Last Christmas, I gave my parents a trip to China (and back!) as a Christmas gift. We couldn’t afford going abroad when I was a child (except for that one time in 1991 when we had saved up enough to go to Spain for a week, by bus) so I wanted to take them now instead along with my lovely wife.
About a month ago it was time for the actual trip. We mostly stayed in Xi’an, the first capital of China, but took day trips to other places.
Here, it’s easier if I just show you…
All in all, it was a very interesting trip. There is a radical difference in cleanliness, culture and people’s behavior compared to e.g. Japan.
For one thing, we were constantly photographed by strangers. Some additional facts may have contributed to this though. This will take some explaining, so please bear with me;
We went to several places where we didn’t see any other westerners, or only very few – the ones we did see were pretty much all in their 20-30’s, carrying backpacks and cameras. We stood out from the crowd even in the cities for several reasons:
We didn’t see any older westerners (40+).
We hardly saw any people with white, or even gray hair.
We hardly saw anybody with facial hair other than a thin mustache, and nobody with a full beard.
We didn’t see anyone with visible tattoos – 75% of our group had very visible tattoos on our arms.
We also went to China during the Qingming Festival, a holiday for honoring the dead, but also a time where many are traveling. A lot of people from the countryside go to visit their friends and relatives in other cities, this can be the only time of year where they leave the immediate surroundings of their villages. It appeared as if many of them had never seen westerners before, at least not like us. Some days perhaps 20 people came up and wanted to take selfies with us, but mostly people just took pictures or started filming us without asking for permission. It even happened that while we were sitting on a bench, parents came up and put their children in our laps to take pictures of us together as if we were a tourist attraction. I don’t mind people taking the occasional picture of me, but that was a bit much. This behavior was much more visible when going outside the cities to more distant areas such as on Song Mountain, Shaolin and Lóngmén shíkū. Though it did become more amusing when I started playing a game – when I saw someone take a picture of me or anyone in my company, I pulled out my camera an took a picture of them as well. Often I only had a second or so to take the photo before the people started reacting and sometimes hiding their faces. People who wanted to take selfies with me using their phones & cameras seemed absolutely puzzled when I instead took a picture with mine (though I always did let them take one as well). But it gave us all a few laughs.
I’ve said it before, but I want to remind both myself and others, because this is really important; you don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.
I think we as individuals need to hit pause more often and just enjoy ourselves, not giving a damn about what others may think about it. The ideals of others – or rather what we think are their ideals – are not applicable to us. But still we live a large part of our lives in these narrow templates, fearing what others may think of us, even though their thoughts doesn’t even affect us.
It’s entirely up to you if you want to be part of that gray mass, holding you back from doing what you would really like to do but don’t dare to, or if you want to be true to yourself.
You can write your own rules, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else (or is, you know, punishable by law).
Buy a cake for dinner just because you want to. Make out on the bus no matter how old you are. Wear a sombrero when shopping ingredients for tacos to make them more fun to eat. Get that (cool/beautiful/silly/awesome) tattoo that you’ve been thinking of for months. Jump in puddles as long as your legs will carry you. Always choose the option that will give you the best story and the best memories, no matter if it’s about buying Milky Ways to your coworkers for no particular reason, trying a tandem skydive with an instructor (worth it!) or saying no thanks to that thing at work because you just bought your first coloring book in 25 years and would rather spend time with it, sipping that wine that people are dissing but you deep down actually like.
And most of all, only surround yourselves with people who make you happy. People that make you laugh, that make you think and that make you love.
There are plenty of pessimists and energy thieves out there who will do their worst to drag you down to the same miserable level as them – avoid them if you can. If not, don’t take what they say too seriously. They are only human too, and don’t know more about how to live a life than you do.
And it’s your life. You should be the one to decide what to fill it with.
Me and my wife have been to Tokyo twice now, and I am still enchanted by this fantastic city. I miss it and have no doubt that I will return to it later in life.
I want to share a few of the things that I like about it. What you can’t see in the photos is how extremely friendly everyone is; not just the people trying to sell you things, but strangers in the street who will go out of their way to help you in any way they can.
And it’s clean. I mean really clean. If anyone sees a candy wrapper on the street, they pick it up and bring it with them until they find a trash can. This doesn’t happen very often in Stockholm.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite things about Tokyo. Click to enlarge:
This photo was taken from the bar on the 41st floor in the Park Hyatt hotel. This is the bar where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in Lost in Translation.
I can’t put my finger as of why, but I really like walking around the streets of Tokyo at night. It might be that I feel completely safe and can relax.
It turns out that Godzilla is real.
A close-up of Godzilla. Nicely done, Godzilla-game-for-PS4-marketing team!
Parallell to the main streets, things slow down a bit. But these stores and restaurants are often more enjoyable that the ones on the main streets.
The back alleys are often filled with hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Highly recommended if you have a limited budget and/or want a more genuine culinary experience.
As in all big cities, the buildings are crawling with ninjas.
This is adorable.
This is not… quite as adorable, but definitively different.
Outside a small restaurant in a remote back street.
This should be implemented world wide! Smoking in Tokyo is prohibited on most (all?) streets. Aside from the obvious health benefits for both first- and second-hand smokers, it also helps keep the streets and sidewalks clean from cigarette butts.
The food is so good! Well, most of it anyway. I tried to eat something I’ve never tried at least once a day, and not everything was a jackpot. But sushi, udon and the other “classic Japanese” dishes are superb (as you can see from my wive’s expression).
