A Shantou Weekend

Last year when we went to Chaozhou, we saw that the train station was actually between two cities: Chaozhou and Shantou. Since we had already been to Chaozhou, Jun and I thought it would be nice to go to Shantou this year. So in the middle of August we took the train from Shenzhen and went to the eastern part of Guangdong once again.

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After taking the bus from the train station to the central district of Shantou, Jun and I checked in at the Shantou International Hotel. This was by far one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. The staff was friendly, and our room was spacious and comfortable. And as a nice surprise, the hotel staff delivered a complimentary local dessert in the early evening for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, neither Jun or I actually liked the dessert. The thought, however, was nice.

After having cleaned up a bit, Jun and I then went to have lunch at a beef hot pot place that is popular in the region. The food was quite good and made us ready for an afternoon of exploration.

After lunch we walked to Zhongshan Park. As we went around the park Jun noticed that it kind of had everything you could possibly want in a park in a condensed form. There was a small zoo, a roller-skate rink, a museum, a botanical garden, a lake area with boats, and plenty of space to rest and enjoy the day. It was nice to walk around the park and see the different things that made it unique.

After that we walked towards the old city center. Currently they are redeveloping the area; entire neighborhoods are construction zones. We were still able to see what the architecture looks like, and it had a nice mix of Western and Eastern influences. You could clearly see this dichotomy in the Small Pavilion Park that had a Chinese structure in the middle of a square that was surrounded by more Western-style buildings. It was an interesting area. When they are finished with the construction it should be a nice area to visit.

From there we went to 1860 Creative Park near the waterfront. This area used to be a middle school in Shantou that was converted into the creative park. There were some interesting aspects to it. There’s a mix of offices and abandoned school room that leaves a vibe of creative abandonment to the place.

Once we were done going around 1860 we went to Xidi Park. It’s a small park next to the waterfront with some nice landscaping.

From there we took a leisurely walk along the shore towards Qilu Battery in Shipaotai Park. The old fort was really neat and a quiet place to explore. As Jun was taking pictures, however, a young boy started to make fun of him by emulating the poses Jun was using to take pictures. I saw the boy from a distance. When he came closer to me I put my arm around him and he started to panic. He began to speak to me in Chinese by saying he was sorry. I told him in English that I wasn’t the one he needed to apologize and I frog-walked him to Jun to apologize. He was so confused that he was apologizing in Chinese and English. I told him to be nice and that being rude to other people could be detrimental to him. Someone less kind could hurt him if he was not careful. At that point I let him go and he ran away to his friends looking mortified.

The rest of our time at the Qilu was uneventful. We soon had to leave because the park was closing. We decided to go back to the hotel to clean up before we went to dinner.

Dinner that night involved seafood where we chose which fish we wanted to eat. It was quite delicious and affordable. Afterwards we got dessert and went back to the hotel for the night.

Day 2

The next day we went to a village on the outskirts of Shantou. The highlight of the visit was exploring and appreciating the Chen Cihong Former Residence. The structure consists of many halls and rooms built by a wealthy family in 1910. It was the home for the Chen clan for many generations before it was converted into a historic museum. The structures are an interesting mix of Western and Eastern influences that creates a unique place. It was really fascinating to see the different ornamentations in each room. Much care must have been needed to maintain such an intricate and complex structure for a family to have lived there.

When we were done with that area we went to visit a temple on Tashan near the village. It was a nice, quiet area with beautiful buildings in the upper part of the mountain. But after a while Jun and I were ready for lunch and took a car back to central Shantou.

For our last meal we had steamed seafood. It was really neat to pick out the different seafood we wanted and then to steam it at our table for us to eat. That was a nice way to end our trip. From there we took the bus to the train station and then the train back to Shenzhen.

Overall, it was a nice visit to Shantou. It was quite a unique and different city in comparison to those of the Pearl River Delta. It was definitely a great weekend retreat that Jun and I both needed.

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Village Tranquility

After the more ad-hoc nature of last week’s trip to Huizhou, Jun and I decided to be more organized with our outing this week. On Friday we decided to go to Nanshe Village in Dongguan. Jun booked us train tickets to go there and figured out the fastest route to get there from the train station. Everything was set. But no matter how much you may plan for an incident-free excursion, the unexpected may arise and alter plans.

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On the day of our trip to the village everything went according to plan. We took the train from Shenzhen to Dongguan without any issue. Then we took a taxi to the village also without issue.

The village itself is quite remarkable. There are parts of it that have been preserved, but there are also other parts that have not. These areas I found quite interesting. The type of building materials used for these traditional Lingnan architecture is quite different from modern materials. Instead of using concrete as the main building materials, wood and bricks were more prevalent in the past. As a result there’s a more refined and unique look to the buildings instead of the generic style prevalent in modern Chinese architecture. Outside of the signature skyscrapers, most modern buildings in one Chinese city looks similar to buildings in any other Chinese city. It was thus nice to see the subtle differences in the architectural styles at Nanshe.

As we first started to walk around the village we kept hearing music being played not far from the entrance. I thought it was music being played over loudspeakers to create a mood of old times. But as we went closer to it we saw there was a Cantonese opera performance. That was nice surprise to see and hear.

As we continued to walk around the village we saw some really beautiful areas with interesting buildings and small gardens. Other areas were in disrepair, but they had glimpses of what the building used to look like with different ornamentations hidden under the wild foliage. Overall, the feeling of the place was quite calming and enjoyable.

After a few hours at the village, Jun and I decided we were ready to go back to Shenzhen. We traveled back to the train station and got ready for the ride back. We boarded the train and everything was going well; we were making plans for what we were going to do for the rest of the afternoon.

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Then things went awry. As soon as we entered central Shenzhen our train stopped. We thought it was going to be a temporary stop and then we would be on our way. To our surprise our short stop turned out to be a four hour wait! Apparently the station that we had passed—Zhangmutou—had lost power. As a result all trains in both directions that traveled through that station had to be stopped. We couldn’t move into Shenzhen station until the trains there could leave. As a result we had a nice four hour wait for a 45 minute trip. Finally in the early evening our trained started to move, and ten minutes later we were at the station. We were only ten minutes away from the station! As soon as we left the station we set off for home as quickly as we could.

While the end of our outing to Nanshe was unwanted, our actual time visiting the village was enjoyable.

Escape to Huizhou

Rain. Sun. Humidity. The three characteristics of Guangdong in the summer. While it creates an environment that makes a person feel uncomfortable and makes you want to stay inside, Jun and I have not let it deter us from enjoying the time we have together this summer. Summer is the one time of the year where we consistently have two free days to do things with each other!

On our first real weekend we decided to go to Huizhou for a daytrip. We woke up on Saturday morning and decided to go to Huizhou on a whim. Jun booked the tickets and we were soon on our way to Shenzhen North Station. That station is ridiculous. As we needed to pick up our tickets, we had to wait in a line to get them. The line we chose—really all the lines—was ridiculously long. Fortunately, we were able to get our tickets before our train left. We made it with a few minutes to spare.

