About owensbyd

Photographer. Educator. Writer. Globe-Trotter.

The Jade Plant Project

I’ve been working on the topic of trauma for a few years now. My visual work is all about it, I wrote my master’s thesis exploring how trauma is represented, I’ve read thousands upon thousands of words discussing the topic, and I’ve been through my own trauma and healing. I’ve become a sort-of-pro on the topic of trauma and expression.

I have a fine art practice, which is heavily based on my own experiences as a survivor of trauma. It works, it gets seen, but I wanted to do more. It’s one thing if I used my skills as an artist to broadcast my own story to the masses, and that was fine for a while, but I have this thing inside of me, that has always been there, that wants to do more. Not just for myself, but for others as well.

Back when I was working my agency job, retouching potato chips and Tupperware all day every day, I would frequently come home crying because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. It’s a vague thing to cry about, because I was, in all actuality, doing plenty: I was working 40+ hours a week at the agency, tutoring weeknights, and teaching photography on the weekends. Still, I was unhappy, all because I wasn’t out in the world moving mountains or some shit like that.

My work, at it’s core, is to get people to understand that trauma is a complex thing that requires attention instead of silence. That is it, that is what it boils down to. So, instead of just having my fine art practice that centered around my own experiences, I’ve been slowly branching out and becoming a more socially engaged artist and activist.

This is why The Jade Plant Project was born. A few months ago, I was denied a grant that would allow me to work with survivors of sexual trauma, to create a book together about whatever it was the survivors wanted. It could have been anything, as the purpose was to lend my skill set to the group, not to control what it was they wanted to make. I didn’t get the grant though, which is never a good time, but I just shrugged it off and went to have lunch with my friend.

Okay, I really didn’t shrug it off– I vented a lot, and I was upset, but my friend was patient and talked me through a lot of my grief. Before I went home, she gave me a jade plant, even though I was hesitant to accept it. I’m great at accidentally killing plants, but my friend just said “Jade plants are extremely difficult to kill. You’ll be fine.”

It’s probably super cheesy that it was her words and her gift that inspired me to create this project, but there it is. The Jade Plant Project became the name of my new project: creating a publication for survivors to submit whatever they wanted, and it would be published. I envisioned photography, writing, doodles, prose, notes, napkin sketches, pet pictures– legitimately anything. And it didn’t have to be about their trauma, but it could be if they wanted it to be. The submitter could also choose to remain anonymous; that way, anyone, regardless of who they were and where they were on their healing journey, could submit to the publication.

I had a call for entry on a couple of different platforms, like facebook and tumblr, and I had a couple responses via email as well. After months of hard work, we finally have The Jade Plant Project Volume One– a collaborative effort on the behalf of 23 survivors of sexual violence. Additionally, the zine is FREE. I read once that if it wasn’t accessible, it wasn’t revolutionary, so here’s to hoping we can make a difference.

A special thanks to Kaiden Dunn, for the gorgeous cover art, Meg Hughey for being my go-to for all trauma resources, and the Agitator Gallery, for letting me launch my zine in their space! Shout-out to the tumblr community for helping me spread the news about the publication (and if you have a tumblr, feel free to follow us here!)

If you are going to be in Grand Rapids on August 25th, be sure to check us out at the Grand Rapids Zine Fest, where you can pick up a hard copy for FREE!

It’s a beautiful zine, small but powerful, and I am so excited to share it with you all.

To access the PDF of Volume One, click here.

P.S.– we’re already working on Volume Two, which is launching in October– only a couple months away! Since the zine is free, we are looking for donations to offset the cost of printing (each zine costs about $2.83 to create.) If you can spare some change, please donate to our Ko-Fi, which you can find here.

One Year After the MFA

It’s been a year since I graduated with my MFA in Photography. It’s been a wild year, full of growing pains, opportunities, and disappointments. I’ll be real with you: the first year after earning your MFA is pretty damn hard.

After I graduated, I ran off to Asia for two months, came home, and then assisted at an art camp in Michigan while traveling to and from Chicago for job interviews. I landed a great job as a professional retoucher and product photography for a top-tier branding agency. I thought it was going to be awesome.

And it was, for a while. I learned a lot from my supervisor about Photoshop (which was great because I thought I knew a metric shit ton, but man, PS is crazy,) and I really enjoyed seeing my photography on packaging. But, after a while, the grind was getting to me. I’d come home from work, exhausted from staring at two screens all day, and get to work on my own art practice. Some days I didn’t want to, but I forced myself.

