Unable to sleep for the hundredth time, I called Catalina Express at 6:00 AM and bought the last ticket bound for Catalina Island on Saturday morning. I left at 5:30 AM for the harbor, boarded and arrived Avalon at 8:00 AM with my brown satchel and phone that died minutes later.
My motives for solo getaways is to liberate myself, strengthen myself, be better in problem solving independently, and discover beautiful things, places, and people. Growing up, I believed fulfilling dreams quickly = success = beauty. Now, I’m done with being pissed at myself for not fulfilling my dreams by 25. I aspired to have a cookbook published, a few recipes featured on Foodnetwork, knock out a few ARE exams, and marry a solid handsome gentleman by 25. I aspired to bust babies out by 32 and hand them brown paper bag lunches every morning at the door and prepare heartwarming comfort dinners for my husband and kids to come home to. I’ve been invited as a single individual to 14 weddings within the past 3 years, and now, I’ve accepted the fact that my dreams weren’t/won’t be fulfilled because of how naiive, stubborn, and impatient I’ve been with them. Surely I’m still determined to fulfill my dreams. Yet I forgot that many pursuits demand a period of solitude, patience, and reflection.
One thing I really love about traveling solo is that I can do whatever the hell I want, whenever. This includes a pretzel caramel stracciatella gelato in a thick, buttery waffle cone for breakfast (and chugging large iced coffees with extra espresso shots) on a Saturday morning in mid-September.
I spent the rest of my morning walking along the harbor, sketching and painting on a bench, sliding through pockets of downtown alleys to check out boutique shops and skim articles of various architecture/interiors/fashion/trashy girl magazines. By noon, I went up inland, encountered a few water buffalo, appropriately devoured some juicy, tender buffalo tacos at the peak, got lost, found a talented musician playing and singing one of my favorite songs, “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole-Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” on the ukelele. My heart sank and I almost cried as the beautiful performance ended.
On my way to Descanso Beach Club, I walked underneath the arcades of the Catalina casino, sunk onto the sand with a refreshing mojito slush while reading the latest issue of Bon Appetit. A drunk, sunburnt white dude stumbled into me as he pounded his party straw hat over my hat. He started talking to me in broken English while I was eating oysters and I couldn’t stop laughing. We fooled around and discussed stealthy acts of what we could do to cause the restaurant more problems. It’s really fun meeting other strange locals and/or travelers. A tease here and there. Not expecting more/less. A polite nod, smile, and laugh. Aside from whatever personal stories/experiences that fall into our conversations, the only personal information I give to strangers who ask, is my first name. I enjoy sharing stories with some encouragement / thought to ponder about – nothing more.
Then I was surrounded by blondes in bikinis and sailor hats shouting and spanking each other in a train lineup around a bar to an EDM version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, old chubby wrinkly sunburnt shirtless men and Latino girlfriends stroking their tattoo arms. Although it was really cute and amusing, I realized how alone and out of place I was socially and culturally. In Japan, none of these (nor me being by myself) would be proudly exposed, because these generally aren’t considered beautiful. Then I wondered what really is beautiful? For my thesis in architecture school, I investigated the definition of beauty by discussing the art of Mary Cassatt, Degas, and Angelo Merendino. I concluded that beauty is timeless, not bound by gender roles nor cultural standards. Beauty is always emotionally evocative, timeless, and always motivates you to do something out of ordinary. Now I furthermore believe It requires strength, to stand boldly, with or without support.
By sunset, I painted by the shore for T and continued to walk around the harbor, play some arcade games with hot cocoa, and while I sat and waited exhausted on the sand for the last yacht to take me back home, I read my favorite excerpt of my favorite poem again:
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot
I swung by Cafe Stylo before it opened to customers for this quick interior photoshoot. Even though this cafe’s been opened for 8 months, It still felt unreal to step into this interior design project, especially after I invested hundreds of hours / 8 months into it as my first ‘real’ built project, and it being here overlooking the skyline of Ginza and Tokyo.
Takita-san, Cafe Stylo’s restaurant manager (always in his black suit and gleaming smile) welcomed me in and curiously watched me set my camera and equipment up, while asking me about my experience living here as a foreign architect / interior designer. We talked about the work expectation differences between American and Japanese culture, and laughed at the fact that I was taking my ( 代休/compensatory day off from overwork) to photoshoot interior shots… for my work-assigned upcoming lecture. Once I began shooting, Takita-san turned up some pleasant jazz, brought me a stellar cup of espresso on the house, a Salmon Florentine Benedict and a creamy, Classic Eggs Benedict. (Thanks again, Takita-san!)
Café Stylo isn’t really a clear reflection of my personal style; I’m honestly not into light rustic wood flooring … and particularly the existing, dark, narrow length of the space was an extreme pain in the ass to work with (the inevitable struggle for every building along Chuo Dori). I prefer cleaner, pastel colors, natural lighting, and subtle warm glows. But this was honestly a killer experience of merging both American and Japanese design, materiality, and even food. And I love these masculine Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec Softshell chairs and Jasper Morrison Hal chairs in ice blue..
Through photos, I [present the outcome of a collaborative project with NYU planning and my clients, Itoya’s CEO and art director, who specifically requested for these California hipster accents (warm rustic wood, grey walls, and subtle hints of steel, glass, and plants.) Yes, this is what’s hot in Tokyo and I am truly thankful for the several compliments and positive feedback we get from Itoya, guests, and other designers.
The vision and story behind this cafe though, are major reasons why I decided to move all the way here to Tokyo and work on this project. Itoya’s CEO envisioned this rooftop cafe to be a place for gathering, socializing, nourishing, and comforting – to bring employees, customers, and foreigners from all over the world together, to open doors and merge eastern and western cultures altogether. If you know me, you know I’m a huge supporter in designing architecture and feeding people with the main intention of all of these purposes.
And the main purpose of this photoshoot was not only to document my work but to also present a series of photos for my then upcoming lecture I entitled, 建築でもてなす (kenchiku-de motenasu), meaning Hospitality Through Architecture. I presented this 30 minute lecture on a series of past work (both personal and precedent) and emphasized my belief that the purpose of architecture isn’t just to give society aesthetically pleasing buildings. In this cyber society with so many high-tech skins and buildings, a lot of them that surround us are actually quite intimidating, elite-associated, and cause some individuals feel lesser than who they are. But I strongly believe that architecture’s purpose is to serve individuals, to be hospitable to individuals and communities. Sure, we all have different visions of hospitality; architects probably visualize a hotel design, while chefs imagine cooking something up in a restaurant. But in all areas of hospitality – they all require a type of service, with a purpose to serve people with something to brighten their day.
Through my adventures of cooking for my dad, myself, and friends since I was a child, to studying and practicing architecture with professional architects, I’ve learned that that the roles of a chef and architect are quite similar. The roles and goals of the chef and architect are to serve people with something that makes their lives a bit better-whether it’s through aesthetics, taste, materiality, lighting, an/or spatial configurations. And this is why I’m still happily jumbling the two.
I ended the photoshoot at this particular favorite view. I have a tendency to always sit at this seating area against the glass window. It’s where I sit and eat with old friends/coworkers, or simply gaze out aby myself and visualize other ideas and possibilities.