The joys we treasure

A view of the cherry blossoms draped over the edges of the the Meguro river in Tokyo

I stand on the balcony and watch the cherry blossoms. The world is beautiful and oddly calm. My partner is correct in her explanation: everyone is in a park getting drunk because of sakura”. The weather is perfect, just barely chill, and restaurants are indeed empty for a Saturday night. We are happy. Having simply bought cheap tickets we lucked into both friends from out of town (Nagoya, Taipei) and sakura in Tokyo. This is exactly the kind of luck we’d hoped to manufacture for ourselves, and our smiles to each other, when 5’s is momentarily doing something on her own, reflect our inner joy at this success.

As I write often, we are working hard to remember who we meant to be, and to allow ourselves the individual space to bring joy back to our family. It’s a good practice that takes work. More regularly now we go on trips solo, for work or out of curiosity. We come back refreshed, more interested in our shared reality, more aware of the brevity and luck in our shared existence.


The next day we too are in the park, four and then five adults keeping tabs on three children. They collect acorns and wander between families on tarps, waving at other children. The oldest does the two story slide, but the younger two are afraid and beg off, eventually being carried down the climbing walls that serve as castle entrances. Every slide has a line of four or six polite children, the local style our foreign kids have to be told to notice. They simply cut straight to the front, not seeing the quietly perturbed children waiting patiently to the side. We remind them and they adapt, for our children are children of Asia, the three of them born in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. We are the diaspora, this group of us in this park in Tokyo for hanami. We are all seeking refuge from the collapse of the American empire. The friend without children explains it as clearly as I’ve ever heard:

It’s like I died and this is a new life, so different from my old and yet so much the same. Here, all my worries are gone.”


My partner and I will talk about this feeling all the way home. In some way it is what I’ve been trying to explain to myself since I was eighteen, or more accurately since I moved abroad at twenty two.

What my friend means, I think, is that if everyone is ok everyone can have less fear, because no one has to take from someone else. By raising the floor for us all, by providing parks and bathrooms and trains and housing and food, we remove the need to threaten, to scare, to rush, to honk, to run over, to crash into, to fight, to flip off. We suddenly have so many fewer enemies.

it’s ok to be anyone here, to be whomever you want, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else it’s ok,” my friend says.

He’s right. Why is that such a rare feeling? Why did we not feel like that in SF, where we each lived for at least a decade? I can’t quite be sure, though I have a host of ideas. Usually I start with bathrooms, with trains, and with the selfish individuality of car culture.


On this day though I just listen to him. I lie back on the cardboard we’ve spread on the dirt and watch the kids run. I watch my other friends, in town from Taipei, enjoy Tokyo, enjoy their vacation. I watch our daughter follow the big girl around collecting acorns. I watch the sakura, so grateful to be here for this week. I watch the other people, likewise sprawled on tarps or blankets on the dirt, likewise chatting with friends and likewise happy to be out doors in the spring, at home in Tokyo for one of the best moments of the year.

There are so many reasons why we feel good here.

Sometimes it’s enough to feel.

Fall ahead

Ships idling offshore between Singapore and Batam, Indonesia

Finally the pace feels true. After a few years of being unrecognizable, we are again in motion to a degree unfathomable with quarantines, with flight bans. Hong Kong is again a home base that features the world’s best airport train, rather than a home base of remote islands.

In two months we will see Japan twice, much of the US, and I will spend days in India, spend two separate layover nights in Singapore, and a week in Indonesia. And we will train hard for a frisbee team on week nights, lucky to have child care.

It feels as though we are again becoming who we ought to be. There are bumps, there are painful days, hard mornings and evenings. And still with every new opportunity there are moments where I’m shocked at how far we’ve come.

Mostly I am grateful, that 5’s is healthy, that we’re able to play frisbee, that we have help to enable our motion, help to enable our breakfasts together under awnings in Tai Hang’s alleys. It’s a rare gift, to frequently have breakfast together out of the house, while our daughter plays with friends under someone else’s care. Even if breakfast means elevensies after three or four hours on zoom.

