A Bangkok Birthday

To celebrate Jun’s birthday, we ventured to Bangkok for a long weekend. We started our trip by heading to the airport for our flight in the evening. Everything at the airport went smoothly and we were soon on our way to Bangkok.

Immigration went quickly and our taxi quickly got us to the hotel—Lebua at State Tower. Soon Jun and I were up in our wonderful room. We showered and soon were in bed for a restful sleep.

Day 1

After having a restful sleep, Jun and I ventured from the hotel to take a water taxi to visit the Grand Palace. The late morning on the Chao Phraya was beautiful. There was an eclectic mix of historic and modern buildings, with temples interspersed between these buildings. With the wind blowing it was a great way to start our exploration of the city.

When we alighted at Tha Chang Pier we soon found our way meandering through the queue to the entrance of the palace.

Once inside Jun and I were amazed at the beauty of Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram. The temple on the grounds was magnificent. While everything inside it was of an impressive scale, what caught my interest was the minute attention given to the smallest of details. Because the smallest components build up to a larger whole, it created a unified design at different levels. It was quite impressive.

From the temple area we went and walked around the rest of the palace. By then it was a bit after noon and the sun was becoming intense. We took refuge in one of the museums of the grounds. Afterwards, we decided to go find a place for lunch.

We walked south of the Grand Palace to find a restaurant called The Sixth that had good reviews. When we got there, however, it was full and there would be a wait. Next to it, though, was a new restaurant—All Meals Sawasdee—that looked interesting. We took a look at the menu and decided we would try it. The food was amazing. We particularly enjoyed the simple, delicious dish of morning glories. The preparation of these vegetables left such an impression that for almost every meal we had in Bangkok we ended up ordering morning glories.

After lunch we took the ferry from Tha Tien across the river to Wat Arun. When we got to the other side of the river we walked around the area and saw that the local school was having a service at one of the temples. We saw the children with lotus flowers in their hands as they listened to the monks. The children were sweet during the entire ceremony. Jun and I worked to be inconspicuous as we went around the temple.

The area around Wat Arun had a certain romantic feel to it. The decorations on the temples were in pastel colors and used a flower-based motif. We saw a clear distinction between Wat Arun and other temples we had seen in the region.

One of the neat things about Wat Arun was the symmetry of the structure. It created a lot of opportunities to take interesting pictures.

After having visited Wat Arun, we took the ferry back across the river to Rattanakosin. It was now mid-afternoon, Jun and I decided to escape the heat and go to one of the shopping centers in Bangkok to get out of the sun and do some shopping.

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We had an argument about how to get there, but eventually we settled on the means on how to get there. When we arrived, the air conditioning was much welcomed. The main thing we wanted to get was the Swatch Destination Watch for Bangkok. After finding the store, we were soon in possession of a new watch to add to our collection.

We walked around for a bit, but then decided to go back to the hotel to rest.

Once we had rested it was near time for dinner and we ended up at a really nice neighborhood restaurant called ZabBangLove. The place was cozy and had wonderful food. The staff were really friendly. We ended up having another great meal.

We went back to the hotel after dinner. I got ready for bed while Jun got ready to go to the airport to pick up his cousin, who was joining us on the trip to celebrate his birthday.

Day 2

Jun arrived back before 3:00 in the morning and soon went to bed. He slept in a bit while I did some photo editing in the living room until he decided to wake up.

When he did, we waited for his cousin to get up before we went out around 11:00 for a walk and to find a place to eat. As we were walking we decided to go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Jun ordered a Grab car and we were soon on our way to the market.

The first thing we did there was to find a place to eat. We had a decent meal, but it wasn’t anything special. The snacks and drinks we bought at the market, however, were quite nice.

The market is huge! It covers roughly 35-acres and has over 8,000 vendors roughly broken into different sections. It was easy to get lost in the different things you could buy there. I particularly enjoyed the art section. We ended up buying a small watercolor from this really nice artist: Supachai Charoenjiti.

After having spent a few hours there we decided to walk around the park a bit and make plans for what we wanted to do. Jun’s cousin preferred to do some shopping, so we went back to Siam using the Skytrain. When we arrived there we went around for a bit, but noticed prices were comparable to China and there wasn’t much worth in buying anything that you could get back in China.

At that point we decided to go try afternoon tea. After some research we decided to go to Cher Cheeva at Iconsiam. We took the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin. From there we originally had planned on walking to Iconsiam, but as we exited the station we saw that there was a free ferry to take people from the station across the river to Iconsiam. We waited for a bit and soon were on our way across the river.

