My Last Night in Tokyo

Shinjuku at night

Shinjuku at night

The following was written in in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo at 3:10 p.m. on November 10, 2017. This is a word-for-word reproduction of my thoughts as they were written in my journal during my last night in Tokyo.

I originally sat down to write this entry at Shibuya crossing because I didn’t think I had enough time to get to Yoyogi park, but then I noticed the lack of seating and constant noise and said “fuck it”, the park is just one stop away so here I am in what is probably one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Here are a few thoughts about Tokyo/Japan as the sun sets on my last day here.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine

Tokyo is very much a city caught between two worlds and two different cultures. While on one hand, there’s the ancient traditions and stoicism of a country closed to outsiders, there’s also a yearning to reach out to the outside world and gain acceptance on a global scale. I learned much about Emperor Meiji (whose shrine I’m only a few thousand feet away from as I write this). Meiji sought to bridge the gap between traditional Japan and the western world during his reign (mid/late 1800’s to early 1900’s). This meant adopting foreign assets like wine, military equipment/strategies, art, and technology. While he was ostracized some (his Vice Minister of War, Omura Masujiro was murdered for his adoption of western equipment/strategies), his mark is very much evident in modern Japan, from their cutting-edge technology and engineering to their daring fashion. It is this juxtaposition that I found most striking during my time here.

Chiyoda at dusk

Chiyoda at dusk

The Japanese people are still very skeptical of outsiders. While everyone I met and interacted with here was extremely polite, I could still feel the distrust behind them. One restaurant in Omide Yokocho wouldn’t even let me sit down. Despite that distrust, the influence of the western world is everywhere here. I suppose everyone wants the best of what everyone else has, while still holding on to the things they hold dear and identify with. It it could also be that it wasn’t that long ago that my country bombed two Japanese cities off the map and imprisoned Japanese Americans in internment camps, not to mention the situation with our current president.

Buddha at the shrine

Buddha at the shrine

In a somewhat related observation, I noticed there were almost no American tourists here. There were a healthy mix of Eastern/Western Europeans (inclusion get several Russians), many African and South American tourists, but almost no Americans (save the one loud-mouthed one at the Craft Gallery).

Nothing is dull in Tokyo

 

The Japanese have an eye for stunning beauty rooted in fine detail. Whether it’s gorgeous parks and gardens with endless rows of Japanese maples, finely decorated art and sculpture, or other worldly animation, the Japanese culture is one that is truly stunning, visually.

Sake barrels

Sake barrels

The presence of the digital era is so impactful here. Even more so than in America, people here can’t put down their digital devices. iPads, smartphones, laptops, LCDs, digital displays are everywhere you look. And it’s not just the tourists gawking and taking pictures of everything, it’s the locals too. There were probably hundreds of pictures taken of the fountain in front of me while I’ve written this.

I mean, bruh...

I mean, bruh…

The food. Oh my word, the food. I could definitely live here from just the culinary standpoint. I’ve had three different kinds of ramen, two giant sushi plates, miso soup, made my own okonomiyaki, yaks tori, sashimi, matcha tea/ice cream/donuts, and so much more. The ramen alone is worth it. I’ll probably have some more once I leave here.

Shinjuku Gardens

Shinjuku Gardens

For being one of the most expensive cities in the world, I didn’t find things to be too expensive here. Most meals averaged out to be around the same price, if not cheaper, than what I’d expect to pay back home. Admission to many of the ultralight centers was very affordable (the Ueno Zoo was like $5 FFS). I’d imagine if you lived here and had to pay rent or property tax, it would be a different story, but for someone like me it was not a big deal.

Bass busking in Shibuya

Bass busking in Shibuya

I also loved the fashion here, especially on the men’s side. Many dudes were wearing sharp suits with all the right details and fits. Colorful pocket squares, diverse fabrics and cuts, and bold haircuts were the norm. Even the more conservatively dressed businessmen had suits that fit and weren’t cheap. The banker bros in Charlotte could certainly learn something from Tokyo’s style. The women were all dressed very well too, but I found their look to be a little too anime/fetish/cutesy for me. Something about their perfectly porcelain skin played up the dull lifelessness in their eyes.