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When we got to Huizhou we had to transfer to a bus to get to Huizhou’s West Lake. By the time we got to West Lake we were ready for lunch. But as we were looking for a restaurant we ended up at Fenghu Academy. This academy had been a school on the banks of West Lake in centuries past. Since we were there Jun and I decided to visit the place. While we were there it started to rain heavily. We were a bit fretful that the rain would continue throughout the afternoon. We found a spot to sit and waited out the rain. Fortunately, the rain did stop and we soon started to continue our visit around the academy.

From there we did end up finding a nice restaurant with typical Cantonese cuisine. It was a scrumptious lunch and we treated ourselves to some frappuccinos afterwards.

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With our drinks we were ready to continue our visit around West Lake. We first went to the Sizhou Tower and walked around it. From there we went to the Dongpo Memorial Hall that commemorated the man who helped design the lake. After we had walked around the memorial, we went across the lake on the Jiuqu Bridge. That was a nice experience as we were able to see the lake from different angles. There were a number of islands that we visited as we crossed the bridge.

We finally ended up Yuanmiao Ancient Taoist Temple as the last stop of our trip to West Lake. The temple was a nice, calming place before we had to go head back to Shenzhen. It was needed as the train ride was noisy and smoky. Jun and I were glad to be able to get off the train and go to a nice dinner.

Overall, it was a nice trip to Huizhou. In the future we might go back to see what else that city has to offer.

Japanese Joy

After having anticipated our summer vacation for months, it had finally arrived! Last year my mom mentioned that she wanted to visit Japan and if we would like to go with her. Of course we said yes. After we agreed to go my brother and godmother decided to come as well. So the trip would be a family vacation.

We started our trip with a few days in Hong Kong. It was a nice diversion away from the mainland and we got to have a relaxing time by ourselves before going to Japan. We visited a wetland park, a really neat museum in Central, and had some really nice food.

Day 1

While Hong Kong was nice, we were excited to go to Japan. And everything was going nicely until after we had boarded our flight. Shortly after they had closed the doors, the captain announced that our flight would be delayed because of an earthquake in Osaka. We were a bit shocked and worried since my godmother, Mom, and brother were arriving before us. We weren’t sure if they were effected and couldn’t reach them.

After some time our flight was cleared to take off and we were soon on our way to Osaka. When we got there everything was business as usual. Immigration and customs went quickly and efficiently, and then we went looking for the others. Walking to the Starbucks that we agreed as our meeting point I heard a familiar voice. My mom was there! We hugged and chatted before we got down to business of what we needed to do before we could leave for the hotel. First we needed to get money and Jun wanted to get a sim card. Once we were done with that we decided to take a taxi. There, however, were no taxis to be found; we ended up taking a limousine bus. The ride was quick and dropped us at the train station we needed for the train that would take us to where our hotel was located. After figuring out which train line we needed we arrived at Juso and walked to the hotel. Check-in was quick and we were soon in our room!

After freshening up for a bit we ended up taking a walk around the place to get a feel of it and to snack on some of the local foods. After awhile we were ready to head back for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2

Our first full day in Osaka started early. Like 3:00 in the morning early. My mom was having a difficult time adjusting to the time difference and got bored. She ended up waking us all early. As a result we decided to have an early start in exploring Osaka.

We first went to Osaka Station to get ICOCA cards for local transportation and to get some breakfast. Once we had finished all of that we decided to visit Osaka Castle. We took the JR Loop train to get to the park. It was easy to navigate from the station to the castle. The surrounding park was quite nice and it was a nice stroll going through the park to get to the castle.

At the castle we found out that the elevators were not in operation due to the earthquake and were being checked. We would need to go up to the top using the stairs. Fortunately each floor had different displays about the city and the castle so we could rest a bit before continuing to go up. When we did get to the top we were rewarded with really nice views of the city, and the breeze up there was nice as well.

After the castle we continued to go around the park, but we soon decided to look for a place for lunch. After consulting with different apps we settled on an udon place nearby. The food was delicious and it was fun trying to figure out how to order at the noodle shop. But we persisted and we were rewarded with a nice lunch.

After lunch we then went to Shitennōji Temple. When we got there it started to rain, so we had a quick visit around the temple. It was a really nice temple. We were amazed at the number of turtles in the water features at the temple. But because of the rain we didn’t stay long here.

With it raining we decided to do some shopping in Umeda and see what there was to see. Apparently there was a lot to see!

At that time we decided it was getting late and we went back to the hotel and relaxed before going to sleep.

Day 3

Another rainy day and we decided that it would be best to try to do things inside. The first place we went was to visit Kaiyukan aquarium. It was a great experience. There was such a diverse range of marine life that you could see from all over the world. The central tank was awesome and you could view it from different angles as the aquarium went around it. And there were penguins! It was neat to see the emperor penguins. We even got to see some of the nesting pairs. It was a nice way to spend the morning.

After leaving the aquarium we went in search of a place for lunch. We ended up having sushi at a nice restaurant close to the aquarium. Then we also had some matcha desserts as well.

As it was still raining we decided to go to Shinsaibashi and Dōtonbori. These are shopping areas in Osaka. They are also covered shopping arcades and we could do some shopping and explore the area without getting wet.

We then went back to Osaka Station for dinner at a small restaurant that served beef in bento boxes. It was again a nice dinner.

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Day 4

On this day we started using our JR Rail Pass to visit different parts of the surrounding area. We decided our first trip would be to go to Kyoto.

When we got there we quickly boarded another train to visit Fushimi Inari-taisha. This temple complex is dedicated to Inari, the Japanese fox goddess. It’s an amazing place and is full of red torii (gates) that go around the temple complex. With the recent rains the air around the grounds was crisp and left a mythical feel to it. It was a joy to walk around the temple.

From there we walked down a side street with a number of street vendors selling all kinds of Japanese delicacies. We ended up having lunch trying different types of food.

Then we went to visit the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and got to explore around the grounds. It was a stark contrast to the modern architecture of the palace in Tokyo. The gardens at the palace were particularly beautiful.

From there we then went to Arashiyama so we could see the bamboo forest and Tenryū-ji. It was a beautiful area and the gardens were gorgeous. We then did some shopping at the small stores in the area. I also got to have sakura-flavored ice cream that I had been craving for since the last time I was in Japan. It was so good too! The last thing we did there was to see the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park. As it was a bit of climb to see them, Michael, Jun, and I were the only ones who went up. It was neat to see the monkeys walking around freely.

Afterwards we went back to the train station and went back to Osaka for the night.

Day 5

On this day we took the train to Himeji to see the amazing castle there. It was quite easy to find the place as it dominated the skyline. The castle was amazing and it was fun to walk around. There weren’t too many people there so it was nice to just enjoy exploring the castle. We were also able to visit a garden nearby. It was nice, but nothing too special in terms of flowers or layout.

Afterwards we went to this really nice udon restaurant where we could see them make the noodles that we were eating. It was so delicious. We all left happy.

From Himeji we next went to Kobe for a few hours to explore the old European enclave near Shin-Kobe station. It was interesting to see the European buildings in Japan. There were a number of snack places that I think most of us enjoyed more than the buildings. There was one place that sold chocolate brownies that were really delicious.

As it was getting late in the day we decided to take the Shinkansen back to Osaka and find a place to eat dinner there. We ended up at a weird place where everyone had to order something; anything was fine but you had to order at least one thing. It was strange.

