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Last weekend I took an overnight ferry from Takeshiba Pier to Miyakejima, a volcanic island off the southeast coast of Tokyo to go dolphin swimming (!!!). Miyakejima and six others comprise the (lucky number) seven islands of the Izu archipelago.

Interestingly, Miyakejima and two other islands served as exile destinations for criminals in the Edo period. I loved seeing Japanese folks, who I usually spot straightened out in billowing skirts, nylons and heels or the typical salaryman uniform, instead wearing flip flops, tanned and topless, laying in the sand or hanging from trees.

I had never snorkeled or dived in open water before so I took a group introductory lesson wearing the whole get-up of a wetsuit, flippers, snorkel, mask and all. Afterwards, we took a 40 minute ride on a fisherman’s boat to the neighboring island of Mikurajima, known to be inhabited by nearly 200 wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, distinct for being slightly smaller and spottier than their regular bottlenose dolphin cousins. We rode around in the water pointing and squealing at marine life like flying fish and a giant sperm whale (!!!) until we spotted pods of dolphins. The skipper would yell READY GO GO GO! and we’d splash into the ocean and duck our faces into the water on the lookout for our inquisitive marine friends.

The first few dives we’d see a group of dolphin fins above water but look down and see nothing, or else they’d swum away faster than we could keep up. But on the fourth dive I immediately spotted a dolphin and her pup about 3 feet in front of my face and the lil baby was playfully twirling and hugging close to its mama’s belly. I made eye contact as instructed, and gave it a lil wink. As the two swam away six or seven other dolphins came up behind me so close I could reach out and touch them (strictly verboten so I didn’t) and it was AMAZING. I saw dolphins on a few other dives but that one was definitely the most memorable. I was obsessed with the tv show Flipper as a kid  (there’s videocam footage somewhere in the family troves of me laid out across several lawn chairs squealing like a dolphin while doing the worm) so it was a bit of a childhood dream come true to interact with wild dolphins in their natural habitats.

The entire experience was nothing short of magical. Even though we were out in the ocean for a few hours it felt like a heartbeat and it was over. The water was so blue and the air so clear. I truly believe in the healing power of the ocean. It all feels like a dream. Did it really happen? The only evidence I have of it are the sprinkling of new freckles across my cheeks, these photos, and the memory (which is making Monday at the office much easier to bear).

xo your friend alice

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I went on this trip with Tokyo Gaijins, a tour group aimed at foreigners (although there are often native Japanese on the trips) interested in adventure trips in the area such as hiking, camping, rafting, cycling, etc. Take a peek at the upcoming events on their website: www.tokyogaijins.com

Location: Miyake-jima and Mikura-jima, Izu Islands, Honshu, Tokyo, Japan

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khmer we can

My birthday trip to Cambodia was a perfect jaunt composed of temple-viewing, fresh $1 fruit smoothies (rambutan aka lychee was my favorite), and sun drops on my skin. The timing was just right coming off an intense month of work where I logged over 120 hours of overtime, but I was also happy to return to the creature comforts of Tokyo after suffering from troublesome food poisoning (maybe not so in love with those fruit smoothies after all…). After walking in chaotic dirt streets alongside bicycles, motorbikes, and cars alike, and having to say ‘no thank you’ dozens of times each day to leery tuk tuk drivers and heartbreaking child souvenir salesmen, the first world guilt began to set in. This set of interactions when traveling to less developed countries is unavoidable, especially when visiting cities such as Siem Reap where tourism is overwhelmingly the source of income for residents. But gaining perspective on how people in other parts of the world live and what you really need to be happy is a large part of why I (and many nomads) relish traveling.

Still, my favorite moments are those suspensions of time when the curtain between tourist and local can slide away briefly, to open the interaction between humans. When there is no imperative to please and accommodate as a service provider, and you are able to relax and explore the similarities and values between people. The front desk supervisor of our hotel was a 24 year old student named Bun who we sat and chatted with in the lobby over Angkor beers during a lull in the day’s business. The next day was his day off and he was going with his friends to have a picnic and plant a tree. He told us he’d often gather a group of friends to ride their motorbikes to a neighboring area to spend the day eating and talking under the shade of benevolent arbors. I love the idea of using recreation to give back to the Earth rather than stripping and defiling it. Relaxation as volunteerism.

