Wow! LA Libraries!

I’ve landed in LA for over 4 weeks now from Mexico.

Why so long in the US and not in South/ Latin America as per plan? Well, long story short, I couldn’t get a visa to Brazil from LA. It had been the one and only plan in my trip to start and finish in Brazil and go out with a Bang! after I release all energy at the Carnival, but well, sometimes you can push and shove and kick and scream but it just doesn’t happen. Not because I can’t get a visa in LA, but because I couldn’t get an appointment to get the visa because it was backed up for over a month, which was even more frustrating! I tried going through a visa agency which can process it in 10 days but they required proof of residency in the US to apply on my behalf so that wasn’t happening either. So people, if you are planning to go to Brazil, PLAN EARLY!!

But hey, LA really is not a bad place to be in. Sunny beaches, friendly and beautiful people, beautiful hills to go hike, great food and nightlife, lots to see and do! So maybe its fate and I decided to think of it so and take this opportunity to enjoy LA, and live in LA and see what the great LA life people dream of is all about. Plus it was time I faced the big question…

What the hell happens after the journey??

In March, I have a flight back to Tokyo. So what next? I had given this some thought in the past few months but haven’t sat down to face it because it scared me tremendously to think this free life will be over . Will I continue in my previous career in advertising in Tokyo or will I shift direction and even location? It’s a big decision and even more preparation to do while continuing to travel  (especially while in Brazil and at the Carnival!) so I’ve come to think that it was fate Brazil didn’t happen and this time in LA was perfect to provide me with the environment and support to focus on the future.

And so, I have been enjoying my life in LA a lot, but one of the greatest discoveries I have made for the purpose of focusing has been LIBRARIES and I would like to share this with you.

Why are Libraries in LA so great?

  1. It’s FREE!!! and open to EVERYONE!
  2. It has free WI-FI!! (and at impressive speeds! especially coming from Latin America)  and computers!
  3. Study desks are HUGE and with plug outlets to recharge your devices with no worry!
  4. No constant people traffic and chit chat like in coffee shops!
  5. Can stay as long as you want without having to prove your customer value by buying something new every 2 hours! (which can add cost and calories!)
  6. No TVs, no Netflix (well, your choice), no refrigerator, no bed, all the luring distractions at home
  7. There’s focused people around to force you to concentrate and ride on their energy
  8. Can fell like a student again
  9. Has various locations in LA to force you to explore new neighbourhoods!

These are so obvious, but I’ve been so used to going to cafes for wi-fi that the re-discovery of libraries has been a refreshing find! So far I have visited 4 but there are so many, I am eager to make this a journey in itself.

  1. Los Angeles Public Library (downtown)

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Right in the center of downtown lies this historic library which was originally built in 1926. It has been renovated now with 4 stories above ground and 4 underground, an impressive structure with an open air space in the middle boldly displaying colorful artwork. The sun shines through the windows and creates a beautiful display of the space during the day. I especially loved that they have a study desk at the very top overlooking the city and the artwork which you can see in the photo! What a lovely place to spend your afternoon reading or studying!

The outside and the study area. Apparently they have a garden as well which I failed to check out at this visit.

Sitting in the library and working amongst the other focused people was a great way to pump up my motivation! I just wanted to read, write and learn that feeling got me hooked to do this again everyday!

The only sad and shocking downside to the visit was the ridiculous price of parking. Parking signs, I just can’t figure out in LA and I think they intentionally make it vague and tricky so that tourists and nervous drivers like me just drive in without understanding the pricing. So, for 2 1/2 hrs, I was charged a whopping $37!!! Can’t help to think and be disgusted by all the things I could have done with that money in Latin America and how the value of things differ so much…. Parking is indeed tricky here, but I hear that you just need to find the “flat fee” parking, which was still hard to find and understand for a first timer. But… moving on.

2. Beverly Hills Public Library

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Just off of the Beverly Hills shops and restaurants, the library was Oh So California! to me surrounded by the palm trees and the elegant white 90210 buildings. It is 2 floors and not as grand as downtown but well organised well lit and spacious. In the study area, the tall windows bring in an abundance of sunlight reminding you that you are in sunny California. Of course equipped with outlets and good wi-fi and even a cafe with a terrace, it was a cute, happy, relaxing library.

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The view as you step outside the library. Everything is so elegant and spacious and reeks of the relaxed high life.