I didn’t want to be a retoucher forever. I knew that, but I thought it would be a good gig for a few years, while I built up my teaching experience in the evenings and on the weekends. I’ve heard all about the artist grind, working 9-5 at a job you hate, then coming home and staying up late to do the real work. It was awfully romantic.

But, another truth: it’s bullshit.

There’s nothing romantic about the self-suffering. I’d come home crying from work some days because I was so fucking tired. There were evenings when I would be working on a teaching application or putting together a portfolio for a grant opportunity, but I would just stare blankly at my screen for two hours, zoned out. I stopped going to my friend’s art openings because I was either working late on some bullshit for PepsiCo or I was just too tired to talk to anyone.

The job got rough. There was no flexibility– I wasn’t allowed to have night time commitments, which threw a wrench in my teaching plans because I used to teach night classes. After getting time off to speak at SPE in November, I think my job figured out that I was very serious about my art career, and my otherwise fine work environment turned into something highly controlling and cult-ish. It got so bad, I quit via email with no notice.**

Another truth: that sucked, too.

But I was happier. I wasn’t climbing into my partner’s car after work, sobbing because I wasn’t changing the world by editing potato chips. After teaching on the weekends, I went home feeling full, not having this sense of impending doom hanging over my head at the prospect of returning to the agency that Monday for another week of emotional abuse.

I got my certification in substitute teaching, and was hired on-the-spot for both Chicago Charter Substitute Teaching Network and was also hired after a 5-minute interview for Chicago Public Schools. I make only half of what I was making at the agency, but I get to pick my own schedule– AND I’m allowed to have a life outside of work.

(Seriously– they used to get mad because I didn’t want to go to company happy hour. Uhm?)

So now, my life is a lot like this: Mon-Fri, substitute teach from 7AM-4PM. I get home, relax for a little bit, eat dinner, then get to work on my photography. Weekends I teach in the morning and spend the afternoon either making art, tutoring people in the area in photography, getting brunch with my friend of 10 years, or doing something fun in Chicago with my love.

The hardest thing about this past year was that it was everything I thought it wouldn’t be. I thought I’d have a job, come home, make art, have lots of exhibition opportunities and be well on my way to making waves in the art scene. But that’s not what happened at all.

What I’ve learned is that for some people, that’s exactly what happens. Maybe they work harder than you did, or maybe they didn’t. But those other people don’t matter– you have to focus on what you’re doing, on your progress, and on what you can do to succeed.

For me, it’s been excruciatingly slow progress–but it has still been progress! I sold some work this year, been in a few exhibitions, gave two artist talks, and I’m making connections in the arts community here in Chicago. I’ve been working on a book, a zine, and a fresh new body of work. But it is all slow going.

Another truth: you don’t make as much art as you did in graduate school.

That truth was difficult to reconcile. In school, that was my life: making photographs, thinking about art, talking about art. But really, that’s not life after graduation for most people. Most people have to make time for their art. Most people don’t crank out 12 images of conceptual work in two weeks time. Now it’s more like 1 or 2 photographs a month, and they both might be garbage.

But that’s okay. Instead of going to school all day every day, I go to work. Instead of staying up crazy hours to finish editing or writing something, I now go to bed at 9PM. I brainstorm on my commutes. I slowly buy my materials paycheck by paycheck. I’m submitting work I made 1-2 years ago to exhibitions because I’m still working on the new stuff.

The most important thing is to KEEP GOING. Slow progress is still progress.

I’ve been repeating my mantra, “Don’t Stop,” over and over since last May. I’ve been screaming it to myself these past three difficult months. Life after graduate school is such a pain in the ass, but you gotta keep trucking.

So, what’s next? What’s going to happen this second year after achieving my terminal degree?

I would tell you what I’m expecting, but really? Who fucking knows what’s going to happen. All I know is I’m not gonna stop, and you shouldn’t either.

Happy Shooting!