The acute attention to detail comes to life again in social customs like bowing your head, being punctual, lining up on one side of the escalator to let others through, and the almost uncanny ability for thousands and thousands of people to weave through places like Shibuya’s Scramble Crossing or the many train stations without bumping into everyone. If this was Charlotte, people would be falling all over each other in the middle of the street. Watch the crossing at Shibuya sometime, and notice how these massive groups of people move simultaneously when the lights are green, get to the other size of the street, and clear the way for traffic with *ZERO* stragglers holding things up. It’s unreal. I would imagine it’s rooted in a mutual respect for others and having a situational awareness that Americans seem to lack.

IMG_7510

It will be dark soon, and I’ll need to get to bed early as a train ride to the airport takes over an hour and I need to catch my flight to Singapore at 9:45 a.m. I hope to reap my individual days here more in depth tomorrow while I’m in the airport.

Support the Bechtler’s Community Outreach Programs for #GivingTuesdayCLT

Click here to donate!

Hey, everyone, it’s Andy Goh with the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Today is #GivingTuesdayCLT, and I’m raising money for the Bechtler’s Community Outreach initiatives.

I’m setting a goal of $250 to raise, which you have until midnight to contribute to. $250 goes a long way towards helping the Bechtler make an impact in the community. For example, $250 funds school buses and substitute teacher fees for 100 students to visit the museum. $250 provides a tour for two Low to No Vision or Museum Memories participants. $250 covers the cost for five families of four to participate in Bechtler Family Days. $250 provides art supplies for ten participants in any Bechtler Community Outreach program, including the Jail Arts Initiative.

Click the link in this post, and make a donation now to support the Bechtler’s community outreach efforts, which will help us make a difference in the lives of under-served segments of the population, as well as at-risk youth.

Finally, if I hit my $250 goal by midnight tonight, I’ll dye my hair Bechtler red, and post the results on social media.

Thanks again for watching, and make your contribution today!

Click here to donate!

Playing for Others: Night of Gratitude

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

Many times at typical awards shows, the awards are handed out to people who are already rich in adulation and recognition, a sort of self-congratulation for already being famous.

Fortunately, Playing for OthersNight of Gratitude (this Friday, October 6 at Booth Playhouse) is anything but typical. In fact, it could be considered the exact opposite of your typical awards show.

Instead of the honorees collecting awards that do little to effect change in their communities, the real stars of the show are the teens that Playing for Others works with, focusing on personal development, service, the arts, philanthropy, leadership, and much more.

A group of ten individuals from the Charlotte community are hand-selected by the PFO staff to participate in the Night of Gratitude. However, they don’t merely accept an award, smile and give a half-hearted speech. Instead, they will use their notoriety and accomplishments to inspire and motivate the teens, making the young leaders the stars of the night.

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

“The goal is to have this diverse group of honorees that represent all these different areas in Charlotte, and they each have their unique spin and their unique take on how to create change in the community.” Says Jen Band, Director of Playing for Others.

Not content with simply handing out awards and posing for pictures, the production will also include a number of songs and performances by the teens. Several multi-disciplinary performances will be showcased based on the teen’s interpretations of the honorees. Each piece is different, and includes everything from a cappella, full instrumental pieces, or spoken word performances.

playing-for-others-gohjo-jen-band

Band hopes to use the community role models to challenge the teens. “We often ask [the teens] to answer the statement, ‘I am (blank)’, and it’s not a noun. It’s not, ‘I am a teacher, I am a leader, I am an artist’. Instead, it’s adjectives. So ‘I am compassionate, I am driven, I am inclusive, I am powerful’.

