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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.

Spring Festival Impressions

The Spring Festival arrived! Having completed the first week of my new job and finally having started to settle into living in Shenzhen, Jun and I wanted to have a quiet and relaxing holiday. I first had to go to Hong Kong to do paperwork for my new job on the first day of the holiday. With the holiday coming up I had to expedite the process to ensure that everything was completed in time.

Day 1

The actual vacation started by crossing the border into Hong Kong at the Futian checkpoint. This border control station was much easier than the other ones I have gone through in Shenzhen. It was fairly efficient and we were in Hong Kong without undue waiting. Once we were in Hong Kong we headed straight to the hotel.

We were ready for the hotel staff to let us check-in but then have to wait for our room to be available in the afternoon. The staff, however, told us that they had a room free and that they were more than happy to let us go up to the room early. That was a nice start to the trip. Jun and I went to the room and dropped our belongings. Then we went towards the office in Kowloon to do the paperwork. That’s where a snag came up. The agents felt unsure if I had all the paperwork I needed, I felt that I did since the document they wanted was one that I had to surrender back to the Chinese government and no longer had. I still felt it was fine and they said they would try—but made no promises. That left a bit of a bitter taste for us: the nagging worry that something could go wrong.

Jun and I tried our best to put it out of our minds. We had made plans to have lunch with one of his friends in Central. So we went straight there and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was good. After lunch, Jun and I said bye to his friend and went exploring around the area. We started by walking around Soho. We stumbled onto the Dr. San Yat-sen Museum, and went in to see what there was to see. Jun was interested in the exhibitions, but I was more interested in the building itself. It’s an Edwardian building that has been beautifully restored. It was a nice example of British colonial architecture.

From there we went down and found a temple: Man Mo. It was a small temple, but it had a unique way of placing its incense burners and prayer lanterns. It was the first temple I’ve seen that did it. It was quite calming to be there.

Afterwards we walked back towards the waterfront. Near Admiralty there’s a park called Tamar that is really neat. There are places to sit on the grass and stare into the water. And dotted throughout the park are some interesting pieces of art. One of the pieces we saw was a sculpture, Soundscape, by Steven Ho Chun Wang, Alvin Kung Yick Ho, and Edmond Wong Chak Yuen. The sculpture is inspired by the design of a xylophone, and the design of the instrument is actually tuned to be able to make the notes of a song.

Afterwards we took the MTR back to our hotel in North Point. We had dinner at a noodle pace before we went back to the room. We rested for a bit before we went to bed.

Day 2

The next day we decided to go to Stanley. Jun hadn’t been there before and Stanley tends to be much quieter than many other parts of Hong Kong. We took a minibus down south. We took the eastern route and passed a reservoir and a park. The reservoir was also an intriguing piece of architecture. It was built out of blocks and not by poured concrete. It was clearly a historic reservoir as it was also not designed for two lanes of traffic. We had to wait for the direction of traffic to shift before we were able to continue to Stanley.


When we got there we spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon walking around the community. We first went through the market and saw the different stalls there. From there we walked along the promenade and enjoyed the beautiful day. We saw Murray House and Blake Pier and went into the park to see a Pak Tai Temple.

Afterwards we went to visit the Correctional Museum. It was an intriguing place. They had exhibits on the history of cells, corporal punishment (e.g., a replica of how they would hang criminals), and examples of prison created tools, such as homemade tattoo machines and weapons. That latter was interesting after having seen them in movies. From there we walked along the beach and decided to go and get some lunch. When we were done we went for a walk and got some gelato. By then we had to head northward to Kowloon to see if my documents had been processed. We took the bus and got off and took the MTR to Kowloon.

We went to the office and I was relieved to found out that that everything went okay and the documents were processed. So that was one thing that I could cross off my list of things that I needed to do. Once that was done we decided to see a movie. We chose La La Land. We both enjoyed how the intermixing of music with the story worked well and enhanced it. After having an enjoyable time at the movies we wanted to have dinner. That unfortunately ended up being a chore. We had a difficult time finding a place to eat. The placed we wanted to go to didn’t have a free table and a long wait. We ended up eating in a food court with subpar food. Fortunately to make up for that we found a hole-in-the-wall dessert place and had an enjoyable treat there.

That was it for the day and we ended up back in the room.

