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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 CouchSurfing.com 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!

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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.

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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!

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Mid-Autumn Festival in Huangyao

After an exhausting summer where I had to work overtime more times than desired, I was able to wheedle out of my boss a Friday off for the Mid-Autumn Festival. As a result I ended up with a nice four day weekend. Jun and I decided to leave Guangzhou and go to a village in Guangxi province: Huangyao.

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While not necessarily the most exciting of places in China, it was perhaps one of the most relaxing and picturesque places I’ve been to in China. To get there we took the train from Guangzhou to Hezhou—the nearest city with a train stop to the village. From Hezhou we took a bus that went through the countryside to get to the village. It was quite pretty to drive through the mountains.

When we got to the village it was already late in the afternoon. We walked along the main road next to the village and went to find our hotel. The hotel we stayed in was originally an old village house. It had a rustic feel to it and was quite cozy. After cleaning up and settling in, we went for a walk around the village to find some food. We found this nice little restaurant on the main street that served some of the local delicacies. It was a simple and delicious meal.

After dinner we walked a little and found a theater that was having a performance for the Mid-Autumn Festival. They had light displays on the outside and performers in the courtyard dancing and playing music. Children were weaving around their parents as they were trying to see the performers. It was festive and fun. We walked a little ways off from the theater and enjoyed the night sky and the stars—something we rarely see in Guangzhou. As it was getting late we went back to the hotel and went back to bed.

The next day we woke up late and leisurely went to find breakfast. We decided to have some noodles at an open-air restaurant next the central area. Afterwards we went to explore the village more fully. To be honest there wasn’t any one amazing or extraordinary building or area we had to see. The beauty of the village is that as a whole it had a magical feel to it. The buildings are the same buildings that have been there in centuries past. The people can trace their lineage back generations. The whole in this instance was much greater than the parts, and it is what made Huangyao special.

The day was just wandering around the village and finding interesting areas, nooks, and crannies to explore. Along the way we would stop and enjoy the local cuisine. In the afternoon we took a boat cruise around the village and a little ways into the countryside. It was a relaxing and peaceful way to spend our time together. That night after dinner we went and joined the festivities. People were letting lanterns loose into the night sky. It was a clear night so we were able to see the lanterns fly into the sky as the full moon watched them ascend into the heavens. It was wonderful and enchanting to watch.

The next day we spent the morning relaxing in the village and then got ready to head back to Hezhou. We had planned on doing something in Hezhou, but we ended up getting lost and decided to just head back to the train station. In the end it was nicer not having to rush around Hezhou and to just sit and relax.

Overall the trip was relaxing and nice break from life in Guangzhou.

Recharging in Hong Kong

My boss took pity on me and granted me a few days leave. You have to understand that I had been covering classes all through the summer—well for most of the year really. And I had been getting a lot of overtime, but by the end of the summer I wanted some days off. My boss graciously agreed. At that point I didn’t really want to go anywhere far, so I decided to take a few days to relax in Hong Kong.

I arrived in Hong Kong via Shenzhen and took the MTR down to Hong Kong Island slowly. I first stopped at a temple, Fung Ying Seen Koon in the northern part of the New Territories. It was a beautiful temple and had a very Hong Kong feel to it. Temples in Hong Kong tend to be brighter and in colors of red, orange, and yellow when compared to other buildings in Guangdong.

From there I went to Che Kung Temple for a quick stop. It’s surrounded by a red wall and in the middle is a hall with a giant statue inside. It was a nice temple, but it was just a quick stop on my way to the Sam Tung Uk Museum. The Hong Kong government has restored this traditional house as a free museum and historic reminder of Hong Kong’s heritage. It’s beautifully maintained and was interesting to see different aspects of Hong Kong’s rich cultural heritage.

Afterwards I went to Hong Kong Island and checked in my hotel. After freshening up a bit I walked down to the waterfront near the convention and exhibition center and enjoyed the sunset. I then grabbed a quick bite for dinner and headed back to the hotel for the night.

The next day I went to Lantau Island. I first went to Tung Chung to take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car to see the Tian Tan Buddha and visit Po Lin Monastery. The last time I was here was in 2007, and it was nice to see the subtle changes here. The vegetation around the Buddha is more robust and the monastery was beautifully maintained.

