The Time I Almost Fell Off a Coconut Tree

I’ve always been jealous of people who can climb coconut trees. Growing up in the Philippines, I loved the easy access to cheap coconuts. I’ve often sat and watched people climb up the trees with ease, grabbed a coconut from the top, and slide back down like a boss. 

In tropical and humid countries, coconuts are the fruits of choice. They are known for their many uses as seen in this awesome and catchy song in Moana:

On a hot and humid day, thirsty? We drink the coconut juice. Hungry? We eat the meat inside. The leaves are used to fire, basket-weaving, shade, and more! The trees are easily accessible, can be seen everywhere on the streets. I’ve always wanted to climb one. The problem: the coconuts are super high up in the air. Since there are no branches to climb up on, people rely on pure arm and leg strength. /ugh/

Being a less than capable climber, I mostly admire these coconut climbers from afar. While traveling in Central America, locals showed us new methods to help the coconut harvest process safer and go faster, and can be learned by newbies. Yes! The group of Italians who stayed with us were too smart to try something like this and had only watched us from the hut. My boyfriend, Cuong, who has always been more physically fit than me, climbed first on the tree about fifty feet in the air.

How it works: Using two rope loops, wrap them around the tree. One rope loops around your thigh, and the other rope is used to step on. You can lever yourself upwards by shifting the ropes up. See a video of coconut climbing in action here.

My turn. Still in my flip flops, I decided to give it a try. Skeptical of my abilities to go all the way up, I was hoping to maybe climb a few feet. Before I knew it, I was already a fourth of the way up the tree. Wow, it was easier than I thought. The ropes dug into my thighs and the tree scraped against my arms and and legs, but it was do-able! I decided to keep going, despite the lack of proper shoes.

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Two-thirds of the way up!

Two-thirds of the way up, the tree curved to the side, the ropes didn’t have enough friction to grab onto the tree, and slid loose. I lost my footing. My heart jumped out of my chest. 

I was so scared that for the next five minutes, I hugged and cursed myself for climbing so far up in the first place. One fall like that could definitely break a bone. After what felt like an eternity of panic, I realized that no one is going to be able to help me. I have to get out of this mess on my own. I decided to keep climbing up (since I didn’t know how to get down and that was a problem for future Winta).

The top of the coconut tree had dry fibery leaves, which made it difficult for the ropes to grab on. The coconut was more difficult to pick than I thought. I had to twist it a dozen times before it broke and fell to the ground. My first coconut picked from the tree. 

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Reaping the fruits of my labor.

As with any cat that climbs a tree and can’t get down, I looked at the ground faaaarr below me. I realized I didn’t know how to get back down. Great, fifty feet in the air and I’m experimenting on ways to pull the ropes and lever back down. After a series of trial and error, I was finally able to shimmy myself back down.

Here are a couple of celebratory pictures of my difficult climb:

I should also mention that both our climbs took about 20-30 minutes, and the locals probably take 5 minutes to go through the whole process. I imagine that they were highly amused by our determination through this ordeal. Despite my incredible thirst, I spent 15 minutes clumsily cutting open my coconut and drank the sweet, sweet reward.

I’m quite proud of this day, almost falling off a coconut tree, but reaching my goal. I came out with only a couple of scratches, aches, and bruises, but I had learned something new: that it was all possible. Perhaps, in the far future, I will climb for coconuts again.


Thanks for reading!! I would love to hear your thoughts on my dangerous heist in comments below. <3

10 Things to Know About Norway

Norway was recently declared the happiest country in the world, and rightly so. I love Norway for so many reasons. The country is gorgeous, and the people are free spirited and friendly. But my main reason was that it had ignited my love for traveling.

When I graduated high school, my uncle, who had immigrated to Norway over 20 years ago, insisted that I visited him in Norway.

Being born and raised in the Philippines, we’ve only talked to each other on the phones. I would talk to him for hours- about everything: my goals, school, culture, travels. When I expressed interest in Norway, he said that if I wanted to visit, he would fund my trip for me! Back then, I knew next to nothing about travel. Looking back, I realize that he must have spent a fortune for me to visit and do all the things we did.

I packed enough clothes for the month that I will be staying there. I chose them carefully, so as to not embarrass myself in front of people. I will be flying by myself to a foreign country, and will be meeting my uncle for the first time!

