Best of 2016…

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2016 was certainly a year of the lowest lows. What a lousy year for the entertainment and arts industries, as we lost Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Harper Lee, Carrie Fisher, Prince, Gene Wilder…I could go on. Rest in peace. And what a shit show in politics, with attacks that extended far beyond implementation of policies or taxes, that aimed bullets at Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, women, illegal immigrants, prisoners of war, Muslims, the LGBT community, and practically everyone non-white, non-male, and non-Christian. The rhetoric of the 2016 US presidential election was polarizing, damaging, and quite frankly, terrifying. In its wake, we have a country that has set back humanitarian and social justice efforts for years while simultaneously leaving Americans feeling uncertain and questioning the entire system of US government. What a sad tale to tell future generations as we move forward.

But we will move forward. Growth does not occur without crisis. 2016 was a year of revelations and a year of growth as much as it was a year of chaos. Incredible music came out, inspiring books were written, knowledge was gleaned, and life continued to grant us small blessings in its own way. Here are my personal highlights from this whirlwind of a year:

Best Album of 2016: i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it // the 1975

I like to think these songs were made for a lonely heart, a heart in transition. A heart that hasn’t quite figured out what love is, but knows that it isn’t this. That’s the attitude of this album: romantic cynicism. I like to think that 2016 was this kind of year for me. It was a transition year, a growth year, a year that I became a little less naive about love while realizing how damn naive I am about it still. Whenever I felt emotionally dead, lying on my back on the bedroom floor, this was the album on repeat.

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Best Song of 2016: “Up & Up” by Coldplay

The song technically came out in 2015, but I heard it first in 2016, and it’s become a personal favorite. Coldplay songs are always full of this chill/laid-back tone mixed with an underlying emotional depth, and “Up & Up” delivered this feeling perfectly. Especially in 2016 with so much trauma, chaos, and uncertainty, the lyrics really speak to a sense of hope despite the suffering and the pain. Even the music video is magical and surreal, conveying an essence of wonder within the absurdity of life. For me at least, this really was the song of 2016.

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Best Music Video of 2016: “Blood, Sweat, & Tears” by BTS

I could go on and on about K-pop music videos and how aesthetic they are. (In fact, I might do a most aesthetic K-pop videos blog post, because there’s too many, and they keep getting better.) This hit by the mega-popular Bangtan Boys has a flair for the dramatic, with religious allusions and neoclassical statuettes. It plays with light and color, and the mesmerizing scenes and dancing will keep your jaw dropped the entire time you’re watching. The Latin-esque beats of the song and jammy tune will also keep you fangirling for days.

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Best Music Group of 2016: Seventeen

Honestly the best thing that happened to me this year was slipping into the diamond life. I’ve fallen in love with each of these thirteen boys’ charms to an extent that I haven’t felt since my Directioner days. Seriously though, these boys provide an endless stream of energy, cute, and killer visuals – not to mention incredibly young talent. They’re self-producing idols, which means that they basically choreograph, write, sing, rap, and produce their songs by themselves. They’ve come out with some of my favorite songs of the year, including the wonderfully jammy “Mansae” and super-duper catchy-cute “Pretty U.” The love they have for each other as a team and as a family is also endearing in itself.  Carats & Seventeen – fighting!

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Best Book of 2016: milk and honey // rupi kaur

I know this book came out in 2014, but I feel like it’s grown even more popular this year, as Kaur’s poems are plastered all throughout my Tumblr and Pinterest feeds. I finally had the opportunity to sit down and read the book this summer, and I automatically fell in love with it. Since the poems are short, I literally finished it in one or two sittings, and was immediately inspired to start writing my own poetry memoir book in the style of Rupi Kaur. The book was a lot simpler than I expected, but I believe the simplicity is part of its charm:  She takes life’s most turbulent and tumultuous events and transforms them into a few lines of poetry.

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Best Movie of 2016: Zootopia

I know this movie garnered mixed feelings, and it certainly wasn’t the most artistically stunning or well-written movie ever. However, I thought it did a good job of doing what it was supposed to – entertaining its audience in a cute and unique way. Perhaps the animal characters were a bit cliche, but I liked the vibrancy of the animal city. The two main characters were lovable and adorable, especially as partners-in-law. The plot and the twist at the end seemed relatively original, and kept me engaged the entire time. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience: 10/10 would recommend.

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Best TV Episode of 2016: Sherlock’s “The Abominable Bride”

To be fair, I’m a biased critic. Sherlock is and will likely forever be my favorite TV show ever produced. However, this episode really lived up to audience’s high expectations. Each episode has always been good, so it’d be preposterous to think this one would be otherwise. With twists and turns, forays into Sherlock’s mind palace, good British humor, and feminist undertones, the Sherlock cast and crew deliver yet another edge-of-your-seat mystery. This just made me waaaayy more impatient for Series 4 to come out.

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Best Place To Visit in 2016: Kyoto, Japan

I could rave and rave about this place and it still wouldn’t do it justice. The aesthetics are unreal. Every picture, every scene – whether you’re at a temple, in the city, or simply in transit on the subway – it’s all breathtaking. Not only is Kyoto peaceful, clean, safe, and friendly, it emits this lovely Japanese poetry – delicate and savory – from the paper thin auburn maple leaves to the last slurp of ramen noodle soup at a busy uptown restaurant. When I say I’ve never been to a more artistically pleasing place, it’s no joke.

