So, for the first time in recent memory I've managed to reach a sort of balance between work duties, blog and book reading (just started a book on post-colonial Africa, The State of Africa, which I'm hoping can help offer at least a general primer to a continent I find myself reading more and more about lately), and spending time with friends... which must mean it's about time to upend it all again. At the end of this month my contract with the Karatsu City Board of Education will finish — I'll save that story for another day — and I will return home to the land of the free and the home of the brave shortly thereafter. I have no job waiting for me and no clear sense of how I'm going to be able to make the transition from Japanese children's entertainer / occasional English teacher to young international relations professional — good luck for me will be managing to find an unpaid internship in D.C. some time next spring, since I don't have the master's degree and two or three year's working experience in government most think tanks seem to expect from their paid research assistants. What I get for spending my college summers working in a carpentry shop, I guess.
If I sound apprehensive about the whole taking the next step thing, well, major life transitions have never been a strong point of mine. But I do have a plan, of sorts, for a round-the-world return trip. After staying on in Japan for a week or two after my contract is up, I will then fly off mid-August to finally visit a long-delayed goal of mine, Xinjiang. This part of the world held fascination for me when I first began studying it senior year of college in part because of its remoteness — it's still hard to believe I will soon be kicking up dust in the deserts of western China. I'll be relying on the phrasebooks for both Uyghur and Mandarin, so as much as I'd like the chance I'm not sure how much I'll be able to connect with the local Uyghur peoples — though that may be just as well as it's my understanding that the PRC administration is clamping down hard on those who speak to foreigners about any of the controversies I studied in the course of writing my paper back in college. Right now I plan on visiting the cities of Urumqi, Turpan, Kashgar, and Korla (as well as a few smaller oasis towns along the way, probably) while skirting a counterclockwise circle around the Tarim basin over the course of about two weeks. Yes, I will be packing lots of sunscreen.
Assuming I don't meet an untimely end lost in the desert, I will then be flying back to Beijing and then south to Hanoi, taking another week to make my way overland to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City; I've yet to work out an itinerary for this part of the grand tour yet, but many JETs have recommended Vietnam highly, so I'll be seeing what it has to offer (besides dengue fever). From HCM City I plan on crossing into Cambodia, visiting both Angkor Wat and the memorials to the Killing Fields if possible. Then it's border-hopping again, on to Bangkok, from which I will fly out to Johannesburg, South Africa (by way of the United Arab Emirates), and then connect for a flight inland to Lusaka, Zambia. One of my best friends from college currently lives in the Zambian bush as a volunteer with the Peace Corps, and I'll be spending another two weeks riding elephants, going on safaris, and farming fish there. A full month and a half after saying sayonara to Japan, I'll finally touch down in Boston late September, where I'll try to pay a visit to a few old professors before heading back home to Indiana and trying to figure out what to do with myself now. The whole ordeal promises to be both exciting and exhausting.
Depending on my ability to find internet access along the way, this blog will either be updated semi-frequently from the road for the benefit of friends, family, and the occasional outside reader; or otherwise not at all. So if reading about other peoples' vacations bores you to no end, you can probably safely ignore this space for the next two months or so (if you haven't been doing so already). When I get back, depending on my success in the Washington D.C. job market, I may be able to give more attention to other, more interesting topics; but if not, there are plenty of other interesting reads out there.