This time I did venture out a bit and went for a walk on one of the nature trails. I stumbled across the Wisdom Path, which is a representation of the Heart Sutra. It was quite impressive. And from there you could see all the way down the mountain to the water. After deciding to head back to the main area, I ran across a strange mosaic bird on the path. When I got back to the main area I had lunch and then sought out the bus that would take me to Tai O fishing village.

Tai O is a traditional Hong Kong village. Many of the buildings are built on top of stilts that go into the water to make it easier for fisherman to go out for the day. It was fun walking through the narrow alleys that meander through the houses, to cross bridges, and to see daily life. It was a neat excursion and was thoroughly enjoyable.

By the late afternoon I decided to venture back to Hong Kong Island and see the sunset at Kennedy Town. It was equally beautiful as the one the prior day. As it was getting late I went back to the hotel for the night.

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My last day I went to Sai Kun and to the Museum of Coastal Defense. I normally wouldn’t visit a military themed museum, but on the TV the first night I discovered that a lot of the museums in Hong Kong were now free to the public. As I had never visited this museum, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I first took the MTR to North Point where one of Hong Kong’s visual art areas, called Oi!, was located. It’s claimed to be a unique place to take photos in Hong Kong. It was an interesting place and indeed I did capture a couple of nice shots.

When I was done there I went straight to the museum. It was more interesting than I thought it was going to be. It’s built on the remains of an actual fort—Lei Yue Mun—and a lot of the structures that made up the fort are still standing. There’s also a nicely done exhibition area that has many sections related to the history of defense in Hong Kong. It was quite a nice surprise.

From the museum I walked along the promenade to explore the neighborhood a bit. It was much quieter than some other areas of Hong Kong. When I got to the MTR station I decided I should do some shopping in Sha Tin for things I couldn’t find back in Guangzhou before I went home. After having completed my shopping and walked around the area I went back to the border and took the train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou.

The few days I had in Hong Kong was a nice diversion from work. Unfortunately, the next day I had to go back to work and continue covering classes.

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Baishui Fairy Waterfall

The Dragon Boat Festival this year gave Jun and I an opportunity to spend the rare day off together. We decided to go to a waterfall in northeastern Guangzhou for the day to see it. Our friends Brianne and Walt also decided to go with us, which made the trip even more fun.

The waterfall we went to is known as Baishui Fairy Waterfall. There is an associated nature park that goes with it, which makes it a nice day trip from the city part of Guangzhou. When we got there we were struck by how green everything looked and how clean and clear the water was. Since it’s been raining here a lot, the water from the waterfall winded down the mountain at a rapid pace.

At the base of the park is a sort of fairy land where rocks and artificial trees are painted in whimsical scenes. They change the theme of the rocks and trees every now and then because right now they are painted with a Zootopia theme. The children really enjoyed it. To be honest I really enjoyed it too!

The start of the walk goes along a wooden plank path. It was rustic and quaint walking on the older planks. The walk up to the source lake at the top of the mountain requires climbing 4,999 steps. At around 2,000 steps you get to the last viewing platform to see the waterfall. We got to around 2,299 steps before we decided to go back down the waterfall. Everyone told us that it wasn’t that interesting up at the top.

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I’m glad we didn’t go all the way up because we ended up having a nice lunch at the entrance to the park and talked until we went back to the city center of Guangzhou. For a hard to reach waterfall park, it was definitely worth the effort to see it and experience a greener side to Guangzhou.

Traversing Taipei

I was recently offered a job in Taipei, Taiwan, that would start later this year. It’s a wonderful opportunity and could do wonders for my career. I’ve been a little hesitant about accepting this job for a number of reasons. One of which was I had never been to Taiwan; I was unsure what it would be like to live there and if I would like it. Having lived in China for almost three years now, I know that it can be daunting and taxing to live on the Mainland. While I know Taiwan is different to the Mainland, I needed to know that information first hand. Which led me to spending a few days in Taipei for me to get an idea of the city and whether I could live there.

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Day 1

My first day in Taipei was just getting accustomed to the city and settling in at the hotel. The first thing I noticed about Taiwan was how organized things were on the small scale. Things like people lining up was a nice change from chaotic blobs. I also noticed as I was walking from the metro to the hotel that I didn’t hear any cars honking. It was nice to not be surrounded by obnoxious and loud noises.

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Since I arrived late in the afternoon I thought a nice hike up Xiangshan to see the city sounded relaxing. The hike around Xiangshan was nice. The views up there were amazing, and you could see all around the city. Since it was near sunset, the lighting of the city was beautiful. It was a nice start to the trip.