Day 3

The next day was New Year’s Eve. It was, however, a day of travel for us. We first traveled back to Shenzhen to repack our bags. And then we went straight to the train station to get the overnight train to Shangrao to visit Jun’s family for the holiday in his hometown—Dexing. The only available train Jun could find was the 12 hour overnight train. It’s been quite some time since I last went on such a train and was not looking forward towards it. But we had brought snacks and downloaded several shows to see.


The train ride wasn’t too bad. They sold a simple meal that we both had. And near Longchuan in Guangdong there were firework that we saw from the train. I was excited about that, Jun was more interested in sleeping and just brushed the fireworks off to the side.

Day 4

We arrived in Shangrao—the largest city near Jun’s hometown—at 5:00 in the morning. His dad met us at the train station and both were happy to see each other. It had been almost two years since they last saw each other. From Shangrao we had about another hour and half car ride to Dexing. On the ride we experienced heavy fog that came and went quickly due to the strong wind. It was surreal and scary since we were traveling through mountain roads.

We finally arrived in Dexing where his stepmom and stepbrother met us. His stepmom made us homemade dumplings and insisted that we go take our showers as she got them ready. Once we were clean and our appetites satiated, Jun took his stepbrother and me on a walk around the river near his dad’s apartment.

Dexing is historically a mining community, as a result this small city is fairly well off when compared to other places in the interior of China.  You can see it in the new government buildings and apartment blocks being built. On the walk we saw old and new bridges, the high school Jun went to, and the main commercial area of the city. It was nice to see where Jun spent a significant amount of his youth.


We finished our walk and went back to have lunch with his family. Instead of having lunch in the apartment, Jun’s family had their meals in a separate ground floor alcove where they cooked and had their meals. They cooked and ate here so the apartment wouldn’t get dirty. It was cool and fun. We had a nice homemade lunch and drank tea afterwards. Jun and I went back to the apartment to take a nap before we went out to meet one of his friends.

When we did go out Jun was able to take his dad’s scooter. That was fun! We went to the central area and met his friend. We had tea and then went to get our hair cut. That was a relief to have my hair short again. By the time we were done it was almost time to go back for dinner. Before we went back Jun and I drove around for a bit and saw other parts of Dexing.

For dinner Jun’s aunt came over to eat with us. We were going to stay with her since she had an extra room. After dinner we followed her to her apartment and got ready for bed.

Day 5

This day was largely a relaxing day. We woke up late and just piddled around a bit before we went to see Jun’s family for lunch. We had another wonderful meal. Jun’s stepmom then suggested that we go to see Juyuanlou, which is a pagoda at the foothills to the mountains surrounding Dexing. The pagoda was beautiful and had amazing views of the city and the mountains.

From there we then went to the Jiangxi Mining Museum. This museum is housed in traditional-style buildings and tells the story of mining in Jiangxi province. It was interesting to walk around the museum and to see the history of mining in the province.

From there we then went back to see Jun’s family. After having tea, we went for a walk around the river before dinner. And then after dinner we again went around the government area of the city. For a small community they had a significant number of government buildings. Jun was skeptical that there was enough employees and positions to justify all the office space in these new buildings. The buildings did, however, look impressive at night.

When we got back to the apartment we had some more tea before we went back to his aunt’s apartment for the night. This day was very relaxing.

Day 6

On this day we ventured to go to San Qing Mountain National Park. To get there we woke up early and went to pick up Jun’s stepbrother. Then we took a bus to get us most of the way there. We had to stop in a village—Nanshou—near the national park. We had to wait for about an hour for the next bus. I decided to walk around and see the village. A villager stopped me as I was taking a picture and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I had to explain to him in my horrible Chinese that I was a foreigner and didn’t know too much Chinese. He laughed and said, “Hello!” in English. I then met up with Jun and we went around the river near the bridge and saw a bamboo grove. After our walk we went back to the general store where the bus was going to pick us up. After a bit it came and we went to the eastern entrance of the national park.

When we got there we tried to get tickets to go into the park. Due to it being the New Year holiday, however, there were too many people at the park. The staff decided to stop admitting new guests for two hours to control the number of people entering. That’s a good thing to ensure the park is not stressed; for us, however, it frustrated us. As we were walking and thinking about what we could do we were approached by a driver who said he would drive us to the southern entrance where there was less people. After negotiating the price we decided to hire him and go south.