Day 6

The rain came back, but we didn’t let it stop us. This day had us go to Nara. Nara was really neat and we got to see deer roaming Nara Park in the rain. That was the highlight of this day. When we got to Nara it really started to rain and we ended up taking shelter in a covered arcade where we wandered through different stores and had lunch at a really nice curry place.

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While we had hoped the rain would abate, it didn’t and we decided to just go and explore the park in the rain anyway. It ended up being fun. As we walked around the park we got to see deer just walking around chasing people who dared to buy food to give them. We also went through some temples that were made ethereal in the rain.

As we were walking back to the train station we did some shopping and found an amazing ice cream place that had some great matcha and French vanilla soft serve in really tasty cones. It ended up being a nice way to end up our time in Nara.

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On the way back to Osaka the others decided that they wanted to go to Tokyo just to say they had been there. So when we got to Osaka station we booked tickets on the Shinkansen to go to Tokyo the next day. Once that was settled we went back to Juso to have sushi for dinner and go to bed.

Day 7

We got up early and headed to Shin-Osaka station for the train to Tokyo. Once we settled in we enjoyed the quiet journey to Tokyo by mostly taking a nap.

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When we got to Tokyo we first went to find a pharmacy for Mom who needed some cough medicine as the rain from the previous day and the lack to sleep finally caught up to her. We quickly found a pharmacy and Mom was able to take the medicine she needed. Afterwards we walked to the grounds around the Imperial Palace to see it. Then we walked to Ginza so they could see the shopping district. We ended up having Chinese food at a decent restaurant in the area. We walked around Ginza and did some shopping.

From Ginza we took a train to see Meiji Temple. We ended up taking the long route to the temple, but it was a nice walk through a residential area of Tokyo so it wasn’t all bad. And then we walked into Yoyogi Park that was more like a forest. It was interesting to leave the city behind and to visit the park and the temple. It was a bit busy, but not too bad that it was not enjoyable.

Aftewards we went back to Tokyo station to get ready to go back to Osaka. We first went and found some food to eat on the train ride back. And we also got to see a Kit-Kat boutique. That was neat. Kit-Kat’s come in different flavors in Japan and are a common gift to give students as the name sounds like a Japanese phrase wishing good fortune. While we didn’t buy any here, Jun and I did buy some matcha and banana Kit-Kats at the airport on our way back. Both were quite good and I would like to try other flavors as well.

Once we borded the train ride back to Tokyo we ate our dinners and just relaxed. I did end up sitting next to an interesting gentleman who could not sit still and every ten minutes would go wander around the train before coming back. He did, however, have an interesting book of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the cover in strange poses. If only I knew Japanese!

Day 8

Our last day in Osaka and we decided to take it easy and explore some of the older parts of the city. We first went to Tsūtenkaku and walked around the area. That was a neat little area. And then we went to explore the area around Hōzenji Temple. That was also interesting. There was a Fudo Myo-o statue covered in moss because people over the years had thrown water on it to purify themselves. All the water pouring eventually led to moss growing on the statue.

Because we had seen a lot in our week here, we really weren’t interested in seeing different sites and ended up spending the afternoon doing some shopping. Jun ended up buying a really cute Pikachu! And then we ended the day with our last dinner together by having a nice sushi dinner.

Day 9

Mom, Michael, and Gaye had to leave early so they could catch their flight. So Jun and I said goodbye to them and wished them a safe journey. Jun and I got a few more hours of sleep before we went ourselves to the airport. We took the train one last time and had quite an easy experience checking in and going through immigration. We ate lunch and then boarded our flight back to Hong Kong. It was much more relaxing and easy than our trip to Japan.

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From the airport in Hong Kong we then made our way back to Shenzhen.

Overall, it was a great trip. I was really happy that I was able to see my mom, brother, and godmother. It was like the trips we took when we were kids!

Captivating Chongqing

At the start of April, Jun and I had the opportunity to spend a few days together without having to work. Because of the way the Qingming Festival holiday fell this year, we decided to maximize the holiday and used some of our annual leave days to make it a longer holiday. We decided to stay in China and go to a place that neither of us had ever visited. After considering distance, price, and interest, we settled on Chongqing.

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Chongqing is one of the four city-provinces in China. It used to be part of Sichuan province, but because of its growth, size, and the development of the Three Gorges Dam it was separated in 1997. Chongqing is perhaps famous for its hot-pot cuisine and other spicy dishes.

Having settled on this as our destination, we were excited to see what Chongqing had to offer.

Day 1

Our first day started early in the morning when our delayed flight arrived in Chongqing. Because we arrived around one in the morning, we had to take a taxi to the hotel. This taxi driver was either incompetent or tried to take advantage of us, because he went in a circular route to our hotel. Jun and I checked our phones and realized that he was not even close to the hotel. When Jun mentioned this to him the driver started to go in the right direction. When we arrived Jun and the driver had an argument over the price. Jun prevailed and we got a reduced price for the ride.

Check-in was quick and we were soon in our room, showered, and in bed.

Later that morning we got ready for our day, which was one of food and walking. The food started at breakfast. One of the things the hotel restaurant served was a variety of spicy noodles. Those noodles were the best part of breakfast and a great way to start our day.

From there we then went to Hong Ya Dong, which is a recreation of old Chongqing buildings that are built on the side of a hill. The area is known for offering a variety of local food to enjoy. We first tried a raspberry yogurt drink that was good. And after exploring the different levels of the place, we ended up having a berry chocolate sundae. That was even better!

From Hong Ya Dong we went to the Chongqing Art Gallery, which is in a building that looks like a hot-pot with chopsticks sticking out of it. It’s a really neat building. The art inside was nice. There was a variety of paintings in different styles by contemporary Chinese artists.

From there Jun and I decided to have lunch and try our first hot-pot in Chongqing. The food was delicious, but it was indeed spicy. The best part of it was that the quality of the hot pot was much better than what we would normally have in Guangdong, and the price was also much cheaper. It was a great introduction to Chongqing hot pot cuisine.

From there we went to Arhat Temple. It’s a Buddhist temple in the middle of a construction zone. We had to walk around the entire construction site in order to find the entrance. When we did we were amazed at how old and beautiful the temple was. Walking around the different structures of the temple, we were engulfed by the aroma of incense and smoke that permeated the entire complex. It has a serene atmosphere even with all the people there.

In contrast to the temple, we next went to visit a guild hall. But again because of construction and the hilly environment, we had a difficult time trying to figure out how to get there. On the way we stumbled on a place called the Shieh’s Manor, which is a contemporary design exhibition that fuses traditional architecture with modern interior design. Surrounded by walls indicating construction, we first encountered this manor by noticing a bamboo-lined staircase leading to an entry way. We were curious and decided to go see if it was anything interesting. It turned out it was. The mixture of traditional and modern was really neat to see. It seemed fairly new since we were the only people there. But that led to an exclusive feel to the place that was delightful.

After walking a bit more we found a set of stairs that led down to the general area we thought the guild hall would be. The Huguang Guild Hall is an example of a traditional type of building that was common during the imperial period. This guild hall is the largest Kongsi complex that is found in a Chinese urban city. It has not only examples of traditional architecture, but also examples of traditional art and crafts. It was a neat place with many different buildings that went up along the hill.

