compensates but when did hotels stop stocking toothbrushes in their bathrooms?
The hipper cities like Portland and Santa Cruz have free wifi everywhere.
Target has free wifi! I bought a cell phone there for $10 and added $20 for 160 minutes. That just blows my mind. $30 for a cell phone.
Gas was about $2 not $4 as it is now. So you’d think that people would drive less. Yet I felt the traffic was a lot worse. It was the single worst thing about this vacation.
I used 3 kinds of navigators when driving. Hertz has the worst one because it wasn’t touch screen, the screen was tiny and it was fixed near the radio so I always had to look down away from the road. But I burst out laughing sometimes when I got aggravated by it because really that’s just a stupid first world complaint. If that’s the low point of my day then really I have nothing to complain about.
The car rental woman who picked me up told me that she was born in Costa Rica, grew up in Nicaragua and is now married to a Hong Kongese man of Indian descent. That is so very American. Not her background so much as that she told me her whole life story in a 15 minute drive. Strangers share so much about each other in America. It feels effortless to do it.
Moka had to deal with being strapped down in a car seat for long periods of time. It sometimes drove her nuts that she couldn’t move around or be held, but she understood and gave into long naps.
Maybe I was just lucky but security at airports weren’t as bad as I had read. TSA agents were actually friendly and tried to be accommodating.
Everyone who walked the other way on a sidewalk greeted me. I had a conversation with every server. Everyone wisecracks about something. Smiling and saying hello to strangers and even cracking jokes. It’s just what Americans do. I love that about America.
So farewell California, Oregon, the West Coast. Goodbye, large servings, cheap plentiful fruit, meat substitutes, gallon milk jugs. Tada to smiling chatty strangers, wide streets, lawns, and free wifi. See you around, daylight savings time, sprinkler systems, dry sunny weather, sparkling beaches and high ceilings. Group hug. Hopefully it won’t be five years before I see you again.