When we got there the car had to stop at the entrance to the road up to the park. We were able to take the free bus up to the entrance. There were indeed hardly anyone at the southern entrance and we were able to buy tickets and go up on the cable car without having to wait in line. As we were going up in the cable car we noticed that we were going up into a cloud.


It seems that the change in weather overnight had brought a heavy fog that blanketed the park. For the first 30 minutes at the park we were walking in fog and could hardly see anything. What we did see was nice, but our perspective was limited. It actually seemed that we were at ground level and that we hadn’t gone up a mountain. As we were walking on the western path the fog began to clear and we were able to see more of the mountain. As that was happening we were also able to see how high up we were. That knowledge jarred us a bit. It was so high up! The views, though, were amazing.

We continue towards San Qing Temple, which was an old, small temple that was nestled next to one of the mountain peaks.

From there we went along the middle path. There the fog really cleared and we were able to see the sky with the fog below the peaks. The view we had was stunning.

By then we had to head back to the cable car to get back down to the entrance. As we were going down the fog came back and the temperature started to drop. Fortunately we made it to the cable car and went back down. We were hoping that the busses were still running, but by the time we got down there they had stopped. We then decided to find a room for the night and go back in the morning. So after having dinner we went and found a room. It wasn’t the most amazing of places, but it was warm place for the night.

Day 7

The next morning we checked out, had breakfast, and caught the bus to Shangrao. At Shangrao we bought bus tickets to Dexing, but we had to wait an hour before we could leave. We decided to go find a café to get something to drink and wait for the bus. After walking a bit we found a place where we could get tea and waffles. It was bit pricy, but it was at least warm.

Finally we were able to get on the bus and go back to Dexing. When we got there we went and cleaned up at Jun’s aunt’s apartment. Jun had plans to meet up with some of his high school friends. I stayed with his stepmom and stepbrother and did some work.

When he got back we went to meet his family for dinner. This dinner had more people, his uncle, cousins, and a close family friend were there. We had a big and scrumptious dinner! Afterwards Jun and I went for a walk by the river. As we were walking we passed by a cute café where we got some drinks.


We then went back to his dad’s place before we went away for the night.

Day 8

Our last morning in Dexing was a whirlwind of saying goodbyes and picking up a care package Jun’s stepmom made. They had helped us arrange a shared car to take us to the train station in Shangrao. So we were able to get to the train station with plenty of time to pick up our tickets and leave.

Our holiday was coming to an end. I enjoyed meeting Jun’s family and seeing his hometown. And I know he was thrilled to be able to see his dad. It was a wonderful Spring Festival and a great experience for both of us!

Winter Wonderland

The freezing northeast of China has been on my list of places to go since I first moved to China. A friend of mine who I trained together had mentioned the Ice Festival in Harbin during one of our conversations. I had always wanted to go to an ice festival, but never lived anywhere close to one. Since I now lived in China I had the perfect opportunity to visit one. It just took me three years to get there. Flying to Harbin is a lot more expensive than flying to Southeast Asia from Guangzhou. I made the firm decision this year that no matter the cost I would go and visit Harbin.


Fortunately I had some time in January to go, and my friend Brianne also had time and a desire to go see the Ice Festival. We decided to go in mid-January and spend the weekend there.

We both flew up on a Friday. We got there late in the afternoon. The first thing I experienced in Harbin was the freezing temperatures there. The next thing I discovered was that night fell early in Harbin. By 5:00 in the afternoon the sun had set. Brianne and I felt that it was much later than it actually was.


We took a taxi to our hostel and experienced the weird traffic and roads of Harbin. At major intersections in the city they had at least five lanes and a stoplight that went in a circle. It was confusing to say the least to us. Once we got to the hostel and checked in we decided to go explore the area around us.

The exploration proved to be cold. We were cold on the walk and had to walk through a shopping center to warm up a bit. We also went to a hot pot restaurant to help warm up as well. Afterwards we went back to the hostel for the night.


The next day we woke up and decided to head downtown to see some of the Russian architecture in the city. We first went to see Saint Sophia Cathedral and walk around the square there. Saint Sophia was magnificent and was quite distinctly Russian.

