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 painting 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. The reality of such atrocities happening is painful, 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 fun to just walk around the place. The autumn weather was crisp and cool; walking around the outdoor museum 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 sopped 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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A Farewell to Summer

The end of summer means a return to my regular work schedule. As a result, Jun and I now have different weekends. To celebrate the end of a wonderful summer, we decided to take a few extra days off and travel to Suzhou. Suzhou is an old city near Shanghai that is known for its classic gardens and canals.

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Day 1

We arrived in Suzhou early in the morning and went straight to the hotel to check-in. Since it was early our room wasn’t ready. We left our luggage at the hotel and decided to explore the area. Near the hotel was the Panmen Scenic Area located at the southwestern corner of the old city wall. There are a number of buildings and gardens here next to the wall. It was a beautiful place to start our trip. While there were a lot of areas visited by other tourists, there were a number of quiet spots where Jun and I could enjoy Panmen.

Soon it was lunch and Jun and I went to a local dumpling place and ate a variety of them. The dumpling, overall, were great. I especially liked the vegetable dumplings. We did discover that food in this region tends to be sweeter than in other areas of China. It was a bit of a shock to the taste buds. It did, however, serve as a warning about what we should eat on our trip.

After lunch we chose a slow path back to the hotel. Anything along the way we thought interesting we would stop and visit. We actually stopped at a few places. One of them was the Confucius Institute in Suzhou. It is part museum and part research institute. In the back of the Institute—hidden from the street—is a local market where people can buy trinkets. It’s a really fascinating dichotomy between the Institute and the market in such closed quarters.

Across the street from the Confucius Institute are two interconnected gardens: Keyuan and Canglang Pavilion. Both are unique in their own ways. They are two of the many gardens in Suzhou. Keyuan has a more organized garden with lawns and vegetation. Canglang has more organic and meandering layout with a number of rocky outcrops. It was a neat contrast to see these two gardens. They highlight how diverse the gardens in Suzhou are.

After visiting those two gardens, Jun and I were ready for a nap after having had to get up at 3:00 in the morning. We went back to the hotel to get our room keycard for our nap. When we got there we had to wait a bit longer. As an apology the hotel gave us complimentary breakfasts for the rest of our stay. That was a nice little surprise. We got to our room and took a relaxing nap.

After our nap, we took a walk along the Grand Canal near the Panmen Scenic Area. The Grand Canal was created as a means of ferrying goods between key cities in China centuries ago. The walk was nice, and we got to see the shift of the city from day to night. As we were walking we were looking for a place to eat. We decided on a little restaurant that sold local food. Jun ordered some nice dumplings, but I ordered a rice cake dish that was really too sweet. As a result we decided to go to a Vietnamese place nearby. The food there was quite nice.

From there we went back to the hotel to end the day.

Day 2

The second day of our trip was one of gardens. After breakfast Jun and I walked to the main area for gardens in Suzhou. On the walk there Jun and I got to talking about the region and how we were close to West Lake in Hangzhou. West Lake is important to Chinese culture as it has inspired Chinese literature, music, and art for centuries. I have had many people tell me that I should go and visit. Jun said that by high speed train it’s only an hour and a half from Suzhou and that we should just go. I readily agreed and he quickly bought train tickets on his phone. That was done and we had a plan for Monday.

The first garden we went to was the Master of Nets Garden. The garden is known for the fusion of nature, art, and architecture to create a unique whole. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a replica of a portion of this garden . It was quite beautiful and interesting.

From there we went up the road to an alley with a temple and a museum dedicated to stone monuments. The museum is built on the site of the remains of Luohanyuan Temple. The most significant part of the temple left standing are the two twin pagodas that rise high above the remains. The day before Jun and I had seen an old picture of the pagodas at the Confucius Institute and we both wondered where in the city they were. By accident we had found them on our walk!

From there we went to Pingjiang Road, which is an old commercial street next to a canal. The buildings in this area are built in the traditional architectural style of Suzhou. It was nice to walk along the street and pop into some of the shops. We decided to stop at a café and rest for a bit while enjoying some cold drinks.

From there we went off on a side alley and ended up at an amazing garden: the Couple’s Retreat Garden. This garden was my favorite for two reasons. It was the quietest of all the gardens we visited. And the gardens were lush and breathtaking. I enjoyed my time there.

