My brother and I were raised abroad but our family took trips to Japan at least once or twice a year. When I was about seven or eight, I stumbled onto old photos of my mother while digging through my grandmother’s photo albums.
My mother was posed in front of an airplane with propellers, leaning against a massive suitcase. It was one of those made of leather, with brass squares covering the corners. Aviator sunglasses covered half of her face. Feathered hair, covered the other. Her legs looked miles long in bell bottom jeans tight in the thighs. Platform shoes peeked out from the very bottom of the flowing jeans. A body suit that looked second skin accentuated her statuesque torso and a poofy vest half hung off her willowy arms and petite shoulders. I couldn’t believe how amazing she looked and stared at the photo in awe. I wanted to be her. I wanted to know where that photo was taken. Who took it and why she never shared this moment with me.
I recall bringing that photo to my mother who immediately scolded me for being so nosy. “Put that photo back where you found it. Who gave you permission to look at those? How dare you disrespect privacy.”
My mother’s older sister and favorite aunt, overheard the conversation. She took me aside as soon as my mother went to another room and said: let’s go for a walk. It was then, my aunt shared with me the story of how my mother, in her early 20’s, quit her job – which was unheard of and actually considered a shame to family – took her savings and traveled from the north of Japan, through Russia, down Mongolia and across Europe by herself. The photo I stumbled upon was the aircraft that shuttled her from the Northern tip of Japan – Hokkaido – into Russia. Then my aunt told me to keep what she shared our secret and wait for the day my mother was ready to share that story.
Years later, my mother was finally ready.
We were at one of our favorite restaurants in the Bay Area: Zuni Cafe, eating our usual: roasted chicken with bread salad. Over several bottles of wine, I listened, as she became more alive than her usual self and shared with her boyfriend and me her rebellion and trip. She then looked over at me, and said “Do not go to Europe unless you have a year’s worth of savings and at least a year’s worth of time to travel through the different countries. Knowing you, you will fall in love with the entire continent and never want to come back to The States.”
Fast forward to 2015, I have held her words with me and failed to travel to Europe. I had a plan: start in Spain up in the Catalan, travel through Basque Country and work my way up and across Central Europe ending my trip in the Middle East. Istanbul, to be exact.
Well on a whim, I flew to London. And I immediately fell in love with the great city.
I couldn’t believe how diverse it was, London has no one dominant race. The people were so jovial and cheeky, charming and kind. My sense of humor aligns more with British humor I reckon. Everywhere I went, people would smile and banter. We would fall into conversation about the UK, the States and Tokyo. How I’ve had the privilege to live in some of the greatest cities in the world but it was my first trip to the UK and London and how I absolutely found London brilliant.
The city is reminiscent of the West Village, my old neighborhood in NYC which I loved so much. There is so much old with the new and the history! There are buildings and structures built in years I can’t even begin to fathom. 1200? 9th Century? What? Were there still dinosaurs roaming the streets? Was that when Galileo or Plato or Da Vinci and Van Gough were alive and kicking?
You see, being raised in the States, our education system neglects to teach us world history – or at least build a compelling enough curriculum for any sort of history outside of American history to be retained. But to be fair, I think that’s the case for most history books, there is a bias towards our own countries for good or bad. It’s only human nature to accentuate where we live, isn’t it?
At any rate, the city, sights and the people absolutely stole my heart. The food wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. And even if my grand Europe plan was ruined by this impulsive trip, I cannot wait to return to London.
If you have a chance to visit, I highly encourage doing so. London is very much like Tokyo in ways that there is so much to do, so much to see, the best thing is going with a semi plan, then once you are actually on the ground and have an idea of what you want to see more of and do more of, solidifying the plan.
Just a heads-up, there are things that require booking in advance. Like high tea or some of the amazing restaurants.
Also, I learned I do not really fancy peas.