“When we have these Night of Gratitude honorees, now the teens have a role model of what that can look like. If they say, ‘I am compassionate’, and they are also passionate about the transgender community, or homelessness, creativity or whatever it is, then they have these role models that are also compassionate, and they’re combining their compassion with their passion to create that change in the world.”

lara-americo-chrysalis-gohjo-1

Lara Americo

“I am overwhelmed by the honor of being a part of the Night of Gratitude.” says Lara Americo, one of the 2017 honorees. “I am just happy that there is a group that does this kind of thing in Charlotte.”

Make plans to be at the Booth Playhouse this Friday, October 6 at 8 p.m. for the Night of Gratitude. Get your tickets at PlayingForOthers.org (or you can just click here).

“The best thing people can do to help out is to come and bring other people with them.” says Band. “It’s all about not just spreading the word, which is great, but it’s really secondary to celebrating all the great work people are doing in Charlotte. Let’s inspire others to do the same thing!”

Finally, if you’re in the audience, remember to use wiggly fingers, instead of clapping, which is the official PFO way of showing love and gratitude.

Photos from previous Night of Gratitude events courtesy of Playing for Others. Photo of Lara Americo courtesy of Lara Americo.

#photogohjo: 2017 Charlotte Pride

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

In just ten years, Charlotte Pride has grown to become one of the city’s largest outdoor festivals. This year’s event saw more than 150,000 people attending the two-day festival that stretched along the South Tryon St. in Uptown Charlotte. Here are a few stills from Saturday afternoon.

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

charlotte-pride-gohjo-andy-goh

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

Pride makes for good images because of the bright and vibrant colors and equally colorful characters. It’s quite the departure from a normal day in Uptown Charlotte where the blue Oxford shirt keeps a steady strangle hold.

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

The juxtaposition of church and a celebration of gay pride is one that the presence of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Uptown makes easy to portray.

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

charlotte-pride-2017-andy-goh-gohjo

Of course these guys were there. Compared to some of the more extreme versions of this ideology that have played out recently elsewhere, their interactions felt more like comic relief. I have to give them credit, they took a lot of shit and didn’t stand down.

 

How Much a Dollar Cost?

Earlier tonight after work I went into a CVS near my house to pick up a quick prescription when I came across a gentleman trying to do the same. The only difference was that he couldn’t pay for his.

I didn’t really tune into the conversation until I heard him give his birthdate. “Twelve, thirty-one, fifty-nine.” The guy’s got a New Year’s Eve birthday. Then I noticed him getting frustrated because he didn’t have enough cash to get what he needed.

At first, he was trying to get ten pills for $17 and change. He didn’t have insurance, and he kept saying his cousin was supposed to come through for him.

Then he asked about five pills. $8 and change.

Then just one. $3.50.

All he could afford was just the one pill. He had a crumpled up Lincoln in his pocket and that was it.

gohjo-andy-goh-photogohjo-charlotte

As I approached the counter, I gave my name, DOB, etc. and then I asked if I could pay for the gentleman’s medicine. After a quick glance and a nod to her coworker, the lady behind the counter said yes. She motioned over to the gentleman and said that I was paying for his medicine.

I quickly paid, shook the man’s hand and told him not to worry about it. As I was walking away, I heard him yell “thank you” over my shoulder. I turned around and could see that his demeanor had changed from frustrated to grateful. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he reached out to give me as genuine and heartfelt of a hug as I’d had in a while. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m so sick.”

“It’s hard out here for all of us, and we can use all the help we can get. God Bless you, sir.” I replied.

The gentleman, still holding back tears, walked on his way and I walked on mine. We might have been two different people, but in that moment we were two people just helping each other make it through the day.

I helped him with his meds. He helped me see the hope for mankind that I like to believe in despite daily evidence to the contrary. The $8.38 didn’t mean much to me, but it meant the world to him.

All this happened after I had just been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost”, a song about the high price of poverty. The answer to that question varies depending on who you are. If you’re like me, and you have resources, that dollar might not cost much to you, but it can literally make a world of difference to someone in need.