From there we walked along the canal and eventually ended up at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. It’s the largest of the Suzhou gardens and is renowned for its beauty. The only downside to being famous is that everyone wants to visit here. When we got there it was difficult to enjoy the garden with all the other tourists crowding every area of the garden. I mentioned to Jun that it reminded me of a visit to Disney Land with all the people and noise. While it was beautiful, the visit was not all that enjoyable.

We soon left to have a late lunch and a break from the visit to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

After lunch we went to the Lion Grove Garden, which was the last garden we visited that day. Its name comes from the number of rock features that resemble lions. It was a nice garden with a nice play of color in the building features. It was a nice contrast to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

From there we finished our sightseeing with a walk to the North Temple Pagoda. When we got there the park was closed, but we were still able to admire the pagoda. To be honest Jun and I were a bit done with visiting places. We decided to finish the day with dinner. As we were walking to the fish restaurant we wanted to try, Jun noticed a place that sold sweet dumplings (tangyuan). Jun and I are accustomed to the dumplings being small. We were both surprised to see these dumpling being huge. They were so nice and delicious. After we finished them we then went to dinner, which was also good.

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And that was the end of this busy day!

Day 3

The day started at the Suzhou train station for our journey to Hangzhou. It was a quick trip to Hangzhou East station, and Jun and I were soon on our way to the West Lake.

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We first had lunch at a local restaurant. This time I thought the food was good, but Jun was a bit unhappy with it. At that point we both agreed the regional cuisine was just not for us.

We decided that we would try to walk around the whole lake. As we were walking we took in the beauty of it. Along the lake are a number of temples, museums, and gardens that offered a nice diversion from the general beauty of the lake. The first place we stopped at was Qianwang Temple. The temple resembled many other temples, but it did have a number of interesting murals depicting parts of the history of West Lake.

From the temple we continued our walk until we got to Jingci Temple. At the high point of the temple you can see Leifengta, which is a newer structure at West Lake. Jun had visited once and said it wasn’t worth the ticket price to visit. I was fine with that. I was able to still take a nice picture of it.

From there we went up Su Causeway. There are a number of gardens off the causeway that are beautiful and peaceful. Jun and I just enjoyed spending some time there and taking in the views. We were fortunate too that we got to see so many of the lotus plants along the causeway.

At the end of Su Causeway, Jun and I took a break and had tea on an island near Bai Causeway. After finishing our tea we walked along that causeway on our way back to where we had started.

When we got back it was dinner time. We both decided to have something different, which ended up being sushi. We found this restaurant in an alley house that was quite romantic; an appropriate place to have dinner since it was Chinese Valentine’s day.

After dinner we went to the train station for our journey back to Suzhou.

Day 4

The last day of our trip! For a bit of change we went to the village of Tongli in the southern part of Suzhou. Tongli has a lot of canals and gardens in a small area. It was easy to get to by a combination of metro and a short bus ride.

When we got there we enjoyed walking around the side streets and seeing the canals. The first garden we went to took us by surprise. When we first went into Gengle Hall we thought it would be small and a quick trip. It turned out to be significantly bigger with a nice garden in the back. It was also a nice contrast to the other gardens in Suzhou with a more rustic feel.

The next place that was also of significant size was the Pearl Tower Garden. This one had a number of halls and a nice garden, but it also had a theater in it. Suzhou is also known for its opera, so it was nice to see this traditional garden theater.

There were a number of other gardens we saw, but they were nothing compared to Gengle Hall and the Pearl Tower. Soon our enjoyment of Tongli had to come to an end; Jun and I had to get to the airport for our trip back to Shenzhen.

Our vacation was a great way to end our summer. The whole summer had been amazing, and this was a wonderful way to say farewell.

Charming Chaozhou

A few years ago an acquaintance of mine brought to my attention a city in eastern Guangdong—Chaozhou—he thought I would find interesting. The city is full of history and culture that has had a global impact. Many of the overseas Chinese who emigrated from China prior to the twentieth century came from this region.

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Jun and I had planned several times to visit Chaozhou, but due to weather and schedule conflicts we were unable to go in the past. Recently, we found that we had a free weekend and decided it would be an ideal time to go.

