I feel like I need to catch this blog and you guys up on everything that’s happened in the last two months. It’s been ages since I wrote my last real post, while spending a few days in Seoul in September. Since then, I’ve been to six more countries; I spent two weeks working from Tokyo; then came back to Shanghai and moved apartments the very same weekend. I want to say in between all that that there wasn’t any time to write. But that’s not true. I’ve had time, I just haven’t had the drive. The thing is, I start writing, and then I stop, because I feel this incessant urge to convey deeper meaning into every word I type, which is clearly ridiculous. Really, my challenge right now is just not dedicating enough time to writing, so that’s what I’m going to work on for the rest of the month – making this blog alive again.
And so, a quick two-month update: D and I spent our National Day holidays in Rome (but more on that later!) and after 24 hours in Stockholm (where we got engaged!), we flew to Florida. And then after less than 48 hours in the States, D flew back home to Shanghai and I headed to Tokyo to spend two weeks as a mentor at the Le Wagon coding bootcamp.
It’s my third time in Japan and third time in Tokyo, but my first time as a digital nomad. Here I am, finally, a millennial in the throes of 21st century work-life-balance, writing code out of cafes and AirBnBs around the world. Except I couldn’t find any cafes with comfy seats or good wifi.
My AirBnB in Meguro-ku is cozy, but in the way a prison cell in Sweden is cozy. At 18 m2, there’s enough space for a bed, a closet built into a wall, a mini-fridge, microwave, kitchen sink, and most importantly a bathtub – but I can still touch the fridge with one hand, if I’m lying in bed. Meguro is lined with three-story, white plaster buildings on narrow streets. I walk home every night between 8pm and 11pm, and through I’m usually the only person on my street, I walk quietly, afraid to make any noise because somehow in Japan it feels wrong. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I bring my recycling to the first floor and an old Japanese lady helps me separate the combustibles, from the non-combustibles, from the plastic, from the paper, from the food waste (this makes me painfully aware that we never separate the recycling in China – largely because it all gets dumped into the same container in the garbage truck).
In Tokyo, everything slows down. Shanghai gives me this constant anxiety in the pit of my stomach for forgetting to follow up on all of these things that need to be completed, of constantly running behind. Tokyo is nothing like that. It downpours every single day I am in Tokyo, which casts a sort of white noise over everything. I get soaked at the Tsukiji Fish Market on Saturday, balancing my camera, the umbrella, my backpack, and the flimsy paper plate with the gigantic oyster. I get soaked on my way to the Impact Hub every morning (i keep wanting to call it a Naked Hub, but that’s just a Shanghai thing)
There’s so much to see in Tokyo, but for the first eight days, all I see are the Impact Hub, the shelf that sells Onigiri at 7/11, my AirBnB, and torrential rains. Japan feels so much more in tune with the rest of the world – it’s been so long since I’ve talked about a tech scene where Apple or Google were relevant. In China, we’re so isolated in our own ecosystem, that I can’t help but say things like “well, this would be easier with WeChat”. But in Tokyo, in Tokyo things are both part of this huge world, but also contained in their small communities. On Wednesdays, there is always homemade curry at the impact hub. Other days, people bring in gluten-free walnut cookies, cake from Hokkaido, or bottles of absinthe. It feels much simpler to make an impact on a smaller scale. For two weeks, I lecture at 9am, then troubleshoot code until 9pm, or on some days 10pm. And in the evenings I eat ramen.