Just outside the guild hall is a building showing examples of traditional crafts similar to the ones found inside the guild hall that could be purchased. It was interesting to walk around and see the different things that people in the area have continued to make for centuries up to the present.

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Afterwards Jun and I decided to go visit TestBed2. This is a creative zone that has been built from what had once been a banknote printing facility. The drive there was amazing since it went along the river and then up the side of a mountain. The views were spectacular! The area had a number of restaurants, cafes, galleries, and stores that we leisurely explored. There was also a nice view of Chongqing from up there as well. From there we were getting a bit tired so we decided to cut through Eling Park to head towards the metro and go back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

For dinner Jun wanted to try Chongqing noodles, and he found a recommended hole in the wall place near our hotel. We were lucky that when we went there weren’t a lot of people. When we walked by at a later time there was line of people going outside the entrance waiting for a chance to try the noodles. After having eaten the noodles I understand why there would be a line, they were indeed delicious.

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Afterwards Jun and I decided to take a walk along Jiefangbei, a pedestrian street in Chongqing. It was great to take a walk before going back to the hotel for the night.

Because it had been a long day, we went to bed early and slept for a long time!

Day 2

Jun and I ended up sleeping in this morning and just enjoyed a relaxing in our hotel room. It ended up also being a rainy day, which accentuated the soporific atmosphere.  Around noon we ventured out to have lunch. Instead of strictly spicy food, we decided to have a different kind of Sichuan cuisine. While still mildly spicy, it was significantly less so than the previous day’s hot pot.

From there we walked to the metro and took the monorail to first see an area with buildings that were built in the early twentieth century that have been moved there: Liziba Park. The buildings include banks, government offices, and residences. The effect is a hodgepodge of buildings in one area along the river. It was nice to just walk around the area. But what was really interesting is that from the park we could look back at the metro station we arrived in. We discovered that the station is built in the middle of a residential building! The train just goes through the middle of it.

From there we went to the Chongqing Zoo. The zoo was a mix of modern designs of a zoological park with older examples of outdated enclosures. For the pandas and red pandas they had nice, roomy enclosures, but for the primates they had cramped enclosures. So it was a mix of enjoyment and sadness. The highlights of the trip were seeing the panda bears and red pandas. I have never seen either of these animals being as active as they were here. They were running around and being engaged in a friendly way. That was really wonderful to experience. One panda bear just ran outside suddenly and started to mess with things. He was playing and climbing on anything he could find. Then when he had exerted his energy he ran back inside to eat. Then there was silence. It was as if he hadn’t been there! The rest of the zoo was that mixture of awesome and dreadful based on the location. In general it was a nice visit, but I do hope the zoo updates the older enclosures.

From the zoo we went back to the central Chongqing. We went and saw the Great Hall of the People. It’s a large auditorium, but the outside architecture is one of the things Chongqing is known for. The size and architectural design of the building were indeed impressive. As we were walking around the building, we noticed that we could go inside and thought that there might be something interesting to see in the building. After we walked in to the building we realized there was nothing to see except for the auditorium. The only thing we got from it was the ability to sit down for a bit.

From there Jun and I decided to walk through the older residential areas of Chongqing to go back to where our hotel was. It was neat to walk through the winding streets and see how the people in Chongqing live their lives. It took a bit of time to figure out how to navigate, as the map of the phone app indicated things only in two dimensions, but because of the mountainous terrain some streets were either above or under you based on the elevation you were at. After figuring it out we were able to find our way through the area. Once we were back to the main commercial area of the city we decided to have afternoon tea and do a bit of shopping before dinner.

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After looking through restaurant reviews on his phone, Jun found a place recommended that offered a different kind of local cuisine. Located on the sixteenth floor of a building near the People’s Liberation Monument, we had the spiciest meal of our entire trip. It consisted of a plate full of peppers with meat inside. It was delicious, but I needed to continuously eat rice to cool down my mouth. It was still an enjoyable meal though.

From there we went back to the hotel and enjoyed the rest of the evening relaxing.

Day 3

Today was our last day in Chongqing. After breakfast and checking out we took the metro to visit Ciqikou. The place used to be an isolated town that has become part of Chongqing. The buildings here are mostly original and not recreations. You can wander centuries old streets and get a feel of what life used to be like here. The unfortunate thing about the trip was that because of the holiday the area was packed with people who wanted to visit. There was so many people that it was difficult to go through the narrow streets. Jun and I decided it was not worth it to try to go around it and decided to walk to the nearest metro that was not the Ciqikou metro; that metro had a line that was incredibly long that went outside the station.

That decision proved the best since we got to see things that we may not have seen. The first thing that we found was a temple on the top of a mountain that had some nice views of the area. Around the temple at the top were some old buildings and narrow lanes. The next thing we found was a really neat metro station with a variety of wall murals painted on it. One thing about the Chongqing metro that we had to get accustomed to was how deep underground they are. With all that space many of the stations have interesting interior decorations. And the last thing we found was another amazing hot-pot restaurant. This was our last full meal in Chongqing before we had to go to the airport. It was delicious and a nice way to end our trip.

From the restaurant we took the metro to the airport and had an easy journey back to Shenzhen. All in all our time in Chongqing was quite enjoyable and a nice escape from the everyday.

Lovely Laos

Chinese New Year was finally upon us, and Jun and I were more than ready to get away from work and go on vacation. Since our last trip to Europe took us a long distance away from Asia, we decided to stick close to home and decided to go to Laos.

Because of the way our schedules worked this year, I ended up having a few extra days than Jun. I decided to take it easy in Guangzhou before we left for our trip. It was nice to just spend a few days in Guangzhou relaxing and going around to see some of the Spring Festival festivities in the city. I was also able to catch up on things that I had been putting aside since I hadn’t had time to do them.

Day 1

Finally, Jun was done with work and we were both ready for our trip! We left mid-afternoon for Vientiane from Guangzhou and had no problems getting to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The first thing we had to do when we got there was to get our visa on arrival. The process was quite quick and efficient, they combine getting the visa and immigration process in one area so that we wouldn’t have to go to two counters. That was really nice and quick! Afterwards we collected our bag and went out to see a man holding a sign with my name on it. Our hotel had a complimentary airport shuttle and took us straight to the hotel. It was one of the quickest entries I’ve ever experienced.

When we got to the hotel we quickly checked-in and then went up to our room. We cleaned up a bit and rested as we decided what we wanted to do for dinner. Eventually we just decided to go explore and find a place that we liked. After walking for a bit we ended up at an Italian restaurant. The food was good, but the service needed work.

After dinner we went towards the Mekong River to see the night market there. This market was more for locals than for tourists. It was nice to walk around the market. Jun and I spotted some street food and ended up buying a spicy sausage that was quite good. By that time it was getting late and we decided to go back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 2

Our first full day in Vientiane; we woke up from a nice rest and had breakfast at the hotel. We then decided just to explore the city and see what there was to see in Vientiane. Even though it’s the capital of Laos, it’s not known as a tourist destination. We discovered that morning in the city can be quite quiet. We first walked towards the river to see what it looked like during the day. To our surprise, the area near where we thought the river was is actually surrounded my marshes. It was a very pastoral scene to be so close to the city. Across the river we could see Thailand.