** I don’t recommend quitting your job with no notice, unless you have a safety net in place, like I did. I had a reasonable tax refund, money from my teaching gig on the weekends, and when all else failed, my mother lent me money. I know life sucks sometimes and your job may be toxic, but please, don’t do anything crazy without having a plan, otherwise you might end up worse off than you were before. Make informed decisions! ❤

Reflecting on If Photography is Enough, in Vermont

A few months ago, I was browsing calls for entry, and I came across a call for conference proposals for the Society of Photographic Education’s NE Chapter, for their conference “Is Photography Enough?” Since I asked that question over and over again in graduate school and it was one of the central themes in my visual work about trauma, I was like YES TIME TO SHINE BABY.

I submitted a proposal, got in, and then suddenly I had to make my happy-dappy way to Brattleboro, Vermont.

Now, I don’t drive. I didn’t know anyone who could drive me. And I was broke.

So I left work and took a bus to the subway, the subway to the airport, then a plane from Chicago to Boston, where I then got an Uber from the airport to the bus terminal where I sat at the McDonalds legitimately all night to catch a Greyhound bus from Boston to Brattleboro Vermont, where I then walked a mile to the nearest coffee shop to lock myself in their bathroom for 20 minutes to clean up and get fancy, then walked two blocks to the conference center.

Planes, trains, and automobiles anyone?

I was exhausted, but excited to present. I was one of the Pecha Kucha speakers, along with amazing artists like Andrea Frank, Katharine Kreisher, Michael Cardinali, Nadia Sablin, and Sarah Knobel. It was a humbling experience to be grouped with such amazing and experienced professionals.

Side-note: I really need a more professional portrait, preferably one that doesn’t have a snapchat filter… or nah.

It was a really interesting combination of speakers, as we each had 6 minutes and 40 seconds to talk about our work, so it was rapid-fire presenting. It was super fascinating seeing how each speaker used photography, how some used it in a traditional sense (Cardinali, Sablin,) how others used it supplementally (Frank,) and how a few used it in collaboration with other mediums (Knobel, Kreisher, myself.)

My 6 minutes and 40 seconds covered my graduate school research and resulting visual thesis– it was quite the challenge, but I think I managed to cram two-years of extensive work into a few minutes. Maybe. It felt good so I’m just gonna roll with it.

So, we did the talk, had the Honored Educator ceremony and resulting lecture by John Willis, and then I took an Uber to my hotel that was 3 miles away from the conference. As it turned out, I was SUPER LUCKY to get it, as apparently two-weeks prior Brattleboro went online with Uber and there are TWO UBER DRIVERS IN THE ENTIRE CITY OF BRATTLEBORO VERMONT.

Good times, traveling. Love it.

I got to my hotel, showered off all the travel I did, ordered a large pizza, and passed out because it had been over 24 hours since I slept at that point.

It was completely worth it. Even though I’m not a part of the Society for Photographic Education’s NE Chapter, they still welcomed me with open arms and I made some new acquaintances that I’ll be happy to see again in the future.

The only thing I’m sad about is how I didn’t get the opportunity to take any photos of Brattleboro, VT. It was a gorgeous city, and I walked through it to get to my destination, but it was like -5 degrees Fahrenheit and I wasn’t stopping for anything– except a pretty stream. I did stop for that.

All-in-all, A+ experience, if you remove the crazy-travel hoops I jumped through to get there.

P.S.– I looked hella cute, for someone who spent the better half of the night curled up in a ball at a bus-station McDonalds, drinking stale coffee and constantly ordering hashbrowns from the poor teenager working an over-night shift, who then got ready in a coffee-shop bathroom with people banging on the door for me to “HURRY THE FUCK UP!” I clean up well.

P.S.S.– To get back to Chicago, I got a cab from my hotel to the bustop, where I picked up  the Greyhound from Brattleboro to NYC, then a shuttle from Port Authority to Newark International, to home, where I refused to take the subway home and had my amazing partner pick me up. Just in-case you were wondering how insane I am.

Happy Shooting!

Florida After 10 Years

My best friend and I have been planning to go to Walt Disney World together for the entire duration of our over-a-decade-long friendship. There have been a couple instances where it almost happened but then didn’t, leaving us both broken hearted and disappointed.

BUT AFTER TEN YEARS, WE DID IT YA’LL

One of the perks of being an adult and out of college– you can go to Disney when you want (well, after over a year of planning and saving, but you get the picture.)

Allie, my bff, is an expert on all things Disney. She will smoke your ass in trivia, knows probably every song from every movie (even obscure ones,) and has been to WDW in Florida more times than years she has been alive. It’s wild, she’s wild, and our trip was amazing for it.