Day 2

The next day I ventured first to see Longshan Temple. Settlers from Fujian province built the temple in 1738. Since that time it has served as a place of worship and a gathering place for locals. It was a beautiful temple and was well maintained.

Afterwards I went and explored some of the more traditional parts of the city. One of which was the Bopiliao Historical Block. This block houses some of the oldest buildings in the city; they have been converted into an artistic area. There were a number of modern art exhibitions in these buildings. It was a neat area.

North of it I visited the Redhouse, a historic building built by the Japanese in 1908. Continuing my walk I went and saw another interesting temple: Qingshan Temple. Unlike many other temples I’ve visited. This one was built up instead of out. It was quite interesting to see the different shrines on the different floors. This temple—like many of the other temples in Taipei—was colorful, bright, and had ornate decorations. They were a bit different to the temples in Guangzhou, which tend to be darker in color.

Late in the afternoon I went to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. This complex was built to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China who ushered the move of the government from the Mainland to Taiwan. This place was huge and was amazing. I watched the changing of the guards and visited the different parts of the park. While most of it was somber and dignified, there were little whimsical parts to it as well, such as the reindeer sculpture.

Later I went to the 2/28 Peace Memorial Park and the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei is much more modern than the one in Guangzhou. The one in Guangzhou is architecturally more traditional in style, whereas the one in Taipei seems to be a combination of modern international with traditional Chinese. I ended the day with some shopping and having dinner at Taipei 101.

Day 3

I woke up and looked out the window to see that it was raining. Museum day I decided. I had planned on going to the National Palace Museum during my trip, but wasn’t sure when I would go. The weather helped me make that decision.

The National Palace Museum traces its founding to the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Due to internal and external conflicts, much of the collection found its way to Taiwan. The collection encompasses over 10,000 years of Chinese history, the majority of it collected by the emperors of China. The museum indeed has an impressive collection and it was interesting to see the different aspects of Chinese culture throughout time. One of the exhibits I found interesting was one which combined traditional art with modern technology. It really showcased how technology can give a different perspective to art. It was neat to interact with art that way.

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Once I was done inside the building I was relieved to see the rain had start to diminish. I went to Zhishan Garden next to the museum and walked around it. It was quite peaceful and relaxing after all the people inside the museum.

Since the rain stopped I decided to go to Tamsui, a sea-side town in New Taipei. There were a number of interesting things to see there. The former British consular residence next to Fort San Domingo was intriguing. It overlooked the river and gave a glimpse into how Europeans lived in Taiwan in the nineteenth century.

Further north of this area was Hobe Fort. This was a cool find. I saw a sign that pointed to it but didn’t think much of it. I was tempted to skip it and go back to the main town. I decided since I was there I may as well see what it was like. I’m glad I did. This fort was nicely preserved. It was built at the end of the Qing Dynasty to protect northern Taiwan. While it was never used for that purpose due to the changing political scene in China, the fort was able to be preserved over time.

Next to the fort was New Taipei Martyrs’ Shrine. Like Hobe Fort, this was also a nice find. It was quiet and serene. I was the only one there and it was nice to walk around and see the shrine in peace. Both the shrine and the fort were my favorite parts of my visit to Tamsui.

Day 4

On my third day in Taipei I decided to go to Yingge. A community in southern New Taipei known for its ceramics. Yingge was a cool little place that had streets lined with palm trees and a lot of neat galleries with different types of ceramics. After seeing what different types of ceramics they had I went to the Ceramics Museum. This museum was nicely organized with some neat exhibits about the history of the ceramics in Yingge. It was really nicely done.

Before leaving Yingge I decided to go and walk around one of the parks there. Yingge means Warbler Song; the town received its name from a rock that sort of looks like a warbler. The rock has had many legends associated with it. It was a nice walk to see it before heading back into Taipei.

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That afternoon I did some shopping and went to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. This area used to be a tobacco factory, but has since been turned into a cultural area with different cultural and creative exhibits. It reminded me of Redtory in Guangzhou.