While there we saw one of the candied fruit stands and decided to try it. These candied fruits are all over Harbin and was one of the recommended snacks to have in the city. We both chose the one that had a lot of strawberries and what we thought were blueberries. The strawberries were wonderful and tasty. The blueberries turned out not to be blueberries; we’re still not sure what they were but we both agree they had a strange taste. The candied part was really sweet and hard. It was an experience and the strawberries were good.


As we were eating the strawberries we went to Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. The street has a large collection of Russian-style architecture. Right now during the Ice Festival there are a lot of related stalls and ice sculptures along the street. It was nice to walk down it. It was also nice to pop into random stores and enjoy the heat in those buildings.

From Zhongyang we went towards the river. The river is frozen over and you can walk on it. I’ve never walked on a frozen river and wanted to try it out. I basically learned the importance of shuffling on it. It was fun and neat, but the wind from the river was so blistering cold that it hurt a bit. Brianne and I decided to go and get something to eat and have a hot drink. We found this neat little café to relax and warm up a bit.

From there we wanted to go to Sun Island where the main parts of the Ice Festival were, but we weren’t sure how to get there. Brianne had seen a bridge that went across the river and thought it might be a good bet. It turned out that this bridge has been converted from a rail bridge into a pedestrian bridge. That was really neat to see. Unfortunately, the bridge bypasses Sun Island and goes all away across the river onto the other side. Brianne and I felt defeated by this and decided that we would figure it out later that night and do it the next day. For the rest of the day we would go and experience the Ice Lantern Art Show.

That was really neat. At night the ice sculptures and structures are beautifully lit. It was an amazing sight and experience. Some of the ice sculptures were really intricate and beautiful. Some were strange and modern. Others were just creepy—like the Alien ice sculpture. I also enjoyed getting to sit on an ice throne. It was such a neat experience.

After having figured out how to get to Sun Island, we went on the bus that went straight there from the metro. Once we got to the island we had to search for both sites for the festival. Eventually following the crowds, using smartphones, and logic we found our way to the Snow Sculpture exposition. That was neat Place. Some of the snow sculptures were really impressive in intricacy and in scale. Some of them were simply enormous. That was a sight to be seen. They even had a building reminiscent of an old Chinese general store.

The last stop of the festival had us going to the Ice and Snow World. This took some ingenuity to find, but we got there and enjoyed it. We were able to experience it during the day and in the early evening. Because of that we saw stark differences between what the ice city looks like as just ice and when it was lit up. Again here the scale of the ice city was huge. Some structures were as tall as mid-rise buildings. There were also many neat ice sculptures here. One of the coolest things there was a planet made up of ice spheres suspended from wire cables. It was such an awesome thing to see.

As it was getting colder we decided to head back to the hostel and have dinner.

The next day we just relaxed at the hostel before we needed to head towards to the airport. It was a fun trip. And I was able to cross off another thing on my list of places to visit!

Yuen Yuen Taoist Temple

At the start of 2017, I wanted one day where I could avoid thinking about all that I needed to do—find a new apartment in Shenzhen, move to Shenzhen, get all the paperwork I need from my last job, fill and collect all the paperwork for my new job, getting ready for my trip to Harbin, planning a vacation for the Spring Festival, writing term papers. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but I needed one day just to do something fun.

As a result Jun and I decided to go to Huadu district in northern Guangzhou and visit a Taoist temple there that I had read about a few months back. It’s an easy trip to get there, but it’s a long trip. Once we got there we decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. It was a wonderful lunch and we were ready to visit the temple.

15800216_10104575735760660_14100992215409692_oThe temple’s name is Yuen Yuen and it is the central Taoist temple in Guangdong province. It’s a relatively new temple, having only been built in 1998. It’s built on the principles of feng shui and the layout of the complex does create a harmonious environment. Some of the buildings resemble more famous examples of other Chinese buildings, such as how Sangquing Hall in the center of the complex imitates the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

When walking into the temple you start to see how well maintained it is. The gardens are gorgeous, and you can actually see where they work and grow the plants that make up the complex’s gardens.

The first thing you see is Sangquing Hall. It takes center stage, but once you walk behind it you realize that the complex is much bigger than first expected. Behind this first area you walk to a number of halls where people may pray and leave offerings.

From there you are able to go and view the central platform dominated by a statue of Lao Zhi, the founder of Taoism. It’s an amazing site to see in person. From there you can see a large hall that is inaccessible to the public but has a commanding position behind the statue.

