Random Thoughts: Traveling as an Introvert

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai thus far, but I feel really bad to say I haven’t really done that much; the first full day I was here (yesterday), aside from going out to eat, I met with my Airbnb host for suggestions on where to go in the city, and I stayed in my place regrouping from my stressful travel day from Tokyo to Chiang Mai (I was worried at at least one point that I would miss both of my flights). I knew I had to do this after being nearly constantly on the move in Japan, and I think part of the reason is because I am an introvert. If you’re an introvert too, welcome and well met! :waves:

As far as the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) is concerned, I’m 50-50 INFP and INFJ, but I identify the most as an INFJ (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging, you can find out more about all sixteen MBTI types here; all the photos I found on Pinterest). People who are INFJ are known for being a bit self-contradictory and frequently misunderstood. Based on my going-on-twenty-five-years’ experience, I can confirm the self-contradiction part; I am a full-on introvert, but if I don’t have social interaction for a period of time, I can get a bit stir-crazy. I would love to see so much and take in all the information I can about a place, but at the same time, sometimes I just want to hole up with a book in a café and read and/or people-watch.

Let me just make this clear: this is not meant to be a complaint against traveling. I love traveling, and I thoroughly appreciate the lessons I learn and experiences I have in each new place. I can’t deny, though, that it’s hard to recharge the energy I lose from being around people when I’m constantly on the move in buses, trains, planes, and in tourist locations—places where there are naturally tons and tons of people.

Much as I loved my time in Japan and other parts of the world, I have to admit that perhaps cities like Tokyo and Kyoto generally run at a faster pace than I do. There would be times over the past two weeks when I’d be exhausted by dinnertime just from being around so many people, and there’d be so much chaos that I’d often get slightly disorientated—metro hubs like Shinjuku and Tokyo were a huge culprit for this. Maybe that’s why I loved being out in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia so much back in October of last year; while I was traveling in a group, there was so much open space and so many things to do that we could conceivably split off and do our own thing if we needed or wanted to.

I know I had to take time to recharge yesterday, but I also feel extremely ungrateful for the time I have in another country when I spend time regrouping, especially after a particularly stressful transit day. I know based on previous experience, however, that if I’m on a tight schedule to see what I want to see, I am often required to push past my need to recharge to do more and more; I know when I do that, I become more and more stressed out, and my behavior towards others runs the risk of becoming less than ideal. That’s not a person I want to be, especially when I’m traveling by myself. I have prioritized my peace of mind on this trip, especially since this is my first time traveling solo for an extended period of time.

I am not a therapist or life coach, so I can only talk about my experience, but some things that work for me are:

  • Doing what it takes to replenish my energy, whether it be writing, listening to music, or sitting by myself with a coffee and people-watching (it doesn’t help that sitting and watching people makes me kind of feel like Aragorn at The Prancing Pony in The Fellowship of the Ring :giggles:)
  • Traveling in the off-season, traveling to less populated areas as opposed to major cities like Tokyo or Paris, or otherwise spending time alone in nature (I did this in Japan by spending time at a cat cafe in Harajuku)
  • Booking private rooms in hostels or on Airbnb, cost permitting, if you’re traveling solo
  • Attending workshops, classes, and tours in subjects that interest you, so if you do interact socially with the other students/attendees, you can have some common ground to talk about
  • Spending more time in one place to get a more thorough, relaxed experience of the destination (as opposed to bouncing around from place to place and rushing to see everything)

Hopefully these help if you are an introvert and love to travel. It is possible for us to go out into the world and take in all it has to offer, while still enjoying our downtime and solitude. Good luck, fellow introverts, and safe travels!

I’m looking forward to spending more time in Chiang Mai, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere compared to the hectic pace of Japan. Is there anything you want me to talk about during my time in Thailand? Please let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading! Until next time, แล้วพบกันใหม่!

Six Lessons I Took From Japan: Final Thoughts

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my Airbnb in Chiang Mai, Thailand, adjusting to the new change of weather and getting ready for the next part of my trip. Since leaving Japan, I have thought about what I learned from my experiences there. My time in Japan reminded me to be present in the moment (like when I dressed as a maiko) and to enjoy the small things (like spotting the first cherry blossoms in Gion), and it reinforced my appreciation of the Japanese culture and cities with a strong public transit system. To wrap up my time in Tokyo and Kyoto as far as the blog is concerned, here are some lessons I took away about traveling in Japan.

  1. If you don’t speak Japanese, or need to use Google Maps while on the move, a pocket Wi-Fi will be your best friend! When I first got to Japan, there was a train accident that left me stranded near the airport at 23:00 (that’s 11:00PM, for those who don’t use military/European time; sorry but I’m so used to using it now), and honestly, if I didn’t have pocket Wi-Fi to find an alternative way into the city, I likely would have been crying. It was a great peace of mind to be able to access Google Translate or Google Maps (or any other navigation app of your choice), and I’m already missing the pocket Wi-Fi here in Chiang Mai. For words that I was trying to translate on menus, I also used the app Imiwa?, which works offline, so if you need to access a word or phrase on the go, that’s good as a backup (or if you don’t have pocket Wi-Fi)!
  2. Book your airfare with knowledge of your accommodations. I booked Airbnbs in the Shinagawa (Airbnb) and Nakano (Airbnb) areas of Tokyo. I had no problems with either Airbnb, but to get to and from Narita Airport, I had to cross through Tokyo to the other side of the city, which takes about two hours. I got into my Airbnb in Nakano around 1:00 in the morning, and I had to get up for my train from Shinagawa to Narita around 5:00 in the morning to get there on time for a 9:00 flight. It probably would have been wiser to book my departing flight out of Haneda Airport, which would have been closer to Shinagawa, but there we go, lesson learned.
  3. If you want to do museums or temples on a limited time schedule, PRI-OR-I-TIZE. At least in the off-season when I went to Japan, the temples and museums were open for such a narrow window of time (often 10:00-17:00, give or take) that getting around the city and getting to visit all the areas the cities had to offer was virtually impossible. Also, a lot of places were closed on Tuesdays or Wednesdays as opposed to being closed on weekends, so that was an added complication. Do your research ahead of time to figure out what you want to see and plan your days accordingly.
  4. Get a Japan Rail Pass, especially if you want to take the Shinkansen bullet trains and are going to more than one city. Obviously, if you’re staying in one city, this would not be necessary but since I stayed in Kyoto and Japan, this was a godsend. They’re a bit expensive up front, but given that a rail ticket from Kyoto to Tokyo is about $160-$180 each way, a $300 (give or take) seven-day JRail pass more than paid for itself in the time I was there. Also, being able to use the JRail pass on Tokyo JR lines was pretty sweet, and made it even more of a bargain, considering how quickly the costs of public transit add up. This leads me to my next lesson:
  5. When budgeting time and money for your trip, take public transit into account. Luckily, Japan has reliable public transportation, but they still can take a good half hour to an hour, depending on where you’re going and if you have to change routes. Plus, they do cost anywhere between ¥150 and ¥300 per ticket, depending on where you go (when I was in Kyoto, the bus was ¥230 flat-rate for an adult). From my experience in Tokyo, Uber and taxis are both insanely expensive, so if you’re on a budget, I would use them as an ultimate last resort (e.g., if you’re going out and the metro closes for the night before you can get home).
  6. Maxi skirts might not be the best idea if you’re going on a lot of escalators. I never got hurt, but there were a few close calls with the hem almost getting caught in the track. If they wore skirts, most women I saw in Japan wore knee-length or mid-calf-length skirts—never maxi skirts, possibly for that reason. That would probably be your safest option, if you prefer skirts over trousers or jeans.

