Resturant Review: Carpe Diem Tearoom

The quaint interior. We came at a slower time.
Their decorative napkin.
As my friend was in charge of the Brugge leg of our short Western Europe trip, and she was fully responsible for our reservation at the lovely Fort Lapin, I wasn't worried when she suggested we have afternoon tea and Belgian waffles at Carpe Diem tearoom. Of course, there are several places in Brugge for a tea date or Belgian waffles; however, Carpe Diem tearoom is one of the best as shown by their high online reviews. Therefore, I was excited about are visit. What better place to try a Belgian waffle than in Belgium, right?


Anchorage: My General Impressions

Russian dolls at the Anchorage Farmer's Market.

I don't hide my emotions well, so when my dad told me, "We're going to Alaska" back in the summer of 2013, I gave him a raw, prolonged side-eye. 
This was 100% my dad's idea!

"What's the problem?" he said in his usual jovial tone.

"Alaska?" I replied with a stink-eye. I never had the desire to go to Alaska. Although my wanderlust is seemingly endless, the state had never been an object of my affections. I was afraid it'd be boring. I was living in Taiwan at the time, but I still feared being in a state that I believed had a gross lack of diversity.

Boy, was I wrong! I thoroughly enjoyed every city and town we visited in Alaska, and while I prefer Anchorage's cousin Fairbanks, both are charming cities that I'd like to revisit some day. 


Black Women Thrive: Interview with Voice Actress "Reina"

Voice Actress "Reina"
(Cross-posted on The Blasian Narrative).

Determination. Perseverance. Ambition.

Those were the qualities anime character Naruto Uzumaki needed in order to progress from genin or basic ninja level to Hokage or leader of his town, Konoha. Although there were many battles, deaths, and long, arduous journeys between his time as a naive novice and his advancement to the position as one of the strongest ninjas of all time, Naruto always found a way to fight on and progress toward his dream. Oh, and he had to contend with and tame Kurama or Kyuubi, the nine-tailed beast sealed within him at birth for the safety of the populace.

For Reina, Naruto's story has always been a major point of inspiration.

"[Naruto] was a character I identified with the most...[he] had a crazy dream, I had a crazy dream. He was shunned by his society at first [and] I was trying to make my way in Japan[.] [P]eople doubted him, people doubted me. Anytime I was down, when my [J]apanese didn't go well in school, [or] when I was scolded by my teachers, I'd just watch an episode of Naruto, be encouraged by...[the characters'] fight to overcome adversity, and then be able to get back on my feet the next day."

Luckily Reina, a Japanese/English seiyuu or voice actress (VA), never had to fight an inner beast or in a war against evil like Naruto; however, like her fictional counterpart, she had to muster up enough determination to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a English/Japanese VA in Japan a rarity—possibly a first—for a Black woman in Japan.

Naruto pictured with his inner nine-tails.
"The dream was initially for myself. Race never came into it to be honest. I'm not bound by many stereotypes at all, not even in [L]ondon...I realise though I really want [and] need to succeed." 

Reina's resolute and studious nature was present since she was little. As a child of Ghanaian immigrants, Reina's parents stressed the importance of education as a way to progress in the UK.

"I seemed to naturally do very well in school...it was strongly enforced to study, study, study."

Aside from studying, Reina subliminally immersed herself in Japanese pop culture through cartoons and video games while growing up in the 90s. She discovered Sega games at 11 and encountered the now classic Fist of the North Star anime series at 16. She wondered why the show was rated 18+, yet quickly discovered the reason.

"I checked it out and major, major culture shock. Heads exploding, blood everywhere...I checked the back of the video and saw 'Made in Japan'...and then [I] was like 'I want more!' So I became a shounen [anime made for boys] fangirl after that and kept on renting anime videos."


5 More Ways I Saved Money in Tokyo

The five Tokyo money saving tips in this post are related to site-seeing, food, and shopping. For advice regarding accommodations and transportation, please see the aforementioned article. 


1. Rent a portable wi-fi device or prepaid SIM card

A portable wi-fi device.
If you don't have a phone plan or SIM card that is usable overseas, you will definitely benefit from renting a portable wi-fi device or prepaid SIM card. Naturally, every train station in Tokyo has a detailed map of the area, and there are guide maps in most major neighborhoods; however, you do not want to rely on these when you have a long walk and need to reference a map with your location in realtime. Having stable Internet access while on the go will also allow you to track train or bus arrival times.