As we wandered around the temple complex, I felt more relax and at peace. Jun and I were quite content with our time there. I left feeling recharged and ready for this new year.

Serenity in Chiang Mai

Chinese law grants newly married couples three days leave. As a result Jun and I found ourselves with an extra three days off. And when we tied it with our weekend we ended up with five days. We decided to go to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

We left late on a Saturday afternoon and got to Chiang Mai early in the evening. Jun had to go and get a visa before we could enter the country. It was relatively quick and we were soon on a taxi to our hotel. The place we stayed at was a cute little hotel in a quiet section of the old city. Once we were settled in at the hotel, we decided to go find something for dinner. We walked through the neighborhood streets until we reached one of the commercial areas of the old city. We ended up at a restaurant called Hot Chili that served some wonderful food in a cool environment. After dinner Jun and I walked around a bit before we headed back to the hotel for the night.


The next day we spent exploring the old city. The old city is the part of the city that used to be surrounded by a wall and moat. Parts of the wall and moat still stand. The first thing we did was explore the area near our hotel. There was a temple—Wat Puak Hong—close by that we went and saw. It had a really nice and old pagoda. This temple was the first of many that we would see in Chiang Mai.

Afterwards we walked through Buak Haad Park and enjoyed seeing the locals going through their daily routine. There were people reading on the grass, kids feeding birds, and people running through the park.

From the park we went towards the center of the old city to start to visit many different temples. The first was Wat Phra Singh. This temple was neat in that it combined a number of materials—wood, gold leaf, stone—for the various structures there. Then we saw Wat Chang Taem, which had a darker look to it than other temples we saw on the trip.

One of the larger temples we saw was Wat Chedi Luang: the historic center of Chiang Mai. This temple has a long history in Chiang Mai. One of the oldest structures in the city is located here. It was partially destroyed in an earthquake in the sixteenth century, but it has been maintained and now there are a number of beautiful buildings that surround it.

From there we took a turn and went to the Lanna Architecture Center where a pop up exhibit was located as part of Design Week. There were a number of exhibits and stores there highlighting contemporary designers in the region. These designers represent architecture, art, clothing, food, and accessories. It was really neat and we were able to visit different exhibits throughout the city.

The rest of the afternoon we visited some temples in the northern part of the old city, such as Wat Chiang Man, and saw some of the old city wall. We rested a bit and had dinner. Afterwards we visited some of the temples at night. Then we went to the hotel for the night.

The next day we decided to venture further out of Chiang Mai. We decided to go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is an important temple in Chiang Mai and a lot of people visit here. We took a songthaew to get to the temple. A songthaew is like a local form of transportation that you can hire. The temple is located high in the mountain and had amazing views of the city. It is beautiful; especially the inner courtyard, which is gorgeous.

From there we went to visit Bhubing Palace. As one of the royal residences in Thailand, the gardens here are well maintained. The gardens were gorgeous and the variety of flora was quite nice. The only downside was that we were unable to go inside any of the buildings. Overall, though, it was a nice visit.

After our visit to the palace, we headed back to Chiang Mai for the afternoon. We first went to grab some ice cream in the old city. Then we went to explore the city east of the city wall. We went towards the Ping River and walked alongside it. It was a gorgeous afternoon and the walk was nice. We then headed back to the old city for dinner. As we were going we stopped at more temples.

The next day we went even further out of the city and went to a different city: Chiang Rai. Our first stop was a hot springs. It was said to be a hot spring, but it was more of a rest stop on the way to Chiang Rai. It was fine, and we got to see people cook eggs in the springs.

In Chiang Rai we first went to the Baandam Museum. The museum came to fruition from the work of the late Thai artist Thaan Duchanee. There are over 40 horses here that display his work and his aesthetic. All the houses are black and have a very dark tone to them. It was an interesting experience and just fun to walk around the museum.

From there we went to visit Wat Rong Khun—the White Temple. This temple is an example of merging traditional architecture with modern culture. The main temple is an allegory in of itself. One has to start the journey in the underworld in order to venture across the bridge up to the higher plains of the main temple. There’s a mixture of symbolism and culture at the temple. You even see examples of Marvel characters and contemporary politicians as well. It was a cool place and Jun and I enjoyed it. From there we had a long drive back to Chiang Mai. Once back we had dinner and went to bed.