What would you want to read about my time in Chiang Mai? Is there anything else you want to know about my time in Japan? Let me know in the comments below! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, now that I’m in Thailand, I have to say “see you” in Thai—แล้วพบกันใหม่!

My Experience with Geisha Culture in Kyoto

It’s no secret that Kyoto is arguably well known (if not most well known) for being something of a geisha capital in Japan. Kyoto and geiko, at this point, seem to be inseparable; even ads for the city railways in Kyoto use geisha in them. In Japanese culture, geisha (literally, “arts person” in Japanese) are professional hostesses and entertainers, well-versed in manners, culture, and etiquette to make their customers relaxed at parties and events—unfortunately, Western misconceptions perpetuated with popular culture like the book and movie Memoirs of a Geisha have placed a different image on what geisha do and their role in Japanese culture. As a result, I have to wonder about my experience dressing up as a maiko (apprentice geisha) in Gion District, Kyoto.

Note: Geiko is another name for geisha that refers to a geisha in Kyoto (source); since I’m in Kyoto, I will be using geiko and geisha interchangeably. A maiko is an apprentice geisha that ascends the ranks for over five years before she becomes a geiko; there are distinct differences in appearance at each stage of being a maiko/geiko that are thoroughly explained in this article.

I am fully aware that I was not dressed as an authentic maiko (e.g., my collar was not right for being the level of maiko I was otherwise dressed as), and I realize that this is most likely by design. Because there are still working maiko and geiko, the companies that allow for these costume experiences have to be careful not to tarnish the real maiko and geiko‘s reputations, lest they risk getting shut down by the authorities (source). As a result, there were a significant amount of rules that I had to follow when I was in the full maiko regalia, like no eating (they never eat while working—likely also because they didn’t want to soil the kimono), no drinking (likely so as not to soil the kimono—also, I remember from watching a documentary on geisha that they don’t drink unless they’re offered drinks), and no smoking.

For this experience, I chose Kyoto MAICA for the price and the good reviews I saw online. They are nestled in a side street a short walk away from Keihan Railway’s Gion-Shijo station. They have different plans for photos and style options, starting at ¥6,500 (roughly US$65). They also have plans for guys to dress up as samurai! (For the record, this is not an ad for MAICA; this is just my experience.) I booked a reservation the day before, and I would highly recommend doing so, even if it’s not mandatory. One thing they told me to do was bring makeup remover, because you cannot leave the place with the makeup still on, and I did not see any makeup remover for guests to use (though I’m sure they had some in case people genuinely forgot to bring it). They asked for no photos during the process of hair, makeup, and dressing (in fact, they asked me to lock up my phone), so I only have photos of the finished result—sorry, y’all.

After I chose my photo plan, they asked me to select a kimono; I chose a rose pink kimono with a gradient to a soft golden taupe with flower detail, because I was nervous about wearing a more intricate pattern. They then showed me to a room with coin lockers for my clothes and bag, and asked me to put on a juban (the base layer of a kimono) and tabi socks before going into makeup. They then gave me a full face of makeup, including the white base makeup on my shoulders that left the nape of my neck bare (the nape of the neck is apparently an erogenous zone in Japanese culture, from what I remembered in my research), and then they put me into the kimono.

I imagined that wearing a kimono was likely an experience from what I saw on the Internet, but when they asked me if I needed the ladies’ before I got dressed, I then realized, “things are about to get real.” The maiko‘s obi is worn higher than a typical obi to mimic a more girlish figure, so it’s naturally going to constrict your ribs a bit (while I could breathe normally, I couldn’t help but think of Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean throughout this process), and a kimono‘s usual hemline trails behind you so that was something I had to be careful with (when we went outside, the ladies tied it up as you can see in the photos so the hem didn’t get wet). After the kimono was on, they asked me what kind of wig I wanted. Because my hair is auburn and short (even though I’m growing out my pixie), I went for a full wig, but they do offer partial wigs, depending on your plan.

After the workers made sure everything was perfect, we went downstairs to do the photo shoot. The professional photos you get with your plan are done indoors in a small studio area with screens and props like fans, a traditional tea ceremony display, and a parasol. My plan included going outside to take photos; it was raining that day, so we weren’t able to get a ton of photos outside, but I was still satisfied with the ones we got.

I ended up getting two professional photographs printed as well as tons of photos on my phone that came out really well. When we were done with photos, I was asked to wash off the makeup before I got back into my street clothes (one of the ladies working there helped me clean the makeup off my shoulders). They also had a room where the guests could reapply their usual makeup before they left, which I personally thought was a nice touch.