Culture

In the short amount of time I was there, I learned so many strange facts about the country. Here are some of my impressions:

Oslo airport smelled weird. That was literally the first thing I noticed about Norway, so I thought I’d write it down. If anyone else had been to Norway and experienced the same thing, please let me know so that I know I’m not crazy.

There were 20 hours of daylight. This is something I learned in books and school, but never expected to experience in real life. Depending on the time of the year, it never really gets dark in Norway. Mind blown. That aside, people really get up around the same time, and sleep relatively early. I had blinds in my room to keep the light from coming in.

Norway is expensive. Norway’s cost of living is almost twice the cost of living the United States. My uncle owns a repair shop in a mall, and I found out his shop was actually the size of a walk-in closet! He pays about $2000 per month to keep the shop, and only has the bare essentials for his tools and a small fridge and microwave.

Norway has very strict driving exams, and it is ridiculously expensive. There are four painstaking training stages to go through before he could even take the practice test. Each stage costs money. The entire process of training and test taking costs about $3000! If he fails any of the stages, he will need to repay and retake the training/test. To think I only spend $25 to get my driver’s license. My uncle had studied for years, and was very careful so that he doesn’t fail; while I was there, I hoped to help him study for the test. It was all in Norsk- bummer. We took the bus to get places. I didn’t mind that. I lived in a small town, I had to drive to get anywhere. Public transportation is a nice change of pace. I also noticed that instead of highway exits, Norway has roundabouts. Definitely different.

People are tall. Very, very tall. I come from a small town in the United States, so I don’t get exposed to that many tall people (or people, really), but I know when people are extraordinarily tall. The average height for a Norwegian male is almost 6 feet!

Norsk is unbearingly difficult to learn.  While I was there, I picked up on a few phrases, destination names, etc. I was very impressed that my uncle could speak it so well. Luckily, Norwegians also spoke English. Here is how to say, “How are you? Nice to meet you!”

Korleis har du det? Kjekt å treffe deg! 

People are overly generous. When I arrived in Oslo, my uncle and his friend had come to pick me up at the airport. Since my uncle didn’t have a car, his friend agreed to help drive us around on our road trips, while also taking a vacation himself. My uncle’s friends went out of their way to make me feel welcom. They took me out to restaurants, cooked me food, bought me clothes, and (my favorite) complimented me often! They showed me so many places; I felt incredibly spoiled. I went to my first IKEA there (again, I lived in a very small town). At the time, I thought it was a Norwegian mall- turns out it’s Swedish. It’s less cool, now that I’ve been to several IKEAs in the United States.

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Our backyard view of the lake

Geiranger Fjord

In 2005, Geiranger Fjord was listed as an UNESCO’s World Heritage Site for its beautiful fjord, carved in by glaciers. It is the host of several impressive waterfalls, including the Seven Sisters Falls.

Eight hours drive northwest of Oslo, Geiranger is surrounded by snow-covered peak, cliffs, wild waterfalls, and deep, green vegetation Geirangerfjord is a sight not to be missed.

The fjord was absolutely stunning. We had magnificent views of waterfalls, birds, mountain goats, and the valley. Here are some of my photo highlights of the trip:

The images speak for themselves. I felt as if I was in a lost paradise, a sort of part of heaven that I never knew about. We hiked, climbed, and trekked through places where we were completely in nature.

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View atop Geiranger.

We cozied up in this wonderful cabin for our stay there. Cooked ourselves a hearty meal as we spent time together.

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We rented a beautiful log cabin for the night.

Animals in the mountains seem to have no regard for tourists. While we were driving, a goat came by and stuck his head in our passenger window! Can we keep him please?

Vigelands Parken

Home to over 200 sculptures by Vigeland is Vigelands Parken, accomplished over a 10 year period. Vigeland Parken is also known to locals as the Sexy Park or red light district. When my uncle said that he was taking me to a red light district, I was both surprised and distressed. He told me that this park is just full of people, hanging around, naked. He refused to tell me any more.

It turned out it was just a park full of sculptures. /exhale/

Why was it called the red light district? All his sculptures are nude. Not many parks showcase nude sculptures, but this in this park, it’s the main attraction.

