Bubblegum Clouds

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I saw the bubble gum color clouds tonight mingling with the light blue sky in the evening. A blue that took me back to when I was younger. I played a black and white memory that I could not recall as well as I would have liked to.

They were gone- those clouds in a moment. I left the room only for a short while, and came back to wanting those bubble gum clouds and that light blue to wipe the blues away from my life, but they left.

They left the night asking, will we come back?

(Sept. 2014)

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To the boy sitting next to me

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To the university boy sitting next to me on the train yesterday:

Thank you so much for tapping me on the shoulder. Thank you so much for pulling out Google Translate to make an attempt to appreciate a stranger. Thank you so much for telling me about yourself. Thank you so much for letting me talk to you about my life. Thank you so much for wanting to meet again. Thank you so much for not being like the rest of the population. Thank you for giving me my favorite memory of the week.

I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting you if I hadn’t missed my stop.

Again, thank you.

The Train Stories: His Foggy Eyes

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We are attached to false feelings of belonging. We become addicted and we forget what it truly means to touch another persons life. The man sitting beside me clearly has the wrong idea.

(One year ago)


I can’t remember why the man sitting next to me had the wrong idea, but I keep getting reminded of how easy it is to become infatuated. When reality comes knocking, you feel ashamed of how blinded you had been and wish you could have been more in charge of your feelings. Cloud-9 really knows how to fog up a persons view. So whatever the man sitting next to me was doing, it’s okay because we are all human. From recent experiences, I now know how easy it is for the path to become blurred.

High Expectations of the Bus Driver

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I slept-in the following morning and took my time freshening up. It was my last day in Singapore and I had to check out of the hostel by noon. My bus wouldn’t leave until six in the evening, so I hoped that the staff would allow me to leave my luggage in the lobby while I went on my last adventure: Doing my laundry and getting lunch.
After eating my cereal in the morning, I brought my bag of clothes up to the roof for cleaning. There was a man already waiting for his load to finish and we started talking.
He reminded me of a nice, latino version of Lenny from the Power Puff Girls. He talked and talked, and seemed to have a real passion for voicing his opinions and experiences.
I mentioned to him that I would be going on a bus from Singapore to Thailand that would take me a full day. With that, he went on for about 20 minutes about how he knows people who died on those kinds of buses. “Just one little deer in the middle of the road would do it. Buses don’t stand a chance”. I was horrified. In Japanese we have a phrase for this called Kuuki Yomenai(空気読めない), which literally means, “Someone who can’t read the air”. He kept going on even though I obviously didn’t want to hear more about how likely I was to die on the trip.

After all of the graphic stories, he was kind enough to point out Little India to me from the roof. It seemed close so I decided to walk around in that area to find a Indian restaurant.

I finished preparing the schedule for the bus, and left in search for food. Red umbrella in hand, I walked in the direction that my laundry friend pointed me in. The roads were confusing, and getting lost was inevitable. I did make it to an Indian-like shop, but got stuck there because of the heavy rain. I hoped it would let up, but with it being monsoon season it didn’t happen. I don’t know where my sense of direction went, but I walked in circles while the rain poured down on me.

I arrived back to my warm hostel completely soaked. I still had a couple of hours before my bus would leave. Enough time to dry myself and bid farewell to all of my friends. With some last hugs and kisses to my hostel-mates, I packed and set off to the bus stop.

Boarding was chaotic, and it looked like I would be the passenger that was a tourist. A couple of friendly Singapore natives introduced themselves to me. I was pleased that I would have a couple of friends while traveling, and had no idea at the time how much I would appreciate them later on.

I built up an image of my bus driver in my head as this slightly overweight, smiley Singaporean male with a face that said, “I will get you to your destination safely!”. However, when my bus driver made his entrance, I was disappointed. He was a hunched over, short man with a scowl and spoke in loud Malay. No English except, “NO TOILET ON BUS!”.

Online you could choose your seat, and I went with seat 1#. When I got on the bus, I realized that I was the only one with a clear view of the driver. He was a speed demon, and as the sun went down, so did any of my safety expectations.

An hour and a half into the trip we crossed the Malaysian border. I had the thought, “He may not look like how I had pictured, and he may be driving really fast in the dark, but I bet he takes his job really seriously.” The moment that thought went through my head, I see his hand reach into his pocket and pull out his cellphone. The man started to text and drive. My mouth dropped to the floor. I had read one too many articles about accidents in cars from texting and driving and this man was in charge of the twenty lives sitting in the back.