Jun and I walked along the river until we reached the presidential palace. We weren’t able to go inside, but we got a glimpse. The building was in colonial French architecture and seemed like a nice building. We walked a bit in a park around the palace before going on to Haw Phra Kaew.

Haw Phra Kaew used to be a Buddhist temple, but now it’s a small museum of religious art. It was interesting to see some examples of how the Lao people historically portrayed aspects of Buddhism. The building has been maintained quite nicely and was a nice visit for us.

Across the street is Wat Si Saket, while it was built only in 1818 it is considered to be the oldest temple still standing in Vientiane. The wat is really fascinating, as inside the main compound is a cloister with 2,000 clay and silver Buddha images. The main building has some really exquisite murals on the interior walls that are delicate and intricate. Jun and I really enjoyed walking around this wat.

By then it was nearing lunch, but because we had eaten a big breakfast we weren’t really that hungry. We ended up just having a strawberry cheesecake ice cream concoction at a nearby desert parlor. Jun and I were actually happy we had it since it was really good. It was just nice having something sweet for lunch since we were on vacation.

We then decided to walk around the central area and go to some stores and some of the other wats in the area. Each wat was unique in its own way. They were similar to other wats we had seen in the region, but they were also quite unique in their own way.

Finally we ended up at Patuxai, a war monument dedicated to those that fought for independence from France in the mid-twentieth century. It was an interesting mix of local and European styles of architecture. Jun and I went up to the top and got to see the surrounding area. It was a nice change to see short buildings instead of the skyscrapers of China.

From there we then went to a shopping center to see if Black Panther was playing at the local movie theater. We found that it was and that we could see it in English later that night. We bought tickets and then took a slow walk to the hotel to rest up a bit.

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Later that day we went to a local Laotian restaurant for dinner called Lao Kitchen that was delicious. The food was uniquely Laotian, but you could see how it fit in the greater cuisines of Southeast Asia. It was definitely a nice dinner. Afterwards we went to the movie theater and enjoyed the film. When the move was finished we then went back to the hotel and ended our day.

Day 3

The next day Jun and I decided to venture out to the Buddha Park outside the city. We had talked about how we wanted to get there and was deciding between taking a bus or a tuk tuk. We chose the bus and we were glad we made that decision. After leaving Vientiane we noticed that the park was actually quite far out of the city, and that the closer we got to the park the worse the road became. Near the park it was just a dirt road. And it being the dry season it was just dusty. Buildings and plants next to the road were covered in a thick layer of dust. A good decision on our part indeed.

When we got to the park it was much smaller than we anticipated. But the size wasn’t an issue as the park itself is quite interesting. Built in 1958 the park has over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues. While the statues look like their centuries old, they’re actually quite recent. Many simply are made out of concrete. But those statues are ornate, and in many cases quite strange. It was a nice and easy side trip to see something different.

Later we took a bus and went back to Vientiane where we walked to Pha That Luang. The Buddhist stupa is considered to have been built in the third century AD, and is a national symbol for the country. As such it is considered the most important national monument.

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It was much larger than we thought it was going to be. And when we got there it was relatively quiet, only a few other people visiting. By the time we were about to leave, however, a tour group came and the energy of the site went from calm to animated. Afterwards Jun and I decided to head back for the hotel to relax. On our way we stopped by a Swensen’s for a desert lunch. It was a nice treat in the midst of the hot afternoon sun.

That evening we ended up having an early dinner and then walking along the river and stopping and trying different street food. I ended up getting another of the spicy sausage.

Day 4

Our last morning in Vientiane had us wake up and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we checked out and took the hotel’s airport shuttle to the airport. Since we only had a domestic flight, check-in took five minutes and going through security was also a simple affair. The domestic terminal in currently being rebuilt, so we waited in a temporary building that looked like a government office with people waiting for the next available clerk.

Fortunately we didn’t have long to wait, and we were soon on the plane and on our way to Luang Prabang. The flight took less than an hour and we were there in no time. At the airport we caught a shuttle to our hotel in the heart of the old town.

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Our hotel actually used to be part of the royal complex, so the grounds and surrounding area of the Royal Peacock was beautiful. As we were having our welcome drinks the manager of the hotel explained the city and places we could go and visit. After everything was settled he took us to our room and showed us around. It was a really nice room with a lot of nice perks, including daily fresh fruit.

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After resting for a while Jun and I decided to go out and find a place for lunch. We ended up at a place called Bouang that had some really nice Asian/Western fusion food. Jun and I were quite happy with our meal and were energized to go explore that afternoon. The first place we went to was the Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum. It used to be the home of the royal family of Luang Prabang before the overthrow in 1975. The interior has been well maintained and it gives a glimpse of what life would have been like for the royal family. Also on the grounds of the museum is Haw Pha Bang, a more recent temple that is built in traditional architectural style. It was a beautiful building.

From the Royal Palace we started to walk around the side streets of the old town and saw some traditional and colonial buildings, went through a number of wats, and walked along the river. We finally ended up at Wat Xieng Thong. It’s one of the most important monasteries in the city and is beautifully maintained. Near here in the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. We were able to walk a bit around here and saw a bamboo bridge. Our visit to Luang Prabang was during the dry season, so it was possible to see the bamboo bridges and to walk down here. But in the rainy season it would be too dangerous to venture down there. So it was nice we got to experience it.

As it was nearing sunset, Jun and I walked back through town to go up to Mount Phou Si to see the sun set over the region. It was a bit of a climb, but it was nice to see the sunset and the changing colors of twilight. From there we went to dinner and went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 5

On our first full day in Luang Prabang, we decided we would just take it easy and leisurely wander around the town. The first thing we did was have breakfast, which was an interesting affair since it was a three course meal that was more aligned with lunch than breakfast. There was salad, fruit, bread, and a sandwich. It was different, but the food was quite good. Jun though it a bit strange, I thought it was a nice change from typical breakfast food.

Afterwards we walked through the morning market next to our hotel towards going to a wat that was also next to our hotel. Both were nice glimpses into what life is like for the locals in the town. It’s so similar to other places in the world, yet with its own uniqueness that makes Luang Prabang special.

From the wat we started walking to the UXO office. On the way we stopped at the Traditional Art and Ethnology Center. It’s a neat place that highlights the different ethnic groups in this part of Laos, as well as the traditional arts and crafts of these groups. There was a nice hands-on exhibit on learning how to tell the difference between natural materials that these ethnic groups use in their arts and crafts and those that are made from synthetic materials. Jun and I had a difficult time differentiating between the two, and we found it fascinating how the natural objects are incredibly sturdy. At the adjoining store we were mesmerized at the beauty of the intricate art and crafts on display. As we were leaving we saw another area set up for kids. I ended up exploring that area and trying on a fun little hat. If I thought they would have fit, I would definitely had played dress up with some of the clothes they had there. Alas, the hat was the only thing that I could try.