On our last day. We went for a leisurely walk through the old city. We saw some more temples. You would think that after visiting so many temples we would get bored, but each temple is unique and has something new and wonderful to offer. We went to the Lanna Folklife Museum where we saw more of the Design Week exhibits. And then we enjoyed our last bit of Thai cuisine.

We were sad that our trip had to end. We had a wonderful time in Chiang Mai, but it was time for us to head back to Guangzhou.


New Zealand Nuptials

The National Holiday in China brought big changes for Jun and me. Earlier this year we got engaged while in Indonesia, and over the summer we decided that we would get married in New Zealand over the holiday in October. We were both excited for it, but first we had to overcome a lot of hurdles with work and the government.

While I didn’t have any issue in traveling to New Zealand, Jun had to submit a number of documents to receive his visa. A significant part of it was to prove that we were indeed a couple and that we were legitimately engaged. On my end I had to contend with permission from work to be on leave for some additional days. After working with everyone, we were finally given all the required paperwork and permission to go to New Zealand!

Since we had to go through that process, we had to buy our tickets to New Zealand rather late. The flights from Guangzhou by then were expensive, so we decided to fly out of Hong Kong. On the day that we were traveling to Auckland, we first had to take the ferry to Hong Kong. The ferry was a convenient way to get to the airport. It leaves from Guangzhou and heads straight to the airport, and once there we could check-in at the ferry port. When we got to the counter they already had our tickets and all we had to do was show our ID and head through security. As an added bonus we were also able to get a partial refund on our ferry tickets, so we had some spending money at the airport without needing to exchange RMB for HKD.

Day 1

The flight itself to Auckland was uneventful. Since it was an overnight flight we just relaxed on the plane and tried to get some sleep. When we finally got to Auckland we were excited to begin our trip there. The first thing I noticed was how uncrowded things were. From the moment we exited the plane and did immigration and collected our bags, there wasn’t long lines or pushing crowds. It was a nice change. We decided to take the airport shuttle bus to our hotel since it stopped directly in front of it. The person behind the counter was really nice and we chatted about the weather and how I was enjoying the colder weather since it was still hot in Guangzhou. But Jun was unhappy with it—the ticket agent also agreed with him.


On the ride to the hotel we traveled through the suburbs of Auckland, and it reminded me of home. After living in Guangzhou with the skyscrapers and apartment blocks, it was nice to see single house dwellings. We also got to experience a bit of the suburbs when the bus we were on had technical difficulties. One of the alarms on the bus went off and the driver didn’t know what had caused it. He thus stopped and we waited for the next bus to pick us up. The driver was nice and apologized. The rest of us understood and waited. I took the opportunity to explore a little. There were a couple of stores there and it was nice to see what was in there. Jun was fascinated by the mail boxes and how the post would be delivered to these mailboxes. Sometimes I forget that things I take for granted are novel for him.


Finally the bus arrived and we were able to get to the hotel. Since we had arrived early in the morning we had to wait a bit for our room. We decided to go explore the downtown area and maybe find something to eat. We walked around the central area and saw some restaurants but nothing incited any interest. We decided to head to the waterfront and explore that area. We ended up at Queens Wharf and enjoyed looking at the harbor and just relaxing. It was also at that time that the time difference and lack of sleep started to hit us. We decided to head back to the hotel and get something to eat.

We had a difficult time deciding where to eat and ended up at McDonald’s, which ended up not being so bad since they had a beef pie that was actually quite nice. After eating we headed back to the hotel. We cleaned up and took a nap. By the time we woke up it was already early evening. We looked on Trip Advisor for areas where there were food and found that there was a little community—Uptown—near our hotel. The area had a number of restaurants; we ended up at an Italian restaurant called Gina’s. It was a wonderful dinner. The portions were nice and the food was amazing. It had a homey feel to it. There was a birthday party near us. And the people at the restaurant turned off the main lights and brought out a cake to the table and everyone in the restaurant sang Happy Birthday. It was sweet gesture. After dinner we paid, where I had to readjust to using my debit card since cash is infrequently used in Auckland, and we headed back to the hotel to rest for the night.

