A couple of months ago, I traveled to Japan, a country of rich culture and history and–probably the reason why most people go there–the world’s leading authority on amigurumi, the art of making cute, tiny things out of yarn (pictured above). I also ate some California rolls, which I guess were okay. Now, I have tried my hand at amigurumi before, with questionable success, and since then had resigned myself to the fact that this was just one of those things that I would never be able to do (right next to touching my toes and respecting people who chew loudly). However, being in Japan re-inspired me, and so I decided to give it one last go–one last attempt at knitting Lamigurumi.Okay, so I definitely won’t be making a winking owl anytime soon, but at least it’s progress. Kind of. It’s tiny, that’s for sure, and maybe cute in a weird, biological kind of way. For those of you wondering what exactly it is that I knit, here’s a closer look:It’s an eye! And not just any eye, but an anatomically correct(ish) right eyeball with all 6 extra-ocular muscles attached (the red and grey knit cords, which, as fate would have it, are actually called i-cords)! You know what they say, ‘you can take the knitter out of the anatomy lab…’If you’re asking yourself why I knit an eyeball and suspended it in an old shoebox, the answer involves a fair amount of geeking out (you could say i put the ‘eye’ in knitting) and an even greater amount of boredom. But in short, for the past month or so, I’ve been a (self-proclaimed head) TA for my medical school’s human anatomy course, and, as so clearly demonstrated by my retina-replica, understanding the eye and its associated muscles can get a bit tricky. So, I decided to be a responsible teaching assistant as well as defend my position as best knitter at Pritzker (#knitzkerchief) by knitting an interactive model eye that shows the component actions of each extra-ocular muscle.
Okay, so I originally was going to have a series of pictures here with explanations of how each muscle moved the eye based on its origin and insertion, but then I realized the only people who would actually read that would be my classmates, other medical students, and my mom. So I’ll skip all that and you can just trust me when I say that the eye works as it should, and that it was well re-see-ved by all the first year pupils (the volume of potential eye puns is kniterally addicting)
Over the several days it took to assemble this d-eye-orama (also iBox, yarn bomb, orb(kn)ital fossa. can’t stop won’t stop.) into an oil-stained shoebox, I had a lot of time to think about my trip to Japan, the impetus of this entire project. I got to reminiscing about the things that went well or terribly, terribly wrong, the risks that paid off and those that didn’t, and I ultimately came up with a few tips that I feel like every budding traveler could benefit from.
Learn how to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll keep my hands to myself.’ My brother-in-law is Japanese, and upon hearing that I was going to Japan, he sent me 4 full pages of recommendations on what I should do while there. However, in all his wisdom, he failed to mention that Japan has female-only trains during rush hour (inconspicuously painted bright pink), which is an option for females, but (as i learned the hard way) absolutely not an option for males. Needless to say, the 2 minutes from Shibuya to Harajuku station amidst a sea of dead silent, nervously staring women was one of the longest train rides I’d ever been on (and an accurate representation of my social life circa 2002-2011) and would have been easily avoided had I been equipped with the vocabulary to relay my innocuous and totally non-pervy intentions.Imagine this but times a million and then crammed onto a subway car.
Stay off the grass. Unless you don’t want to. It is no question that Japan is the place to go for beautiful gardens–most of which are associated with ornate temples and deeply entrenched in religious and historic meaning. And while many are compelled by propriety (or japanese law) to honor this beauty with respect and from a distance, I was fortunate enough to witness a group of middle aged Cantonese couples do exactly the opposite. I was especially impressed with this lady shamelessly lounging by Kyoto’s Imperial Palace gardens. Not pictured: the half dozen ‘Stay off the grass’ signs and this lady’s husband using the Nijo Castle as his personal tripod.
Find yourself a bald companion.That’s right, I didn’t go to Japan alone. I went with my roommate, who is, among other things, bald. This proved useful when needing to identify him in high-volume tourist areas (e.g. public transit at rush hour, temples and palaces, the garrett’s popcorn outlet) and made for an excellent series of photographs of him with the various Buddha shrines (#buddyandbuddha).
But, of course, he was more than just a human homing beacon. Of all the good things that happened during the 2 weeks I spent in Japan, I was perhaps most fortunate in that my roommate also turned out to be my ideal traveling companion (also that we saw an actual freaking geisha). We both are early risers and enjoyed excessive, fitbit-busting walks. We like the same 5:1 ratio of strict itinerary planning to spontaneous impulsive decisions ($25 worth of soba. worth it.), and when I claimed that I saw a cockroach the size of my face in our bedroom, he actually went looking for it so he could kill it (#hesakeeper). And then, as if things couldn’t get any better, he turned to me one day and said the 8 most beautiful words you could ever say to an ISTJ: ‘Wanna just hang out at a cafe today?’ (also: ‘can you organize this into a google doc?’)Regardless of where you lie on the extroversion-introversion continuum or who you’re traveling with, I’ve learned that, given enough time, everyone is driven to seek alone time (the introversion conversion). Even my roommate, who I feel is split 50/50 between E and I, after only 4 days together, wanted nothing more than to just sit at a Starbucks (don’t judge) and journal for hours (i consider that a personal victory for introverts everywhere). So for those looking for a traveling buddy, consider going with a friend who’s an I. We introverts can sniff out a cafe at the drop of a hat and are experts at being with you while leaving you the hell alone. And if you have no I’s in your life, don’t worry. I’ve got a spare one lying around here somewhere…
***The floors of Nijo Castle in Kyoto are called ‘Nightingale floors’ because of the sound they make when they are stepped on–a security measure to ensure no one could sneak through unheard.