I went the portable wi-fi route. There are many companies to choose from when renting a device, and after reading several reviews online, I chose Japan Wireless. Admittedly, I was a little put off by their 1998-style website design, but their service was top notch, and if I ever have the need in the future, I would use them again. I requested that my device be sent to my accommodations before my arrival, so it was waiting for me my first day in Tokyo. It came with a nifty portable charger so I was able to charge the device and my phone while I was out and about. Conveniently, I simply had to place the device in a pre-addressed, prepaid envelope sent with my initial package and drop it in the mailbox at the airport in order to return it!


4 Ways I Study Chinese

Yes, during language study sessions,
I sometimes have this many books open!
Here's some sage advice regarding language learning:

"If you don't use it, you'll lose it."

I see you rolling your eyes, but believe me, it's true! It's why I can't speak a lick of Spanish anymore!

I do language study one to three hours a day. Sometimes more. Often it involves hitting the books, but sometimes it might be reading comics, watching a drama without subs, or listening to a radio show. 

At the moment, I'm focusing on studying two languages: Mandarin and Japanese; my skills in each language are quite far apart. 

Beginner. Intermediate-advanced. Business level. Those are some of the many levels and labels people use to describe a person's language ability. I don't know which I'd use for myself. For expediency, I'd say my Chinese is a Business/Intermediate-Advanced level and my Japanese is solidly Beginner. 

While my Chinese vocabulary is large and I can respond without thinking much, my tones (I'm tone deaf) are not the best. I can read Chinese subtitles almost as fast as English ones, but always run into a character I don't recognize. I can write slowly, but still make grammar mistakes. I feel comfortable saying I have advanced listening skills, and writing characters isn't much of an issue for me.

I'd also say my Japanese listening skills have passed beginner level and are somewhere in the lower-intermediate category; I can listen to a 1-hour radio show and comprehend 50-60% of the content most of the time. My reading is nearly intermediate as well as I recognize several kanji without having to study them, and have at least the main On-yomi readings down up to mid-level proficency or N3 (thanks Chinese!). I'm working on solidifying Kun-yomi and On-yomi derived from Chinese dialects. But my writing isn't great at all because I'm just starting to study grammar rules (which are way more extensive than Chinese), and I'm still building my speaking confidence.

Anyhow, this post will focus on four of the several methods I'm currently using to improve my Chinese and maintain the skills I have. I think if you're just beginning to learn Chinese, these are things you can do in the now so you don't fall behind later. Keep in mind that I'm not a Chinese teacher (pahaha, faaaaar from it). These are simply things I do to study, and what I've noticed since I started studying Chinese in 2008.

This is the first part of a language learning series on my blog. In the future, I'd like to share more Chinese study methods, and elaborate on my progress in Japanese, especially how Chinese has helped.


Black Women Thrive: Interview with Lawyer Sheena Claire Gibson

Attorney S. Claire Gibson
(Cross-posted on The Blasian Narrative).

If you can't catch Claire in Okinawa where her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband is a United States Marine stationed on island, you can find her in Tokyo consulting on Intellectual Property law filing projects, or in New York City, her stateside base of operations. 

Traveling between Okinawa, Tokyo, and NYC might appear to be a headache for some, but Claire has lived a modern-day semi-nomadic lifestyle since she was a child as she lived between Barbados from where her family hails and New York City where she was born. Gibson enjoyed a wholesome upbringing on the island nation and spent 3-5 months a year in NYC.

"In Barbados...we lived on a 4 acre orchard. My dad was a customs official, my mother was a teacher...I went to a nice elementary school where my mother taught, did well on my high school entrance exams and moved onto one of the best high schools on the island. My free time was spent on the beach or under a coconut tree stuffing my face with fruit."

However, her opportunities to bask under the Barbados sun decreased after Gibson's parents divorced when she was a teenager and Gibson and her mother moved to NYC permanently after the split. Although she believes the move was beneficial, it wasn't what Gibson initially desired.