Day 2

After a good night’s rest, Jun and I were excited that we could officially begin the process of registering for our marriage. We walked to the marriage registry office in Auckland in the CBD. When we got there we decided to have a quick breakfast at a café. When we got up to the office we were given a number to wait. After a few minutes we went up to the counter and the clerk helped us go through the process. The first thing she did was to check if there was any available times for a wedding that week. Fortunately there was one left that Friday, and she immediately booked it for us. We then went through the particulars of our information and she informed us of what we needed to bring. We had prepared for everything except for one thing—we needed witnesses present. Neither one of us knew anyone in Auckland, so we had to think about this quandary. Jun’s cousin had come to Auckland for the wedding, so we had one witness, but we needed to find another one. Jun had the idea of perhaps posting something on to see if anyone was willing. So we found a place with Wi-Fi and he posted an ad.

Since we would have to wait for a response, we decided that we would go around Auckland and enjoy the day. We went back to the waterfront, but decided to wander around the Viaduct Basin and Silo Park. It was a gorgeous day and, while cool, the sun warmed us. It was a beautiful spring day in that regard. We were in such a good mood that we went and got some ice cream. The walk around this area was relaxing and there was a good number of things to see. There was even a make-shift library made out of shipping containers.

Afterwards we walked to the Parnell neighborhood. This area had a number of local shops and galleries and was a nice afternoon stop. From there we went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. While there is indeed a war memorial, the museum also houses an in-depth introduction to New Zealand. The first floor had a lot of exhibits on Maori and modern New Zealand cultures. The other floors had a number of exhibits from classical Asian artifacts to exhibits concerning the wars that New Zealanders had fought in over the centuries. At the top of the museum was the memorial. It was a nice experience, especially since when we got there it started raining. Afterwards we went and explored the park around the museum, which was vast and in some places were more forest than park.

By then it was evening and we had dinner on the waterfront, where we tried for the first time green-lipped mussels. Those mussels were huge and in the right sauce delicious. This night was the first time we had them, but they wouldn’t be the last. After dinner we headed back to the hotel for the night.

Day 3

The next morning we went straight to the ferry terminal. We decided to go to Davenport across the bay to explore that side of Auckland. The ferry ride was quick and we got some nice views of the CBD and of Davenport.

Once we got there we walked up the main street up towards Mt. Victoria. The view from the top of the mountain was quite amazing. Around the top were wildflowers and tall grass that made for a whimsical experience. It used to be a military installation, and now it’s used for weather observation in part. You can see some of the old military installations and walk around them. It was a nice way to start our explorations of Davenport.

Afterwards we went back to the main street for lunch. We went to a restaurant call Manuka that served a variety of dishes. It was amazing! I had a wonderful seafood bisque with green-lipped mussels. I still think about it in joy!


After lunch we walked by the coast towards North Head Historic Reserve, another former military installation. The walk itself was nice. Some of the houses were quite unique: there were historic and contemporary homes intermingled with each other. It was nice to see such diversity. When we finally got to the reserve, we started to explore the different areas. Since it used to be a military gun barrack, there are a number of tunnels to explore. They crisscross each other and it’s easy to get lost in the dark in them. It was really fun to go around these tunnels.

On the northern side of the reserve we saw that there was a beach adjoining it. We decided to go down to the beach and enjoy the water and sand for a bit. After relaxing and enjoying the calm of the water, we went back towards the pier to go back to the CBD.

We decided to go and rest a bit before heading back out for dinner. But on a whim we decided to go up to Mount Eden. It’s a dormant volcano and you can walk around the crater and see some spectacular views of the city. It’s a fairly steep incline up to the top, but it was well worth the trek. After such an arduous journey to see Mount Eden, we were definitely ready for dinner. We went to another seafood restaurant—Ika Seafood Bar and Frill—that was quiet and had wonderful food.

Later that night Jun received a response to his message. The potential witness identified himself as a South African who had become a New Zealand citizen, and he was willing to be our witness. He wanted to meet us first, so we set up a time to meet up the next evening.

Day 4

While planning for this trip, I had run across Waiheke Island. It’s an island known for its wine and chill atmosphere. It was one of the places I wanted to visit, and we decided today would be the day. We went to Queens Wharf to catch the ferry to the island. It was a cool morning, but the air was crisp and the sea calm. It was a quite beautiful ride.