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3. Doheny Memorial Library (in University of South California)

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This library is located inside University of South California which is a beautifully impressive campus in itself. The structures and the greens are well maintained with students on skateboards and bikes in their shorts and flip flops commuting to their classes. The library is gorgeous with its stone floors and high ceilings with detailed railings making it feel like historical museum or a bank. From the inside you can get a great view of campus while you work and almost trick yourself to feel you are a student again. I sat by the window pretending to be a student again (and sucking all the youthful energy from all around), which I enjoyed a lot. LOL

IMG_20160212_180154The library also had a dedicated East Asian area with impressive collections of books and historia from my home! IMG_20160212_131826
This too, I encountered problems with parking, this time not being able to find it around campus without holding a permit. I rode around for like an hour and cursed LA for being so car dependant and swore I would take public transport or Uber from now on.

Turns out, LA now has metro train lines that run by the campus so I will try that next time. I am a big lover of public transport. I really hope LA and its people will shift to use it more and lessen the burden of the crazy traffic and the crazy parking situations.

4. Santa Monica Public Library

Right in the middle of the shopping area in Santa Monica stands this modern library that was my favorite of the 4 so far. Clean, quite, spacious and well lit with a cafe in the open area, it was a library that was inviting and fun especially in a neighbourhood you can walk to go take a shopping break or lunch.

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2nd floor study area has an amazing ceiling high window overlooking Santa Monica Blvd. It is decorated simple but with warmth and a place you can read, relax and concentrate for hours.

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So that’s my list so far but I will keep on exploring more!

Here is a list I will follow based on its ratings.

Why I travel and Why South America

Why am I traveling and why in South America?

I’m often asked this in my travels and by now (8th month) I’ve answered it so much that I’ve become an expert in providing a brief explanation in a concise 1-2 minute manner in English and Spanish. But I’ve always wanted to write this down and communicate the full thoughts. So here we go.

Why South America?

I’ve never traveled to South America and it was merely an image I had in my head but there was always some fascination with South America and Latin cultures. Perhaps it’s been images I’ve created through media and movies and the people that I’ve encountered but it was the bright colors, the rhythmical music, the sunny beaches, the rawness of the cities. It was “don’t worry be happy” attitude, it was the sexiness of its people and the way they didn’t care to hide happiness. It was the dancing and the music and the rhythm.

Perhaps it was influenced by my living in Miami for 4 years for college and being surrounded by the majority Cubans, Puerto Ricans and people from all over the Latin America and the Caribbean. Miami was the US but it definitely was not, with 70% of its population being from Latino backgrounds.

And maybe it a subconscious yearning to seek something the complete opposite of reality. The reality of Tokyo where I’ve been working for over 10 years in this busy, punctual, efficient, crowded city. Where the social norm is structure and tradition, strict hierarchy, being well planned, organised and efficient. Where there is great value placed upon fitting into the crowd, being proper and following protocol. Perhaps trying to blend in this serious mannered society had pushed me to dream about something that was not.

In fact, sometimes I have been described in Japan by my friends as being “So Latin!”. I presume it is based on the image people have of being carefree and “live for the moment”, loud, always wanting a party and dancing to any beat.

So why not go there? Would I fit in better there? Will I feel more comfortable? Maybe its like going back home?

So what’s been stopping me?

Well like many people, I blamed it on a job, and a job in Japan. Vacation days that grew only by +1 day each year on top of 10 days to start with a separate few days in the summer and the winter. I was one to take longer vacations, which sometimes shocked people and clients but that was still a maximum of 2 weeks, and still with a obligation of checking mail and working while traveling.

Logistically, it meant 24-48 hours on the plane to get to South America, which meant 4 days of travel from the 2 weeks, leaving the actual vacation to a whopping  1 week and 3 days. How much can I possible see and do in a week and a half? Maybe step into Rio and hit some beaches? Maybe rush it to Peru for a glimpse of Machupichu? It just wasn’t enough.

And I was also waiting for a travel buddy. Never in my wildest dreams had I pictured to do this alone. I would always share my dream with usually a then boyfriend and convince them of how amazing it would be. I’d successfully talk them into it and we would dream about it, but it never actualised whether it was the risk of quitting their jobs or money. It was a drastic commitment, especially for Japan standards.

So dawned upon me that I’ve been dreaming about it for years now, but it’s never happened and it scared me to think how many more years would go by before it becomes a reality. Like the Carl in “UP”.