Day 5

On my last full day in Taipei I decided to go to Yangmingshan National Park. This park is north of Taipei and is huge. It’s also beautiful. I took the Mt. Qixing trail and went up to Qixing Park and to the peak of Mt. Qixing. To accomplish all that required the climbing of a lot of stairs. When I mean a lot of stairs I mean I overexerted myself and strained my left leg. It was worth it though. The area around the peak of the mountain was amazing. When I got close to the peak I started to see butterflies. There were so many butterflies up there. I had never seen that many butterflies fluttering around outside of a butterfly preserve. It was truly dreamlike walking around the tall grass, the wind blowing, and the butterflies flying all around. It was truly magical.

Later that day I went to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Taipei. This shrine was much bigger than the one in New Taipei. Both were quite unique and special. The Shrine was beautiful and it was a nice way to end the day.

Day 6

I left Taipei on my sixth day. My flight was delayed, but I eventually made it back to Guangzhou. It was an enjoyable trip. I learned a lot about Taipei and liked what I saw. While this was my first impression of the city, it did give me a positive outlook on it. Now to make the decision of whether to move there.

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Hanoi Discoveries

At the end of April, Jun and I went to Hanoi, Vietnam. We had heard a lot of great things about the city, from the architecture to the food. What we experienced did not do justice to what we read and heard about the city. Hanoi is an old city with a lot of character to it. There are the beautiful colonial and Vietnamese architecture, there is the fusion of Eastern and Western food, and then there are the people. Vietnamese people are some of the nicest and kindest people I have met in a long time. As a result, our stay was quite memorable and special.

Day 1

Our hotel, the Legacy Old Quarter Hotel, was located in the Old Quarter of the city. This part of the city is its heart. There are a lot of winding streets and alleys that you can get lost in and find some pretty neat things. The first thing we noticed when we got to the hotel was how nice and helpful everyone was. The manager of our hotel greeted us and gave us some advice on things to see and things to avoid. He was genuinely concerned about our stay and wanted us to enjoy it. That was great.

After we had settled in, we ventured out to explore the Old Quarter. We walked around the city and discovered that we could get our hair cut on the street. Both of us hadn’t cut our hair in quite some time and we decided to give it a try. It turned out well for both of us.

On our walk that day we went to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. There’s a legend on the lake that a famous warrior king returned his sword to the lake. Hoàn Kiếm means “returned sword.” Legend describes the gods giving King Le Loi a magical sword to drive out the invading Chinese. Afterwards while he was on the lake he met a giant turtle. The turtle snatched the sword and took it down to the depths of the lake, thus returning the sword to the gods. There is a building on the lake called Tháp Rùa Tower, or Turtle Tower, where legend says the event occurred.

Day 2

The next day we went exploring some of the more cultural parts of the city. We first went to the Temple of Literature, a famous structure dedicated to Confucius. The temple also houses the Imperial Academy, which was Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070. The complex was beautiful and quite peaceful. One thing that struck me was how Chinese some of the architecture look, typical of East Asian, traditional architecture, but that the Vietnamese style of this architecture added some complexity to the structures we saw. It was an interesting and beautiful interpretation.

After the Temple of Literature, we walked to the area dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. We first went to the One Pillar Pavilion and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. The most interesting thing we found at the museum was outside it. There was a vendor selling sandals made out of tired. Apparently during the war, soldiers would wear sandals made from these tires to traverse the terrain of Vietnam. They were really neat.

After the Museum we walked around the Ba Đình Square where the mausoleum to Ho Chi Minh is located. After experiencing the square we decided to walk to the West Lake. As we were walking we passed by the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Museum. It was a gorgeous building and a nice example of the French colonial style of architecture.

When we got to West Lake, we decided to get some lunch. One of the neatest things about Vietnam is the street food. Practically every corner of the Old Quarter you can find people eating on the street. We found a place that looked good and decided to eat lunch there. The food was quite good and we enjoyed our meal.

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Afterward we went to Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The pagoda is on a small island. It had a beautiful pagoda with a number of Buddha statues that went around it. The gardens at this temple were beautifully kept and it was a nice sight. When we finished our time here we continued our walk around the lake and found a smaller temple, Đình Làng Yên Phụ, that faced the bigger temple. This one was more for locals and when we went we could see that the gardens here were used by the local residence for their personal use. It was a nice juxtaposition to see how temples were used in the city. Hanoi has a lot of temples that are in different neighborhoods in the city.