Final thoughts

If you want to dress up like a maiko or geiko and get good photos done, then this is perfect for you. That said, while I have no regrets about this experience, I do kind of wish that there was a more educational version of this for Japanese culture enthusiasts, or people who want to learn more about the maiko and geiko besides dressing like them. Because the maiko and geiko are renowned for their privacy and discretion, I’m not sure if “Life As A Geiko 101″ would be able to happen, but for Asian Studies majors like me, and other people who want to know more about their extensive training, etc., the makeup and costume are a good place to start, but might not be enough. As for me, I was worried that dressing like a maiko without learning more about their life was straddling the line between “culture enthusiast” and “stereotypical tourist”, especially in this day and age with our growing awareness of cultural appropriation. I will admit, though, that when I was in the kimono, I felt very feminine and graceful (minus my trepidation about the high-platformed shoes, especially with the state of my knees); with my research of Japanese culture, particularly that of the geiko and maiko, I hope to take with me their refined grace, poise, and appreciation of art and culture.

Tomorrow, I’m heading back to Tokyo for a few more days, so let me know what you want to read more of in the comments! Until next time, またね!

Themed Restaurants in Tokyo: A Food Diary

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own.

One of the things I love the most about going to Disney back in Florida is how they execute a theme from the moment you approach the ride to the moment you leave, and maybe that’s why I love the themed eateries in Japan so much. American themed restaurants seem to have a reputation for being famously mediocre if not cheesy, with the food, the decor, the entertainment/service, or a combination of all three. I have not seen that to be the case in Japan, at least in my experience. I wanted to write about my experience eating the food in Tokyo. (This will also include some special first-time foods for me, like conveyor belt sushi!)

One thing that you have to take into account, though, is that some eateries in Japan require the customers to order at least one food item and one drink, some charge a service fee (the ones I went to charged about JP¥500, or US$5), and some restrict the eating time to two hours. One drink, one entree, and a dessert or appetizer cost me ¥4,000 (about US$40), give or take a couple hundred yen, at each themed restaurant I went to, so this was a treat for me. I had seen video reviews of these restaurants by Emma from Tokidoki Traveller (Alice in Fantasy Book and Vampire Cafe) so I knew I wanted to go here; if you’re on a tighter budget, I would highly recommend doing your research and going to the one you like the most (for instance, if you’re like me and are not a huge seafood fan, the Ninja Restaurant in Akasaka might not be for you, as cool as the presentation and décor appear).

Shirohige’s Cream Puff Shop/Tolo Café and Bakery, Setagaya

As a Studio Ghibli fan since I was six years old, this was a dream come true for me. This one doesn’t have as stylized of a theme as the other themed restaurants I visited (e.g., servers did not wear costumes), but there were Totoro plushies and references to Studio Ghibli EVERYWHERE, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it’s nicknamed the “Totoro Café”.

Okay, so technically, the cream puff shop (apparently run by the sister-in-law of Hayao Miyazaki) is on the first floor while the bakery and cafe are upstairs and run by a different group, but nevertheless, the cafe serves the cream puffs too.

From Shinjuku Station, I took the Metro to Setagaya-Daita on the Odakyu line, and it was a relatively straightforward walk from the station to the cream puff shop. At the end of the road, there’s a little Totoro on top of a nearby building that says “Well come [sic]” so you know you’ve wandered into Studio Ghibli territory.

One thing I didn’t realize is that the Totoro cream puffs have cute decorations depending on what flavor they are. Since I ordered the strawberry cream, my Totoro came with a little cherry blossom on his head. The result was the first food that has made me feel like a heartless monster to eat, since it was just too precious!

The shop also sells little cookies in the shape of natural patterns like mini Totoro, leaves, mushrooms, and acorns! I got a box of assorted cookies for just over ¥1000, you can also get cream puffs to go for ¥400 (according to the Tolo Café menu). I ended up spending just over ¥2000 total (about ¥1000 for a cream puff and a coffee, and just over ¥1000 for the cookies). If you can’t get to the Studio Ghibli museum (which I couldn’t; all the tickets for the entire month were sold out), this will likely be a great substitute. My childhood was so happy here, and when the lady at the counter (who I’m 70% confident was the aforementioned sister-in-law, but I didn’t bother her since the store was pretty busy) handed me the cookies, it almost felt like I was being handed the bundle of nuts and seeds Totoro gave Satsuki and Mei in the movie.

While we’re on the subject of Studio Ghibli: as I mentioned before in my article about Kiki’s Delivery Service (you can find the article here), I’ve been looking for a Jiji mug. I FINALLY FOUND ONE at a Donguri (Studio Ghibli merchandise) store in Skytree Solamachi! As I picked up the mug, I kid you not, my favorite song from Hayao Miyazaki’s movies (the end theme from Castle in the Sky, in case you’re interested) started playing over the loudspeaker. I saw that as a sign to buy it, along with a phone charm with the Laputa crystal from Castle in the Sky. They had a lot of merchandise for Studio Ponoc’s new movie Mary and the Witch’s Flower, as well as Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, but not that much for the other Studio Ghibli movies like Howl’s Moving Castle (my favorite after Kiki), which kinda stunk but I’m not complaining!

Alice in Fantasy Book, Shinjuku

One of my favorite Disney movies is Alice in Wonderland, particularly the Tim Burton version; lucky for me, Alice in Wonderland is apparently really popular here in Japan, so visiting this restaurant seemed to be a no-brainer. This is in the T-Wing building of Shinjuku, and this was an experience. I did not have a reservation (if anyone from Alice in Fantasy Book is reading this, I’m sorry!), so they went over the rules about the service fee and one food and one drink before asking me to sit and wait for Alice (I think now’s a good time to explain, as far as the guests are concerned, all the servers are apparently named “Alice”) before showing me to my table.

When my waitress told me I had to call “Alice” loudly if I needed her, that kind of threw me off; I personally hate yelling, even if they expect it, and I kind of wish that they had a different system for people that don’t like yelling, or are nonverbal. I was thinking of something like the Vampire Café’s bell or like the “Run Forrest Run” license plates at Bubba Gump Shrimp, but with card suits or the white rose and the red rose—Diamond Dining (the company that owns both the Alice in Fantasy Book restaurant and the Vampire Café) is making good use of their imagination in executing the Alice in Wonderland theme so far, so I have full confidence they can come up with a good alternative to “go ask Alice” (yes, reference to the song intended). I kind of cheated and called for her at a normal volume when she was done introducing herself to a group that was seated nearby.

