Reunion in Yongping

While in the U.S., Jun’s mom contacted us and asked if we would come to Yongping—Jun’s mom’s hometown—for the birthday celebration of Jun’s aunt. In addition to the birthday, Jun’s mom was going to have a house warming party for her new apartment in the family’s new house. It was essentially going to be a few days of merriment.59229748_10106828090947810_3154194415627534336_o_10106828090937830

Jun felt excited at the prospect of seeing his mom and other relatives and agreed. He quickly planned the trip for the first few days of May. And as soon as he was done with his planning, we continued to enjoy our time in Oklahoma with my family.

Day 1

The start of the trip started with an early morning flight from Huizhou to Shangrao. It was a quick flight and we were soon walking out of baggage claim for Jun’s mom to greet us. One of her friends kindly drove us back to Yongping.

When we got to Yongping we first stopped at Jun’s aunt’s house to say hello and have breakfast. We had soup noodles, a typical meal for breakfast. They were quite good. After we had finished we then walked to the tea house the family had just opened: 心上茶水吧 (Tea on My Heart).

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At the tea house I tried a tasty lemon tea and met some of Jun’s relatives. After visiting for a bit, the family then closed the tea house and went back to the aunt’s house for lunch and the first of many large meals.

The lunch was quite nice. During lunch I was introduced to many more of Jun’s relatives. After a bit, we went up to the second floor with some of Jun’s relatives that he grew up with to rest for a bit. After a short while, we then went back to the tea house for after lunch tea.

From there, one of Jun’s cousins took us back to Jun’s mom’s apartment so we could see it. The apartment was beautiful. It’s one of many apartments in a house the family built. The house is broken into two sections with different floors for different family members. Jun’s mom’s apartment is neat in that it has a second floor entrance that offers a lot of privacy for her.

After having seen the house, one of Jun’s cousins took some of us to visit the historic village of Shitang. The village was famous for paper production. It was well renowned throughout Chinese history for its paper. The Chinese Imperial Court had used paper from here for official purposes.

As we walked around the village you could see examples of the old paper mills. Many have fallen in disrepair and others have been torn down and replaced with more modern buildings. But a beauty emerges from the ruins of the older buildings. It’s possible to imagine what life would have been like in the past: The villagers producing paper and traders shipping them on the river to different destinations in China.

After having walked around the village, we soon had to return back to Yongping for the birthday dinner. The dinner itself was quite wonderful and full of people. Every corner of the house downstairs and into the courtyard was occupied by tables of people celebrating the birthday of Jun’s aunt. It was a nice gathering.

Soon, however, it was time to leave. We first walked around Yongping a bit; Jun and his cousin gave me a tour of the place. Then we went back to the tea house for a bit before heading back to Jun’s mom’s place. When we got back to the apartment, we were soon ready for bed and called it a day.

Day 2

The second day of our stay had us wake-up with the roosters. So early! It’d been many years since I had lived in a rural village. All the memories of being frustrated at roosters waking me up in the morning came flooding back. Fortunately, I was able to fall back to sleep and the roosters cooperated. Later in the morning, Jun’s mom woke us for breakfast. After breakfast, we took our showers and then rested for a bit.

Jun and I took a walk around the house and enjoyed the beautiful morning. The house is surrounded by mountains and fields. It’s quite a beautiful area. When we returned it was time for an early lunch. The food was good. Jun then informed me that we were going to his aunt’s house for the birthday cake. Apparently, today was the actual birthday and, thus, the cake.

We took a scooter to the house and had a piece of the cake. Then, some of Jun’s relatives decided to visit Ehu Academy. The academy is one of the four great historic academic institutions in Jiangxi province. Throughout its history, many famous Chinese scholars visited the academy and debated on Chinese philosophy, such as the famous Ehu Zhihui in 1175.

The academy was really interesting. Jun’s nephew explained the importance of the academy to me, as well as some of the artifacts we saw as we walked around the place. It was a really fascinating insight into the history of this corner of China.

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After our visit, we then went to Hekou to visit the historic district there. Hekou, historically, had served as a distribution center for the surrounding eight province. The remnants of Ming- and Qing-style architecture still predominate along the waterfront. Unlike in many other places, these structures are original and in disrepair. They are in much better condition than those at Shitang, but they haven’t been rebuilt or torn down to the degree that has occurred in many other places in China. It was really nice to see these structures and to walk around the area.