Day 1

We left Shenzhen in the morning and got into Chaozhou a little after noon. When we had finished checking into the hotel we decided to go to the old part of the city. We started our exploration of the city on Paifang Street. The street is neat. For about two kilometers the street has numerous paifangs—entry gates—interspersed every few meters. Chaozhou is the first place I had seen a street with so many paifangs placed in this way.

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The first thing we wanted to do was find lunch. Jun had researched a number of things that he thought we should try. We found a street restaurant and ordered sweet taro and an oyster omelet. Simply delicious.

After we had finished lunch we went to Kaiyuan Temple. The temple is fairly large with a number of prayer halls on the grounds. The buildings at the temple were a mix of old and new. We enjoyed seeing that mix at the temple.

After the temple we walked to Guangji Bridge. The bridge was built in 1170 AD during the Song Dynasty. Originally the builders constructed the bridge out of a number of boats connected with a walking platform, but over time many of the boats were replaced with stone structures. The builders of the stone structures, however, left a section of the bridge with the boats to ensure passing boats could traverse the river. The bridge was really neat and a fun experience.

On the other side of the bridge we went o Han Wen Gong Temple. This temple was built in memory of an important administrator of the city. The temple grounds are built on the side of a hill and has a number of nice courtyards. Jun and I liked the cool breeze that came from the river as we went around the temple.

When we were done seeing the temple, we walked along the river and enjoyed the sunny afternoon. We eventually walked back to the old city. We walked through some of the alleyways and lanes of the city to see what the atmosphere of that area was like. From there we stopped at a museum dedicated to a local artist near the main gate tower. While the artwork was nice, we both enjoyed the air conditioning more.

From there we walked up Paifang Street towards the Buddha Lamp Temple. We were lucky we got there when we did; the temple was preparing to close. They were kind and they let us in. The significance of this temple is the lantern it had, which sailors had used to navigate the river.

By that time Jun and I were hungry; we went to have beef hotpot at one of the more known places in the city. Dinner was great and it was a wonderful way to end the day. From the old city we went back to the hotel to enjoy a quiet evening.

Day 2

The next day we went to West Lake. When we got there we had breakfast at a soup noodle place. It was a hole-in-the-wall place, but the noodles were nicely prepared. From there we went into the park. We walked around the lake and the forested area and saw some interesting remnants of the old city. Parts of the old city wall, temples, and gate towers were some of the structures hidden inside the park. It was an interesting mix.

We spent a few hours at the park. From there we walked through a different part of the city. We stumbled upon a Song Dynasty house and a temple dedicated to Confucius. They were interesting, but nothing spectacular. As we were going to the Confucius Temple Jun spotted a place that sold Chaozhou rice rolls. Jun wanted to try this dish, so we decided to have some. They were quite good and had a nice peanut sauce.

When we finished with the rice rolls, we decided to take a stroll on Paifang Street before we left for the train station. We walked to the end of the street and stopped at a juice bar, a café, and had a few last Chaozhou snacks before catching the bus to the train station.

Jun and I had a wonderful time in Chaozhou. The food was great, and the culture fascinating.

 

Peace and Solitude at Feixia

When I first moved to China, my teaching center gave me a guidebook for the country. One of the entries was about a place called Feixia in central Guangdong. I read the entry but never really thought I would actually go there; it’s not the typical tourist spot for foreigners. I mentioned this place to Jun one day and he said he could plan a weekend trip if we wanted. I said sure if he was game, which he was. He went and planned an amazing trip.

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We left Guangzhou for Qingyuan in the late afternoon. When we arrived we checked into our hotel and then went exploring around the central area. We walked through a park and across the bridge and found a really neat restaurant for dinner. They cooked the food at the table using wood fire. It was a nice dinner and a wonderful start to our trip.

The next day we left early for Feixia. It was a quick drive there and we soon bought our tickets. We then took the ferry across the river to start exploring the area. Feixia has a lot of Taoist temples along the mountain paths. We noticed that most of the other visitors were taking the bus up to the main temples. Jun and I decided to hike along the path up the mountain to explore the area.

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Because we were essentially the only ones on the trail we had it to ourselves. It was really nice to go along the trail in silence and explore the area without anyone else. We passed many gateways and saw a temple nestled next to a spring. It was quite magical how the temples and gates were a part of the forest.