We reach out from those folding tables to friends across the world. We check in with those in Japan looking for work, those in South Africa running clinics, those in New York likewise raising children. We message family and colleagues, friends in Australia and friends in Taiwan. It’s a pleasure, to think about all these people, to have the time and mental energy to connect in so many directions. We are lucky.

We are trying. In all directions, at an intense pace. We are making up for lost time, even though we know that time is gone and will never be returned to us. So we are pushing in all directions at once, on our professional lives, on our family, on our physical abilities, on our friendships. We are trying to learn languages, to learn handstands, to learn bouldering, to captain teams, to build communities. We are trying to learn industries, build platforms, implement software, and source hardware. We are trying to take time to watch the sky, to watch the harbor, and to appreciate how lucky we are to be here at all.

It’s a lot. Fall should always feel like this. It’s so nice to be back.

Never your mind

An alley near Haneda airport in Tokyo in the morning light.

On a Monday evening I walk twenty minutes from Haneda to a small hotel near the airport. The air is cool and dry, the way cleanly paved, and the passers-by mostly on bicycle until the last few blocks. The sun has set. Most of those similarly walking have just left work. It’s the kind of Tokyo evening that will always feel familiar: the quiet walk to the station, ride home, and quick dinner or groceries in a familiar neighborhood. I have never been to this stretch of Haneda-adjacent Tokyo, but it is not unknown. As per my goal, I’ve spent enough time here to be comfortable.

My mind drifts as I walk, between distant locations. This is expected. I am just off a flight from San Francisco, and only outside tonight because of a missed connection. I think of family in Hong Kong an hour behind, just starting to wrap up the workday. I think of my friend, arrived back in LA after our weekend together in Oakland. And I think of my colleagues, now scattered across the US again after our week together in Walnut Creek. Briefly I consider my friends, now scattered to the US and UK, with whom I would have stayed or eaten with on previous Tokyo stops like this. Last, and only once I find the hotel, do I consider Tokyo, my plans for the evening, what I’d like to do. Part of this is due to the unplanned nature of the visit, the unexpected reality of being in Tokyo at all. Part though is because my mind is scattered, pulled at by the remote nature of my job, of my friends, and of our life. As Yoda said, All his life has he looked away to the future, the horizon.” I would add the pull is that of the unknown, of the different. That pull is strong.

Combatting that pull is a depth of friendship only possible after twenty five years, that allowed my best friend and I to spend a weekend together on the deepest topics, without pre-amble or a pause to catch up. We did, of course, watch sports and go through the mundane details of our current lives, but mostly we focused on the things we can discuss with no one else, the questions for ourselves that only someone with twenty five years of context can help clarify. It’s valuable time, made all the more so because of it’s rarity. Call it twenty hours.

Moving, really relocating, fractures our lives into segments. There are friends from our home town, friends from university, from our first job, from our first city. Friends from Tokyo, from Shanghai, from Houston, SF, and Hong Kong. There are friends met in places we have never lived, on frisbee fields mostly, but also from jobs. And all of these people, like us, have scattered, have spiraled out until we have friends in Austin, where we’ve only briefly ever been, from five or six different segments of life. Likewise Seattle and Boston. Manila holds not only friends but families of friends, and more connections. Shenzhen, a frequent work stop, holds dozens of former colleagues in long-since failed startups. For work we have been all over Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, making friends and acquaintances. And each of these groups exerts a pull, a sense of comfort and place we could return. Each one makes, in some small way, the next move to the unknown harder.

They make keeping our eyes on where we are require more focus.

And yet I am here, in Tokyo, wandering small streets with a Californian originally from Belarus who I met in the airport. We eventually eat ramen and return to our separate rooms, immaculate and tiny. Watching him navigate the Japanese menus and ticket machines I’m happy. Here is Japan, the voice in my mind says, familiar and unique. How lucky we are to see it again after so long.

For a night, that is enough.