The Forbidden City (故宮)

My photograph of the Forbidden City in 2011.
The Forbidden City in 1900.
The Forbidden City or gugong (故宮)was crowned a UNESCO World Heritage site as it is considered the best preserved set of wooden structures in the world. It served as the imperial palace for emperors beginning in the Ming Dynasty until the end of the Qing Era, the last of China's dynasty periods. Construction began on the Forbidden City in 1406 under the charge of the Yongle Emperor Zhu Di, and it was completed in 1420. The city is about 180 acres and includes nearly 1,000 buildings.

As the Forbidden City is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Beijing—if not China—the area was completely crowded on the summer weekend my class visited. In addition, several local visitors wanted to take pictures of us. It was almost like we were a free attraction, especially for the family that had their hands in my braids at the entrance—strangely amusing!

Despite the occasional unwanted attention, I was happy to visit the Forbidden City as it is so well preserved. However, our class schedule was tight and we were only given two hours to explore, not nearly enough time to see everything. At least, I think a person would need half a day to thoroughly enjoy the Forbidden City. 






Hiking on Diamond Head

The view of Waikiki from Diamond Head's summit.
Climbing one of the steep
Diamond Head—known as Lēʻahi in Hawaiian—is a prominent volcanic crater or tuff cone on O'ahu. The crater is part of a series of volcanic forms collectively known as the Honolulu Volcanic Series. Diamond Head is a well-known tourist attraction, especially because of its close proximity to Waikiki. The surrounding park and crater are open to the public between 6am and 6pm; however, visitors are prohibited from hiking Diamond Head after 4:30pm.

Although Diamond Head is steep (762ft), the hike is on the easier side, and one could make it both ways in under two hours. Nonetheless, the path is uneven at several points, and the stairs running up the crater are somewhat steep. If you're on the athletic side, you could definitely make the round trip to and from the crater summit in under 90 minutes. I imagine experienced hikers might think Diamond Head is a piece of cake. However, if you have an injury or disability, I'd take it easy. Additionally, I would advise those with small children to hold their hands at all times. It's easy for little feet to slip and fall at Diamond Head, and it's somewhat crowded, you don't want your little angels to get lost in the rush! Lastly, I suggest you bring a bottle of water with you and wear sports clothes; you're likely to get a workout!


Cai Apologizes, Responses, and Media Attention

Cai's apology on his Facebook page.
Due to criticism, especially my Chinese blog post, Cai A-Ga decided to retire his Black man mask, and posted an apology on his Facebook page. Roughly, the apology states he is sorry for making foreigners "uncomfortable" and therefore will not use the mask again. 

Granted, I feel there is a sarcastic undertone to his response (he's a comedian after all), but he made a good decision and it is certainly a step in the right direction. He personally told me he will not use the mask in the future, but curiously felt the need to state the mask was from Japan. I told him that may be true, but he made the decision to buy it. I also suggested he use his popularity to tell his viewers in a fun way that discrimination is wrong:

Will Cai accept the challenge? I'm leaning toward "no", but I'm glad this issue has sparked a conversation that Taiwan desperately needs to have, especially as a country with a somewhat noticeable foreign population. The responses to Cai's decision run the gamut from bizarre to sympathetic. In this post, I share some of the interesting ones with you, as well as touch the recent media attention I have gotten regarding this issue.





固然佛面具可能讓一些人不舒服,不過他們也可以給阿嘎說,“我不想你用那個面具,對我很進攻” 對不對?不要等別人說你想的,你自己可以說出來或寫一篇文章。很多种無害面具他可以用,譬如說動物的。



Taiwanese YouTube Star Cai A-ga's Offensive Video (Updated)

Last week, on a blog I follow called Taiwan Explorer, I saw an interesting article (it's a good read) concerning one of the most famous YouTubers in Taiwan, Cai A-ga. Cai was asked by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Taiwan to make a video introducing a label that will be placed on environmentally safe products. You can see the video below:

A person shared Taiwan Explorer's article
on Cai A-ga's Facebook page.
As you can see in the video (and from the thumbnail before you watch it), one of the actors in Cai A-ga is wearing a mask that represents a Black man as ugly and, quite honestly, deformed. The eyes stick out in an unnerving way, the lips are exaggerated, etc. Furthermore, the person wearing the Black man mask is depicted as a dull person who cannot understand the concept of the new government seal without being told over and over again what it's for. For most Taiwanese people, this video is simply amusing and funny. They don't see any malice in it, neither do they understand how Cai's use of that mask not only insults foreigners, but gives Taiwan a negative image. What's more, Cai has used the mask in the past.