When we got to the island, we decided to head east first and then travel back to the ferry terminal. So we took the bus to Onetangi Beach. It was a long beach, and it was quiet and peaceful. Just walking along the beach with the sun warming us was welcomed. As we got to the further end of the beach we turned and went up a hill to reach one of the vineyards on the island. We ended up at Miro Vineyards, which was a wonderful find. The surrounding area was reminiscent of southern Europe, which also inspired the theme of the restaurant at the vineyard: Casita Miro. The food there was delicious, the wine wonderful, and the staff friendly. We stayed there for a while and just enjoyed a leisurely and relaxing lunch.

Later that afternoon we went to the main area on the island—Oneroa—to explore the shops and the beach there. It had cute little shops that were fun to explore. We also got some ice cream there to treat ourselves. Later we decided to head back to Auckland. It was near sunset and we saw a lot of sailing boats on the way back. That was cool to see them sail across the bay and around the ferry. It was also quite windy, and at one point my glasses flew away and I feared that I may have lost them. Fortunately it only flew down to the deck below and I was able to retrieve them.

When we got back to Auckland we decided to have dinner before we met the potential witness. After dinner we met him and his partner. They took us to a Taiwanese dessert shop and we got to know each other. They were really nice and friendly. They offered us some suggestions of where we could go to see other parts of Auckland. After getting to know each other, we decided to meet up for dinner the next day.


Day 5

Based on the recommendations of our new friends, we went to the Mission Bay neighborhood. It’s a quaint place with a beach and some restaurants. We ended up going to a Belgian place called De Fontein. They had some nice lunch specials, although we went overboard and ordered more food than we could handle. It was, however, nice. After lunch we walked around the beach and decided to walk a bit further into one of the larger parks. At that moment it started to rain, so we ended up staying at a Starbucks until the rain stopped.

When it did we went up to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial, a memorial to commemorate a former prime minster of New Zealand. The gardens around the memorial were nice. Afterwards we went back towards the water and walked around the edge. At that point it looked like it might rain again so we took a bus back to the CBD.

Back in the downtown area we decided to go to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki to see various style of New Zealand art. It was a nice museum with some interesting exhibits. They had a number of contemporary exhibits that was quite interesting. I particularly liked Judy Darragh’s “Limbo” that hung in the main atrium.

By that time it was time to meet up with our new friends for dinner. They took us to this budget Thai place. The food was quite nice. The owner is actually a friend of theirs. Afterwards we went to another desert place and talked about the next day. Jun and I were excited and couldn’t wait for it to be finally Friday.

They dropped us back at the hotel and Jun and I prepared for the next day. After making sure everything was ready we went to bed.

Day 6

The day finally arrived! After waking up Jun and I got ready to go to the registry for the wedding ceremony. We were excited as we walked there. When we got there we waited for a bit and made sure both our witnesses came. Finally our wedding officiant came out and had us go over the particulars. She went back to her office to confirm all the information. Once she was ready we went to a room at the back of the registry. She explained what we needed to do and had us stand at the front. It was a fairly quick ceremony. Jun and I were nervous so we rushed things a bit. Our witnesses said that even when we exchanged rings we were quick and they didn’t have much time to take pictures. When we were done saying our vows we signed the paperwork and took some pictures as the officiant went and printed our marriage certificate. When she came back with it Jun and I were officially married!

It was wonderful morning and we had the rest of the day to celebrate. We decided to go to the Sky Tower next door first. It had some nice views of the city, and Jun and I could just bask in the joy that we felt. Afterwards we had lunch and decided to go to the zoo.

The zoo was an odd choice on our last day, but it was a really nice zoo. The different sections of the zoo had a theme related to it, so there was an African section that resembled different communities in Africa. There were sections reminiscent to New Zealand and to other parts of the world. We were able to see penguins, kiwis, and a Tasmanian devil. It was quite a nice zoo. Sadly, our time was running short and we had to go back to the CBD to get ready for our flight back to China.

At the CBD we had dinner and went back to the hotel to get our belongings. Our witness and his partner offered to take us to the airport, and we were there in no time. Air New Zealand has pretty much automated their check-in process. So we received our boarding passed and checked in our bags quickly and efficiently. Immigration was also automated for me. I just scanned in my passport and had my facial features recognized and I was able to clear immigration quickly. We waited for a bit and then boarded our plane.

Jun and I were sad to leave New Zealand, but as we went back to China we went back as a married couple!