Day 3

On the third day of our trip we decided to take a tour of the countryside. We first went to the ancient capital Hoa Lư. In the late 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lư was the capital, as well as the economic, political and cultural center, of Đại Cồ Việt. The local warlord Đinh Bộ Lĩnh founded this independent kingdom in 968 AD after many years of civil war and rebellion against the southern Chinese.

The area was nice and we got to see the temples dedicated to the first two emperors of the Vietnamese Kingdom. The surround landscape was beautiful.

After having explored the capital, we went to the village of Van Lam where we first had lunch and then went on a boat cruise along the Ngô Đồng River to see the Tam Cốc, or three caves, section of the river. The boat cruise was amazing. Our boat was steered by a woman who used her feet to paddle the boat down the river. The landscape surrounding the river was beautiful. There were mountains that surrounded both sides of the river and rice paddies along the banks of the river. While going down the river, we went through three caves. It was really cool to see the mountains from a distance and then to pass under them. Jun and I really enjoyed the boat ride and thought it really fun.

When we returned to land, Jun went bike riding with the rest of our tour and I walked around some of the rice fields. It was nice to have some time to myself and enjoy the landscape. This part of Vietnam was really beautiful.

Day 4

On this day we decided to go to the Citadel of the city. This is where the old Imperial Palace stood. The palace itself was destroyed by the French, but remnants of it still exist. The north and south gates of the Citadel are still present and these were the first two things we saw. As we walked into the Citadel we noticed that there were a lot of more modern buildings inside it. These buildings were used by the military during the war. In one of the buildings we found a bunker {name of bunker} that was designed to be used during bomb raids on Hanoi. It was both interesting and creepy to visit them.

Afterwards we went and had lunch in the Old Quarter. When we left the restaurant we saw a woman carrying her baskets up the street. One of the sights that you can see in Hanoi are women carrying two baskets connected by a long stick. These baskets can have a number of things of them: fruits, vegetables, breads, and lot of other things. It’s one of the more unique things of Hanoi that make it an interesting place.

Our next destination was Hỏa Lò Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. During the colonial period the prison was used by the French to inter revolutionaries and enemies of the colonial government. After independence, the Vietnamese used the prison to house prisoners of wars. It was humbling to learn about its history and to see the different cell blocks.

To cap this day we went to see a movie at one of the shopping complexes in Hanoi. We were able to see Captain America: Civil War in 4D. This type of experience was new to me. In addition to 3D visual effects, we were able to experience movement and smells as well. I’m not quite sure if it added anything dramatic to the movie, but we were still able to enjoy the movie.

Day 5

Our last full day in Hanoi, and we wanted to have a relaxing one. We decided to go to Long Biên Bridge in the morning. The bridge is famous being scary. It was built by the French and was designed for a time different from now. Before we got to the bridge we had to go through the Old Quarter. We first past the remnants of the old City Gate and then the more modern Hanoi Mosaic Mural. The mural was quite cool. It’s long and broken into different sections with a different theme and style. The art lover in me really enjoyed seeing it.

Once passing these two places we found the bridge. At first we weren’t sure how to get onto the bridge until we found the train station. Once we did we were able to walk from the station along the side of the bridge. There are concrete slabs that are placed on side bars that serve as a walking platform. Some of them were loose and some were crumbling. It was a little terrifying to walk along the bridge, but we decided to see how far we would be able to go. In the end we were able to see a different side of the city. The bridge crosses the Red River. The area around the river is still used as farmland. And it was quite dramatic to move from city to countryside quickly. On the other side of the bridge the city starts again. So this area was a distinct part of the city, but yet still separate from it. After exploring this area, we headed back and I was quite relieved.

After that we went to explore some of the smaller temples in Hanoi. These were beautiful because of their simplicity and use. The first temple we went we were able to listen to a woman singing a chant. It was quite peaceful. The other temple was slightly bigger, but it was equally beautiful and calming.

One of the things I wanted to do in Hanoi was to go to see a water puppet show. It’s such an amazing piece of folk culture. Puppets are used to tell stories about legends and ordinary people, but the puppets are on and in water. I’m not quite sure how they do it, but the show was fun and amazing. Jun and I really enjoyed it; we were glad we went to the puppet show.

The last thing we did in Hanoi before we left was to go to the night market. The market goes across a large area of the Old Quarter and you can buy and eat a lot of things here. It was a nice was to end our trip.

The next day saw us leave Hanoi and go back to Guangzhou. We both had a great time in Hanoi and hope that we will get to go back to this wonderful city one day.