We soon made it to the first temple palace. These are a combination of temples and living quarters that are grouped together to create a palace like structure. They are really interesting and in the Feixia area there are two of these palaces. The first is better kept, but the second one has more character. Large parts of the second palace is unoccupied. These unoccupied areas are rustic. They give a nice glimpse into the craftsmanship that went into building this palace and maintaining it over time.

At the top of Feixia was a temple and a pagoda that offered spectacular views of the valley. It was an exhausting hike up to it, but the view was amazing.

 

Jun and I decided to take the bus back down and start our journey back to Shenzhen. Jun booked tickets on a train leaving from a nearby village, so we made our way to that village. It was interesting to see this place: Yuantan. A lot of the buildings in the village are quite old and interspersed in alleyways surrounded by newer buildings that are next to the main roads. In these alleyways you can see people preparing traditional medicine as they have for centuries. It was a nice experience to see that part of China.

Soon we were on the train and back to Shenzhen; Jun and I had a really nice weekend in Qingyuan and seeing Feixia.

Keyuan Garden

On a whim Jun decided that we were going to visit Keyuan Garden in Dongguan. It’s one of the Four Renowned Gardens of Guangdong from the Qing dynasty. Each of the gardens represent the Lingnan garden culture that tied architecture, art, and nature together in a delicate balance.

Keyuan was the last of the four gardens I had to visit. I had previously visited the other three in the last four years. It was nice to finally get to cross this off my list as I rarely have a reason to be in Dongguan.

This garden has its own unique feel compared with the other gardens. Keyuan feels much more intimate than the other three with the how close the buildings are to each other. Adding to this feeling are the different corridors that meander around the structures. The buildings are tightly linked to each other; it creates that intimate feeling as you walk around the different structures. Tied with how lush the gardens are and how intermingled they are to the buildings leads to a wondrous feeling to the place.

From the main structure the gardens go to a surrounding park centered with a pond. The park has a nice museum with a variety of art and examples of Lingnan architecture. In one of the courtyards there are examples of different building features to examine.

The gardens are beautiful and shows another side to the Lingnan gardens other than the other three gardens in Guangdong: Yuyin in Panyu, Liangyuan in Foshan, and Qinghui in Shunde.

It was definitely a nice visit.

An American Adventure

America! Because of my need to get my driver’s licensed renewed this year, Jun and I decided to visit my family in Oklahoma at the end of May during the Dragon Boat Festival.

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The first thing we needed to do after we got our tickets was for Jun to apply for his American visa. He did the online application and went for his interview in March. He was nervous throughout the process, but in the end he had nothing to worry about and he received his visa easily.

We left China for the U.S. right after I finished work. We headed straight for the China/Hong Kong border. We decided to stay in Hong Kong for the night so we wouldn’t have to rush to the airport the next day. The next morning we woke up early and journeyed to the airport. We got there at a good time as there was hardly anyone in line to check-in. We got our tickets and went through immigration without any issue. Then we waited to board the first of three flights back to Oklahoma.

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Our flights were actually nice. We flew United. After all the controversy this past spring with passenger relations, we were a bit curious to see how things were going to be. We were both pleasantly surprised at how comfortable our flight was. The food was descent for airplane food. We even got ice cream, which was a nice surprise. There was no issue throughout the flight, and the flight attendants were lovely to us on all the flights. It was a nice way to start our trip.

Day 1

After many hours on a plane we finally reached Oklahoma City. My mom was at the airport waiting for us. It was great seeing her for the first time since Australia in 2015. We hugged, and then she hugged Jun. This visit was her first time to meet him in person. She then drove us to have a quick dinner. After going over the options, we decided to have a light Chinese meal in Oklahoma City’s Asian district. So after leaving China we had Chinese food! A slow transition in culinary choices. After dinner we went back to my mom’s house and met up with my brother. We said hi and then everyone got ready for bed since it was so late.

Day 2

On our first full day in my hometown, we got up early with my family and started to make plans. The first thing we did was to go with my mom to her salon and get haircuts. Afterwards Jun and I walked around the historic downtown area while my mom worked. Jun enjoyed seeing the area where I had spent most of my childhood. For my part it was nice to walk around the area; it looked very much how I remembered.