We drove down from Michigan for two days, finally stopping in Celebration, FL. Celebration is a town that was designed by Disney and it is very charming with its colorful buildings and hybrid 1950s-meets-Cuba architecture.

After Celebration, we went to our rented condo and relaxed for the night, going out to Old Town to check out the shops. There was an anime shop and the guy working there was so friendly and enthusiastic, I asked him to pose for a photograph. He moved his hands at the last second, but like I said… he was enthusiastic!

Our trip was jam-packed, wild, and AMAZING. We started our marathon with a full-day at Magic Kingdom, where we of course Disneybounded. My partner, Mitchell, was the Prince Charming to my Cinderella, and Allie was Merida. We made the cutest princesses ever, and it was super fun to hear parent’s say to their kids “Look honey, those girls are dressed as Cinderella and Merida!”

In the evening we ran home, changed, and went to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, also in Magic Kingdom. Mine and Allie’s favorite holiday is Halloween, so we got all dressed up as extra af. Allie went as a mermaid (she made her entire costume herself and it was INSANE) and her boyfriend, Dom, went as a pirate. I was a rainbow and Mitchell was the sun. Some Disney Cast Members stopped Mitchell and I and gave us pins that said “Most Dynamic Duo!” because they loved our couple costume so much. Yeah, we were all super damn cute.

I ADORED the Halloween party. As an adult who doesn’t like to go to adult-parties (where there is alcohol and awkward socializing,) it’s hard for me to celebrate Halloween. It’s legit my favorite holiday, but it’s not like I can go trick-or-treating, and I live in an apartment in the city so decorating my house and passing out candy is a no-go. The Halloween party at Disney was awesome because we got to actually go trick-or-treating, there was a dance party, and the park was only half-full because you have to have a special ticket to get in after 6PM. There was also a special Halloween parade and a Halloween stage show, which featured the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus and all our fav Disney Villains. I wish I could spend every Halloween there!

Our second day in Florida was spent at Universal Studios. We went on some of the rides, got super sick because apparently we are all old and can’t handle anything anymore, and spent the majority of the day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This was my second time there, but the first time I went the park had just opened, so it was really like I was experiencing it again for the first time. The best part? Allie and I went to Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and there is a little show that they put on where Ollivander picks someone from the crowd and has a wand “choose” them. Allie and I were picked because we were dressed head-to-toe in Slytherin garb, so basically it was the coolest thing ever and Allie and I got interactive wands out of it. Best. Day. Ever.

The Disney-marathon continued with the Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT, which was AMAZING. It’s hard to say it was my favorite part because I adored Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, but man, it was incredible. I love food, EPCOT is my favorite park, and I got to Disneybound as my favorite character ever, Quasimodo. The whole gang had Hunchback themed bounds that day– Allie was Esmeralda, Dom was Phoebus, and Mitchell was Clopin.

After getting rolled out of EPCOT (we were sporting food babies after all the delicious food we consumed,) we took a break from the parks and spent a day walking around Disney Springs, formerly called Downtown Disney. We all Disneybounded as droids from the Star Wars franchise for this expedition. I was BB-8, Mitchell was C3PO, Dom was R2D2, and Allie was K-2SO. It was a pretty relaxing day, after spending three full days in the parks.

We picked back up with an adventure in Animal Kingdom, where we saw the new Avatar-themed world, Pandora. The new rides, Rivers of Light and Flight of Passage were AMAZING, especially Flights. Like, goodness, I could stay on that ride forever. For that day, Mitchell and I bounded as Pongo and Perdita from 101 Dalmatians, and Allie was Dr. Facilier from Princess and the Frog and Dom was Hades from Hercules.

Our last day at WDW was spent at Hollywood Studios (or as Allie and I will always call it, MGM,) where we got sick once more on simulators, I lost an umbrella (and FOUND IT BECAUSE DISNEY CAST MEMBERS ARE AMAZING,) and we saw the incredible show, Fantasmic. Mitchell and I also met Kylo Ren, which was an experience. You can tell that we were terrified to be in his awesome Vader-fanboy presence. (Side note: I constantly refer to Kylo Ren as my space-trash-husband, so this was a big deal.) For MGM, Allie bounded as Loki, Dom as Thor, and Mitchell and I went as Dipper and Mabel from Gravity Falls (my favorite show EVER.)

Disney was seriously a blast. Shout out to Allie for making sure we had a lot of photos together in our Disneybounds, and for putting the adorable borders on the photos!