As we were going down the road to head onto the UXO office, we stopped to get some fresh coconuts. After a nice walk in another part of town we found the UXO office.  UXO stands for unexploded ordinance. They are the ordinances that were not detonated during the Vietnam War, but that remained and pose a threat to the people of the country. The UXO organization is working towards clearing them from the country, but because of the staggering number of them it will take more time and funds than they currently have available. While they still continue to clear them from the country, they also do a lot of public education and outreach activities to teach people, especially children, how to be careful and what to do in different scenarios. As part of that education and outreach, they have set up an information center in Luang Prabang. It was really edifying and brought to attention that even if a war ends the effects of it can be felt for many decades afterwards.

On that note Jun and I left and walked back to the main area of Luang Prabang. On the way we went to the oldest wat in Luang Prabang: Wat Visoun. It had a large stupa in a nicely maintained complex. From there we continued to walk on the south side of Mount Phou Si and saw that there was another bamboo bridge. At that point Jun and I were hungry and agreed that we would go on this bridge later that afternoon.

We ended up eating at a small restaurant of on a side street. The food and drinks there were amazing. Feeling refreshed we walked around a bit and then went back to the bamboo bridge. It was neat to walk along the bridge and to see what was on the other side. There was a store selling handmade jewelry and a treehouse café.

After walking back across the bridge we did some shopping and went for walk around another part of the town. We end up finding a visitor center for the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden. The guy at the front informed us that if we bought tickets we could take a boat and go to the botanical gardens on the other side of the river. Jun and I decided that since we didn’t have any plans for the rest of the afternoon that we should go. So we bought the tickets and went down to the boat. We got there just in time as the boat was about to leave. There was only one other guy on the boat; we essentially had the boat to ourselves. As we sailed up the Mekong we got to see the surrounding landscape. It was beautiful and peaceful. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the botanical gardens. We walked up from the pier and was greeted by a staff member. He explained all that we could see and made suggestions of what we should do. One of the things he recommended was to visit this cave along a trail along the coast. That sounded fun. Jun and I decided we would do it. First we saw the ethnic garden that showed different vegetation used by the different ethnic groups in Laos. That was really interesting to see the different plant varieties. From there we then went on the trail to the cave. That was a really scary trail as it was steep and slippery at places. It was also a lot of fun. It was beautiful to walk along the river and to venture to the cave. The cave was a good size and had a Buddhist shrine inside. Jun and I were happy we went, but were quite relieved that we didn’t fall and hurt ourselves. After the cave we walked around the different parts of the botanical garden. There was even a demonstration vegetable garden there. There was some vegetables that Jun and I were curious about but had no clue what they were. By the time we had gotten to the vegetable garden it was about the time we had to head back to the pier to get the last boat back to Luang Prabang. Again we essentially had the boat to ourselves and we got to see the start of the sun setting as we went back on the Mekong.

By then it was early evening and we were ready to go to see where we would have dinner. We first thought we might have dinner by the river, but then we saw that there were a lot of mosquitoes and we didn’t want to deal with that. We ended up at a really nice restaurant that had a set menu where we could try a number of local delicacies. The restaurant was quite nice. We ended up quite satisfied with the experience. After that we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 6

Waterfalls, caves, and story time: that is what Jun and I experienced on our sixth day. Jun and I the previous day decided to get out of the city and see some of the surrounding area. We had some difficulty making this plan. We had asked our hotel about prices and options. We were a bit confused about what they suggested at first. After we had looked at what other places were offering we thought about it and made some inferences about what we thought the hotel staff was trying to tell us. We then went back to confirm and to get some clarification. Once that was all clear we had booked a van for the day at a nice price.

The first place we would go to on this day was Kuang Si Waterfall. It was a bit of drive out there, but it was nice to drive through the mountains on our way to the waterfall. When we got there we first went through a wild bear sanctuary. It was heartening to see the rescued bears thriving in the preserve. Some of the bears were hunted and some had lived in cages. A lot of the bears had been physically harmed as well. Many were recuperating and thriving here.

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From the bears we went up to the first area of the waterfalls. It was gorgeous! As we continued to go up to the different levels of the falls they got more beautiful and intricate. We finally ended up seeing the main falls. While there Jun and I decided to go up to the top of the falls. We again chose a difficult path up, but with the support of each other we made it to the top. It was neat to see the area up there. There was a beautiful lush area where locals were doing some aqua-agricultural farming. That was interesting to see. And the trail up there was serene. To get back down we chose another path, which was much easier to traverse. When we got back down we went through the park again and then got some food to eat before taking the van to Pak Ou Caves.

The journey to Pak Ou Caves took a long time. So Jun and I just kind of rested most of the way there. But as we were nearing the caves, we went off the main road onto a side road that was being rebuilt. At the moment it’s a dirt road that at times was quite scary to drive on. There was a part that was quite narrow along a cliff next to the river. Fortunately we arrived at the caves soon and we could take a break from the driving.

When we got there we had to buy boat tickets to cross the river to get to the caves. The man at the ticket counter kind of told us where we had to go. So we went along and found the general area where we needed to go. But we weren’t sure where we needed to get the boats. So as we were nearing the river a guy came to us and took our tickets and ushered us onto a shallow bottom boat and took us on the river. All of this was done without any verbal communication. Talk about blind trust on our part. We ended up where we needed to be though and we went up to the first cave. The cave is a Buddhist shrine and there are hundreds of Buddha statues placed throughout the cave. It was interesting. Even more interesting was a group of women that came into the cave as we were leaving who were there to pray. They were dressed in traditional dress and began to kneel on the carpets placed on the ground and started their prayers. It was a peaceful scene.

Jun and I then went up to the upper cave. When we got there we donated some Kip to get an offering to place inside the sanctuary. This cave was not lighted and we had to be careful as we went around it. Jun and I placed our offerings on one of the alters in the cave and then lit our candles. We each said a prayer and then walked around the cave. We were the only ones there and it was tranquil to just experience the surroundings by ourselves.

By then the group of women from earlier were coming up as Jun and I went down to the boats. We found the same guy and he told us to get in the boat and he started to leave. As we were slowly leaving the shore, he saw that another guy was leaving as well. He talked to the guy and asked though hand and head gestures if it was okay that we would go in the other boat. It was okay with us so we transferred boats and then crossed the river.

On the other side we walked through the small village back to the van. And then we got in the van and took the long drive back to Luang Prabang. That dirt road was just as scary as the first time. But we did get to see elephants on the way!

When we got back to Luang Prabang we went back to our hotel room to clean-up and rest. Then we went out to dinner. We went to this restaurant we saw the previous night that looked good. And while the food was indeed good, Jun chose a dish that had raw fish in it. That dish would cause us some trouble later. But at this time all was good.

After dinner Jun and I went to a small theater to hear some traditional Laotian folktales. The Garavek Traditional Storytelling was a fun experience. The theater is quite small and is lit with candles. There are only two seats at the front. Sitting above it is a painting of scenes from different tales. There were two people who performed. One was an older musician who played the accompanying music, and the other was the storyteller. He told a number of tales about the area that were interesting. Jun and I sometimes had a hard time following the winding turns in the tales. But they were told in a captivating way that the way it was being told was just as important as the story itself. Afterwards Jun and I were glad that we had went. After the show we went back to the hotel. So ended this day.

