Bartender on the move!
In her interview, Kyoka, an avid traveler, unveils what makes her crave discovering new countries, the ups and downs of the nomad life, and how it influences her inner self
You have relocated quite a bit in your life already. Tell us about yourself, where you were born, and the places you have lived
I was born in Tokyo to Japanese and Taiwanese parents and moved to several US States, Mexico, and Canada, before settling down in California at the ripe age of 6. Because of this upbringing, I had a relentless hunger to live in different countries. As I wanted to go to college abroad and to persuade my parents, I built a PowerPoint presentation on why I should definitely attend university in Russia! But, It wasn’t until Covid hit the US that I decided, no more excuses, I am traveling and exploring. It led me to live in Tokyo in 2021 and in Panama in 2022. My objective in Japan was to learn more about Japanese hospitality, as well as, advance my Japanese language skills. In Panama, it was the opportunity to freshen up my Spanish and dive deeper into specialty coffee, Panamanian coffee being world-renowned and award-winning! Now, as we approach 2023, I am writing this article from Hawaii, looking forward to using the precious knowledge acquired to better cater to my guests whilst getting a taste of Polynesian and Hawaiian culture!
How have these experiences shaped you as a person?
Growing up in a culture apart from your parent’s one gives one a more international mindset from a young age. I was naturally enticed by other cultures and lifestyles. Growing up bilingual also raised my interest in learning more about language and communities. Those experiences made me more sympathetic to people by learning and diving into their culture and way of life. But in truth, speaking their language makes a real difference. Nelson Mandela puts it best: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart”. My US time taught me to be more extroverted and conversational, alongside a deeper knowledge of the cocktails' history and practice. From Japan, I learned about selfless hospitality and always thinking several steps ahead to create a memorable experience for your guests. In Panama, you embrace the joy of life and strong family feeling from your guests and teammates. No matter how many cultures or languages I discover, this will always be a fresh and invigorating feeling to move to any new country. The people, the history, the food, and the values that people share are all different. It is paramount to keep an open mind and to be curious about everything!
Moving around a lot, what were the difficulties you faced?
My biggest challenge was facing ignorance from others and from myself. The microaggressions to the full-frontal comments were said to my face because I am a foreigner. I’ve had customers taken aback by how surprisingly good my English is, regardless of if I was in the US or in Panama; a woman being surprised that an Asian can become a barista, to a man saying: 'I hate China' straight to me. I felt ignorance from myself when I acted out and stooped to their level. So many people don't have the privilege to receive education, unconditional love in their upbringing, or empathy to understand. I feel fortunate that these are milder cases compared to others. How one can tell, to a complete stranger, without knowing anything about their life or background, to F*** off and go back to their country? It is audacious and terrifying. I remember fearing for my mother’s life during the Covid crisis, as hate crimes against Asian Americans were rising. The home I grew up in felt hateful and a dark place. It did eventually fuel my decision to leave for Japan.
I thought I was used to having people ask me questions about where I am from by growing up in California with a face like mine. But once you start living abroad, the answer always gets more confusing (even to yourself). By moving so often, home becomes more of a feeling than an actual location, through the feeling of safety and trust with my family, friends, coworkers, and my regulars. I feel at home through the conversations we have, the clinking of drinks, and all the unspoken moments of warmth and connection we share. Loneliness will not be a problem anymore for me, as I now know that there are always connections to be made, no matter the language barrier or the cultural differences.
What made you choose the country you wanted to move to?
Usually, my travels start with opportunities. If it wasn’t for Covid, I wouldn’t have moved to Japan. If it wasn’t t help a good friend, I wouldn’t have moved to Panama. One of the great things about being reckless is that I have no second thoughts about moving my entire life to a new foreign country. But on the downside, I do not make initial research as much as I should. However, I am grateful for all the mistakes I have made! Now, I have a checklist of what to do before leaving for a new country. Currently living in Hawaii, I returned to the US to sort out some visa-related business, but afterward, off to the next country!
What are your upcoming travel plans? Can we expect a world tour of the industry?
For now, I am looking into Working Holiday Visas! They are a great resource that gives young people opportunities to live abroad and work in different countries until the age of 30. I contemplate Argentina, South Korea, Germany, Taiwan, or Singapore. For me, the deal breaker to decide in which country to move to is language. Chinese and Spanish are useful from a numbers standpoint (most spoken languages in the world); in regards to Korean and German, they are useful in business. Not forgetting that the food and bar culture of those countries are amazing! I’m looking forward to checking out the famous coffee scene in South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, as well as the wine scenes in Argentina and Germany!
I promised myself that I would travel to every country, so the world better be prepared! I am coming to you! I swear I am not a spy, just your humble, traveling bartender.