It was a very stressful night as I watched him pull out his mobile multiple times to text. He moved on to hands-free calling as well. I was relived that at least he had the sense to do that.
Though out the night, my paranoid mind started planning my funeral music and the chances of me not arriving in Thailand seemed high.

Around midnight, a loud siren sounded off in the back of the bus and red lights came into view. On my left, three ambulances shot by me. I winced. “Please don’t let it be a bus. Don’t let anyone be hurt, but just don’t let it be a bus”.
I saw the car reck and felt a little sick. It was a van. I would be riding one the next day after reaching Thailand.

On of the notes that I jotted down in the middle of the night was: “I just want to pass out and wake up when we get there”. I had no grit for this trip at all.

After another ambulance whizzed by, and 278 more kilometers to go before we reached Kuala Lumpur, I actually started to get a little drowsy. I decided to do my best to take a nap. I closed my eyes for five minutes and I started to smell something funny. What was that smell? I know that smell, but what would that smell be doing on this bus? Oh, of course. The bus driver.
I open my eyes to him smoking a cigarette in the middle of the night. By this time, I wasn’t even surprised. I just wanted to get to Thailand.

The two Singapore gentlemen were lucky to be sitting way in the back out of view of anything I was seeing. We got off a couple of times, and thanks to their carefree attitudes, I had a tolerable trip. If It had not been for them, I do not think I would have made it out of Singapore sane.

We did a lot of talking, and they bought me a meal at the food court in Malaysia for dinner. They were high school buddies and had known each other for about ten years. When they passed money to the clerks at the food court, they told me that as a tradition in Malaysia, you have to pass and receive things with your right hand. It is seen as rude if done with your left.

The three of us got back on the bus, along with a new bus driver with a bright red T-shrit with the words, “Safty-First” printed brightly on the back. I prayed that this one would be better than the last guy.
He was very similar to the last guy. Except he didn’t talk on the phone hands-free.

After the longest 14 hours I have ever lived through, we arrived in Thailand. My new Singaporean bodyguards were going to Krabi and I was going to Phuket, this would be the last time to see them. I gave them a couple of my cards with my name scribbled on the back, but I forgot to ask for their names. Not getting their contact information is one of my biggest regrets of the trip.

I had one more leg of the journey and was the most physically exhausting. It would be another long day in front of me, but it was morning and everyone was alive and well. I was hopeful that I could get to Phuket in one piece and looked forward to what the rest of the afternoon would hold. I thought that since the sun was up, the driver would be able to see the road better, increasing my chances of not dying before reaching my destination.


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This Table is Reserved

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At about 10:00 AM on Christmas morning, I woke up to one of the Brazilian friends I had made from my hostel. He was tapping me on the head trying to usher me out of bed. “Johnna, Johnna! There’s a French guy waiting for you downstairs!”. Being half-asleep, I had never been more confused in my life at 10:00 in the morning. French guy? What French guy? He decided to drop the joke because my blank expression would not leave my face and said, “You know! His name is Wine!”. He wanted to start drinking in the morning. I felt bad because I was the one that suggested buying a bottle to share the previous evening to wish them Bon Voyage.

I crawled out of my bed and got downstairs to the breakfast area. He had already had a couple of glasses while the other two were just satisfied with buttered toast. He insisted that I start as well because I paid for half, so I agreed to take a sip. I was not feeling it that morning and it didn’t go further than that.

I smiled at his bright pink face and recalled a joke we had between us. Even though he is from Brazil, his ancestors are not, which explains the reason behind his Japanese face. They were surprised that I was actually born and raised in Japan even though I have an American Passport. On our last night together, we took a group picture and decided that the caption should be, “Guess the Japanese”.

After we bid each other farewell in the afternoon, I was itching to get some alone time and start a sketch. I had already been in Singapore a couple of days and I had not attempted a drawing. I remembered seeing a lot of stores with tiny figures and souvenirs in Chinatown from last year. I decided to head down that way to see what I could find.

I walked around the bustling area, accidentally bumping into tourists and poles. I choose a place based on a few things, one of them being comfort. Will I be sitting down? Is it in the shade?