Day 7

This day started early. Jun woke up in the middle of night with an upset stomach. After going to the bathroom he was able to go back to sleep. That was the first warning.

We had to wake up early this morning. Jun had wanted to go see the morning alms giving. To see it we got up early and walked up the main street and waited. Near sunrise we started to see the monks walk along the street to receive alms. It was interesting to see them follow this tradition. It was a bit disconcerting to see some of those witnessing the event get so close to them to take photos. It is sometimes difficult to see people forget that while they may find things they see in another culture interesting because it is different from what they are used to, that for those participating in the event this custom is their way of life. To have a camera placed so close to you and then be blinded by flash in a way dehumanizes what should be a simple act of faith. I am glad that I was able to see this beautiful sight, but it was thought provoking of my own role in the experience.

Afterwards Jun and I went back to the hotel to rest. When we woke up Jun felt really uncomfortable and we decided to just rest for the remainder of the morning. Jun didn’t feel he needed to get medicine. Eventually he felt better and we decided to go for a walk to see the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre. It was a bit of walk there, but Jun seemed to be getting better. When we got there we arrived just in time for the free tour to go over the different parts of the center to see how the different crafts were made. It was really neat to see the local women create the different crafts. In Laos women are the only ones who are traditionally allowed to create these crafts. And the women at this center are trained to make them and to receive a fair share of the profit for their labor. The goal is to both empower women and to ensure that the traditional culture of the different ethnic groups survive. It was a beautiful place.

Unfortunately, as Jun was getting better I started to feel bad. We decided that we would go back to the hotel to rest. Spending most of the afternoon in the hotel napping was how this day went. In the end I felt better by the early evening, but still didn’t have much of an appetite. Jun went out to get something to eat. He brought back some pumpkin soup for me. But because we didn’t have any bowls, he ended up putting it in a glass. I then drank the soup. It was a good soup and I felt a bit better afterwards. For the rest of the night we just stayed in and watched TV. Sufficed to say, we went to bed early!

Day 8

Our last day in Luang Prabang and Laos had us walk around the town one last time and do some last minute shopping. After finishing packing, we checked out and took a tuk tuk to the airport. Again everything was fine and we were soon on our way to Vientiane to catch out flight back to Guangzhou.

Vientiane is where things went a bit off kilter. First we had a bit of layover and decided to get an early dinner in the city center. We took a taxi there, but he took us at the far edge of the center and we ended up having to walk to the restaurant. Dinner was great. We then took another tuk tuk to the airport. The tuk tuk was much better than the taxi driver.

At the airport we checked in and got ice cream at Dairy Queen. And then we went through immigration and security. At that point we waited for our flight. Then we discovered that our flight would be delayed for hours. After a long time of doing nothing, we were finally able to board and take-off. When we got back to Guangzhou we had to deal with a taxi line without any taxis. At that point a bus came to take people away. Some people decided to take the bus instead of waiting for a taxi. One family was about to get on the bus when the taxis started coming again, and then instead of taking the bus they got into the taxi. That’s annoying in of itself but could be just chucked up to just a situational incident. But then the teenage son started making obscene gestures to the rest of the line taunting people. That was obnoxious. The worst part was the dad didn’t reprimand his son, but instead started joining in with his son in taunting the rest of the line. Jun, while normally able to let things slide, got so mad at them that I had to be the one to cool him down. There were a lot of irritated people in that line at that family. Fortunately the taxi attendant was able to usher us to the next available car and Jun and I were on our way back to the Guangzhou apartment.

When we got to the apartment, we quickly took our showers and went to bed. It was so nice to sleep and not have to get up until much later that morning since by the time we went to bed it was nearly four in the morning!

So it was fortunate the worst part of the trip happened at the end, and the rest of it was great. Overall, Laos was amazing. We would definitely go back.

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Anniversary in the Low Countries

Celebrating one year as a married couple! It’s been a wonderful year with a lot of changes in our lives. We’ve had our ups and downs, and we’ve become closer in this last year. To celebrate that year together we decided to go to the Netherlands and Belgium.

Our trip started at the Shenzhen airport. We wanted to take the ferry from here to the Hong Kong airport to avoid the crowds. The first “interesting” event of our trip happened here. As I was washing my hands in the restroom, a little four year old ran in and pushed me aside and started to wash his hands. There was no excuse me or explanation for his behavior. There was no guardian with him. I asked him why he pushed me and then he flicked water at my face. At that point my irritation at this boy was at the tipping point and I flicked water back to him—I know juvenile. I scolded him and left, which he then subsequently ran after me and flicked water at me again! Jun at that point came to see what the problem was and cooled down the situation before things descended into a water fight.

After that incident there were no other issues as we got on the ferry to Hong Kong and waited for our flight to Amsterdam. There subsequently was just a lot of lines and waiting.

Day 1

We got into Amsterdam early in the morning. After the long wait in immigration we took the train to the hotel. We did our initial check-in, but because it was so early we had to wait until the afternoon to get our room. We left our luggage and decided to explore the central part of Amsterdam. We took the train to Amsterdam Centraal station. From there we started to wonder around the city. We first went through the Red Light district in the early morning. As we walked we saw a number of different bakeries; we decided to stop and get some cheesy bread. It was great to have so much choices in relation to cheese. With good cheese being expensive and limited in China, it was exciting to try so many different kinds of cheese!

Our walk continued through the city. We didn’t really have an intended destination, but we just wanted to wander and experience the city. We ended walking through some neat neighborhoods, such as the Begijnhof. We eventually found our way at the Rijksmuseum and got to see some impressive examples of Dutch masters and decorative arts. The museum was amazing! To see some of Rembrandt’s most important paintings was exciting.

By the time we were done with the museum it was mid-afternoon. We went back to the hotel to finish check-in. When we got to the room we were both excited to go and take a shower and to take a short nap.

Afterwards we took a walk around our hotel and to find a place for dinner. We walked through a number of nice neighborhoods and ended up at a seafood restaurant. After dinner we took the train back to the hotel and ended our first day by falling into a deep sleep.

Day 2

On our second day we first went to the Anne Frank House Museum. The museum is located in Westermarkt—a really nice neighborhood. The museum itself was sobering and beautifully executed. The museum tends to tell the story as is without embellishing the facts. The reality of it is that the truth of what happened to the Frank family is sad. That such atrocities can happen is painful to know, but the museum dealt with it well. We were impressed with the museum and left with a greater appreciation for life.

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From there we had lunch at a pancake restaurant. We had Dutch pancakes with different toppings. I was so excited to have these pancakes and enjoyed them immensely. They were great!

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Jun and I decided that from the restaurant we would take the train to Zaanse Schans. There’s a historic outdoor museum there. We traveled a little north of Amsterdam to see this outdoor museum. It’s a really neat place. If you’re not interested in actually going inside some of the buildings to see the inner workings, that’s fine because the outside area is actually free. It was just nice to walk around and see the place. There are a number of windmills there. These windmills come from all over the Netherlands; it creates for a fun sight to see the different types of windmills in one place. We also got a chance to try cheese and to wear clog shoes. It was a fun place. The autumn weather was crisp and cool; walking around it was enjoyable.

