Meridian Musings in B-flat minor, 1st edition

Another month gone by would have completed the eleventh anniversary since the last time either my sister or I stepped on Mexican soil. With my departure to Japan looming close, dad thought it was about time (long over due, in fact) that we took a family visit to la madre patria. His endeavors, although not in vain, only came into partial fruition… yours truly would not be receiving her passport with a lovely new work visa attached until July 25 (yep, right on the eve of Departure Day). Or as John Lennon once put it: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or some derivative thereof, because really can any of us honestly trust what’s said on the internet? Ever? Only when convenient. As in this moment: yes. Moving right along.

So, anyway, it’s a jam packed adventurous fortnight with mums and two adorable puppies in tow. Where we’ll go, nobody knows! So far I have trips to the arboretum planned and some down time to watch BBC’s Endeavour series 2… and a dental appointment on Wednesday. Family picnic going on today. So that’s three days down and only eleven more for which to plan 😀 All in all it’s been an interesting last month in the good old U.S. of A.: getting all sorts of dental work done on my calcium deficient teeth (not fun) before it’s too late and getting to hang out with family/friends has been loads of fun although jam-packed.

Here’s the “TOP 10 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS” everyone seems to want to know with great urgency:

  1. Are you studying abroad again… I thought you graduated?
  2. Oh, you’ve graduated! But how did you get hired if you didn’t major in English?
  3. Do you speak Japanese? Like a native?
  4. Can you translate (insert-random-phrase-or-cuss-word-here) into Japanese?
  5. Are you nervous?
  6. Are you afraid of living alone?
  7. Are you running away?
  8. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
  9. Do you like Japan or kids or teaching?
  10. Are you going to get married with a Japanese boy and never come back?

A: 1. I graduated in May; 2. JET Program will accept anyone who has a Bachelor’s degree and a competitive resume; 3. Yes. No; 4. On principle I refuse to translate cuss words although I do not mind teaching you useful phrases; 5. A little bit! I’d be lying if I said no since it’s my first time alone; 6. Not afraid but apprehensive since I’m on the first floor; 7. Yes, always, forever; 8. Live it – whatever comes my way – undecided; 9. Yes, yes, maybe; 10. Refer to answer for question 8.

This program to be followed with an article, sometime next week, on how to prepare for an overseas adventure, or basically a glorified checklist for things to get done before leaving your home country. Smashing!

Thus concludes the Meridian Musings in B-flat minor, 1st edition (aka: procrastinate on packing/research/blog article/life). In the meantime, please enjoy some complimentary Chopin. With 90% more B-flat minor!

How to Pack for Long-Term Travel Part II

 

all-packed

therecapIn the last post we discussed the theory behind packing and some common sense steps (Research, Inventory, Weeding) for cutting back on how much you’ll take. Now we’ll get to the nit and grit on different methods of packing, how much you’ll actually need to take abroad (no more and no less, trust me), and I’ll try to get into as much detail as I possibly can in regards to Japanese culture.

So let’s get to it! Let’s talk packing essential number 1: Le Suitcase! 🙂

suitcasesA suitcase is a suitcase is a suitcase, right? Well, depends on the kind of travel you’re going to take up… and for long-term travel, especially when living for extended periods of time (years) in a foreign country. A suitcase should only be purchased if it stands up to the L.E.D.D.  test:

Is the suitcase (while empty):
LIGHT?
EASY to transport/store?
DURABLE?
And, do the DIMENSIONS fit the flight allowance?

After doing some preliminary research, I found that most airlines offer 62 inches (L + W + H) with 50 lb dimension and weight limit for all checked baggage on international flights. Domestic flights may vary but we won’t worry about those just yet.  And so this is where you really want to take advantage of lightweight luggage: when you’ve only got 50 pounds, you have to make them stretch the extra mile. Remember, even though we’ve already done our clothes research and inventory, weeding in a large part correlates to the baggage allowance and also on personal choice. What goes for the ultra-minimalist will not be enough for the pack rat traveler. It’s all about striking a balance in packing, which we’ll go over in the next section. So this brings us to types of luggage and knowing how to invest in a nice set that will last you out for as long as your passport is valid (generally about 10 years worth). Brand name luggage sets can run in the hundreds so knowing where to look will bring down the price to an average of $150 versus department store price of $300 upwards. Generally, there are two types on the market these days: polyester/nylon (soft) and polycarbonate/plastic (hard) shelled suitcases, although I’ve heard of leather and canvas material being used as well.

polyester_bothPros: Cheaper, weigh less when frames are made of aluminum or fiberglass. Those with thicker weave patterns make for more durable soft shells. Expandable.