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, I came across a shop with relatively cheap food and a lot of open chairs. I saw that one table was in good view of one of the souvenir stands. One thing that I ignored was the “reserved for credit card users” sign. I got a dirty look from the waitress and she told me to sit in the chair behind me. I got defensive and tried to explain to this woman that I wanted to be closer so I could sketch. She didn’t seem to understand, but in a huff let me sit down. I felt like I had stood up for myself, but after a minute or two it hit me that I had been a bit of a jerk to this woman who was just trying to do her job. I had been like anyone of these tourists who think they are above the rules. I got up and changed tables to the seat behind me. I called the waitress over to order and apologize.

Without that move, I think my day would have turned out differently because that seat was reserved- for the nice people I would meet throughout the day.
Three Americans that were in their 40s sat down. They noticed I was doodling and apologized for sitting in my way. From there, we started a conversation that would end four hours later. We became friends and talked, joked, and laughed together. Max told me that he learned a joke from a local in New Orleans. “I bet I could tell you where you got your shoes. “ON YOUR FEET!” They told me that they enjoyed their Christmas because we were able to meet. I can say the same with no hesitation.

I was going to leave to prepare for my bus ride the following day, but I decided to stay and finish the watercolor. Shortly after, a group of Russians about the same age as the previous table sat down in front of me. Because of Christmas, the company workers get a half day off, and most decide to go and drink beer in the afternoon. By this time, it was about 6 PM and I feel honored that the Russians decided to spend their last hour and a half of corporate freedom talking to me.
They were a loud, boisterous group that laughed whenever I spoke. They had experience with Japanese people and explained how ridged they are in work. “They never break any rules. Rules are established by people, so people can break the rules”. We got a good laugh out of that. I thanked them with a copy of one of my sketches for the holidays.

My Christmas at the shop ended with talking to my final group of the day: Three French Gentlemen. They were around my age and we spent the rest of our time at the restaurant comparing False Friends from English and French. Even though I had promised myself that I would go prepare for the bus trip, I went dancing the rest of the evening at Clark Quay with my new French friends.

It was a great day, but the cherry on top of it all would have to be coming back home at three in the morning to a room of empty beds. Nobody else checked in that evening. I fell asleep while going over the events of the day and repeated to myself, “I don’t know how that happened, but I’m so glad it did”.


This was my fourth post in my series ST-Bound. Time flew quickly after spending time in Tokyo and now, Singapore was coming to an end. If you would like to read the previous posts the links are:

My Indian Friend, The Salary Man, and Mr. Lebanon

The feeling of arriving

I shall call this post Emily


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Kind people in my corner of the world

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After a little sketch at my favorite organic restaurant, I feel a little more awake. With all of the terrible news that has been going around in the world, it is nice to know that great people are out there. I am more pleased that some of them happen to live in my area. On my way home from class, I went to go buy Imagawayaki from a shop that I have passed since I was thirteen years old. Though I have known of him for years, I have only started talking to the owner recently. A mistake in my schedule a couple of months back gave me the free time and a chance to break the ice with the nice man. Today, we talked about his feelings on learning a new language and the people that pass his stand. He had such an excited look in his eyes when he was speaking that I could not help but smile along with him. I started to get hungry so before I left I asked to buy one Imagawayaki. They would not take the money and insisted that I just have it because I helped them out with the English on their sign for customers. If any of you happen to be in Kansai, I would highly recommend the cute little street shop in Nara.

I got on the train to Ikoma and I was about to head to my favorite restaurant in the area when Sumi stopped me to say hello. The young train man who stands near the ticket wickets never fails to greet people who leave the station. He noticed that my voice was husker than usual and he ran to get me throat medicine. He didn’t think twice about it and came back with some strawberry-flavored Nodoame(のど飴) for me.

It is true that when a kindness is done to you it makes you want to return the favor somehow.

After finishing my food and a quick sketch, I think about how lucky I am to live in my conner of the world with my pencils, paper, and all of the lovely people in my neighborhood.

The Train Stories: No Sleep

photo-120“There is no sleep in this life” is what I wrote next to this image that I drew sometime back. We are constantly moving. Constantly changing. Constantly trying to better ourselves while failing twice as much.  Today I came across two quotes that stood out to me.  One from the movie, “The Chosen”. A beautiful movie. In the film, the father is working hard on his project,  and his son wants him to rest. With that, the father replies, “Only a life of meaning is worthy of rest”. That hit me. He is pushing himself to the limit and fighting for what he believes in. What does my life mean? I am here complaining about things with no depth while I could be working harder. Along with that quote I found one by Leonardo Da Vinci: ” I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have”. With those two stuck in my head, I feel ashamed. It is too easy for me to slack off and not do anything. I can only hope that someday I will be worthy of my rest.