Afterwards we went to Zaandam, a town between Zaanse Schans and Amsterdam. We just walked a bit and admired the architecture. We also did a little shopping. We went a little overboard with buying tea. We were pleasantly surprised to find quite a variety and cheap prices.

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By then we were ready to have dinner. We went back to Amsterdam and found an amazing Indonesian restaurant: Indonesian Kitchen. Since Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, Indonesian cuisine has found a place in Dutch culinary culture. The restaurant was located in the basement of a building and was quite small. Only maybe thirty people could be seated at one time. The staff was quite nice her. We decided to have the chef taster menu. It was four courses of different Indonesian delicacies. With each course the staff would explain what it was eating. It was quite an enjoyable experience.

After dinner we went back to our hotel to end the day.

Day 3

On this day we decided to go see Muiden Castle. To get there we took a train to Weesp, the nearest station to Muiden. We were then going to take the bus over there, but when we got there we saw that the bus wouldn’t be coming for an hour. Jun and I decided to walk there. It was longer than we had expected, but we did get to see a bit of the Dutch countryside.

When we got to Muiden it was like walking into a postcard of a European village. It was a picturesque community. Also adding to the idea that it was a postcard was the lack of people that we saw. It was interesting to basically have the place to ourselves.

The castle itself was really nice. It’s not extravagant or big as some other European castles, such as Neuschwanstein in Germany. What it did have was charm. The gardens and the chambers of the castle were nicely done and the information was presented in a way that was fun. Some of the signs are designed for children. There’s a leading question that a kid may ask. My favorite was, “Are there sharks in the moat?” The response was cheeky and kid friendly. I really liked that the people in charge of designing the exhibits presented the information in a manner that would get children interested in history.

After the museum we had lunch in Muiden. We had typical Dutch/Western fare at a nice restaurant.

Then we went back to Amsterdam to visit the Van Gough Museum. Talk about a drastic difference from the castle. The number of people at the museum dwarfed what we had seen at the castle and the town. But the museum was amazing. To see so many of Van Gough’s artwork was just wonderful. It was quite an enjoyable experience.

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After that we took the train to Haarlem to walk around that city. It’s an interesting place that has some nice examples of Dutch architecture. We got to see Windmill De Adriaan along the Spaarne Riverhe, and we walked by the old city gate of Amsterdamse Poort. The city center had an amazing church, Saint Bavo Church, which was huge as well.

After having walked around the city, Jun and I were ready for dinner. Since our hotel had a kitchenette, we decided to go to the grocery store and make dinner ourselves. We bought a number of things that we couldn’t easily get in China and made ourselves a really nice dinner. It ended up being a nice way to end the day.

Day 4

Today we decided to travel south to Delft, The Hague, and Rotterdam. The weather overnight had been bad and caused some disruptions to train service. So we had to be a bit creative in figuring out how to get to Delft. It ended up not being an issue and we got to Delft in the late morning. Delft is such a cute city. The canals that go around the central area creates for some nice neighborhoods. And the city’s center was full of nice architecture.

The main reason we wanted to go to Delft was to visit the Royal Delft Experience and see how the porcelain was made. The museum was quite nice and we got to see people actually producing the porcelain. We got to see some nice examples of Delft ware for practical and ornamental purposes. We ended up buying a nice vase as a souvenir.

After the Royal Delft Experience we had lunch in Delft before we went to The Hague. At The Hague we went around the central area of the city. We walked by the Binnenhof, a government building that’s quite impressive. We saw the Peace Palace. I really enjoyed that since it’s been in so many television shows and movies. Then we walked a bit around the shopping areas of The Hague.

From The Hague we went to Rotterdam to have dinner at the Markthal. It’s a modern example of how art and architecture can blend to create a communal space. The building curves to create an open interior. On the interior wall is a natural scene of flowers and insects. And on the ground are different stalls selling fruit, cupcakes, nuts, sushi, and so many other things. It was a neat place. We ended up having dinner at a Greek restaurant. It was a nice way for us to end our day.

Day 5

On this day we took the Thalys high-speed train from Amsterdam to Brussels. It was a nice ride. I got done with some school work, and Jun was able to get some things done for work as well. When we got into Brussels our hotel room wasn’t ready. We went around the city to explore areas such as the Palais Royal and the Grand Place. As we were walking we had lunch at a Belgium tavern restaurant. From here we learned that mussels are something to be eaten here. So we had a lot of mussels for lunch, as well as shrimp scampi and cheese croquettes.

The best thing that we had on our explorations of the city was trying the different chocolate and waffles here. We tried different types of chocolate at places like Leonidas and Neuhaus.

By the mid-afternoon we ended up at the Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur, the fifth largest cathedral in the world. It was a more modern example of ecclesial architecture; it was quite serene inside. Afterwards we went back through the central part of Brussels and had more chocolate before going back to the hotel.

Once we checked-in it was early evening and we decided to call it a day and just got some sushi for dinner.

Day 6

We went to Bruges on this day. It was a rainy day, but it created a relaxing and calm atmosphere as we walked around the city. We first went through Minnewaterpark before heading to Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk where we got to see one of the few example of a work by Michelangelo outside of Italy. “Madonna with Child” was a beautiful sculpture. The other parts of this museum were also quite nice. I even learned that people used to paint the inside of tombs.

From there we went to a small family owned restaurant and had more mussels and beef stew. It was quite good and the family was really nice and hospitable.

After lunch we went to the Belfry. We climbed the many stairs to the top and had some nice views of the city. We also got spritzed by the rain as it was quite windy up there. But it was nice to see the city. We also got to see the clock and chimes working inside the Belfry. On our way down we saw some different rooms. Apparently the Belfry was once used to house the city’s treasury and served as a type of attic for the city.

From there we went to see some different kinds of windmills at the outskirts of the old town. That was neat to see. Also from there we could see into the center. When I saw the Belfry and another church tower I was struck by how much it reminded me of the two towers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Belfry was quite huge.

By then it was getting late and Jun and I decided to slowly walk back to the train station. On the walk we stopped to get some Belgium waffles. As we were doing this we got to witness a strange performance art piece that was focused on a car with a diver driver inside. As the car stopped it would shoot out water at the surrounding people. It was interesting and fun to see!

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Back in Brussels Jun and I went and bought some chocolate to bring back to China and had dinner at La Dolce Mia, this amazing Italian restaurant on Rue Haute. The owner was a nice guy who I kind of flummoxed with a bit too many questions in English. In the end our dinner was quite nice and we had a nice meal to end our trip in Brussels.

Day 6

This day was technically our last day in Europe, but it was mainly a travel day. We woke up early and took the first train from Brussels to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Then we had to wait through so many lines at the airport before we were able to get to our gate. Our flight was delayed. When we got to Mumbai for our connection we had to run to our gate to catch our flight. Because the flight from Amsterdam to Mumbai was delayed our checked bag didn’t end up on that plane. In Hong Kong we waited for our bag to only discover it hadn’t showed up with us. We thus had to make a claim for our bag and hope for the best.

From the airport we went back to Shenzhen. We got home and took our showers and had a late lunch/early dinner. As we were eating Jun got a call from the agency dealing with the bag. They had found it and were delivering it to our apartment at that moment. So we were able to get the bag the same day!

And that’s how our trip ended…

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