The park covers the Circle of Life- birth, childhood, young adult and finally old adult. It tells stories of betrayal, passion, hate, jealousy, mother’s love, regrets, death, and so many other emotions. Each sculpture seemed to tell a story.

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Together, we stand? (and make a good frame for a photo)
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The pondering twins.

There were so many fountains and gardens in the park. Walking through the entire park could take up an entire day!

Over the years, I’ve been to countless of parks, but I can honestly say there are none quite like this one. Impressive and unique. Worth the time to visit!


What made Norway a truly happy country to me is this: Despite the expensive cost of living, people have are carefree and don’t get stuck up on money. They spend on what they want, they are generous, friendly. My uncle, who owns a small repair shop in a mall, was so generous as to buy me a plane ticket to give me this amazing experience. His friends, who are perfect strangers to me, brought me shopping and bought me clothes, took me out to restaurants, made me food, and let me stay in their houses. It shows me people here just thought and lived differently from home. They care more about the other joys in life. So I ask myself this? Why can’t we all do that?

Looking forward to my next trip to Norway. 🙂

07/12


Thanks for reading!!! Questions? Comments? Let’s chat below! <3

A Step Into The Past: Medieval Festival in NYC

Once a year, the Medieval Festival brings to life the traditions and spirit of the Renaissance days. Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park transforms into a medieval market town decorated with eye-catching bright banners and processional flags. Performers and festival goers dress in medieval costume and speak Old English. Visitors are greeted by medieval music, dance, magic, and minstrels, as well as jugglers and jesters. Costumed vendors will be on hand to demonstrate and sell a wide variety of medieval crafts as well as food and drink. The expected attendance this year is 40,000 people!

I’ve been fascinated by all things Medieval since I was little. I was brainwashed by tales of princesses, knights, queens, peasants, warlocks. Finally had the chance to go to a Medieval Festival was unreal. I whipped up the most medieval looking look (mind you, I’m not very fashionable): a scarf to use as a hood, a dark, flowy patterned dress, and a ribbon to braid up my hair. Good enough.

There was zero chance of rain, excellent; a perfect day wander into the Middle Ages. I was giddy like a child at an amusement park as we walked up to the Park’s entrance. Because the event was free, we donated at the wishing well that says “Prithee, Donate a Dollar!” The fort was a beautiful place to host a Medieval Festival, as it is surrounded by a lake, and in the middle the fort is a Medieval Museum. Since the museum is there year-round, we decided to save it for another day. Since there were events scheduled all day, we had no problems with finding things to do.

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Medieval Music

One of the most beautiful performances was this lady playing Medieval, Celtic, and world music on her harp. At one point, two people joined in with her singing. We sat on the ledge, listening to her relaxing songs for a long time. Beside her is a face painter, who paints children’s faces with butterflies, dragons, sparkles, etc. Everything about that moment was magical. <3 There’s something about medieval music that makes me feel light and wonderful.

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This rowdy group of performers, Three Pints Shy, is the best. They performed upbeat music with lots of humor in their lyrics. They mess around and drank mead during their performance. They were everything I imagined musical performers in the medieval ages to be like. They told stories through their songs of their adventures. They danced, they laughed, they fought. That’s my kind of life.

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Mead

Speaking of mead… We tried three different types of mead at the festival! I’ve always wanted to try out mead. Apparently, it is an alcoholic drink made of honey and water with a variety of spices, fruit, and grain. They were pretty expensive at $4 a cup. It tasted like a strong fruity wine. Yummy!

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Jousting Tournament of the Knights

And finally, what everyone has been waiting for. The festival ends with a thrilling joust by four knights, mounted on their steeds. The battle gets heated as the crowd cheers on for their knight in shining armor. When I read medieval age books, knights were always admirable, honorable, and courageous. Seeing them in real life is an amazing experience. In one of the final jousts, the knight fell off his steed, and they begin to sword fight to the death. Funny thing was, kids were there and loving it.

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And More!

There are wood carvers, artisans, storytellers, manuscript illuminators to demonstrate their craftsmanship.

The storyteller was very intriguing. I wish I have the ability to tell stories well. There’s an art to it; even I was hooked in her tales.

The jester was one of my favorites. He looked to be in his 80s, but juggling and jumping around like a child!