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When we got there we spent some time trying to find the place and found one venue of the establishment. The sweets and tea were amazing. It was a nice way to pass the late afternoon.

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After enjoying our afternoon we soon started to make plans for Jun’s birthday dinner. He decided we should go to ASIATIQUE The Riverfront. We soon took the ferry back and walked down to ASIATIQUE. When we got there we did a walk around to see which restaurant Jun wanted to dine in. He chose a lovely Thai restaurant by the river called Baan Khanitha. The food was delicious and the service wonderful. It was, indeed, a nice meal for Jun’s birthday.

Afterwards, when we got back to the hotel, Jun received a surprise! The staff at the hotel had provided a complimentary cake to celebrate his birthday. I had a few months prior enquired about purchasing a birthday cake for Jun, the staff at the hotel informed me that would be unnecessary because they were happy to provide a complimentary cake. We appreciated such a wonderful gesture.

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Soon we lit the candles, sang “Happy Birthday,” and Jun made his birthday wish and blew out the candles. The cake itself was delicious. It was a great way to end the day.

Day 3

Throughout the previous day, Jun had been in contact with Jamming Thailand about setting up a tour to visit Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Historical Park in Ayutthaya; we needed it to be flexible to allow Jun’s cousin to get to the airport by 4:30 in the afternoon. The tour agent who contacted Jun was great and helped us set up a private van for the day. It would take us to the sites we wanted to visit, as well as go to the airport and back to our hotel.

Our day started with us meeting at the elevator. As Jun’s cousin explained on the elevator ride down, the hotel had accidently sent her a box of chocolates to her room. When she tried to clarify the mistake with the hotel, the hotel staff said that she could keep it since it was their mistake.

She was showing us the box as we went to see if our driver had arrived. He had and we soon were introducing ourselves and got in the van for a day of exploration. To start our trip, Jun’s cousin gave everyone a chocolate to start our journey. Our driver was a little surprised at the chocolate but smiled as he took his piece.

The journey north of Bangkok went smoothly. We were soon at our first stop: Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. Thai kings had formerly used the complex as their summer palace, but as of now been repurposed as a cultural site and museum. The grounds of the palace are beautiful and the structures eclectic. Most of the buildings are based on the architectural style of 19th century Europe. There are a few other buildings in an Asian style, but most of the buildings have a very distinct European look. The most striking of these buildings is the Ho Withun Thasana (Sages’ Lookout). The tower reminded me of Rapunzel; the colors and shape of the tower created for a fairy tale look.

Our walk around the palace was nice, but we soon were ready to go to our next stop.

From Bang Pa-In we drove north to Ayutthaya. Our first stop was at Wat Thammikarat. It’s a working wat with a large chedi on the grounds. It was quite impressive and a nice start on our visit to the different sites at the historical park.

After visiting Wat Thammikarat, we went to Wat Phra Si Sanphet. The temple had been built on the grounds of the royal palace complex; the temple is where the majority of the intact ruins remain of the entire palace complex. The wat is known for a row of restored chedis near the center of the grounds. It was really neat to see the different structures.

Across the street was Wat Phra Ram. This site consisted of an enormous prang surrounded by chedis. King Ramesuan ordered the construction of this temple on the site where his father—King U-Thong—had his royal cremation ceremony.

From there we then went to our last temple in Ayutthaya: Wat Phra Mahatat. The temple grounds are fairly large. A number of the prangs are leaning and look like they could collapse to the ground at any second. The temple also have a number of headless Buddha statutes, as well as a Buddha head with a tree growing around it.

From there we went and had lunch at Krua Vietnam before heading back to Bangkok to drop Jun’s cousin at the airport and for us to go back to the hotel. By the time we had arrived at the hotel it was around 5:00. Jun and I went to rest for a bit before going to Chinatown for dinner.

When we got to Chinatown we chose a seafood restaurant that was fairly good and tried a number of dishes. Afterwards, we saw a long line of people waiting at a snack trolley on the street. Apparently they were selling youtiaos with a pandan-coconut sauce. We decided we would wait and try it. The youtiaos were okay, but the sauce was amazing. It was a nice treat to end a busy day.

