"This is my first time hosting an American. Usually, I get to host some Taiwanese since Taiwan is close to Japan," said Tomoe in her quiet, almost whispering voice while looking at Becky.
Tomoe was our Couchsurfing, a housing website that connects avid travelers to locals, host when we took a one-night trip to Kobe. We were thrilled to be welcomed with warm green tea and rice crackers when we stepped into her cozy apartment in downtown Kobe. As a nurse at a nearby hospital, Tomoe usually is away at work. However, coincidentally she had a holiday the day we arrived. Despite the nervousness from staying at a stranger's house, time flew by quickly as our conversation about our traveling plans never seemed to cease. Us three found a common love for traveling and continued to exchange reccommendations of places to visit and things to eat or do. When Tomoe told me about her plans to visit Vietnam for the first time in the fall, I couldn't keep inside my excitement and began to eagerly show her the best types of food to try, from grilled pork rice noodles to Vietnamese savory pancakes, and cultural sites worth checking out.
"What would you like for dinner? I would like to cook a meal for you since you guys are here," suddenly suggested Tomoe to which we responded with "anything is fine", still surprised by her kindness and hospitality. At first, we were pretty skeptical about staying at someone's house for free, but this just proves us that not every person in the world is standing there plotting something against you. There are many who genuinely want to help you and want to create a meaningful bond with you. Even though they don't receive reward or money back for their help, they instead can receive new friends, share experiences and broaden their perspectives.
Me and Becky have decided to hike a mountain in Kobe while planning our entire vacation trip. "I found a seemingly easy trail that would take us about 3 hours in total. Just in time for dinner," said Becky. I enthusiastically agreed and we set off on our journey up Mount Rokko. The thought of first time climbing a mountain made me even more determined to accomplish one goal off the bucket list on that day. Little did we know was that the trail turned out to be a bit challenging as we encountered very few flat surfaces and stairs, and mostly big rocks accompanied with chains and ladders. I must admit that I became really tired on my way up and even freaked out when I saw 2 boars hanging around on the other side of the small valley 5 minutes into the hike. But as soon as we finally reached the top of Mount Rokko, thoughts of exhaustion or frustration simply vanished. We witnessed the sun beginning to set with its bright orange light shining right into our eyes. Beyond that light, the whole city of Kobe emerged with a hint of Osaka nearby. It seemed as if all of our worries disappeared and it was just us and the beauty of looking down onto the vast space from above. A mesmerizing feeling, indeed. And it only took us 1.5 hours to climb up and down.
That night, we came back to a gorgeous smell of sukiyaki hotpot. That night, we ate raw egg for the first time while dipping delicious beef in it and talked over beer about the cultural differences of life style in America and Japan. That night, we slept like babies in warm futons Tomoe laid out for us. We were simply happy and comfortable. The next morning, we even woke up to the peaceful breakfast of onigiri and miso soup that Tomoe prepared for us. We felt blessed to receive her kindness and in turn during our hang out at Kobe's Chinatown, we decided to buy her some cute bunny chocolates as a thank you gift.
Thanks to Tomoe, Kobe was by the far the most interesting, most satisfying trip we've had during our vacation. We lived locally, ate locally, climbed a mountain, inhaled New Year's air while eating lots of street food in Chinatown. We were a bit sad to leave, but hey, Osaka here we go!
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<p>Hi there! I'm Kristie. Currently a junior at Tufts University majoring in Quantitative Economics and exploring other areas of passion like marketing, community service and photography. In my free time, I like coming up with cooking recipes using seasonal ingredients in the market to create dishes that have a hint of my Vietnamese upbringing. Reading food blogs, taking pictures, watching Miyazaki movies basically sum up my life. Having lived in Russia, Vietnam, America, I love traveling and always feel the hunger for a new adventure, a new place and new culture. From friendships to random encounters with strangers, I'm excited to experience it all during my semester abroad in Japan.</p>