Cons: Not as durable so do not store fragile items or electronics in these cases. Wheels do not rotate (compare model to the left and the polycarbonate down below). Check for quality of stitching before purchasing. Only one packing compartment = less space. Needs to be cleaned more often because fabric case will trap odors and particles more than a hard shell case.

polycarbonate Pros: Polycarbonate is more durable and weighs as much or less than soft shell suitcases, have rotating wheels, and two packing compartments: main on the right, secondary to the left.

Cons: Scratches and water stains will show more readily. When cleaning a polycarbonate, drying the case right away is essential to maintaining its aesthetics. Check that if comes with a zipper for expanding space between the main and secondary packing compartments.

In summation: essentially it comes down to what you prefer in a case and for me, having used both extensively, the polycarbonates win hands down every time. I was able to find an amazing set of two in a beautiful dark navy blue at Costco. They’ve been taken to Japan and Mexico, roughly handled, shoved, and rolled. Still, they look and function as well as if I had bought them yesterday (even though they have their share of minor scratches).

theminimalist

  • 1 set formal business attire (as in the works) – MEN: the suit, neckties, dress socks, business shoes. WOMEN: skirt or pants suit with business jacket, pantyhose, dress shoes.
  • 3-4 sets of business casual for work (or if you’re really confident about your mix and match skills, just 3 will suffice) – button up blouses/slacks or skirts.
  • 3 sets of casual, daily wear (upgrade to 4-5 sets if you know you won’t be able to find your size readily abroad)
  • 1 sweater for autumn
  • A week’s worth of undergarments (underwear/bras/socks)
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 extra pair of shoes (preferably comfortable running shoes; walking can be brutal if you are not used to mass transport and being without a car longer than a day)
  • Travel size toiletries (trust me, you don’t need anymore)
  • TAKE TWO STICKS OF YOUR FAVORITE ANTIPERSPIRANTS. That should last you the year and one really humid summer.
  • Electronics as necessary (laptop, camera, tablet/Kindle)

Ship winter clothes in a box if you can’t find anything in your size abroad. Otherwise purchase on site as the locals will always have the best winter clothes for their type of winter weather. The ULTRA-minimalist will cut this list down to half 😉 Pajamas? Who needs pajamas? Clothes? Pshaw, I’ll just wash this every day. Satirical dramatization, of course 😉 The people responsible for posting this article have been sacked (just kidding). If you follow these guidelines you will only use one polycarbonate suitcase.

howtopackasuitcaseTime and again, the world seems to be divided, perpetually, into two field camps: Them v.s. Us, Allies v.s. Axis, Lannisters v.s. Starks, Team Edward v.s. Team Jacob, coffee lovers v.s. tea lovers… and so the story goes. Packing has it’s own version and the two main camps stand as charged:

Rollers v.s. Folders

Now before you get your knickers into a figurative twist (corny pun intended… literally), keep in mind that both methods should be used. Not all fabric types can withstand the strains of tight rolling, but that being said, you should be rolling more than folding. The reason being that: rolling saves you more space than folding.

TIPS: Make sure that while rolling, you do so as tightly as possible to minimize bulk. For business suits/formal wear: FOLD, DO NOT ROLL. For jeans, you want to start from the legs up after folding lengthwise down. Blouses and clothes made of more fragile material should just be folded. Make sure to line suitcase with your rolled clothing as best as possible to maximize packing space. Heavier items should be packed closer to the wheels for balance. Just use general common sense physics when in doubt 😉

::SHIRTS::

rolling_1 rolling_2 rolling_3

::BLOUSES::

Basically the same fold one finds in department stores. To protect fragile clothing, separate each layer with plastic. Not necessary but can be done to minimize wrinkles.

blouse_a blouse_b

::JEANS::

jeans_a jeans_b jeans_c

Et voila! Packing a suitcase and maximizing on space has never been easier. It just takes some practice and lots of creativity to fit everything into one piece.

As for Japanese office culture: they are much more formal than their American counterparts. No casual days at work and everyone has a place on the status ladder that depends on a variety of factors such as their age, where they graduated from, and how long they have worked for that one company. Your office mates will more often than not be like second family and in some cases you will find yourself going out for drinks with them to maintain good rapport and colleague solidarity than you will be spending time at home… there were nights when my first host family’s dad would stumble in at one in the morning. As a foreigner finding your niche is important and might be difficult. I’ll find out more about this once I begin working in Japan but from my experiences as a student at my host university, it was so hard to fit in as ‘one of them’ instead of as the somewhat cool foreigner friend (a.k.a “other”).