Day 4

Our last day in Bangkok was a bit of a lazy day. After waking up late, Jun and I decided to have an early lunch at Ruen Urai. Since we went early, and it’s a bit out of the way, on a weekday, we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. The food was amazing! It was a nice last meal to have in Bangkok.

As we were walking back to the hotel to get our things, we stopped at a Jim Thompson store and did a bit of shopping. Then we went back to the hotel.

The rest of the day was spent traveling back to Shenzhen. The normal routine of international travel went without any problems and Jun and I were soon back at our apartment in Shenzhen ready to start work the next day.

Jun said that he had a great birthday. I’m really glad because he deserves to celebrate another wonderful year. Here’s hoping for many great years ahead!

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The Temple Trek

Wanting to do something different during one of our weekends, I asked Jun if he was interested in visiting the National Forest Park of Mount Guanyin in Dongguan. He said he was and asked if we could invite his cousin to come with us. I was okay with it. We then decided that we would go visit on a Sunday morning.

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On the day of our excursion, everything was going fairly well. We woke up early and took the metro to the train station. We soon got our train tickets and were on the short ride north of Shenzhen to the town of Zhangmutou. As soon as we got off the train it started to pour. We were a bit worried that the rain would negatively affect whether we could go around the national forest. Fortunately, the rain started to lighten and we took a taxi to the entrance of the forest park.

We decided that we would be adventurous and hike up to the Guanyin Temple. To begin we had to climb up a series of stairs; from the top of the stairs we could start the winding journey around the forest towards the temple.

Along the walk we saw some cute topiaries of different animals, such as panda bears. The view from the path allowed us to see how far we would have to go to reach the temple. To get to it we had to cross different mountains as we went up towards the top.

As we were making progress on the trail, it started to rain. At first it was light, but then it got to be torrential and we were all soaked. We were lucky that we were able to find a place to shelter and wait out the rain. That would be the last of the heavy rains while we were there. As soon as the rain became a drizzle, we continued on to the temple.

After going up the steepest part of the mountain, we finally made it to the top. The view from up there was beautiful. The dissipating cloud cover allowed us to see the surrounding area. The temple complex itself was quite nice. At the center of the complex stood the Statue of Saint Guanyin, a bodhisattva of the Mahayana Buddhist School.

As we walked around the complex, we saw these colorful pigeons flying in one area of the temple grounds. It was quite a sight.

By the time we had walked around the temple, we were ready to go find something to eat besides the snacks we had brought. So we were soon on our way back to the entrance and off to eat.

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Besides the rain, it was a nice hike and we got to experience a new part of the region. Overall, a lovely place to visit.

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.

Puebloan Adventures

During our stay in Oklahoma, my mom, Jun, and I decided to take a short road trip to Colorado. After thinking about where we would like to go, we settled on visiting Durango and the surrounding area.

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Day 1

The drive to Durango from Guthrie took us between 11 to 12 hours. Fortunately, Mom and I were able to take turns driving; it wasn’t too bad getting to Durango as a result.

When we arrived, we were glad to be able to settle in our room. By that time of night, none of us wanted to venture out and find a place to eat. We asked the front desk if they could recommend a place for delivery and we ended up having this amazing pesto-based pizza from Home Slice Pizza. It was one of the best pizzas that any of us had ever tasted.

With our stomachs happy, we soon went to sleep.

Day 2

Our first full day in Durango had us driving again westwards towards Mesa Verde National Park. When I was an undergraduate, my area of concentration was in the archaeology of the North American Southwest. One of the cultures I had studied were the Ancestral Puebloans who had lived in the present-day Four Corners Region. One of the major representations of this culture exists in Mesa Verde.

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For many years since I was an undergraduate I had wanted to visit the national park, but the opportunity to do so had never occurred. While I had visited other examples of Puebloan culture, such as Taos Pueblo and Bandelier National Monument, Mesa Verde was at the top of the list. After many years, I finally had the opportunity to visit the place!

 

One of the highlights of Mesa Verde are the cliff dwellings. These were the places where the Ancestral Puebloans built their homes, fortifications, and storage complexes. Typically, they had built these structures in shallow caves or under rock overhangs along canyon walls.

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To get to the cliff dwellings required driving up a winding road to the top. My mom is adverse to heights and had me drive while we were in the park. She sat in the back of the car with her eyes closed. When we got to the top, it was much easier for her as we went around the park.

 

The rest of the morning and the early afternoon had us visiting the different areas of the park. The highlights were Spruce Tree House and Cliff Palace. It was wonderful to visit each of these places.