As a person who studied Poli Sci (and focused on international politics), I immediately saw Cai's video through an international politics lens.

Here's some food for thought:

One of the biggest desires for the government and citizens of Taiwan is for the world to recognize them as a country, separate from Mainland China. Out of all the 196 countries in the world, only 22 recognize Taiwan as a country:
Currently 22 states recognise Taiwan as the Republic of China (ROC): Belize, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland and Tuvalu.
-Australian Government, Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade 
Well, that's certainly interesting, isn't it? Most of those countries have a significant or majority Black population. In addition, they are small nations. Taiwan systematically gives monetary support to these small nations, invites their citizens to Taiwan (i.e., to attend college as students), and essentially uses them as a face for the "inclusiveness" of Taiwan. Simultaneously, the government doesn't seem to mind when Cai mocks and insults the people who represent those from the few countries that recognize them.


上個禮拜在我遵循的博客之一(叫“Taiwan Explorer”;是一位歐洲人的博客,他住在台灣了很長的時間)看到了很有意思的文章關於台灣最有名的YouTube星蔡阿嘎的為環保局做的影片。他代表政府介紹環保標章 。影片在下面:

在蔡阿嘎的FB有人張貼Taiwan Explorer寫的文章。
我跟Taiwan Explorer的筆者有一樣的看法,這部影片不但非常可恥,而且很尷尬。為什麼?是因為他用的面具是侮辱黑人的。他只要介紹環保標章,為什麼要給台灣人對黑人不好的印象?  我發現了蔡阿嘎以前常常用那個面具。要是他知道不知道那個面具是有攻擊性的,但是他和台灣人要知道表示黑這樣人不行。


Black Women Thrive: Interview with Artist Pearl Y. (Fumi Chun)

Pearl Y. (aka Fumi Chun)
(Cross-posted on the Blasian Narrative).

“It wasn't so much me not knowing I wasn't [B]lack[,] but me loving who I was enough to draw inspiration from my blackness.”

As a Blasian woman of Chinese and Jamaican decent, storyboard artist Pearl Y. developed a stronger recognition of her blackness with the start of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.

Recognizing and embracing blackness is one of the many topics under the umbrella of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement. What does it mean to be Black? How should blackness be represented? Who is Black? The last question is an especially touchy subject, especially for those in the Black community with a mixed race background. Some even debate the lexicon related to the mixed race community. Is a person “half black” or should the “one-drop” rule continue to define those with one non-Black parent?

Additionally, after the death of Sandra Bland, #BlackWomensLivesMatter has become a trending hashtag and discussions of misogynoir are more prevalent. These conversations place mixed-race Black women in an interesting position, especially those like Pearl who were raised by their non-Black side.


Kappabashi-dori (合羽橋): A Foodie's Dream

Kappabashi street sign.

Whether you own a restaurant somewhere in Tokyo and need a few items to run your business properly or are a foodie who loves to collect beautiful dishes and utensils with which to eat and present your creations, Kappabashi-dori or Kitchen Town is the place for you! However, if you aren't a chef, entrepreneur, or self-proclaimed foodie, you might still find Kappabashi-dori interesting due to the sheer volume of goods related to the restaurant and food preparation businesses present there. I cooking and food styling are my hobbies, so Kappabashi-dori was high on my must-visit list.
Seven Uniform seems to be the
biggest uniform shop on the street.

While many of the businesses in the area are on Kappabashi St., Kitchen Town actually extends to several of the alleys that branch off from the main road. On foot, it's about 15 to 20 minutes away from Sensō-ji Temple(浅草寺)in Asakusa(浅草). There are many interesting shops in Kitchen Town, but an exploration of the area only needs about one hour.

The jury seems to still be out on how Kappabashi received it's name. It either comes from the word kappa(合羽) or raincoats as people on the street used to hang them out of their windows, or Kihachi Kappaya (合羽屋喜八), a merchant led the efforts to build the Shinhorikawa River. However, the shop owners of Kitchen Town agree that the mythical Kappa creature is the mascot of the area, and the animal is seen in several locations on the street.