Speaking of adorable borders… I brought my Fuji Instax Mini with me, and loaded it with Disney Tsum Tsum themed film. I adore these pictures so much, as they add just a little more magic to our already magical trip! You can find this same film (and other films with Disney-themed borders!) on Amazon or eBay. If you order from eBay, it’ll take a while to get to you, so keep that in mind when you order!

So, enough with the typical vacation photos. If you made it this far and you’re wondering where the photography is, you’ll be pleased to know it’s just a few more lines of text away!

The photographs I made in the Disney Parks and in Universal Studios were more formal studies and examinations of light, rather than normal tourist pictures. I can’t help that Disney and Universal make things so picturesque– it’s almost as if they want people to take pictures. Who knew?

It was a little bit of a challenge, though. I wanted to make really cool pictures of a few of the most popular places in the United States– hell, the world, even. I think I managed to get a couple shots in that aren’t so standard, but I’m content with the photographs that are a little more par-for-the-course, because hey, the light was really pretty and I dig it.

We ended our amazing trip with a visit to Daytona Beach, where I lounged like a beach bum, Mitchell built a sand castle, Allie sat in the sand and Dom let himself get knocked about by waves. I love the ocean, I think it is beautiful, but I am not keen on large, open bodies of water where all sorts of critters live and I freak out when seaweed so much as brushes my leg so I sat on the beach and enjoyed the sounds and sights.

Annnnddddd that’s my trip to Florida, told through my rambles, vacation photos, and photography. Again, shout out to my BFF for the best photos of our cute ass crew. I’ve been really spoiled these past few months with all the travel– and next month I’m off to Vermont, so keep an eye out for a post on that!

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

August Photo Diary 2017

After spending May, June, and July having awesome adventures in Asia, coming back home to America was a bit… well, I don’t want to say a let-down, because I missed my family and friends, but I definitely had some post-travel blues.

But! August was still a fun and exciting month, and I took my camera with me everywhere, as is par for the course. I got to see my niece and nephews quite a bit, which was great  because I missed them so much while I was gone and I totally got some bonus-points for bringing them back souvenirs. I’m the cool aunt, guys!

We had a lot of fun showing off on the trampoline and checking out an aquarium at the mall.

For the past like, four years, my best friend Kaiden has been an assistant at a summer art camp. Every summer I express interest in also being an assistant, and this year I finally took the plunge! Working with kids every weekday for three weeks was exhausting but super rewarding, and I already miss it.

I took some pictures at the camp, excluding the children of course because privacy and all of that, and I really like the photos. Because they are absent of children but have elements in them that show children were once clearly there is kind of eerie. And I love eerie.

One of the many delightful things about working at a children’s art camp was not only seeing kids be creative, silly, and even adorable, but working with my best friend was AWESOME. The camp was situated in a large park with winding nature trails, so sometimes after the kids went home, Kaiden and I would walk around and enjoy the wildlife. I already miss it.

The first part of August was spent working with creative kids, but once the end of August rolled ’round, I went on yet another trip. This time I went to St. Louis to meet up with the usual suspects to camp and see the Solar Eclipse. We met up and spent the night in a mini-van in a Walmart parking lot (as you do,) and explored the city of St. Louis for an afternoon.

After we explored St. Louis, we took our van and made the trip to Carbondale, where we would see the Eclipse in Totality. Totality is the area where the moon completely covers the sun and therefore safe to take your viewing glasses off for that brief window of time. We ended up at Giant City State Park, where we camped out on a blanket and took awful amazing selfies while we waited for the Big Event.

After waiting a few hours, it started happening. I took photos on my phone and with my 35mm film camera, but of course none of them did it justice. I also had to be careful, because I couldn’t very well look into my view finder, as it would damage my retinas. So, here, have some really bad photos taken by me, a professional photographer with a master’s degree and everything.

Also, the snapchat filters were LIT.

I didn’t get any good photos of the event, because honestly I was so under prepared for this trip after spending so many months abroad. There will be another one in 2023 that I will definitely be ready for, and will have decent equipment and training/education/research in astro-photography.

The bright side was that I was able to focus on what was happening. I’ve read many times that when we take pictures of an event, we are more likely to forget the genuine memory of it, and instead we have memories of a photograph. This kind of phenomenon is once-removed from the event itself, and man, for something like a solar eclipse in Totality? I wanted to remember it.