 

After we had seen everything we wanted, Mom, Jun, and I went back to Durango and explored the town. As we were walking we found this amazing chocolatier—Animas Chocolate & Coffee Company—that had an amazing array of coffee related drinks and snacks. I enjoyed a hot chocolate infused with chili peppers. While it definitely left a tingle on my tongue, it left me extremely satisfied. It was in many ways a nice last note for the day.

 

Day 3

We continued our explorations of Ancestral Puebloan culture by driving down to Aztec, New Mexico. We went there to visit Aztec Ruins National Monument. Another Ancestral Puebloan site, the site resembles more of the great houses of Chaco Canyon than the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. Nevertheless, they share many similar cultural traits, such as the construction of ceremonial kivas.

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Built and occupied from the 11th to 13th centuries, it was later abandoned for unknown reasons. The site, however, is still revered and occasionally used for ceremonies by the modern-day descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans. As for its unusual name, 19th century Americans had thought the Aztecs of Mexico had built the site; it has remained its official name ever since.

 

All three of us enjoyed our visit to Aztec Ruins. We were fortunate that there were only a handful of other people at the site. We comfortably meandered through the different sections. We were impressed with how it was beautifully preserved and interpreted.

 

Afterwards, we went back to Durango to first walk around Fort Lewis College to get an amazing view of the Animus River Valley. From there we went down into the town to grab lunch at the wonderful Ken and Sue’s restaurant. After our late lunch, we took a walk along the Animus River Trail. By then we were ready to relax a bit and went back to the hotel.

 

Day 4

We left early for Oklahoma to try to avoid the storm that was approaching the region. Fortunately, we did miss the rain and the snow. What we did get was a wicked strong wind all the way back to Oklahoma. We made it back to Guthrie at 9:30 that evening. All three of us were exhausted and were ready for sleep. It had been a fun trip, but now it was time to rest.

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This Oklahoman Life

Home is family. Since I married Jun I consider myself as having two homes. One in China with Jun, and one in Oklahoma with my mom and brother. After three weeks of traveling around the Americas, Jun and I were finally going to visit them. And for us to go home.

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The flight into Oklahoma City arrived early on Saturday morning. My mom was amazing and met us at the airport and took us home to Guthrie where we were all soon fast asleep.

Our time in Oklahoma was mainly one of rest, with periodic activities interspersed, during the two weeks we stayed in Oklahoma.

Episode 1

The first weekend in Oklahoma was about family. My mom had planned to have a get together of family and friends for my brother and me. It would be a celebration of my brother’s engagement and upcoming wedding and in a way of my homecoming.

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The get-together was a nice affair. Jun and I finally met my brother’s fiancé and her family. I got to see many relatives and friends that I hadn’t seen in years.  Overall, it was a lovely evening and a nice way to start our stay in Oklahoma.

Episode 2

While my mom had to work in the morning, she was free most afternoons. That allowed us the opportunity to go to different places around the state.

The first place that we visited was the Chickasaw National Recreational Area in Sulphur. The area is located in the foothills of the Arbuckle Mountains. We mainly visited the Travertine district, which had at one time been Platt National Park. The area had a number of springs and creeks. These springs and creeks then go over the slopping landscape to create small waterfalls, such as Little Niagara.

Mom, Jun, and I enjoyed walking around the Travertine area. With spring starting, some of the trees were budding and the weather was cool and crisp. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

From there we went for a quick visit to the Chickasaw Cultural Center to give Jun an introduction to one of the many Native American tribes in Oklahoma. The highlight of the center was walking around the re-creation of a traditional tribal village. Jun found it interesting and a good way to understand a bit more about what made Oklahoma special.

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Episode 3

My brother made plans with us to have dinner later in our first week there. Prior to meeting up with him, my mom decided to take us to visit Martin Park Nature Center. The last time I had been there was when I was in the second grade with my cub scouts troop. Sufficed to say I don’t remember much of that time.

Our visit to the place was quite nice. It was much bigger than I had anticipated. It was a nice walk around the different trails. Again, we got to see the budding plants and some indigenous animals like turtles and ducks play around in the afternoon sun.

Soon, however, we had to go and we were on our way to have dinner with Michael at Ted’s Café Escondido.

Episode 4

Before we left China, my brother made the request that I make some time to take pictures of him and his fiancé. He requested that we come down to Norman to take the pictures at the University of Oklahoma. I was happy to do so, and it gave us a reason to visit my undergraduate alma mater.