Needless to say, these restaurants are geared towards people who come in large groups, possibly for special occasions (quite a few groups were celebrating birthdays). Alice ushered me to a small table that would have been hidden to people who were walking in. (A similar instance happened in the Vampire Café, so it wasn’t an isolated incident.) I had a nice view but it did feel like I was being somewhat partitioned off from the other guests. I’m not sure if this was a foreigner thing, an eating by myself thing, or a this-is-the-only-table-that’s-suitable-for-one-person thing, but I didn’t mind; I imagine this is something I as a solo traveler have to get used to.

In terms of what I ordered, I ordered the Beef and Guinness pie with broccoli, carrots, and beef, the fries with cheese sauce (served in a teacup because why on earth not), and a seasonal (non-alcoholic) strawberry drink that gave me a Cheshire smile. I was also served a standard (if I remember correctly, it was complimentary, at least in this place) appetizer: a cracker with a heart shape in it and a cup of what I believe was a corn-based hot drink (this was obviously a reference to the “drink me” potion and the “eat me” cake). After I paid for my food, I was given a packet of strawberry tea as a sort of party favor; I guess it was to keep the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theme going all the way to the end.

Final verdict: the food was pretty good, presentation was off the chart, but I could have done without the Disney songs being played (maybe cute instrumentals instead would have been nice). Given that Alice is so popular in Japan, that might explain why they went balls-to-the-wall with the theme.

Bonus #1: Gansozushi, Akihabara

There really is no special reason for why I chose Ganso; I just Googled “best keitenzushi [conveyor-belt sushi]” where I was in Akihabara, and Ganso came up, so I headed over there to try Japanese sushi for the first time. I had tried sushi and sashimi in America, with disastrous results, so I decided to give sushi another try in Japan, and even though I’m not quite sure if I like sushi just yet, I’m glad I ate here.

A very basic description of the way keitenzushi works: I sat at a diner-like bar counter that had a conveyor belt with plates of sushi going around on it (keitenzushi is often translated as “sushi-go-round” on signs). You take the plates from the conveyor belt and eat as much as you want. Each plate design shows how much it costs, so you keep the plates in a stack, and then you pay based on your stack of plates. I was able to have some kind of salmon nigiri (a type of sushi with raw fish on rice), an egg (tamago) sushi, and a tuna wasabi nigiri (it was then that I learned I do not like the taste of wasabi… I kind of liked the pickled ginger, though). I ended up having four plates for around ¥1,000 ($10 USD), which I find to be a decent price, considering the location in downtown Tokyo and the amount of food.

Final verdict: It was much better than I thought it would be, but I still feel like sushi might not be my thing just yet.

Bonus #2: Kin-No-Torikara, Shibuya

Once again, this particular suggestion was from Google, but the original idea was from word-of-mouth; I heard from a friend who had been to Japan that fried chicken almost anywhere in Japan was really good. Kin-No-Torikara is a takeaway stand at a shopping center in Shibuya, and I ordered fried chicken and loaded fries. I loved experimenting with all the sauces; my personal favorite (the red-tinted one on the left in the photo) tasted like a sweet chili sauce—for those of you who are familiar with the American fast food chain Popeye’s, it tasted almost like the Sweet Heat sauce. For about ¥500, I got a decent amount of food (but then again, I get stuffed with a small amount of food, so keep that in mind).

Final verdict: If you’re looking for good fried chicken in Shibuya, you might want to check this place out. That said, they do not have a place to sit and eat, so be prepared to walk and eat or awkwardly stand around their waste bin like I did.

Vampire Café, Ginza

Moving to the dark side of the themed restaurant spectrum, my second night in Tokyo, I headed over to the Vampire Café in Ginza. This was in a building that had a lot of different restaurants—one on each floor (I didn’t catch the building’s name, since I was following Google Maps). For a Monday evening in Ginza, it was rather empty (again, no reservation… don’t do what I did, kids).

As far as decor goes, I say this in the most loving way possible: they clearly designed this with Mundanes (to borrow a term for “normal people” from the City of Bones series) in mind—red blood cell pattern on the light-up floor in the entrance hall, cobwebs, black and red textiles, blood, skulls, coffins, spiders, and bats. Everywhere. The decor was a bit too hardcore for my taste, even with my appreciation of the Goth subculture, but I will caveat that the red rose theme in the food presentation really spoke to my soul. So, if you’re at least somewhat familiar with the vampire or Goth subculture, be prepared for at least a small degree of eye-rolling.

They call the Vampire Café a “café” but it’s more of a restaurant. The same rules applied as in Alice in Fantasy Book—one food, one drink, ¥500 service charge—as the server explained the notice on the menu’s front page. One of the things I noticed in some of the reviews was that the staff were allegedly cold and not very accommodating. That was not my experience at the Vampire Café, but I did notice they were rather hands-off. The sentiment I think they were trying to go for with their vampiric characters was “we’re trying to be polite enough not to drive you off, but we’re trying very hard not to bite you so we’ll keep our distance”, so I can kind of understand that that’s not what some people have in mind for good service. I had no issues with my service, and I think the glaring issue was the language barrier, but that was nothing Google Translate couldn’t fix (like when I asked if I paid at the entrance or at the table). To call the server, you ring a bell, which is loud enough to hear in the relatively quiet place (barring the music), so I’m really grateful I didn’t have to yell.

This is a personal preference for me, but I like to be able to look around the venue, especially if there’s a loft area or a top floor to look out on the street below (I think in a past life I was a ranger like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, or possibly a bird of prey). In the Vampire Café, they had red curtains around the booths so I couldn’t see around the place. I imagine with a group of people that would make everything seem a bit more cozy and intimate, but by myself, it kind of felt like a warm and plushy form of solitary confinement. That said, if they were trying to get you feeling “whoa what was that” when the dark shadows of the all-black-clad staff walk past the gap in the curtains for a split second, they definitely hit that nail on the head. I heard a lot of nervous giggling from other patrons, but even if it was meant to be scary, the mystery just intrigued me more; I can’t deny the sartorial choices and overall aesthetics of the staff were a part of it (*shy blush*).

In terms of what I ordered, I got a non-alcoholic drink called the “Elizabeth Bathory”, the red-wine-stewed beef cheek (which was actually really good; it had a texture similar to that of pulled pork), and a strawberry-matcha ice cream dessert in the shape of a spider (I will admit, the spider was kind of cute with the big eyes, and I almost laughed out loud when I read that the spider ice cream was ¥666).