After our visit there we went back to Jun’s mom’s house for the housewarming party. It was a wild night. Jun’s mom hugged me for the first time and I felt welcomed into her house without any qualms. At midnight, there were firecrackers and fireworks, as well as a ceremonial pyre for the family to walk over the threshold of the house. It was really neat to witness these traditional customs.

Soon, however, it was time for bed.

Day 3

Our last full day in Yongping was a relaxing one. In the morning, Jun and I had breakfast and then took a walk around the area. We got to see some really neat old buildings and beautiful pastoral scenes.

After our walk we had another celebratory lunch with family and friends. It was another wonderful meal.

For the rest of the afternoon, Jun, his cousin, and I went berry picking. It was fun trying to find wild berries. It was like a natural puzzle. It was also just great to be out in nature. I was proud of myself for finding a few of the berries. When we got back we washed our little berries and ate them.

For dinner that night the other family members in the house had their house warming dinner. So we ended up enjoying another big meal. After dinner, we went into the town to do some shopping for things we would need on the train ride back to Shenzhen. After we had bought some items, we went to the tea house to have some final snacks local to Yongping.

When we were finished we went back to the house and got ready for the firecrackers and fireworks at midnight.

Day 4

We got up early to ensure we would arrive at the Shangrao train station on time. Everything went smoothly, and we were soon on the high-speed train back to Shenzhen.

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The time in Yongping had been wonderful. While we were always busy, it also recharged me. Being in a quiet area with wonderful people was a great way to spend a few days.

Spring Festival with Family

Lunar New Year arrived at the beginning of February. After discussing possibilities, Jun voiced his desire to return to Dexing to spend the holiday with his dad and stepmom. Since it had been awhile since we visited, we thought it was a great time to go there.

By the time we had come to that decision, the options to getting to Dexing during the holiday became limited and expensive. It ended up that to get there we would have to fly from the airport in the city next to Shenzhen and then take a shared car to Jun’s hometown.

Day 1

The start of our holiday began on a Friday when we had to take the bus from Shenzhen to Huizhou. Since we had an early flight the next morning, we decided to go the day before and spend the night there. Once we settled into our hotel, it was time for dinner. Jun and I ended up going to a nice Cantonese restaurant that overlooked Huizhou’s West Lake. After dinner we decided to take a stroll around the lake. As it was the holiday we discovered that there was a free lantern festival going on around the lake. We decided to see what it was like. It was quite impressive. And the abundance of people who were there with us thought so too.

Once we had walked around the lantern festival, we headed back to the hotel and called it an early night so we could wake up early for our flight.

Day 2

We woke up early the next morning and took a taxi to the airport. We got there just as the check-in counters for our flight opened and we were soon in the waiting area for our flight. The airport was tiny and everything went quickly. We were soon in the air to Shangrao in Jiangxi Province. We actually got there almost an hour early. Jun’s stepmom had found a shared car for us to take to Dexing, but it wasn’t supposed to leave for another hour. Jun and I ended up spending that hour in the airport. Once the car arrived we were soon on our way to Dexing.

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Once we arrived we met with Jun’s stepmom who made us lunch; we then went and took a nap. Later that day we walked around the city a bit before having dinner with Jun’s family. After dinner we went for a walk around the city and then called it an early night.

Day 3

The time spent in Dexing was mainly a time to relax and for Jun to spend time with his family. I took the time to relax and catch up on my reading. We would go for walks around the city and try different foods there. As I was reading Leah Franqui’s America For Beginners, I began to crave Indian food. Jun “kindly” told me that I was out of luck in Dexing and would have to wait until we got back to Shenzhen.

On this day we took a trip to Phoenix Lake. It was a nice walk around the area and a great place to enjoy the warm weather. After spending a few hours there we went back to have dinner—typical Jiangxi cuisine—and a relaxing evening.

Day 4

New Year’s Eve! Today was spent mainly in preparation for the holiday. Jun and I put up the Chun Lian in front of the door to express the family’s good wishes for the new year. Afterwards we just ate and relaxed for the day.

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In the evening we had a wonderful meal and spent a nice time enjoying being together.

Day 5

A rainy day in Dexing, as well as our last one. Jun and I just spent the day inside. After dinner Jun, his dad, stepmom, a friend of Jun’s dad, and I went up to Juyuan Tower. After the rain it was magically foggy. The area around the tower felt separated from the rest of the world and it was fun to be there.