There was an awesome dragon right by the bonfire, but he was surrounded by people trying to take pictures with him that I didn’t get a closer shot.

There were tons of cool costumes that I wish I had.

Random Thoughts While Wandering Around the Festival:

  • I wish life was as magical, carefree, and fun (minus the wars) like the Medieval Era. – Maybe I should join a traveling Medieval group! My parents probably won’t endorse that….
  • Just saw Captain America… why??!??!?!!! It’s not Comic Con.
  • There are so many Links from Zelda! I guess that’s better than a superhero, but it seems to be looked down upon by hardcore Renaissance lovers- noted. 
  • Those giant turkey legs look good… too bad I’m vegetarian. /sigh/ 
Check out cool Medieval Clothes from $29.99 on Amazon here!

 

Thanks for reading!!!! Questions? Comments?? Let’s chat below! <3

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I Go Where My Feet Takes Me

New York has been especially beautiful lately. We were biking down Hudson River Greenway when I saw an excellent bench to sit with a great view of the water and the skyline. We brought our books and sandwiches, and have all the time in the world to sit and creepily watch people walk by.

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As I walked through Columbia University, I realized how much I missed college. There’s an energy on campus that is unlike any other.
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I can’t say I’ve ever been to a Flower Carnival before, but Macy’s does it right. How do you fill up an entire floor with flowers and maintain it for 3+ weeks? They worked magic, it smelled amazing inside. <3
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Springtime blossoms on the trees. Typical New York street graffiti.

 

A Response to Photo Challenge: Wunderlust

Mobile Income: Earn $18-30/Hour Working from Home & On the Road

Want to work from home or while traveling? Tired of your hourly commute every morning? Have passion (and patience) for teaching English?

People often wonder how travelers make their money on the go. Today, I’d like to share my experiences with VIPKID and ITutorGroup and how that made it possible for me to do all these things. Both are online education platforms, designed to teach English as Second Language to folks in Asia. It’s real and it pays. I have worked as many as 30 hours a week, but I’ve known people who have quit their full time jobs and made a career out of teaching online full time. Without further ado, let’s jump right to it!


VIPKid

VIPKid is basically an online education platform that allows you to teach children, aged 5 to 12, one-on-one classes through a teaching portal, sort of like Skype. The children can speak as little as no English, so you will rely on repetition and total physical response to teach. Goofy props are recommended ;).

See what it’s like to teach with VIPKid here.

The hiring process consisted of an interview and 2 demos. You must demonstrate your ability to communicate grammar concepts to kids. The process takes about two weeks, requiring personal documents and banking information for direct deposits.

Pay Structure:

  • Based on how well you do in your interview and demos, VIPKID will give you a base pay range of $7-9 per class (25 minutes). Already, you have an opportunity to earn $14-16 per hour from home.
  • In addition, there are up to $2 bonus/class for attendance and quantity of classes you teach. That is potential earning of $18-22 per hour.
  • Wait, there’s more. VIPKid often gives incentives during the spring and summer seasons with bonus potential of up to $5 per class. That is an earning potential of up to $23-27!

What I like:

  • There are no minimum hours required, yay! Flexible schedules weekly. <3
  • The children are sweet and funny. It is less of teaching and more of hanging out with them.
  • There’s an excellent community of teachers right beside you, experiencing your joys and frustrations of teaching together.
  • Powerpoints of 25-35 slides are provided for you. No lesson planning!
  • VIPKID has a high demand of teachers. I got scheduled from the first day of hire. Having a fun profile picture and an impressive introduction helps booking rates a lot.

Not so fond of: 

  • Teachers get six allotted amounts of no-shows before termination of contract. VIPKID shows no regard to family emergency, traffic, or health conditions. Once you hit 6 no-shows, they will terminate your contract.
  • The peak hours of teaching at VIPKID are based on Beijing time. That means very early work hours in North America. I typically set my hours from 7AM-9:30AM, which gives me room to do other things.

Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any field OR Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education
  • I highly recommend obtaining a TEFL Certification. It is really the only thing you need to be able to teach. Certification typically costs about $12 these days for an online course on Groupon. 

If you think you might be interested in applying, click here for my referral link! Please make sure you’ve researched the program before you commit to the hours!