How to Pack for Long-Term Travel Part I

suitcase_packing

introductionIt takes many types of people to make the world go round but to some extent or other we are all travelers by nature: curious, adaptable, resourceful, and of course survivors. Our species has spread and evolved across every continent and settled in as varied a geographic setting as any that can be found on planet Earth.

But these days we travel more so for business or pleasure than for outright survival, still travelers we remain: from the casual weekend family visit and the cross country road trip to the international months-long backpacking affair and the long-term immigration settling. Unlike our medieval ancestors who were more likely to be born, raised, and die in the village/town/city of their birth, current generations are uprooting more frequently than ever before in history. Mainly for economic reasons (ironically, I cannot find a job in the country that prides itself on perpetuating the ideal of the American Dream even with a degree), which make experimentation with international unions quite popular because they facilitate this kind of uprooting for the citizens of participating such as in the case of the European Union. As such you are most likely reading this article because you are contemplating making such a move yourself and don’t know where to start. Welcome!

This article will be focusing on travel packing for upwards of a year or more but is easily applicable to the semester study abroad student stint. It’s broken down into three easy steps that will cover the initial essentials of packing and how to choose what you will be taking abroad with you.

resesarchPut those research skills to good use, my lovelies. Find out everything you can about your destination: geography, geology, and the highest/lowest/average recorded temperature are all great places to start. Become a fluent converter of Celsius (also known as Centigrade in some countries) and Fahrenheit. You may even want to look up humidity levels because dry heat and humid heat are two different situations entirely. Trust me. As a native Californian I thought I could handle heat, after all the running joke in this state is that California has only two seasons: summer… and not summer. That is until I found myself in Tokyo’s muggy, typhoon mess and between swimming in my own sticky sweat vs weather that was twenty to thirty degrees hotter but drier, I choose the latter any day. So… prepare yourself! Even when you think you’ve got something, turns out the differences might surprise you, too.

For those going to countries with significantly colder weather: although you may feel like investing in TWO suitcases just to accommodate all of your winter regalia, first stop and investigate what options, if any, your new home country will have for you. Sometimes it’s cheaper to purchase it on location than it would be to pay charges for extra check-in baggage. In the event that your new home country will not be able to carry your size (Japan, if you’re a taller/larger/wider American female such as myself – woefully a comfortable medium in USA sizing is an extra large over there) just buy the jackets/boots here and have them shipped in a box. This will save you packing headaches down the road and can be a nice care package from and to yourself 😉

inventorySo what’s in the closet? Once you’ve established what kind of climate you will be up against, the next step is to take stock of what you already own, what will work, what won’t, and what you’ll need. This is the part where people start tearing out their hair. When you’ve settled down somewhere for a comfortable amount of time and have a space of your own that you think of as permanent, you tend to settle down and accumulate stuff. And fast. This goes for furniture and living utensils as well as clothes. Rarely, if ever, do people take a mass inventory of their life’s accumulation for the sole purpose of tossing it out. Be honest, when was the last time you went about doing this?

However, this is also an amazing opportunity to donate all of your unwanted items: thrift shops, women’s shelters, religious organizations, and the Salvation Army will always welcome your used and well-loved items. If tight on cash yourself, you could always opt for the other route, which  is to sell your items as “vintage” on Etsy or eBay, but try donating what you can first to those in greater need than your own.

Start a list, draw it out, sticky notes… whatever helps you get organized.

weedingResearch. Check. Inventory. Check. Now comes the fun (or not so fun, depending on how indecisive you are)! Time to choose what to keep and what to give away/sell 😀 Below you will find an infographic from this neat website which is geared towards simplifying your closet weeding and it gives you a point of reference for what you can keep and what should get thrown out. Generally speaking, I love the flow chart style and it works if you promise not to make special allowances for a single item of clothing. Okay, well, maybe you can give yourself up to three passes but only those three >.>

Once you can mentally take a picture of everything you’ve got and everything you will most likely need to take, this will make it easier to purchase the appropriate type and amount suitcases for your trip. My rule of thumb is pack for a week and a half. Do your laundry more often and accumulate clothes over there as needed. It is astounding how little you need to actually survive. Most suitcases can’t carry much more without going over the weight limit so check with your airline and weigh as necessary.

closetweeding

 

And those are the first three steps to packing for long-term travel 😀 Next we’ll cover choosing suitcases and the lost art of packing them!

Till the next post!