While the restaurant does have a good amount of English on their menu (though their seasonal specials card did not have any English—consider yourself warned), I used the website MyOrder to check the menu before I came to Japan, and they claimed the drink was blood orange, cranberry, and pomegranate juice with tonic water. Also, according to MyOrder, the beef cheek was called “the dead body of Van Helsing”; people who know me outside of the blog may understand why I found this hilarious (I had to flip a coin between the beef and a pizza shaped like a letter with a rose “wax seal”—the beef won). Be advised: the website seems to have not updated the menu in a while, so they might not have all the items you’re looking for when you eat at the restaurant.

Final verdict: Food was actually really good, design was a bit hardcore but I’m not complaining, and the style of service might not be for everyone. Also, if you don’t like enclosed dark spaces or sudden noises when the server opens and closes the curtains (they weren’t too startling for me, but I imagine that could get to some people), this might not be the place for you. For me, I’m highly tempted to go back before I leave Japan to get the rose-letter pizza that didn’t end up on my plate—after making a reservation, of course.

Final Thoughts

My experience with the themed cafes in Tokyo was really good, but I also noticed that they are either really cute and light and fun (case in point: Alice in Fantasy Book, or what I’ve seen of the maid cafes in Akihabara) or dark and creepy (e.g., Vampire Café and the prison-, ghost-, or ninja-themed restaurants I’ve seen on YouTube) with hardly anything in between. I imagine this either-or feeling is more apparent to me because I notice this in America as well as with my experience shopping in Japan; while I understand the ambience and the feelings you get at these eateries are meant to be temporary, like a sort of escapism, as someone whose interests are divided between both sides of the dark-cute spectrum, it was a bit annoying to have to choose. If they had a Phantom of the Opera café, or a Brothers Grimm-themed restaurant? I’d be on the phone booking a reservation in a heartbeat. (Ya hear that, Diamond Dining?)

What else would you want to know about my time in Tokyo? Let me know in the comments below! I still have a few more days in Kyoto, so until next time, またね!

Japan: My Impressions Thus Far

As I’m writing this, I’m on a train from Tokyo to Kyoto. I’ve been in Tokyo since Sunday, and I must admit, by the end of it, I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do in Tokyo! I want to put my experiences in Tokyo into more articles, but for now, I’ve been thinking about my overall impression with Japan thus far, and some points come to mind:

  • Stand to the left, pass to the right. I noticed in the metro stations that people tended to fall into a pattern of walking on the left side of the station (I imagine that’s because in Japan, people drive on the left side of the road), and standing on the left side of the escalator so people can pass on the right. In America, and even in China, that’s not as likely to happen, if it happens at all, and the chaos that ensues seems inevitable. Regardless, I’ve been saying sumimasen (“excuse me”) a lot, mostly because I would be focusing too much on Google Maps, or I’d have no idea where I’m going.
  • Durable is not always practical. I knew full well that hiking boots were not a good option for taking on and off when entering a Japanese home; however, I didn’t realize just how often people take off their shoes in Japan. Fitting rooms in clothing stores, some parts of museums like the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku, some places like the cat café I went to in Harajuku—all of them required me to take off my shoes. At this point, I’m wondering if Japanese people can tell if people are tourists by seeing if they’re wearing shoes with laces. I was tempted to see what kind of cute, durable flats I could find in my size, but I wouldn’t have had enough room in my suitcase for my boots, so for now, I’m soldiering on.
  • Few trash cans. I know that Japan has a rigorous system when it comes to recycling and trash disposal, but I didn’t expect how few trash cans or recycling bins I’ve seen on the streets in Tokyo. In America and China, you’d have at least one trash/recycling bin per street block. Japan? I once had to keep a food wrapper in my pocket for hours before I found a trash bin. I imagine if there were a lot of waste bins, though, in such a big city like Tokyo, trash would inevitably accumulate (“if you build it, they will come” and all that), and Japan doesn’t have much space for landfills, so I understand why this is the case, but it’s still a bit of an adjustment.
  • Not many places to sit. When I was researching customs in Japan, I read that it’s generally considered inappropriate to walk and eat at the same time. That said, when I would order food at a place that didn’t have seating, I would want to find a bench so I could sit and eat, but there wouldn’t be any, so it felt like a bit of a Catch-22. I realize that as a foreigner, I could probably get away with making some faux pas, but I didn’t want to be that person. Instead, I just stood in a place where I wouldn’t be in the way of foot traffic and ate there. Was that the best alternative? I don’t know, but I was trying to make do.
  • Just how many foreigners there would be. After being in Cili (and thus being one of only a handful of foreigners in the county, to my knowledge) for almost six months, I noticed that there were so many foreign tourists in Tokyo, and I kind of didn’t know how to react at first. I imagine this is going to be similar to reverse culture shock when I return to America.

I’ve been having a great time here so far, and I hope I can have an equally good time in Kyoto! I’ve been thinking about posting a sort of food diary about the themed restaurants and other places I went to in Tokyo, but I’m not sure if y’all are interested in that. Let me know what you want to read about in the comments! Until the next article—well, it feels weird saying zai jian since I’m in Japan, so I’ll say またね!

Here Come the Pre-Travel Butterflies

Disclaimer: This article contains references to anxiety. I am not a health professional; this article is based on my experience dealing with anxiety. Please consult your doctor or a licensed medical practitioner if you feel you need medical advice.

Being excited to go on a new adventure, but also constantly on the verge of crying from nervousness.

Suddenly second-guessing every single packing decision you’ve made.

Wondering why you’re so nervous about traveling when this is something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you have done many times before.


Sound familiar? It might be pre-travel anxiety.