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The Saturday that we had decided to visit Norman had started off with a wicked thunderstorm. As we were on our way to Norman, we first stopped in Oklahoma City to have phở at Pho Lien Hoa. It was the perfect dish for a rainy day.

By the time we had finished lunch, the rain was starting to let up. When we got to Norman the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to emerge. We first went to visit Michael and Gina at their house. After catching up with them, we were soon on our way to the university.

The rest of the afternoon was walking around the main campus and taking pictures of them in different, secluded areas. It was nice spending time with them and getting to know Gina a bit more. Equally, it was just nice to show Jun where I spent four years of my life. The campus had changed a lot since I had gone to school there, but there were still the major buildings and areas that hadn’t changed as well.

Before leaving the campus, Mom suggested that as we passed Campus Corner we stop and get ice cream at the Baked Bear. It was a nice, cool treat as the weather had gotten increasingly hot in the late afternoon.

Episode 5

Near the end of our stay in Oklahoma, Mom took us to the Plaza District for lunch at Gorō Ramen. The noodles there were quite good. After lunch we went around the area and did some window shopping. There were quite a lot of interesting stores there.

One of the interesting things about the Plaza District are the murals on the buildings there. The area curated by Plaza Walls had a number of different murals in different styles that was quite impressive.

The End

The time in Oklahoma was meant as a time to spend with family and to rest before returning to China. While we did get to go to a number of places, I was simply glad to spend time with the people I loved and didn’t get to see often.

On our last day there, Mom and Michael took us to have sushi at our friends place in Oklahoma City: Park Harvey Sushi Wine & Sports Lounge. Our family friend made some wonderful artisanal sushi for us. It was the perfect meal to end our time in Oklahoma.

After lunch we took a walk around the Myriad Gardens before going to the airport.

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Our flight back to Shenzhen went smoothly. All through the flight, however, I felt a deep sadness at having to leave my family there. It’ll be quite some time before I will be able to see them again. But I’m glad Jun and I were able to spend those two weeks with them.

A Jaunt in Las Vegas

When we had started to plan our trip, everything was working out well until we had to arrange how we would get to Oklahoma. Arriving from South America late in the afternoon made it impossible to get the only direct flight to Oklahoma City from LAX. One option we had toyed around with was to take an overnight flight to Houston, and then take an early morning flight to OKC. That would have worked, but it wouldn’t have been fun. And on top of that the tickets would have been expensive and didn’t include checked luggage.

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At that point I went to the Will Rogers World Airport Wikipedia page to see what airlines flew there. That’s when I noticed Southwest Airlines. After doing some research it became possible to add a trip to Las Vegas, have checked bags, book a hotel, and still be under the price that the other airlines were offering for just going from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City with a wait of few hours at an airport. Jun and I discussed it and thought that it seemed like a good idea to essentially spend a day in Las Vegas before going to Oklahoma. It also would give Jun a chance to see a bit of Las Vegas.

Day 1

Everything worked out well. Our flight into Los Angeles arrived on time, and getting through immigration went much more quickly than the first time we had arrived at LAX. We were then on our way to checking in with Southwest and getting on our way to Las Vegas.

When we got to Las Vegas, we decided to take a taxi to the hotel, which ended up being quick but much more expensive than we had anticipated. Check-in went quickly at the hotel and we were soon in our room ready for bed.

Day 2

On our day in Las Vegas we started by going around the downtown area of the city. Then we took the bus to the Strip.

When we got to the Strip we essentially just walked around and did some shopping. Jun was looking for a new wallet, and he found one at Paul Smith. I wanted to buy the destination special watch that Swatch had for Las Vegas to add it to my collection. As soon as we completed those tasks we went and had lunch at Nacho Daddy. Later as we continued our walk to the Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas sign we stopped at Shake Shack to get some shakes.

At the sign we were amazed at how long people needed to take a picture with it. One group of three women had wardrobe changes and took multiple poses with the sign. Jun and I thought it was silly. We quickly took a picture and then went on our way to find a bus back to downtown.

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When we got back to downtown we walked around Freemont Street and just killed the time before we had to take our Super Shuttle (much cheaper than a taxi) to the airport.

At the hotel we collected our bags and waited for the Super Shuttle to pick us up. After a bit of miscommunication about who the driver was to pick-up, we were soon on our way to the airport and then off to Oklahoma to see my family.