ITutorGroup

ITutorGroup is also an online education platform. Unlike VIPKid, ITutorGroup caters to adults as well as children. Unlike VIPKid, you will be teaching as many as six students at once, so be prepared.

See what it’s like to teach at ITutorGroup here.

The hiring process was very quick and easy. My interview only lasted 5 minutes; I was hired immediately. Because the interview was so informal, it seems that their biggest concern was determining your fluency and teaching experience. I never sent a proof of diploma for my BA degree, so I guess they took my word for it.

Pay Structure

  • Their base pay is $7.5 per class (45 minutes), which is very low.
  • However, their bonus system is what’s bringing in the money. Teachers get an additional $2-4 per student if they give a 10 star rating. So, if the class has five students, the teacher can earn as much as $27.5/hour!

Requirements:

  • TEFL Certification (or willingness to obtain it) – Certification typically costs about $12 for an online course on Groupon. I highly recommend getting one. 
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in any field
  • Minimum of 1 year teaching experience

What I like: 

  • Teaching adults is a great experience and often has fun culture-exchange conversations.
  • Unlike VIPKID, ITutorGroup is more lenient with their no-show policies.
  • There is a high potential earning, with positive feedback.

Not so fond of:

  • Their bonus system is based on ratings, and makes me feel like I have to sell myself, for maybe a feedback.
  • Students who have IT problems with rate you negatively. There is a way to contest unfair feedback, however, so don’t worry.
  • ITutorGroup’s teaching platform is not as well done as VIPKID’s. The platform seems to be made by an amateur. Navigation is complicated, and buttons are confusing.

So there it is. There are pros and cons to both sides. I use ITutorGroup for a bonding experience and conversations with other adults. I use VIPKID for its more stable source income. I think they both are excellent sources of income supplement. It’s up to you to decide what’s best.

Questions? Comments? Let’s chat below!

Like a Mother

We love her. She is beautiful and full of life. She’s is gentle, yet strong. Her anger inspires the worst of fears, but she forgives easily. Her love is bottomless. She gives and gives and gives. She is protective, giving us all that we need to survive. Our food, our shelter, our history. She nurses us into life, and embraces us when we pass on. 

A Response to Photo Challenge: Earth

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Hanging Lake, Colorado

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Rainbow Falls, Hawaii
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Zion National Park, Utah
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Volcan Acatenango, Guatemala

Finding Closure: Returning to my Birth Country to Say Goodbye

I left my life, my school, my friends, and everything I knew behind when I was eleven. My parents were refugees from Vietnam, escaping the mistreatment of the communists. They snuck away on a small boat and sailed for seven days on the open water of South China Sea. I was born in a refugee camp in Philippines with poor conditions and corrupt camp officials who pocketed donation funds for themselves. My parents were struggling to feed themselves. At the time, my entire life revolved around getting out of the ditch. Most Vietnamese refugees around us were leaving the camps with an opportunity to seek asylum somewhere brighter, better. United States, Canada, Australia, it doesn’t matter, anywhere was better than the camps. It usually took 2-3 months, our case took 15 years.

When my parents escaped the refugee camp, we created a life for ourselves. We joined a small and close-knit community of Vietnamese refugees in a city called Ilo-Ilo. That city is everything I knew in my life. Slowly, we gave up on the idea of going anywhere else. I made three close Vietnamese friends and all my classmates. My fondest memories were made here. We would take weekend trips as a group to go to the beach, the zoo, the mountains, etc. We slept outside on the sand, listening to music, and looking up at the starry night sky. We had birthday parties where all my friends attended and gave me presents! I was in a dance group and sang in competitions in school. Christmas was the best time of the year, because we would all go to the central park to look at Christmas lights. Everything I knew was here. 

We received notification of our case status approved to immigrate to the States. My parents were overjoyed. They said our lives will be better, that we will have a future. I looked around me, what was so bad about our lives?  I don’t remember much of what happened during the weeks after that. I was eleven. I didn’t fully realize what was going on. Before I knew it, we were on the plane on our way to America. I missed my friends, my teachers, my school, my life.

Fast forward ten years. I graduated college. I made closer friends. I made a set of brand new memories. I have come to love the United States. I also became a traveler, but the Philippines still held a magical place in my heart. I wanted to return, see my friends,… and to say goodbye. When I had the chance to go back, I didn’t hesitate to but the ticket. The country where I was born and raised was something like a mystical dream to me. I was so nervous on the flight there. I spent my life thinking about what I would have done if I had the opportunity to say goodbye. Now that I was coming back, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

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Sitting by myself on the beach we used to visit yearly. Same country, different people. @Boracay Beach, Philippines

The air was the same, the food, the landscape, the school, the beaches were the same. Same country… but different people. Our close knit community broke apart after we left. People moved, went to school, got jobs elsewhere. I revisited my old schools, my old home, stores I used to buy snacks from. People whom I used to bond deeply with are now completely different. The playground I spent so much time on was smaller and emptier. I realized the country has moved on without me. Overwhelmed with nostalgia and sadness, I could only wis that I had appreciated my childhood more at the time. I struggled to keep my mind in the present, reminding myself that I had my friends with me. I needed to be in the now. I had wanted to show my friends my home country. The past is the past, and I can’t change that.

I made my peace and goodbyes with my past. I met new people, made new memories, and learned to love my birth country all over again in a different light. Filipino people are the kindest, most adventurous people I’ve ever met. Having only met for about ten minutes, we had jumped on a pickup truck of a group of Filipino backpackers and had the ride of our lives! What adventures? … to be continued another time. 🙂

Couchsurfing in Yokohama

Couchsurfing is a traveler’s best friend. For those who don’t know, it is a community of traveler-friendly enthusiast who host people as well as “surf” couches. A CouchSurf host is a friend in a who is also eager to foster cultural exchange; it’s the best way to experience local culture. To learn more about this awesome community, see this post for my little guide to Couchsurfing.

Our best Couchsurfing friend in Japan is good guy Keisuke. Our relationship with him as a little different as he did not host us in his house (which is typically the norm). I had just finished studying a semester abroad in Singapore, and he had helped us by holding on to my luggage while we were traveling in Japan.

We had met him at the Yokohama train station, which was daunting for several reasons. We chose to not buy a sim card, therefore we did not have data to text him. From two of his profile pictures, we might not have recognized him in a sea of Japanese people. The station was bustling with activity, so we weren’t sure if we would miss him. As we paced around, fretting, it turned out we didn’t need to look for him. Two people standing around, looking lost, with 2 luggages, and two backpacks tend to stand out. He found us pretty quickly. We liked him at first sight. He was so friendly, polite, and considerate. He offered to help me carry my luggage to his car. He had a car! Awesome! In the 6 months that I spent in Southeast Asia, I have only walked, taken the bus, or used the metro station. Keisuke had a car! I felt really spoiled.  As we kept thanking him over and over for how awesome he is, he was very humble and said it was his pleasure. He drove us around for a long time, taking us to different places. He didn’t mind, that he “loves to drive!!” I’ve never met anyone who is so excited over driving. ^_^ After walking and taking the metro everywhere in Japan, it was an amazing change to ride on a car. He explained that he only recently received his driver’s license, and that he should thank us. Where could we find a Keisuke in the US, please???

He took us to a mall where we had our first Japanese food court meal. We both had Yakisoba, which were delicious. Keisuke kept insisting on paying for us, as we are guests in this country. He spoke limited English (which is much more fluent than our non-existent Japanese), and occasionally we needed to use a translator app to get our thoughts across. It was a really interesting experience.

He then drove us to his work place “Trattoria Pesce D’oro”! We tried a delicious dessert sampler platter, courtesy of Keisuke, as he had employee discount.

The restaurant has delicious dessert!
Our dessert sampler!
My favorite photo with all of us together!

Keisuke welcomed us warmly and was incredibly helpful in recommending things for us to do in Yokohama. One of his best recommendations was to go to the Cup Noodles Museum, which I never knew existed! I love noodles. I’ve been a fan of ramen since I was born (a little exaggeration). I would eat if everyday, if my family didn’t stop me.

Does anyone else see that this is a logo of a girl falling? That’s the first thing I noticed about it, and apparently only I was able to see it…
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 Thanks to our fantastic host, we were able to take a photo with the famous Yokohama Ferris Wheel. We will always remember him as the best host in Japan. <3