The turning point – So what trigger me to actually do it?

A position. It was around this time last year that a position became available to till and myself or another was up for consideration. It was an opportunity that was vital to the team and the company and it would definitely been a good experience to add to my resume.

But when I heard about it, I just wasn’t excited. And I realised that I wasn’t even excited about my career even if I didn’t take the position. I felt flat.

So in the taxi discussing this, I was quickly working my brain on how to decline in a reasonable and definite way. Something that would be professional than “Sorry, I’m just not excited about it”. I racked my brain until the words just came out. 

” Hey, I can’t take the it because I’m going to South America. Sorry!”

Silence and confusion. Did I just say that?!

Yes, I did and now it was there out in public. And I had said it in definite tense as if there was already a plan. I thought it was a pretty funny at that time and a clever come back like “Ha! You can’t say anything to me now!”.  But really, it was not a well thought out excuse like telling the teacher your dog ate your homework. But it was out there.

Whether my boss took me seriously or not I don’t know, but it was enough to communicate that I was not interested in the job. 

The Aftermath

I was sharing this with my friends and how funny and cleverly I had been. Hahaha. Imagine? How cool that would be to be able to quit your job to go travel and follow your dream. Yeah, how cool would that be?

But then as I said it, it felt good and I started to convince myself that this actually should be my plan. So what if I quit my job? Its quitting for a very good reason. What better reason is there but to follow your dreams? Its a hell of a lot better than transferring to a better paying job.

The more I said it, the more it made sense. Maybe my subconscious was tired of me always dreaming and talking about it and not taking any action. Maybe it had pushed me and it was the right time. Hey, I could learn a new language! I could learn to Samba and Salsa! I could take myself to a completely different environment and absorb new things! Maybe even fall in love by the beaches of Rio! I could be the crazy person that quit her career and left everything in search for a different path in life.

And I really liked how that sounded and made me feel. I realised that it had been ages since I’ve been really excited about something in this way and it was all crystal clear.

What started as an abrupt excuse out of my mouth had turned into a life changing plan. It was crazy but it felt good.

The Planning:

So seriously, how realistic is this? Well, when your mind in set to a goal, things get figured out much more easily.

I bought a world map and pinned it to my living room wall. I started jotting things down I wanted to do and posting it next to the map.

I made a plan to get rid of my belongings and my apartment, figure out what kind of trip I can afford with the finances, what I had to do for a smooth transition out of my job and my life in Japan.

Why 1 year?  

Based on various travel blogs, I set a daily budget for traveling in South America, obviously much cheaper than traveling in the US or Europe. I calculated the budget for getting out of Japan, buying things for the trip and some budget for when and if I do come back. The calculations gave me just enough to afford a budget 1 year travel.

Plus I could use my airl

Why 1 year? and the realistic planning
1 year was just enough to be able to afford and a good enough time
Plus the airline miles allowed for 1 year return ticket
Give someone a year, they could figure it out right?

And that is why I am traveling for a year in South (now Latin) America.

I was never a blogger but I wanted something to keep record of, communicate to people I care about and create as a portfolio for the future. Hence, I made a name card and put an address on it.

The most important thing was coming up with the Blog name and I had to do it quick to get it to the printer.

Hence the blog title. MEET PLAY LIVE, like from the Eat pray love – I would honestly put a better title on this if it was now, but at the time
MEET – get to know the culture, the people and absorb
PLAY – let my heart do the talking and let it do whatever I want to do – within budget and reason
LIVE – and possible find a key to my next life.

So here it is.

100 DAYS on the Road – Thoughts

So I’ve passed the 100 day mark in my travel in South America on my backpack (well, on wheels), and covered 3 South American countries (5 including the US and the Columbia layover).

I probably could consider myself an experienced traveler so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on what I’ve learned, what is important and pass this on to other traveler seeking the same experience. Nice huh?

1. Accommodation Selection  – As a budget traveler, I have been staying at hostels (except for the times I get to travel with others, then its oasis to bump up to a hotel!) and I choose the hostels from Hostelworld.com based on the budget, the ratings and the reviews. But that doesn’t always make for a right fit for you. So here are the pointers.