Peruvian Explorations

When we first planned this month-long trip, the one place we kept circling back on was Machu Picchu in Peru. We played around with different possibilities, but it always ended up being quite expensive. Then on a lark we checked a travel website and saw that Avianca had a sale for that week and the prices became more reasonable. After a quick discussion, Jun and I booked the tickets and the South American leg of our trip was set.

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Day 1

After having left Bogotá in the afternoon, we first flew into Lima before catching our flight to Cusco. By the time we arrived in Cusco it was 8:00 in the evening. Our driver from the hotel—Casa Andina Premium—picked us up and drove us to the hotel. On the way he gave a brief history of the city and places that we would want to visit.

After we checked in, Jun and I were antsy from having just sat at airports and on airplanes for most of the afternoon. We decided to take a walk around the city and to do a bit of exploring.

Cusco illuminates a reverential beauty at night. The colonial architecture and the remnants of Incan structures were gorgeously lit, which transformed the area from reality to fantasy. By the time we found ourselves in the Plaza de Armas, Jun and I were enamored with the city.

As we finished our circuit around the plaza, Jun and I were ready to call it a night. We slowly walked back to the hotel. Jun was a bit hungry, so he ordered chicken noodle soup from room service and we soon were in bed.

Day 2

Our second day was spent exploring the city. After breakfast we first went to look for a place that would do laundry on a Sunday. After finding a place nearby and arranging the time of pick-up, we then went to visit the ruins of Qorikancha. During the time of the Inca, Qorikancha was the most sacred temple in their empire. The base of the temple remains, but the Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo on top of it.

One of the neatest things we saw at the museum on the site was a skull that had been modified to be elongated. The elite Inca had viewed such skull elongations as beautiful. The result was that the skulls look like they belong to extraterrestrials and not humans. As we left the museum we walked around the Jardín Sagrado before continuing our exploration of the city.

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After Qorikancha we did some shopping at the Traditional Textile Center. The center supports indigenous women maintain traditional craftmaking, as well as providing them an income source. They had a lot of beautiful items at the store. They even had indigenous women demonstrating how they weaved. Jun and I ended up buying these really neat hats there.

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From there we walked from the historic center up to San Blas. As we were walking we stopped for a mid-morning break at Pantástico Bakery. We ordered a lemon tart and two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. They were delicious.

After we were recharged, we continued our walk towards the Inca complex of Saqsaywaman. The walk afforded us with amazing views of the city as we were on the side of a hill.

At the site itself we had even better views of Cusco. The site of Saqsaywaman served as a citadel during the Incan period. It overlooks the valley where the Inca had their capital city. The structures there are grand. The Inca possessed a massive amount of knowledge and skill in being able to construct such a massive complex. While walking around the site we also got to see some really cute alpacas grazing at the site.

When we completed our tour of the site, Jun and I were ready for lunch and decided to find a place in the Plaza de Armas. We ended up having a wonderful meal at Mistura Plaza Grill. The food there was wonderful and left us ready to continue our wanderings around the city.

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As we walked around Cusco it started to rain. Jun and I ended up taking a break at Starbucks until it let up a bit. When it did let up, we walked back to the area where our hotel was to go and pick-up our laundry. That proved difficult since the place we had agreed to pick it up was closed. After looking for a bit, and getting frustrated, we found the person who did our laundry. It wasn’t ready and we would have to wait another hour to get it. When we went back she had picked up the wrong laundry and we had to go search for our actual laundry. When we did I was tired of this ordeal and we went back to the hotel to get a quick bite of dinner before going to bed.

Day 3

Machu Picchu! Our trip to Machu Picchu started at 4:00 in the morning so we could catch the bus to catch the train to catch another bus to get to the site. After finding the wrong entrance to Wanchaq Station, a nice worker there directed us to the correct entrance. As soon as we got there, we soon found ourselves on the bus and on our way to the train station at Ollantaytambo. When we got to Ollantaytambo, we had to wait a bit for our train. Jun and I bought some breakfast there as we waited.

When we were ready to board our train our anticipation grew. The train ride to Aguas Calientes was beautiful. We traveled along the river and through the mountains. It was breathtaking. As soon as we got to Aguas Calientes we booked our bus up to Machu Picchu and then went to find a place for an early lunch. We ended up at a small place called Cafe Restaurante Bijao. It was a really nice place. I got to try this stuffed mashed potato dish that was delicious.