I’ve dealt with this kind of anxiety before, so I’ve been working to handle it in a productive manner. For this trip, however, I’ve been dealing with a potent combination of pre-travel anxiety and PMS, so it’s been an additional challenge. Do I actually need two more tops to go in my suitcase? (Jury’s still out.) Should I reschedule my flights so I’m sure I have enough time to get through customs? (I did.) Do I actually need to eat this whole bar of chocolate? (*hides the empty wrapper*)

Especially when I’m traveling solo, I view my peace of mind as worth every penny. I try to think about what I could be doing to help my nerves before I travel. Some tactics I’ve been using to calm my anxiety include:

  • Walking around to get some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise
  • Limiting caffeine and excess sugar to avoid exacerbating anxiety symptoms (e.g., restlessness)
  • Cleaning my apartment so I have a nice, tidy apartment to come home to
  • Writing how I’m feeling so I don’t bottle everything up
  • Adhering to the packing list (no crazy additions to avoid overpacking)
  • Finalizing last-minute details (e.g., how to get to my accommodations from the airport/train station and loading up my iPad with entertainment options)
  • Planning a daily routine when I’m in-country so I know where I can get breakfast and snacks near my Airbnb

I hope this gives you a starting point for dealing with pre-travel anxiety. I feel like planning a trip is part of the adventure, so I hope this makes the planning process much more enjoyable.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be blogging in the countries I’m traveling to, but I’ll be posting to social media as often as I can, and I intend to work on articles as I go. Let’s get this trip going! Until next time, zai jian!


How I’m Packing for A Month in a Carry-On

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach or its affiliates. 

I’m really excited for this article because I finally get to reveal a big trip that I’m going on! In the month of February (so about two weeks from now, as I’m typing this out), I will be traveling to Japan, Thailand, and South Korea for my Spring Festival holiday! But I will be taking a lot of planes, trains, and automobiles with little time to drop off and pick up checked bags, so I’m going to do my best to pack everything I need in a carry-on.

Now, you might be thinking, “say whaaaaa? You’re traveling for a month, and you’re packing everything in a carry-on?” Well, I’m at least going to try, and I want to show you what I’m packing in case you’re inspired to do the same. (In other words, grab a snack and sit back—this is going to be a long one.)

Before I get into the list, I want to make a few things clear:

#1: This list may be different from what I actually take with me out my apartment door. In that case, I will make updates to this article, or do a follow-up article if I deem it necessary. I also have some caveats for certain items, marked with an asterisk  (*) and addressed at the end of the article.

#2: This time of year, Japan and South Korea are rather cold, and Thailand is rather warm. I realize that traveling with only a carry-on to a colder climate can be very tricky. Luckily, I’ll be traveling from a cold climate (they’re predicting snow in Hunan next week), so I can wear a lot of my warmer layers on my flights to Japan, and back to China from South Korea. Outside of that, I’m depending on wearing the same outfit many days (ego and fashion sense be damned) and doing laundry while I’m abroad.

Also, a little-known fact about me is that I very much admire Japanese street fashion, particularly mori kei (also known as the “forest girl” style, you can find an article about it here). Part of the reason I’m packing light is because I’m expecting to buy some clothes or accessories while I’m in Japan (and possibly Thailand and South Korea as well), so I’ll be able to incorporate those pieces into my wardrobe as I go. I like to think I have enough self-control when it comes to shopping, but we’ll find out how accurate that is when I’m actually in-country.

#3: I included some pictures to prove that all of this can fit in a suitcase, a backpack, and on my person (with room to spare, might I add!) but some of the items listed are not in the photos. I use a lot of these items on a daily basis and didn’t want to put them all over the place, or I was wearing/using them when I took the photos. I’ll do my best to post photos of my travels on my Instagram (shameless plug!), so you’ll probably see some of the items there if you don’t see them in this article.

Are we ready? Then let’s begin with the basics:


Small rolling suitcase. Until I get my own ginormous trekking backpack, this will have to do. I got this for 99 kuai at Many, and I brought this with me to Inner Mongolia. This suitcase has 360-degree wheels, is fairly sturdy, and will fit in the overhead compartment of most airplanes.

Suitcase and backpack (that’s an umbrella in the side pocket)

Commuter backpack. This bag will be my small personal item, so it has to be small enough to fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. I love this backpack because it has an area for your laptop that can zipper all the way flat, so you don’t have to take your laptop out for security screening. Since I’m not bringing my laptop, I’m using that compartment to hold my day bag.

Small brown backpack. I was tempted to use this bag that I got in Cili as my small personal item; it would be big enough to fit my wallet, my water bottle, my MP3 player, snacks, and anything else that I would need en route to my destination. I decided on the commuter backpack for transporting everything (and extra room), but kept the day bag for being out and about.

Suitcase with pocket belt, travel wallet, and packing cubes

Travel wallet. I have a travel wallet that can hold my passport, tickets, printouts for my Airbnbs, etc., so I can have everything ready to go for check-in and security.

Belt with pockets. I’ve been very lucky with my personal belongings being safe when I travel, but even though I’m going to places that generally have low crime rates, I’m not taking chances.

Packing cubes. I got my packing cubes on Amazon, and they have been a godsend with keeping everything organized. I’m currently working with the idea of standing my packing cubes upright instead of laying them flat against the bottom of the suitcase, and it seemed to work out.

Prescription glasses and sunglasses. I have contact lenses, but I’ve been wearing my glasses almost exclusively. I tried to wear contacts for my trip to Inner Mongolia but that didn’t work out well, so I’m sticking with my glasses for this trip.

Clothing (in packing cubes)

Three pairs of (thermal) leggings. These will pull double duty as extra layers and sleepwear. I will wear at least one pair (depending on the weather) on the plane from Changsha to Tokyo. I brought one extra pair of lighter, capri-length leggings for coverage when I’m in Thailand.

One thermal top. Again, extra layers and sleepwear. I will wear this on the plane from Changsha to Tokyo.

One pair of lightweight pajama pants. These are for Thailand, because wearing shorts may be an invitation for mosquitoes (which is not good; you’ll learn why later).

A week’s worth of “frillies”, as I like to call them. As I mentioned before, I’ll be doing a lot of laundry, so I plan to bring a week’s worth of undergarments and then wash them.

Two sports bras. I practically live in sports bras during the winter because they’re so much more comfortable (something that’s making me consider wearing them more often as we get into spring and summer). Plus, I’m wearing mostly black and darker colors and a ton of layers (at least in South Korea and Japan), so they won’t show as easily!

Two regular bras. One downside of sports bras is that they hardly ever come in skin-toned colors like regular bras do (which seems counterintuitive, considering the popularity of white T-shirts for sports, but I’m veering off-topic). A lot of traditional mori kei fashion is based on light colors, so if I’m going to be shopping for mori kei pieces, it’d probably be in my best interest to bring a regular bra or two. They’re small enough to justify bringing as a backup.