After going around the tower and enjoying the views from there we went back and called it a night.

Day 6

It was our last day in Dexing. Jun and I had decided to spend the second part of the holiday in southeastern Anhui to explore some villages there and to go up Huangshan. We first had to take a bus from the city to the Dexing train station, which wasn’t actually in the city itself. It really wasn’t even on the outskirts of the city either. It felt as if it was in the middle of nowhere. When we go there we arrived in time to take the high-speed train to Huangshan city. From there we had to take a bus to get to Hongcun.

When we got there we quickly got our tickets to get into the village and then went straight to our hotel.

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Hongcun is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s considered to be a fine example of village architecture from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The village is arranged in the shape of an ox if you look at it from an aerial view. The village was even used in scenes from the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

We spent the day going around the village and enjoying the environment. Late in the afternoon we took a walk towards another village—Lucun—that was smaller than Hongcun but equally interesting. There were some beautiful areas of this village.

Once we had returned to Hongcun, Jun and I went in search of dinner and had some noodles at a small restaurant next to Moon Pond.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 7

On this day we went to another UNESCO village: Xidi. Xidi is smaller than Hongcun. Established in the Song Dynasty, Xidi as a site is managed by the village itself. As such it is much less commercialized than Hongcun, which we were told was managed by a Beijing company. Jun and I agreed that while Hongcun was nice, Xidi felt more authentic. When we got there we first went to a wonderful family owned restaurant that had some really nice food. Once we were full we went and journeyed around the village.

There were different houses and temples to explore, as well as farm fields to enjoy. In the late afternoon we found a nice café to have some hot chocolate and waffle cakes and relaxed.

Soon our time in Xidi came to an end and we went back to Hongcun for the night. The next day Jun and I had to get up early for our trip to Huangshan. Before calling it a day we went to this nice restaurant—Guanlaotai—where I finally got to try stinky tofu. I ended up enjoying it a lot.

Day 8

The day we went up to Huangshan. It started at 4:00 in the morning so we could get to the entrance gate of the mountain at 6:00 when it opened. It was an early start; we did avoid having to wait in standstill lines. We still had to wait in lines, but they were constantly moving so it didn’t feel as if we weren’t getting anywhere.

Huangshan is another UNESCO site. Huangshan—Yellow Mountains—are well known in China. They are famous throughout the country for their natural beauty. Many renowned Chinese paintings and texts have been inspired from these mountains.

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Unfortunately, when we arrived it was a terribly foggy day. Our ability to enjoy the natural beauty was limited by the visibility afforded to us through the fog. Still, the fog added an ethereal feel to the place and we were able to experience parts of the different areas of Huangshan to ourselves. There were occasional moments when we got to see some beautiful sights as the clouds moved around the mountain peaks.

By early afternoon Jun and I were ready to go back to Hongcun and just relax for the remainder of the day. We spent a wonderful time at Zenlotus; we had some nice green tea and an amazing chocolate waffle with cream for afternoon tea.

The rest of the day we went around and did some shopping and just enjoyed being together.

Day 9

The last day of the trip. Our flight to Shenzhen didn’t leave until 11:00 in the evening, so we had an entire day to get to the airport in Huangshan city.

Since we had an early morning the previous day, we decided to have a late morning on this day. When we finally were ready to start the day it was near noon. We first went for a hike around Leigang Mountain at the northernmost part of the village before having lunch at a really nice restaurant near Chengzhi Hall.

After lunch we went for a long, winding walk back to the hotel to collect our luggage before heading to catch the bus to Huangshan city.

The bus ride was uneventful and we were soon in the Tunxi District of Huangshan. We decided that we would go to see Laojie before heading to the airport. The old street itself was quite interesting with different types of stores that sold different snack foods, handicrafts, and jewelry. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

By early evening we had dinner at a dumpling restaurant. Then we took a taxi to the airport. We had to wait a few hours to check-in for our flight. And even when we did our flight was delayed a bit. We finally arrived back at our apartment in Shenzhen at 3:00 in the morning. And a few, short hours later I went back to work exhausted and ready for another vacation!

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Overall, it was a great time getting to spend time with Jun’s family in Dexing and to explore a new part of China that I hadn’t been to before. It was a rather successful holiday! And I did end up having Indian food the following Saturday.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!