After lunch we got on our bus and went up to Machu Picchu. The drive up there was along a winding road with few guardrails. It had been raining earlier that day so the road was a bit slippery. Sufficed to say I was ready to get off the bus as soon as possible.

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When we arrived at the entrance we had to wait a bit for our allotted entry time. Soon, however, we were walking inside the site and became amazed at what we saw. Machu Picchu was beautiful. The earlier rains had surrounded the site in clouds that slowly dissipated during our time there. It created a surreal feeling—as if the site were an island in the sky. Jun and I enjoyed our meandering walk around the place. Jun also had me serve as his tour guide based on what I remembered from my Inca archaeology classes.

Sadly, we soon had to go back down to the Aguas Calientes to catch our train back to Cusco. When we got back to the town, Jun and I went around the market and then ended up having an early dinner at a restaurant called Full House. They had a nice view of the Urubamba River. After dinner we then went to the train station for the ride back to Cusco.

After the train and bus ride, Jun and I were ready to head back to the hotel and go to sleep. It had been a long day, but an awesome one.

Day 4

Another early start so we could take a tour of the Sacred Valley. After a quick breakfast Jun and I soon found ourselves on the start of a great day touring different sites outside of Cusco.

Our first stop was at the site of Inca Písac. The site is broken into four main groups that was built on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley. The site that we mainly visited was called P’isaqa. It had these grand terraces that went down the mountain and a number of structures at the top of them. It was really neat to go around and learn about how the Inca created the terraces and how they lived there.

From the archaeological site we then went down to the modern village of Písac. We first learned a bit about the importance of silver to the modern economy and then took a walk around the central market.

We were then on our way to have lunch at Restaurante Tunupa. The food was nice there and it had a beautiful garden with llamas and alpacas grazing around. It was a nice break before going to our last stop at Ollantaytambo.

Our tour guide took us around the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo, which served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance against the Spaniards. The site was quite distinct from the other Inca places we had visited. This one had a more militaristic feel to it compared to the other sites. It was quite intriguing to see the different architectural styles that the Inca had used over time as well.

By the time we finished going around the site, it was late in the afternoon and time for us to go back to Cusco. On the drive back our tour guide allowed us to stop for a bit to take in the view of the Andes. While it was overcast by then, it was still a beautiful sight.

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When we got back to Cusco Jun and I decided to grab dinner at Incanto and then do some shopping. Jun and I found some really nice products made from baby alpaca for ourselves and as gifts. By the time we were finished it started to rain again and we went back to the hotel to pack for our trip to Lima the next morning.

Day 5

Jun and I had a really quick breakfast and then went to the airport. We had a quick flight into Lima and our driver there soon took us to the Antigua Miraflores. The hotel resides in a Spanish-colonial style mansion built in 1923; it had a lovely charm to it. The staff was also quite kind and even upgraded our room to this nice quiet corner of the hotel. They even arranged for us to have a takeaway breakfast the next morning, as we had an early morning flight to the U.S. As soon as we got to the room Jun and I rested for a bit before we went out to explore Lima.

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We first took a taxi to get to the historic center of the city. At the Plaza de Armas de Lima we saw the changing of the guard at the Palacio de Gobierno. As we walked around the plaza we decided to have lunch at Lima 141 Sanguchería.

From there we went to the Casa de Aliaga; while there we had an impromptu tour of the place. The house has been occupied by the Aliaga family since 1535. It was really neat to get a glimpse in the evolution of a colonial house into the modern era. The history of different architectural styles and aesthetics was wonderfully woven together to create a balance in the house that was impressive.

After our tour of the house, Jun and I continued to walk around the historic center until we found ourselves at the Parque de la Exposición. After resting there for a bit, we took a taxi to the Larcomar shopping center in Miraflores. This was a neat place as it’s built on the side of a cliff face. After doing some shopping there we took a walk along the cliff towards the Faro La Marina. When we got there it was the start of sunset and we were treated to a beautiful end to the day.

Afterwards, Jun and I went to dinner at Delfino Mar. The food there was amazing! We had a lovely cerviche and two wonderfully prepared fishes for our last meal in Lima. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and called it a day.

Day 6

Our last day in South America had us traveling from Lima to Bogotá to Los Angeles and finally to Las Vegas. It was a long day of travel, but it was one without any issue.

Peru is an amazing place. The sites, the food, and the people were great. Jun and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and if possible we would definitely by thrilled to return in the future.

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