  • Reserve only the first night – Because until you see it, you never know if it is in a dodgy place, the photos are much better than they actually are, maybe the showers don’t have hot showers and wi-fi they promised, don’t commit to more than one night. Assess for yourself if the place has all the things you want or that you can tolerate. Hostels are pretty flexible in last minute booking and extensions just let the know you could be extending if you like it and check that the beds are available.
  • A spacious chill area – Because I’ve been staying at dorms with sometimes 4, 6 or more people, its not a place you can assure privacy and concentrate to do the things you need to do. So it’s really important to have a good spacious lounge space, a good kitchen, good w-fi so that you can spend your spare time relaxing, reading, writing, researching, cooking there. If not, you end up spending time and money going out to cafes and lounges trying to be outside. Hostels that had a really good space in my travels were Frog’s at Huanchaco (Peru) or Che Lagarto Hostel in Foz de Iguasu (Brazil) where I hung out and made me feel at home and relaxed.

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It’s really important! Because today, I’ve been going from cafe to cafe to bars with wifi to have time to myself and spending money and energy I otherwise wouldn’t need to…

2. Time for yourself – You’d think traveling alone will give you lots of time to yourself, but No! Everyday you see new things you want to do and meet new people you want to hang with so you actually really have to make a conscious effort to make time for yourself. If not, you’ll just fall behind on things you WANT to do and NEED to do. I haven’t been successful but these are the things I swear by to try to do going forward.

  • Take at least 1 hour to spend by yourself – the best way is to wake up early for me because at night, I’m too tired or drunk or just want to watch something and crash.
  • If you can’t do that… take 10 min to reflect on your day and plan the next – writing a diary is hard to do, but time goes so fast, its good to record and figure out what you need to do (like bookings, contacting family / friends, managing finances etc.)
  • If you can’t do that… have a day (once every three days or even a week) by yourself. – don’t book any activities, just plan the whole day figuring out what you need and want to do. It’s really worth it!
  • If you can’t do that… at least keep a TO DO LIST somewhere so you don’t miss any major must dos.

 3. Luggage and Packing – You’ll want to buy things when you go to a new place. You’ll get inspired by the local fashion, products or you’ll just realise your stuff just doesn’t blend in.

  • Don’t bring your best stuff and memorabilia – Because you’ll want to drop and replace them with things you need and want but they’re too valuable to you. I have so much stuff that people gave me upon my departure and they make me happy, but its really taking up space in my luggage but I still can’t drop them.
  • Lay out clothes flat – I watched this tutorial

on how to smartly pack and it really worked!! Initially I had things sorted in individual vacuums bags as per many blogs, but its annoying to take things out, especially when you’re in a rush and it RATTLES so much, I can’t use them without waking others up. I’ve experimented and its smart to lay things out flat and it avoids wrinkles!

 4. Finances  – I find it extremely difficult to keep track of your finances when you’re having fun and everything is a “once in a life time experience”. I’ve gone way over my budget for the first 2 months because I wasn’t conscious about it and I’m afraid it will affect how long I can travel for.

  • Jot down your expenses on an App– Because you won’t have time to jot the down everyday, use an app on your phone. Convenience is key! I am now using an app called Zaim (Japanese) that I jot down in local currency that converts to Yen (or the currency you like) so that you can keep track against your budget. Also, it allows me to categorise by type (food, travel, accommodation) so that you can reflect by week or month.
  • Check your credit card statements!!! – I did occasionally when I felt like it but this is really important! Thankfully my credit card contacted me to check on suspicious usage, but my card was actually skimmed and there were some usage from Indonesia, where i was most definitely not. Another friend also had the same case, used in Brazil when she was in Brazil so make sure you are checking online periodically because IT HAPPENS!
  • Keep US dollars somewhere for emergencies – Heard many stories of robberies and credit card failures even when your card is active. Many ATMs are not so reliable and sometimes you have to try several different locations to successfully get cash. So the best solution is to have some US dollars stashed for emergencies because its exchangeable almost anywhere here in S. America.

5.  People – I’ve experienced both really good and really bad. Ultimately, people influence your experience while you are traveling.

  • Talk to people for up to date info– Fellow traveler are usually the best and the most updated source of information. I have based most of my destinations and activities based on people and so far, its proven really good. Guide books and internet of course is good, but I only use it to get an idea and ultimately go with the advise of people that feel good to you.
  • Keep your own pace – Hanging out with people you meet is awesome but sometimes it can sometimes blow your time and budget. I for one am a person that usually don’t say no to invitations so it’s really important to keep your pace and  know what want and need to do.
  • Trust people, but your instincts more – Most of the people that I’ve et and offered help has been a great experience, but there are the occasional ones that you think could be risky and they are. There is no way to tell, but those were the ones I though they were a bit fishy from the beginning. One I met at a bus stop, I didn’t have a good feeling about it at the beginning and sure enough he wasn’t a good guy. Trust people, but ultimately, trust your instincts and walk away (or run away) even if you feel rude or the offer is great.