Black tunic top. This is one of my favorite tops from Lula Roe (I’m wearing it as I’m writing this article), and I’m expecting this to be a staple when I’m in Chiang Mai.

Black cotton maxi skirt. I’ve gotten so much mileage on this skirt in the month I’ve owned it! I can wear leggings underneath it for warmth (which is how I’m wearing it as I’m writing this article), I can wear it with a tunic or tank top when I’m in Chiang Mai, and it just makes a lovely swish-swish when I walk. One downside: the one I bought is hand-wash only, which is why I’m bringing the other skirt so I can wear that one while the other one is drying (no drying machines in any of these countries, from what I’ve observed). I’ll wear this one on the plane to Japan.

Brown cotton maxi skirt. I’m aware I’m breaking a rule of having one color scheme for a capsule wardrobe; however, much as I love black (and it’s easier to find black and gray clothes I like in China), a decent part of my wardrobe leans towards an earth-toned color scheme. I’ve pretty much accepted that much of my time in Thailand will have a relatively separate, earth-toned wardrobe. :shrugs: Oh, well.

Brown dress. Thai people are very modest, so I would probably layer this over my brown maxi skirt or leggings, or as a cover-up for my swimsuit. (With a super-low neckline and a rather short hemline, there’s no way in Oblivion I’m wearing this by itself.)

Green one-piece swimsuit. Chiang Mai is in the northern mountains of Thailand, so I won’t be going to beaches like I would be if I were going to Phuket or Koh Samui. That said, I might get the chance to go to a pool or spa, so I decided this would be a small enough item to justify packing “just in case”. This could also come in handy if I’m able to visit an onsen (hot spring) in Japan that allows patrons to wear swimsuits (most onsen do not allow any clothing).

Two modest tank tops—one olive green, one cream. I plan to wear these tank tops with either maxi skirt, and the olive green one can go under my brown dress for additional coverage.

Wide-brimmed sun hat. Any porcelain woman will tell you this is non-negotiable, especially in Thailand.

Folding fan. (Clearly, this is for the Thailand heat.)

Black sweater. Another layering piece for when I’m in Japan and South Korea. I may wear this on the plane to Japan.

Black oversized cardigan. (I warned you, it’s easier for me to find clothes I like in black.) I’m wearing this on the plane to Japan.

Green oversized cardigan. This is to go with any earth-toned piece I bring or purchase.

Winter coat*. The good part is that this coat packs down very compactly, but the downside is that it’s not the most insulating for the bitter cold I’m expecting in South Korea. I’ll make it work, though

Flip-flops. I will be staying at Airbnbs that have shared bathrooms. I don’t think I have to explain any further.

Hiking boots. These are the warmest shoes I own, and I’m going to wear them on the plane. I plan to wear them loosely laced so I can slip them on and off through security, if need be (and possibly when I need to take my shoes off in Japanese homes).

Cozy socks. I’m bringing tons of these. I will need them.

Brown sandals. I will likely be much happier with these in Thailand than my hiking boots, both for the weather and for comfort.

Toiletries (all under three fl Oz/100 mL, in accordance with carry-on regulations)

Toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, and orthodontic retainer. These are not optional, if I want to make friends and influence people. I put the dental floss and my retainer in a separate bag since they don’t need to be in my toiletries bag.

Body soap. I use a small bar of Crabtree & Evelyn soap in a pomegranate scent because I love pomegranate. This does not have to go in the toiletries bag.

Stick deodorant. Especially with the heat of Thailand, this is a must-have. According to TSA guidelines, any size of solid deodorant is acceptable in carry-on luggage; all the same, do your research for what is accepted as a non-liquid toiletry on your airline.

Argan oil. I intend to use this as a substitute for hair conditioner and possibly as a pre-shower moisturizer, especially when it gets really cold in Japan and South Korea.

Night cream. I’ve put my night cream into a smaller pot because the packaging is just too bulky. I have been slacking off in moisturizing my face before bed, and it’s starting to show, so I want to keep this habit going when I’m abroad.

Eye cream. I should be able to put my eye cream in its normal pot since it’s only .5 fl oz.

SPF cream. Especially in Thailand for a fair-skinned woman like me, this is non-negotiable. I poured my day moisturizer into a small bottle, and I did the same for regular sunscreen. I heard a lot of stories that sunscreen is really expensive in Thailand, especially in the southern islands; if I need more, then I’ll get more, but I want to see how long I can go with my own supply first.

DivaCup. I’ll be traveling for a full month, and you can probably guess what that means. Of course, if you ladies use pads or tampons, adjust accordingly.

Shaving razor. Even if I didn’t pack a swimsuit, I feel more confident when I shave (even in winter), so I’m definitely bringing a razor.

Cleansing oil for removing makeup. I lost or used up the travel size bottle I had, so I had to pour my cleansing oil into a smaller bottle; I only need one pump to cleanse my entire face of makeup. I’ve tried using makeup remover wipes, but they don’t do anything for me (some makeup products these days are just impossible to take off).

Hand sanitizer. In case there is no soap in washrooms, and for being on the plane.

Nail clippers/file, hair comb/brush, eyelash curler, and tweezers. While I imagine these things are easy to find if I forget or misplace them, it would be a long month without them.

Concealer. These days, I use Urban Decay’s Naked Skin Concealer in Fair Neutral (it’s one of the only American-brand concealers light enough for my skin tone). I imagine that most days I will just wear concealer, maybe some powder, and brow product so I look put together but still low-maintenance.

Brow product. I’m not sure which one I’ll bring yet, but this makes me feel more put-together. Right now, I’m using Nyx’s Tinted Brow Mascara in Chocolate, but when I’m on the go, I might switch to Anastasia’s Brow Wiz in Caramel so I don’t have to put it in my toiletries bag.

Translucent powder. For when I want to wear makeup on humid days in Thailand, or to make it last all day. This will not have to go in the toiletries bag.

Lip balm. I plan to get a tinted lip balm with SPF before I leave so I can get moisture and a light sheen of color without having to worry about fading, feathering, or smudging. If I don’t find one before I leave, my normal lip balm will suffice.