On another day’s respite from temple-viewing, my friend and I sipped coconuts in the shade of a roadside restaurant and the 17 year old girl whose family owned the place started chatting with us about her school. She asked me if I ever had people at school in America ignore me because I wasn’t as wealthy as them. I had to chuckle to myself a little bit, but I assured her that bullying and exclusive behavior happen as a teenager no matter where you grow up and that the best way to deal with it is to be kind and stick to the people who make you feel good and are there for you in spite of appearances. She seemed so determined and upbeat about her goal to graduate from high school that it made me feel strangely proud (see my picture of Min below).

Bun and Min were such happy, optimistic young people, and it heartened me to see the world through their eyes, if even for just that moment in time.

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Cambodian riel is pretty, but don’t repeat my mistake of exchanging currency for it. You will likely get less than you would just scooping up USD. I exchanged 10,000 yen into riel and 10,000 yen into USD and received only 80 dollars worth of riel and yet 90 USD. All of the locals markets and mini marts quote their wares in dollars and you will avoid the problem of having to spend all of your currency before you leave.

Details: We stayed at the Diamond D’Angkor, which is more expensive than a hostel but still very reasonable at about $20/person, including a shuttle to and from the airport. The included breakfast is a tasty blend of Western and Cambodian eats, and the staff heard it was my birthday and surprised me with a meringue chocolate mousse cake which we shared. It’s a 5-10 minute walk to the night market and Pub Street, which is the main nightlife area in the city. The sensory stimulation was a bit on overdrive so I’d recommend walking a little farther away from the main drag and wandering down some dark alley where you’ll likely find a more relaxed spot. Also try to register for a visa online before you leave or at least avoid a fee by bringing passport sized photos for visa on arrival. AND don’t miss the Khmer coffee! It is so strong and delicious and the milk tastes more complex and interesting.

I really enjoyed learning about Cambodian history and exploring its rambling temples. I hope to return one day to visit its other cities, but next time, armed with preventive digestive medicine!

xo your friend alice

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Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

itoya & library lounge

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Itoya is a hundred year old stationary store with its flagship in Ginza (think the Madison Avenue of the Upper East to Omotesando’s 5th Avenue), with nine stories dedicated to delicate brightly patterned paper, build your own notebooks, greeting cards, and paper swatches with every texture, thickness, and coloration you can dream up. It also has an annex behind its Ginza-dori entrance with another six floors dedicated to pens, pencils, paints, and writing accessories. They have a ‘Paper Concierge’ to answer all of your questions and direct you to the perfect hued paper for your love letter or wedding invitation. I took my friend Rainey there to explore and then to Library Lounge THESE, a few minutes walk from Roppongi Hills. In addition to being surrounded by books and knick knacks, you are brought a bowl of seasonal fruit and depending on your selection, given recommendations for the best mixers. The menu is encased in an adorable children’s book about animals. We shared a pina colada and a pineapple champagne before returning home to prepare for our trek to Fuji-san. It was basically your average nerd darling’s dream evening.

xo your friend alice

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Location: Itoya, Ginza, Chuo-ku // Library Lounge THESE, Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

sky above clouds // solar powered

I’m dead. Mt Fuji murdered me. But it was a beautiful perishing in a “sacred place and source of artistic inspiration”; weightless Seared into my memory. The sensation of gliding above clouds and the sleep walking all night pilgrimage to the 3776 meter summit for sunrise struck me in my deepest heart. The beauty of this planet and this experience humbled and startled me in my own weakness and strength. I’d recommend climbing it if you get the chance.
(UN World Heritage Committee)

I will post a lengthier description later of what the trek is like and how to prepare for it for those who are interested.

xo your friend alice

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Location: Mount Fuji, Kitayama, Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan