“Can you please take my picture?”

I have always looked forward to celebrating my birthday milestones. And I believed in this mantra:

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been.

Mahatma gandhi

On my 30th, I had a Jollibee Kiddie Party. My 35th was spent at Hongkong Disneyland. Last year, I celebrated my 40th in the desert. It was not a celebration because I was working a shift and had to be content with a dinner with my close friends.

I want to make new memories for my 41st. So this year I thought, why not celebrate it ALONE? Without too much fanfare and planning – mind you, I am a little OC in terms of travel planning – I booked a flight 3 days prior my intended vacation. It was the most spontaneous thing I have ever done but the most liberating too.

Day of my flight, I received an early message from the airline that my 00:55 flight is re-timed to 03:30. What a way to start my vacation, right? Turned out it was a good thing because the rain started pouring heavily late afternoon and I was stuck in traffic going home. I was worried about this trip because:

  1. I haven’t booked a hotel;
  2. I didn’t do much research for places I want to visit;
  3. I enrolled in the VA class, it started on Monday, and I may not be able to do the activities on time.

Nevertheless, I pursued it on, JUST BECAUSE.

To counter my fears, I made sure to answer all the 3 worries I have:

  1. Book a hotel ASAP (ASAP meant while waiting for boarding time);
  2. Get pocket wifi so I have access to the internet everywhere;
  3. Bring my laptop and allot a time to study the coursework.

So, off I go.

I arrived at Kansai airport hassle-free, full of energy, very optimistic, confident in my “map-reading ability”, and armed with the little Nihonggo I can still remember from 23 years ago.

With not much plan except to visit the non-negotiable places, I wandered the streets of Osaka and Kyoto. 

By wander meant I WALKED a lot. Like 25,000 steps a day. Minimum.

Japan’s railway system is so massive and the older ones are not equipped with escalators so stairs are abundant.

By wander meant I VISITED my MUST SEEN LIST. Like, USJ and Harry Potter. Or in my case, Cedric Diggory. 

By wander meant I ENJOYED THE STREETS OF OLD KYOTO. The rain added charm to the place.

By wander meant I ATE a lot. Every turn and every nook there is always a Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, fresh sushi, curry, udon, matcha green tea (in all forms and every version imaginable), soft-serve ice cream, and the trusted convenience stores – from 7-11 to Lawson to Family Mart – name it and they have it. 

It was truly an enjoyable trip, one I do not regret taking. The only downside of traveling alone perhaps, is that no one will take your pictures. But that is what strangers are for. Strangers who will eventually turn as friends.

I made so many new friends on this journey, one that transcends beyond the boundaries of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality, and well, passport cover.

Every interaction started with: “Hi, my name is Cherry. Can you please take my picture?”

by: Cherry Sanchez

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