The colors of sunset burst behind the pagoda of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

There were truly some highest of highs in 2016, despite the lows. I auditioned for a watersleeves dance at my university (and made it!! what!!), stood second row at a free BORNS concert, danced to “AJU Nice” by my favorite K-idols, worked hard in school with satisfying payoff, partied with new friends, bonded with old friends, spent some quality time with my Tumblr feed, ate amazing food, listened to incredible music, and read inspiring words. I’m one to be skeptical of the whole “new year, new me” and soon-to-be-broken new year’s resolutions tradition, but I do believe each year keeps getting better. Each year is not guaranteed to have more highs than the last, but each year is designed to make you grow and to make you learn a bit more about yourself. Here’s to 2017, whatever trials and tribulations it may hold – I know I will make beautiful memories and come out a stronger and wiser person on the other side.

5 Things That Surprised Me on My Trip to Japan

At the beginning of this summer, I had the immense privilege of visiting lovely Nippon, a dichotomy of a country. It’s where nature meets high tech, East meets West, and my awkward lumpy body meets the delicacy of a kimono. While I only saw a snippet of what this string of islands has to offer, as I only stayed a week in Kyoto and Osaka, I’ve already fallen in love.

I was walking back to the hotel room one night after a day of successfully navigating the subway rails when I looked around at the businesspeople, the schoolchildren, the rectangle apartments and glowing storefronts and said to myself, I can see it. I can totally see myself living here.

As always whenever I visit new places, I hope to return someday. Japan truly was a treat, a land of amazing photo opportunities and even better food. Despite the familiarity and the immediate feeling of home, there were still culture shocks along the way. It’s so strange that no matter how much you prepare yourself for being a foreigner, how much you tell yourself that your normal may not be everyone else’s normal, you always find that you were a little more close-minded than you thought you were. As much as I’d love to believe that I am a global citizen, I always end up feeling like such an American tourist. Here are 10 instances of the unexpected whilst in Japan.

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  1. It hit 90 degree Fahrenheit temperature and adults and children alike were wearing coats and sweaters out and about.

As a kid who was raised in Texas, this was incomprehensible to me. In the summer, Texans don’t have conversations that don’t start with complaints about the heat. Everyone is out in tank tops, short shorts, flip flops, bikinis, sunglasses…basically as little clothing as possible. Amazingly, everyone in Japan adheres to dress code even in sweltering heat. Everyone wore long pants or skirts. Everyone wore long sleeves. School uniforms were strictly in place – long dress socks, ties, sweater vests, button-down shirts, and all. I felt out of place in my T-shirts and jean shorts whenever I stepped out into the street.

  1. The streets of Japan are extremely safe.

Of course, I didn’t expect Kyoto or Osaka to be the favelas of Rio or the back streets of Detroit, but I did expect maybe the occasional pickpocket or even drunk person singing in a back alleyway. Never once did we experience that. We got lost maybe three or four times coming back to our hotel in Osaka, but even in the dimly lit business district where we were staying, we always felt relatively secure. Teenagers biked up and down the streets. One sweet lady even stopped to help direct us back to our elusive hotel.

  1. I didn’t hear as much K-pop as expected. Actually, I didn’t hear K-pop at all.

After reading Euny Hong’s The Birth of Korean Cool as well as experience the Hallyu wave in America myself, I expected a cacophony of K-pop to greet me in every store, restaurant, and mall. Not the case at all. To be fair, I was in quiet places the majority of the time – temples, shrines, nature walks, the Osaka aquarium – the kinds of places where pop music would be out of place. However, I didn’t hear any K-pop at all. I heard snatches of J-pop here and there. But never K-pop. I understand that the two countries have had a long-standing political rivalry, but I assumed that Japan would be willing to embrace the Korean pop culture boom heard round the world, especially the East Asian world. I guess not.

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  1. The food courts in large malls are FABULOUS.

It’s almost as nice as walking into Hogsmeade. Bento boxes, every flavor of ice cream, cute Italian restaurants, cafes upon cafes, sushi, seafood, ramen, ramen, and more ramen. It’s all pretty reasonably priced (although fancier places may be on the expensive side), and it’s all yummy. *Although one side food surprise: I expected there to be more bubble tea places! Maybe it’s because I’m used to drink shops every five feet in my homeland of Taiwan or maybe they’re just all in Tokyo, but I definitely expected to see many more cups of the Taiwanese  tapioca milk tea delight. My guess is that Japan wants to preserve its own unique culinary culture without too many foreign influences everywhere. Of course, there’s enough matcha lattes to simultaneously quench my thirst and sweet tooth.

  1. Everything is aesthetic.

The uniformed people. The delicate maple leaves. The pink and white pastel buildings. The draping subway lines. The fluid, singsong language. The food positioned just so as it’s brought before you. Beauty in Japan is on a whole other level. Everywhere I was surrounded by pale, flawless skin and slim, petite bodies – what seemed like the ideal of beauty for both men and women. What surprised me wasn’t this ideal, it was the incredible consistency. Everyone aimed for the same look, and very nearly, everyone achieved it. It seemed like such a stark contrast to American individualism.  There seemed to be some unspoken rule about makeup as well. Schoolgirls never wore it, but it seemed like after high school, you were required to don the foundation-blush-eyeliner-lipstick combo that every working class lady wore. Bright colors were a no go. Everyone matched in the same dark, cool colors normally reserved for wintertime back in the States – black, white, beige, navy, gray. It was interesting seeing Japanese collectivism and conformity manifest itself this way. I don’t think it’s my place to condone or object to this kind of behavior – it’s an entire culture after all – and I’ve always had my own inner conflict of individualism vs. collectivism that I haven’t quite resolved. But to me, this uniformity in aesthetics proved both strange and absolutely beautiful.

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So that’s my two yen on Japan. I think it’s safe to say it’s literally my favorite travel destination ever, 10/10 would recommend. Have any of you been to Japan? Are you considering it? Leave me a thought below. xx