What I’m Packing for 9 Weeks in the Middle East

I love reading other people’s packing lists, so here’s mine. I rarely stress too much about what to bring on a trip, and usually pride myself on packing light, but it was a real struggle this time. The Birthright recommended packing list is absolutely ridiculous (12 t-shirts and 14 pairs of socks for a 10-day trip? for real?) so obviously I wasn’t using that as a guideline, but I also don’t want to be the smelly backpacker kid if in fact there isn’t time to do laundry as they have tried to convince me. I also had to make sure that I brought “modest” clothing for more conservative areas, including items that will cover all my tattoos if I feel it’s necessary at some point. But it’s also going to be ridiculously hot (though cold in the desert at night!) and the cities are very cosmopolitan, so nice yet comfortable clothes are essential.

I struggled so much with making a mental packing list for the past few weeks (and shopping for a bunch of new clothes, something I rarely do before a trip, but I didn’t own much that fit the above parameters), that I didn’t actually sit down and throw it all together until today. I’m bringing far less than the organizers recommend but far more than I’m used to bringing on my solo trips — I had significantly more trouble cramming it all in than usual. I’m sure I still forgot something, but whatever it is I can buy it abroad. Continue reading

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Maidreamin’

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As if a visit to a cat cafe wasn’t enough, I also visited a maid cafe while in Tokyo. Apparently the Japanese really like their themed restaurants and stores. I hadn’t planned on going (in fact I’d never heard of this phenomenon before), but some boys from my hostel wanted to check the whole thing out and my interest was piqued as well.

We ended up at Maidreamin in Shibuya, part of a chain.This location had vaguely Nintendo-themed decor, with Mario Bros. wallpaper and color-changing blocks hanging from the ceiling. That totally wasn’t the weird part, though, and actually the interior design seemed like a bit of an afterthought. It was all about the maids here, and ended up being one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. Continue reading

Tasting Death: eating fugu in Japan

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I’m a bit of a foodie (though honestly I dislike that word… can we come up with something better?) and I live for new experiences, so of course I had to try eating fugu, the poisonous pufferfish that is a delicacy in Japan. After doing a bit of research it turned out that it’s not really as dangerous as I had previously thought, since the preparation of the fish is so highly regulated in Japan and fatalities are quite rare. I was also a bit misled when I thought it was illegal back home in the United States, since apparently a couple restaurants in New York serve it. So that was a bit of a let down, but the idea of taking (however slight) a risk and trying some great sushi was still appealing when two of my new friends invited me to join them. Continue reading

The night I didn’t end up staying in a capsule.

Though I spent my first two nights in Tokyo at Khaosan Original Hostel in Asakusa, I felt that no trip to Tokyo would be complete without staying at least one night in a capsule hotel. I first came across this concept years ago while reading William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer (which has since become one of my favorite books), where the down-and-out protagonist, Case, is staying in one at the beginning of the novel because he can afford nothing better.

Now there are tons of capsule hotels in Tokyo that cater mainly to salarymen who have stayed out too late (or gotten too drunk) to catch the train home. Some are actually quite luxurious with tons of amenities, while others are very basic and a bit seedy. I apparently had the misfortune to find the seediest one in all of Tokyo. Continue reading

Back on the horse

Predictably, life got crazy and I stopped posting.

BUT! I finally have confirmation in the form of a long-awaited plane ticket that I will be heading off on my next trip in just over two weeks. I’m about to age out of the Birthright Israel program, which I’ve been meaning to take advantage of for years. This summer is my last chance, so I’m finally going, and I’ve extended my return flight home by two months to allow me to travel independently around the area after the initial trip has concluded. Continue reading