Found in a bakery/candy shop. I think the picture speaks for itself.
The Engrish was actually not as widespread as I hade expected, but did see it a couple of times a day.
Japanese toilets are crazy, often with built-in automatically extending bidet arms with multiple spray modes and water temperatures. And built-in air driers. The really good ones practically eliminates the need for toilet paper.
The guest bathroom in a coffee shop in a suburb, way off any major street, gave me this experience:
I enter the room and the lights turns on automatically.
I approach the toilet, and the lid opens automatically.
When I sit down, I notice the porcelain ring is not cold as I expected, as it has a built-in heater adjusted to about the same temperature as my skin.
Sitting down also activates the sound system which plays nature sounds with gentle streams and babbling brooks, teamed with rustling leaves and singing birds.
After I’m done and get up, the lid closes automatically and proceeds with flushing and self-sanitizing.
Sensors at the sink activates the soap dispenser and water tap when I simply hold my hands under them.
The airblade hand dryer also activates when simply putting your hands in it.
Aside from opening and closing the door, I never had to touch any buttons, handles or lids with my hands.
Far from everyone walks around like this, but it’s not uncommon.
This is more common than the kimono getup, at least in the Harajuku district.
Street performances, festivals and other celebratory events seemed to happen almost every day.
Being big in Japan was fun. 🙂
You see a lot of scooters in Tokyo, and hardly any European or American motorcycles. But I did find this beauty from Spice Motorcycles.
Despite being on the other end of the biker scope, this guy still managed to stay (sort of) cool.
Often crammed in between large buildings, these tiny shrines could be found every now and then.
Larger shrines can also be seen here and there. This one in Ueno Park houses a flame that was taken from the burning ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (later merged into a single flame). It has been burning ever since the atomic bombs were detonated over the two cities in 1945.
From small to huge, the temples are plenty.
The 5-story Kan’ei-ji pagoda was built in 1631, rebuilt 1639 after a fire, and still stands today.
Wedding ring in titanium with a diamond seen.
The absolute serenity of this cemetery was stunning. We came to see a single, specific grave, but couldn’t help but walk around among the others as well.
This is the grave of the real Hattori Hanzō. Not the fictional sword maker from Kill Bill, but the real-life ninja, samurai and general that helped Tokugawa Ieyasu become the ruler of a united Japan in the 1500’s.
Even in the middle of a city with more than 35 million citizens, nature like this exists.
Got to love the parks. Beauty and stillness unlike anything I have ever seen in a large city. This was a fairly short walk from our hotel near Shinjuku station – which is used by about 4 million people per day.
We also found turtles! I think this is Donatello.
Call me sappy, but the best part of these trips to Tokyo was that I got to share them with my wife.
As you might have understood from the URL redirection and name change on the blog, my last name is no longer Johansson.
Johansson is, along with the almost identical number of bearers for Andersson, the most common last name in Sweden. I’ve never felt common, and have never imagined staying a Johansson for the rest of my life. So when I got married last year, me and my wife took the opportunity to take a brand new name for ourselves. This turned out to take almost a year before all the hurdles of bureaucracy was overcome.
When applying for a newly created last name, you first have to apply to the patent registration office (PRV). This cost us about 3600SEK (~380€). Once that is approved, you have to apply for changing your legal name. If the first application is approved, the second can be sent automatically. If not, you have to reapply to both instances separately.
We sent in the first application for a new name more than a month before the wedding. Unfortunately, it was denied on the grounds that there was a small record label registered in Sweden with the same name. This decision could have been bypassed if we were to get a written permit from the company on whose grounds we were denied the name – so we wrote them and asked, but they refused. PRV then gave us six weeks to send in a new application, or else the paid sum would be forfeited.
After much thinking and discussion, we came up with a second name that we both liked and could agree on. That application was denied because there were 7 people in Sweden that had a similar last name – with a different spelling – but that PRV decided could be confused with the one we applied for. We again had six weeks to send in a new application.
On the next application, we got denied because there was a housing cooperative (bostadsrättsförening) with the same name.
The application after that got denied because there were businesses that used part of the name we applied for in their company name.
And so it went back and forth for about a year. If anyone thinks of applying for a newly created last name, be advised that your application will be denied if any of the following conditions are met:
There is at least one person in Sweden that has the same name as their first name – or even as a middle name. If you think that you have come up with a unique name, chances are there is someone living in Sweden (not necessarily of Swedish heritage) having that as part of their full name.
It can easily be confused (due to spelling or pronunciation) with an existing last name.
It was previously an existing last name but no longer in use, unless you are a direct descendant to someone with that name, no more than 4 generations away.
There is an existing company name, trade mark or brand name – in Sweden or within the EU – with the same or similar spelling, or that can easily be confused with any of them.
The name is generally known as a last name in any other country.
There is a generally known historic person or family with the same last name.
The name is a title on someone else’s protected literary or artistic work.
The name of, or otherwise associated with, a foundation, non-profit organization or similar group.
After hundreds of suggestions to each other, months of discussion and a whole bunch of applications, extensions and waiting periods, we finally found a name that didn’t clash with any of the above and that we were both happy with. And my wife (who is a Finnish citizen) got a part of her other language in it.
It’s a combination of words; Lumen: Latin for light. It can also be used for life. Lumi: Finnish for snow. Lumien as a whole can actually be used as a conjugation for snow in Finnish, though it is a rare one.
Once the application to PRV was approved, the second application for legally changing the name only took a few weeks.
So there it is. Frank Johansson is no more. I am Frank Lumien.