6. Language – I’ve picked up phrases to get by but imagining how much greater and deeper my experience could have been if I could communicate more leaves me with regret. But here are the things I’m doing now and improving.

  • Buy a phase book, learn before hand – which I haven’t done and I didn’t do, but many people say the same thing. Do it.
  • Try writing your diary in the local language – Which is something I started doing. Its genius because its what you want to say and what is relevant to you. I first write in my local language, then give it a try with my own knowledge with the local language then look up the words and sentences on Google translate. I think its great because you’re effectively learning the words you need and want. But does take a immensely long time to do.
  • Use an app to study – I use Chegg flash cards and you can download a whole bunch of words and phrases that you can flip through on your free time. Its like a game and its better than learning from a book. Others have told me Duolingo is really useful too.

7. Photo / Data back up – Because photos are the most precious things you’ll gain from the trip and it would be a complete bummer if it gets stolen (and it does!)

  • Dropbox/ Amazon storage – Automatically sync your photos when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. I have a separate hard drive to store, but just incase, I always have a back up.

These might be obvious, but its things I’d like to remind myself of to look back and remember.

Things I’m glad I brought:

  • Roller backpack

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There’s a lot of discussion over back packs and rollers, but I’m glad I brought a roller / backpack. I’ve only used the backpack function twice when the roads were too bumpy. Yes, the backpackers look cool with their backpacks, and I’ve hesitated to stay “backpacker” hostels because I’m rolling in, but hey, its avoided unnecessary weight on my back and its much easier packing because I can open it up. Since I’m rolling it anyway, I feel like a bigger size or even a suitcase would have been fine. Big thanks to my friends Naho, Keiko, Chizu, Kayo and Ryoko that gifted this to me for this trip.

  • Lap top

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As much as I thought twice about bringing one due to robbery risks, I’m so glad to have this and not just a smartphone. On travel, you have so much to research to do; bus routes, hostels, activities, and also blogging would have been painful (especially photo sorting and uploads) without it! Also, it makes for a great screen to watch movies when killing time or going to sleep because you pretty much don’t have access to a TV in a budget travels. Just need to be super careful and always have it locked and secured.

  • Super absorbing towel (and having 2!)

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I forgot my original one at a hostel and got 2 more from Japan, but this is great. It dries really quickly, don’t take up space and also works as a beach towel. Good to have two so that you can separate your shower and beach towels.

  • Rechargeable battery for phone

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On your long bus rides, your days out and the overnight adventures (kept my phone / camera alive on my 3 night 4 day treck!) it is super useful. Without this, I would have had no camera or music or apps to play with. Mine charges my iPhone around 3 full times so its great to not have to worry about using your phone when you want.

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Get’s awesome photos like this:

https://theta360.com/s/pnKdIvNdsqVQb3Sjc7JLiMFAe

It captures on only the front, but the back, top the bottom and everywhere else! Its been great to take this out and gain interest and capture the full scenery of the moment. Its a great conversation starter and a way to connect you and the people you meet after the moment too. Its an added bonus for me because its Japanese and I can show off my country’s hi-technology. If you can, always a cool gadget with you!

Things that I want now:

1. Kindle!

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I want one so bad now. I got rid of my book because it was taking up so much space in my minimal luggage but a Kindle could solve that and allow you to have many.

2. A good camera

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People told me I should get one before my travels, but I was sure it was going to get stolen so settled for my iPhone, But with all the amazing scenery, you’ll definitely want one. Hmmm…..

3. Thermos Cup

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For carrying around tea or even hot alcoholic drinks.

4. A sun dress

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I can’t  believe I still don’t have one (because my luggage can’t afford any more space) but this is a girls’s essential in traveling. Its good for daytime and you can put a sweater over it for night or for the cold. I mistakenly brought a nice semi-formal dress, which I have been contemplating throwing out but can’t, and also bought a long sleeve dress for the cold, but it could have all been replaced by one sun dress. Super dumb.

Well there you go. My round up of 100 days.