We went back to my mom’s salon and then went to get my driver’s license renewed. The whole reason for this trip back and I was able to get it done in 10 minutes. It was the easiest of things to do. Afterwards we went back to my mom’s salon since she had to work. Jun and I continued to walk around the town. We went to see more historic buildings and then to one of the parks in town. We then walked to see where the first house I lived in was, but it started to rain and we slowly made our way to my mom’s place. Afterwards we waited a bit for her to finish for the morning before going back home for lunch. Mom then drove us to Edmond for a bit of shopping. She, however, had to work that afternoon and took us home while she went back to the salon.

That evening we went to Ted’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant, where we met up with two of my cousins. It was nice seeing them for the first time since 2013! Dinner was amazing and it was great to catch up with them. After dinner we went back home and started to get ready for bed.

Day 3

The next day Jun and I stayed at home in the morning while my mom worked. It was nice just to relax and enjoy not doing anything. Later that afternoon we went to do some shopping for different things. We had a nice lunch at Pepperoni Grill, a simple Italian restaurant, and then did some shopping.

Afterwards we then went to downtown Oklahoma City to see the Bricktown area, the Myriad Gardens, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial to the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing. It was nice to walk along the canal. We stopped at Sonic to get drinks, and then we went to Pinkerton to get some cupcakes. We enjoyed eating them at the Myriad Gardens. They were really good, especially the Oreo one.

After finishing the cupcakes we went for a walk around the gardens. Then we went up through the downtown area to the memorial. We walked around it and I explained the reason for the memorial to Jun. It was not the happiest of conversations, but it was an interesting one.

After seeing the memorial, we went back home where we had a light dinner of leftover food from Ted’s. Then we went to bed early since Jun and I were still adjusting to the time difference.

Day 4

We only stayed in Oklahoma for a short time. Since this trip was the first for Jun to the United States, we wanted to give him the opportunity to see more of it than just one state. So we decided to take a road trip to Colorado.

This morning Mom and I went to get a rental car at Hertz. It was an easy process and it was fun to drive a car after not being able to for years. When we got back home we packed the car and got on our way to hit the road for Denver.

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It took us about 10 hours to reach Denver with the frequent breaks. Our first stop on the trip was to stop at Braum’s to get some ice cream before we left Oklahoma. It was a nice treat in the morning. Our next stop was later in Salina, Kansas, where we had lunch at Hickory Hut, a nice barbecue restaurant with awesome sweet potato fries.

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After lunch we drove straight on to Denver, where we got to experience what we think was a minor hail storm. Jun also got to experience and see a thunderstorm on the plains. Nothing happened and by the time we got to Denver the weather was clear.

When we got to Denver we dropped the car off and got a new car for Colorado. One-way car renting can be expensive! It was cheaper to book two separate reservations. Once we got the car—a Chevy Tahoe no less—we went to our hotel. We checked in and cleaned up a bit. We were all tired from the driving so we ordered some Southeast Asian food for dinner to be delivered to our room. It was a nice way to end the day.

Day 5

We woke up early this morning and made a plan of what we wanted to do. We decided to start off by going to the Denver Botanic Gardens. We drove there and discovered we got there a bit early. Michael, however, remembered that there was a Voodoo Doughnuts nearby. We made the decision to walk over there and order some doughnuts. We were lucky that we got there when we did because the line was still short. By the time we left the line was out the door. As we walked back to the gardens we started to devour the different doughnuts. They were so good and amazing!

When we got back to the Botanic Gardens they were open. We put the doughnuts in the car and went to get our tickets. These gardens are gorgeous. There’s a nice mix of sculptures with different styles of gardens. It was a nice, relaxing morning just to walk around the different gardens and spend time with each other. The place has a nice mix of local and foreign gardens. The Japanese garden was particularly lovely, as was the Rock Alpine garden. Also, everyone wanted me to take pictures of them so they could get new profile pictures. Fortunately, we chose a nice place for photos.

After a few hours there we were getting hungry for lunch. Michael contacted one of his friends who recommended a Mexican restaurant in the Highlands area called Matador. The food there was amazing! The restaurant is located in a nice little neighborhood that we explored after lunch. There was a neat used bookstore that had shelves of books. It was a lot of fun to explore it. During our walk it started to rain so we stopped at an ice cream parlor to get some ice cream and to wait out the rain. By the time we finished eating them the rain had stopped and we went on to our next destination.