Liquid eyeliner. I’m tempted to leave my (small, but rarely used) eyeshadow palette at home, so I want some way to dress up my eyes if I want to.

Waterproof mascara. I don’t think I need to explain why waterproof, at least for Thailand.

Medical Stuff*

Generic lactase supplements. I’m convinced I have some kind of issue with dairy, so in case I run into that issue in my travels, I’ll have something to help out.

Generic Pepto-Bismol. In case I have stomach issues from food.

Band-aids. Just in case I get a cut or blisters from walking.

Multivitamins. To avoid getting sick while I’m on the move.

Bug spray wipes. Japanese encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease, is common in southeast Asia, especially Chiang Mai. It’s too late for me to get the full vaccine (and even then, it’s super expensive), so I’m bringing Off! bug spray wipes with DEET (not the eco-friendliest, I know, but mosquitoes love me, so I’m not taking chances), and I likely will buy more anti-mosquito supplies while I’m in Thailand. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

Antibacterial wipes. I don’t think I need to explain why, given the horror stories about cleanliness at 37,000 feet.

Medical masks. For the dry plane air, any air pollution, and in case all my health efforts fail and I get sick.

Electronics (in travel pouch)

iPad and charger. I thought about bringing my laptop, considering I will be gone for a month, but I can do everything that matters on my iPad and it’s lighter, so iPad it is!

Portable battery charger. Some of my flights are long (e.g., five hours or longer) so this will seriously come in handy.

Some of the electronics I will bring, and the pouch that I will store them in

Camera and charger. The camera I have takes slightly better photos than my phone’s camera function, so I’ll want to use this for a lot of my photos.

Ear buds. For listening to music or audiobooks on the go.

Travel hair straightener. This is more important for me than a hair dryer (also, most of my Airbnbs have a hair dryer, so why bother bringing my own?)

Selfie stick. Because I get nervous about asking people to take photos of me.

Travel adapter. For different power outlets.

Fitbit and charger. I’m going to be doing a lot of walking, so why wouldn’t I bring a pedometer to keep track of how far I’ve walked?


Reusable shopping bags. In case I’m overestimating my self-control with shopping.

Travel pillow. For long flights and train/bus rides.

Some of the extras that will go into my backpack (pens and markers are in the rabbit-ear pencil holder)

Eye mask. For sleeping on flights and possibly in brightly-lit areas.

Ear plugs. Need I say more?

Stuffed animal. This is probably the least practical thing to bring, but this is for my own peace of mind. I can’t be the only twenty-something that sleeps with a stuffed animal.

Compression socks. For the long flights to Chiang Mai and Seoul.

Binoculars. For seeing things from far away (they’re technically opera glasses, but who cares—they’ll get the job done). There’s actually a reason why I’m bringing those, but I’d like to keep that a surprise for a little longer!

Diary/writing notebook and pen. I learned in Hohhot how important it is for me to be able to write my thoughts down, so this might as well be non-negotiable.

Bullet journal. I don’t know if I’m going to bring this yet, but it would help me stay on track with my daily routine and some parts of my itinerary.

Tissue and wipes. Not all public restrooms in China have tissue. I don’t think I need to say any more.

Two elastic knee stabilizers. Because I’m going to be doing a lot of walking, and high school cross country has definitely taken its toll.

Winter hat/earmuffs, scarf, and gloves. I will wear at least some of these on the plane to Japan.

Fast-drying travel towel. I can’t remember if all of my Airbnbs come with their own towels, so I want to bring one as a backup.

Pocket umbrella. If not for rain, then to prevent sunburn.

Reusable water bottle. So I can stay hydrated on the go.


* Not all of these items are in my possession just yet. Some of the stuff I’m hoping to get during my travels include:

Small layer-able warm jacket. It’s projected to be mildly chilly (around 50˚F/10˚C) during the day in Japan, but it’s going to get colder in the evenings, and I don’t think I need to explain how cold it will be in Seoul. I love my winter coat, but it’s barely cutting it with the cold in Cili. I plan to pop into a UNIQLO in Changsha before my flight to Tokyo and grab an Ultra Light Down jacket to layer underneath my winter coat, because I’ve heard so many good reviews about them and how they pack down so small. I will wear one or both of my coats on the plane from Changsha to Tokyo. Also, when I’m in Thailand, I can roll up my coats compactly and put them in my bag until I need them again in Seoul.

Antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl). I made a very unwise decision not to bring allergy medication with me to China (I hardly use it back home), so I’m hoping I can find this in a pharmacy somewhere (I know they sell allergy medication OTC in Japan, but I’m not sure about Thailand). I don’t know if it’s stress/culture shock symptoms, PMS, the cold weather, or what that is giving me allergy-like skin reactions these days; regardless, if this happens, or if I learn the hard way that I’m allergic to certain foods like shellfish (a constant fear of mine, especially with a language barrier), this is a “just in case” I’d like to be prepared for.

Pain/fever/swelling reducers (e.g., ibuprofen). Again, another unwise decision not to bring with me (for the same reason as the antihistamines), but I’ve noticed that my PMS symptoms now include flu-like symptoms (low-grade fever, headache, lack of appetite, and fatigue), so I’m going to be on the lookout for ibuprofen or sodium naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve and Midol). If for no other reason, then I’ll use it if my knees act up from walking everywhere.

Cold medication/decongestant. In case the multivitamins don’t do their one job. Normally, I’d bring my own, but my go-to decongestant is generic Sudafed, which uses the active ingredient pseudoephedrine. This is important because pseudoephedrine, codeine, and (meth)amphetamines like Adderall are illegal in Japan (source). In addition, my other go-to decongestant is Mucinex (guaifenesin), which is legal and easily available in Japan, so I might just wait until I need it before I buy it.

Shampoo bar (optional). LUSH is one of the more well-known stores that have these available. While I understand my Airbnbs have shampoo, I still feel gross not bringing any with me. I’d love to be able to have one of these with me as a backup, and not have to use space in my toiletry bag to do so.


That wraps up what I plan to bring with me for a month of traveling in the rest of Asia. If you would like to hear about specific things in my travels, please leave any ideas and suggestions in the comments! I’m looking forward to my trip, and I hope to take you along with me! See you then! Zai jian!

The way I’m packing my packing cubes (featuring Clover the snow leopard)
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