Thoughts on the 2017 Solar Eclipse

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

Just moments after the moon had begun its shift past its darkest point (98% here in Charlotte), people celebrating the 2017 solar eclipse at Camp North End here in Charlotte began looking around as if they pressed the Dr. Pepper button on the soda machine and it spit out an RC Cola.

“Is that is?” a slightly befuddled crowd thought in unison.

That was, indeed, it.

There was no blackout, no wide swath of darkness blanketing Uptown Charlotte, where I watched the event. That 2% gap makes quite a bit of difference, as people just 90 minutes south of us in Columbia and surrounding areas actually got to see midnight in the afternoon.

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

There’s nothing wrong with being a bit underwhelmed with the whole spectacle. There was an enormous build up on social media, and that brand of hype rarely lives up to its promise. I’m sure some people bailed on work and felt guilty that they missed out on prime work flow hours. All totally reasonable.

To me, it was a moment I’ll never forget.

In the days leading up to the eclipse, it was clear that this was the only story that was able to provide some emotional relief from a week’s worth of heinous images from Charlottesville. People slowly but collectively put down their differences in order to make plans to watch the eclipse. Google searches for specially-certified glasses and watch locations soared.

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

And for a brief moment on an otherwise hot and steamy Monday afternoon, everyone stopped what they were doing, gathered together in groups and marveled at a natural phenomenon that maybe isn’t once-in-a-lifetime rare, but definitely remember-where-you-were worthy. Snacks and drinks were shared while paper sunglasses with shiny silver lenses and necks craned high in the air made everyone looks equally goofy. Many people had homemade viewers, constructed out of cereal boxes, no doubt a memorable science project.

As for me, I found myself marveling at how the sun, reduced to just 2% of its strength, still lit our little part of the planet quite brightly, with the temperature still toasty. A testament to life’s indomitable will to live, I’d like to think.

It’s fitting that it takes an event of literally cosmic proportions to get everyone to forget about the daily grind of work, family, and world news and appreciate the natural beauty all around us. The beauty of giant, celestial objects intertwined in an unbelievably precise two step. The beauty of this display happening in a way that visibly reminds us of our trivial size relative to the universe. And the beauty of people of all backgrounds putting everyday worries behind to come together and enjoy it all.

Moments like that only come around so often.

eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

I stuck around a little while longer after most people had cleared out of the boiler yard at Camp North End. Just as it had on its way up, I took periodic glances at the moon as it made its way past the sun. The eclipse was something I hadn’t ever gotten to see to that degree in my life, so I wanted to get the most out of it. With my corneas intact (as far as I can tell), I look forward to 2024, when the next eclipse makes its way through the US, and hopefully close to my hometown of Bloomington.

Until then I’ll always remember the random day in late summer 2017, where even a country that is as volatile and chaotic as ever, could come together, put on silly glasses and enjoy a natural spectacle.eclipse-gohjo-charlotte-2017

Why Charlotte is the Mecca of Disc Golf

disc-golf-andy-goh-gohjo

RenSke Disc Golf Course. Photo by Andy Goh

This post originally appears on charlottesgotablog.com.

Just off of Tyvola and South Tryon, you can find a golf course whose name recognition is greeted with respect and reverence by top players around the world. Travel further north to the Beatties Ford Road area for a course that is not only universally thought of as one of the best in the world, but hosted a world championship round in 2012 that was the first of four consecutive titles for one of the game’s greatest players. Finally, take a 30-minute drive south from the center of the city to step foot on the home of the sport’s most prestigious title held annually on a picturesque course for 17 straight years.

No, we’re not talking about Augusta, Las Vegas or Orlando, we’re talking about Charlotte. And we’re not talking about “ball” golf, we’re talking about “disc” golf.

And Charlotte is the mecca of disc golf.

Read the rest on charlottesgotablog.com.