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For the rest of the afternoon we explored around downtown Denver. We first went to REI and then went around Commons Park to walk up to the 16th Street Mall. We went by Union Station, Larimer Square, and found Tattered Cover bookstore. Denver has a nice downtown area, but by the late afternoon we were ready to head back to the hotel. When we got back we decided just to go to the diner down the street for dinner.

We had had a long day and we all were ready for bed.

Day 6

Today was going to be a rainy day, so we planned accordingly. The morning was forecasted to be clear before the rains hit in the afternoon. Michael suggested we go to Boulder. We got in the car and drove up to see what Boulder had to offer.

We first went to see the University of Colorado Boulder. The campus was really nice and it was peaceful to just walk around with little people there as it was the end of the semester. Jun really liked to see how an American university was structured differently to a Chinese one.

Later we went to the downtown area and explored the different stores on the Pearl Street Mall. It started to rain by then and we decided to have lunch at Salt the Bistro. The food there was amazing and it was a nice way to end our morning. Since it was still raining we decided to do some shopping for the rest of the afternoon and went to different shopping areas in Denver. Jun was able to get a gift for his cousin and we were able to get other things we needed as well.

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Jun also had the opportunity to get an American steak that he wanted. Michael and mom had suggested he go to Texas Roadhouse to not only get his steak but to experience an American chain restaurant. It was a nice dinner and we were all happy to end the day with a good meal.

Day 7

Our last full day in Denver had us go to Rocky Mountain National Park. We first drove to Estes Park and then to the park. It was a beautiful day!

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We first parked our car and took the shuttle up to Bear Lake. What a surprise to see all the snow. We had an adventure walking around the lake. None of us had the appropriate shoes for snow walking so we had to be careful and we shuffled our way around the lake. But it was worth it to see how gorgeous the area was.

From there we then decided to walk around Glacier Gorge and to see that area. Equally beautiful in a different way. It was a nice walk, but we were getting tired by the end and decided to finish up our visit of the park.

We drove back to Denver to have a late afternoon meal and to do some last minute shopping before calling it a day. Later that evening we went and got some Popeye’s Chicken and packed our luggage for our trips home.

Day 8

Mom and Michael had booked a flight back to the Oklahoma at the same time as our flight back to China. We were able to check out of the hotel and return the Tahoe together. At the airport we checked-in and went through security easily. Denver has a really nice airport. We had breakfast together and soon said our goodbyes.

It was great seeing my family, and Jun was happy to meet them and to get to know them. We were both sad to leave, but knew that we would see them soon one day. Michael suggested maybe we could meet up in Japan next year. That would be fun!

Jun and I boarded our flight and then spent almost 20 hours in transit until we got back to our apartment in Shenzhen. By the time we got home we wanted something to eat, to shower, and then to go to bed.

In the end we had a wonderful trip to the U.S.; we were happy with our adventure there.

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Spring in Southern China

The Tomb Sweeping Festival came on a Tuesday this year, which allowed Jun and I to share a three day weekend. Since we’re saving for our trip to the U.S., we decided to stay and explore in the general area.

On our first day together we went to Shenzhen’s Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. It was quite a bit of trek to get there; due to the holiday there was a lot of traffic. Once we got there we spent a few nice hours walking along the botanical gardens.

This garden is the first botanical gardens that I have ever visited that is built in a mountain valley. To get to the main area you walk along a winding road to the valley. Once there you can explore a number of areas. We first went along the pine ridge and had nice views of the valley. We then went to the dessert plants greenhouses. That was a beautiful area. From there we went to the petrified tree forest and the paleontological museum. That was strange to see dinosaur fossils in a botanical garden!

From there we next walked along the lake. There were a number of nice inlets to watch the birds. Afterwards we went up to Hong Fa Temple. From there you could see the other end of the valley. Then we went to see two of the enclosed gardens at the park before we left. It’s a pretty neat park and it was a nice break from the city.

The next day Jun and I went to Hong Kong for two days. We didn’t do much besides meet up with friends and eat some amazing food. We did some shopping and just enjoyed spending time together. For the most part we explored the Western District of Hong Kong Island. We walked along the different alleyways and saw some amazing street art and just enjoyed finding different things that made Hong Kong special.

Our last day we met up with some friends at Hong Kong Disneyland since we had free tickets. It was busy, but it was still fun to try out the new Iron Man experience.

Overall, Jun and I had a great few days off. Now it’s back to work for us.