And it was seriously one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Just thinking about it makes me emotional, because there we were, surrounded by strangers, watching the moon block the sun, which are both hundreds-of-thousands and millions-of miles away from us, cheering when we were able to take our glasses off and the world went dark and quiet. It was gorgeous and rare and I’ll always hold it dear in my heart.

Did you get to see the solar eclipse? What was it like for you?

Happy Shooting!

I WENT TO TOKYO AND IT WAS THE BEST EVER

Ever since I was 12 years old, I wanted to go to Japan. This is 100% because I was a total little nerd who loved anime and tried to teach herself Japanese and thought everything was kawaii and I was totally awkward and no one told me– but I wanted to go since then.

Overtime, my love for anime and manga became much more low-key (excluding Sailor Moon– I will love Sailor Moon with reckless abandon until the day I die,) and as I learned more about the history of Japan and the eccentricities of Tokyo, my longing to visit only grew.

Visiting Tokyo while on my adventure in S.E. Asia was not anticipated. While I was sitting in a coffee shop in Manila, I decided to book my flight home from Cambodia, which was six-weeks away at that point. The flight home from Siem Reap was crazy long and crazy expensive, so I looked into alternatives, and for shits and giggles I figured I’d see how much it would cost for me to hop over to Tokyo, then hop home.

It was SO much cheaper. Then I figured, hm, well, what if I took a long layover? After doing the math, a two-day layover in Tokyo was STILL CHEAPER than my flying straight home from Cambodia. So, I booked it, and then spent the remaining two months of my trip excited for the end of it so I could go to Tokyo.

And my GOD.

I LOVED EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF IT.

I arrived at Haneda Airport and took the airport bus to Ikebukuro District, where my hostel was– The Sakura Hotel. If you’re a budget traveler like me, I HIGHLY recommend this place! You pay by the bunk, and the bathrooms are so clean and I was very comfortable. The restaurant attached to the hotel is also very good, and I met some amazing people while hanging out there.

But anyway– on to my crazy two-day adventure in Tokyo!

The first day I was there, I ran off to Harajuku, the famous fashion district known for its youthful clothes and trends. There are lolita shops, vintage stores, one-hundred-yen stores, accessory stands… It was delightful and the energy was high and light and I left smiling, because this was all very much my a e s t h e t i c.

I also had lunch at the Monster Cafe, which was super cute. Food was meh, but I went for the atmosphere, so I wasn’t disappointed. However, the Monster Cafe was the most expensive thing I did in my two days there, and it cost me around $40. So, if you’re on a tight budget and not wanting to splurge, maybe dodge the Monster Cafe this trip.

After my adorable lunch, I browsed the thrift stores in the area then headed over to Shibuya crossing. My first stop was to see Hachiko, the Goodest Boy That Ever Was, because if you’re going to go Tokyo, you simply have to go see Hachiko.

I mean, the train station has PAWS THAT LEAD YOU IN THE DIRECTION OF HIS STATUE LIKE COME ON

(I think the reason I may love Tokyo so much is because it is so EXTRA and that’s like, me as a person, so.)

I ended up playing photographer at the statue for a good 15 minutes. So many people wanted their family photo, and I just kept offering, because honestly I was in a good mood and didn’t want to leave Hachiko.

Also, this was probably the cutest I ever looked the entire time I was traveling, because Tokyo had beautiful 80 degree weather and not 100 degree weather like everywhere else I had been, and also, I went to Harajuku that morning and I was NOT about to look like a scrub.

After seeing the best dog ever, I crossed the famous Shibuya Crossing and went to the Starbucks on the corner, which has the best view of the craziness that is crossing the street in the busiest intersection in the country. Apparently, everyone knows this Starbucks is the best spot, because I had to legit elbow my way in to see. But, it was fun, and I was just giggling the entire time because its so ridiculous that it’s fun watching people cross a damn street.

I even left the Starbucks and found a tree to sit under at street-level, so I could keep people-watching until I finished my coffee.

Phew– busy day so far, but I WAS NOT DONE. After people watching, I went to Nanako Broadway. Now, Nanako Broadway wasn’t even on my radar, but my best friend was living vicariously through this trip, and told me I “MUST GO TO NANAKO BROADWAY” because they had vintage anime stuff. So, I did, and it was delightful.

The place was relatively empty, save for a few tourists like me, and I think the best part was when a teenaged-American-boy bumped into me and said “Gomen’nasai!” with the most confident, terrible pronunciation and I was just so delighted because kid, you do you. Follow your otaku-dreams.

I also hit up all the Sailor Moon gachupon machines in the building. No shame.

I ended my first day in Tokyo in Shinjuku. I waited until after sunset to visit this district, because I knew the lights would look hella cool. Now, when I went to Shinjuku, I got completely lost on purpose. I just picked a direction and started walking, and I came across great scenes. One the staples of Shinjuku was the 18+ clubs/movie theatres.

Because I was just wandering around, I accidentally came across Piss Alley– a charming name, I know, but it’s a small, narrow alley with Japanese street food served at counters, like you see in movies and such. A lot of places had signs that stated NO PHOTOS but I found a place where there wasn’t a sign and quickly took a shot of some businessmen eating their yakitori.

The following day I had another early start, because there was still so much to see in Tokyo! I figured day one was more about contemporary culture, so day two would be more traditional (which ended up having some exceptions, as you’ll see later on.)

The morning began at Ueno Park, where I walked around for hours, sitting every now and then to people-watch and write in my notebook. I found a shrine, and I snapped one of my favorite photos of all time of a man praying. He’s glowing— I didn’t do anything to that photo to make it happen. Maybe it’s the light bouncing off of his shirt, or maybe its something spiritual– who knows, but I love it.

I walked around the pond to get back to the train station, and I cooed at the turtles and the koi fish, because I’m that weirdo. No shame.

My tourist-marathon continued as I visited Asakusa, one of the more traditional districts, to visit the famous Senso-ji temple. What was so awesome about this experience was the market that lead the way up to the temple (where they had everything a tourist could want– I definitely got my mother a neat mask and myself a Sailor Saturn plushie– see above declaration that I will love Sailor Moon until my dying day).

A surprise for me was seeing women dressed in yukatas and kimonos. Some young ladies were even kind enough to let me take a photo of their group!

Now, remember when I said day two was traditional with an exception? That exception is Akihabara, which is the district where anime-loving-nerds pilgrimage to. Since I’m an anime-loving nerd, I went.

It was super fun, even though I don’t recognize any of the now-popular animes (my day was when Fullmetal Alchemist and like Inuyasha and Fruits Basket were the bees knees,) but what I enjoyed the most was the teenagers who were dragging their confused parents around these stores. 10/10.

For my last evening in Tokyo I knew I wanted to see the city from above at sunset. I left Akihabara and went to Minato, to go to the top of the World Trade Center. However, the sun was still relatively high, and I had about 1.5 hours to kill before I wanted to go up, so I did what I always do and just started walking in any old direction. I ended up walking down by the wharf, where I watched ships cruise by and felt the sea breeze.

When I was heading back in the direction of the Trade Center, I ended up in a throng of white-shirt clad business men. The opportunity was too good to pass up with my camera.

Now, I decided to go to the World Trade Center to view the city instead of Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree. The simple reason why was because it was much cheaper, and cost only ¥600, whereas the other places were five times that much. The more complex reason was I wanted the best view possible of Tokyo Tower, because, once again, I am a Sailor Moon weeb.

Plus, it wasn’t crowded at the “Seaside Top” at all. I got there nice and early, walked around (it has a 360 degree viewing platform,) took lots of photos and took a seat by the window and watched the sun-set. I didn’t ever want to leave.

While watching Tokyo fade into purples and blues, I promised myself I would be back.

After my super-long adventure, I went back to the hotel and ended up at a party-table with the owners of the hotel restaurant and a group of tourists from The Netherlands. That’s what happens when you’re a young lady sitting alone– you get adopted and get drinks shoved at you. And then, when they find out you are American, they ask countless questions about Donald Trump.

I responded by chugging an entire beer without breaking eye-contact.

I had a few hours the morning I was to leave, so I got lost in the neighborhood around my hotel. I wanted to keep exploring, but I had a bus to catch, so the last hour I had in Tokyo was spent rushing around like a mad-woman trying to get to my bus stop on time.

The peacefulness of the neighborhood I was staying in was such a great end to an exciting and crazy trip abroad.

When I was researching what to possibly do with only 2 days in Tokyo, I couldn’t find any itineraries I liked, so I made my own. What I liked about mine is everything I did was free, excluding my lunch at the Monster Cafe and the ticket to the top of the World Trade Center. So, if you’re a budget traveler with a short-stay in Tokyo in your future, here is my itinerary, for your consideration!

Day One:

  • Harajuku Shopping District (bright and early!)
  • Lunch at the Monster Cafe
  • Shibuya Crossing (during rush hour because I’m a sadist)
  • Nanako Broadway
  • Shinjuku (at night because the lights are so cool!)

Day Two:

  • Ueno Park (SUPER bright and early!)
  • Asakusa for the Senso-ji Shrine
  • Akihabara
  • Minato/World Trade Center

And that’s the end of my nearly two-month adventure in Asia. It was wild, fam.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Holiday in Cambodia

My short-stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a dream come true.

To start, my main purpose of going there was to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a place I’ve been longing to visit since I was in high school, reading about the sprawling temple complexes, imagining what it must have looked like when it was first constructed in the 12th century.

After a decade since I first learned about it, I finally made it to Cambodia to explore.

A fun little aside– I wasn’t alone on this adventure. My dear friend, Muhammad, joined me, from Singapore. Well, actually, he’s originally from Singapore, but is studying linguistics in Wales, but was back in Singapore to renew his student visa, so he hopped over to Siem Reap to see me and explore.

Oh, and we hadn’t met in person before this– I’ve known Muhammad for roughly 10 years via the Internet, and we became good friends about 2 years ago. You know me, nothing like making epic trips with people I only know from online to test friendships.

I really enjoyed taking photos of him when he wasn’t aware of it– his jungle-explorer get-up was especially fitting for our temple adventures.

It was seriously one of the best things I have ever done. I think I’ve mentioned a bunch of times in previous drabbles that I wanted to be an archaeologist, but ended up as a photographer (which is also an amazing profession, if I do say so!) Learning about all of the temples in the complex and climbing over rocks and cooing over the little monkeys was about as close as I could get to being an archaeologist, but hey, I’ll take it.

After we visited the main temple complex, we then scooted over to Ta Phrom to see the famous trees overtaking the temple structure. Some of you may recognize it from Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider (the older one with Jolie, not the newest one,) and the fun fact about that photo is we had to wait in line to take it.

Ah, tourism.

From Ta Phrom we dragged ourselves because I was low on caffeine skipped on over to the Angkor Thom complex, to see Bayon Temple. Bayon is famous for it’s carved stone faces, which, if you’re a 90s-kid-in-America like me, you’d recognize the Legends of the Hidden Temple vibes coming from here.

I really enjoyed this temple, almost as much as Angkor Wat herself, because we were able to walk around in the ruins. It felt like an ancient maze, and if I get the opportunity to skip around and pretend like I’m an explorer with my little point-and-shoot camera, well, I’m a happy tourist.

We also got iced coffee from a stand nearby, but the vote is out on whether or not that had anything to do with my excitement.

We ended our adventures at the temple complexes by climbing up to Pre Rup, which was situated at the top of a tall hill. Our guide basically pushed us to go watch the sunset from there, but after walking up the hill and waiting about 45 minutes in line to get to the top, Muhammad and I saw all of the people, realized the sun was setting behind the jungle, and decided to leave and go get dinner instead.

The view was still nice though, so I recommend checking it out, but maybe not for sunset because everyone and their mother will be there.

The city of Siem Reap was a different treat. Muhammad and I ended up walking around all over to find the mosque one evening, and then another evening we walked to go get dinner because it was only 3 kilometers away and why not right?

We totally hailed a ride back.

But during our stay, we walked along the river, stumbled into a fruits and vegetable market, found shopping stalls and out-of-place stores. Just a few of my favorite things.

Admittedly, I was easily exhausted in Cambodia. It was probably a combination of the heat and the fact I’d been adventuring for 1.5 months ahead of this, but Muhammad and I spend about half the time we were in Siem Reap napping and watching movies. It was fun. 10/10, highly recommend having a low-energy friend.

If you’re planning on going to Siem Reap (which you should totally do,) make sure you have your shots and your malaria pills, to stay safe and healthy. I recommend getting them before you leave the country– I made the mistake of not doing that and couldn’t get any in Bangkok, so I walked around covered in insect repellent wearing long sleeves and high socks in 100 degree heat. 0/10 do not recommend do not be a dumb ass like me.

As always, Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!