Incredible India, Indeed

For our third wedding anniversary, Jun and I decided to go to India for 10 days. I had always wanted to visit India since I was a child. Having read E. M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, and many more, India tantalized my imagination and was always a place I wished to visit.

Finally having the opportunity to journey there was wonderful. And being able to share that experience with Jun made it even more special.

Day 1 

The first day of our trip started early in the morning in Hong Kong. Because of the early flight there weren’t any issues with anything and we were soon on our way to New Delhi.

IMG_3326

We arrived on time and quickly made our way through immigration. We decided since our hotel was near the metro, we would try the metro system in the city to get to the hotel. It was similar in style to the Hong Kong Airport Express and we were soon at our destination.

From there it was a short walk to the Metropolitan Hotel. Check-in was easy. We even got an upgrade! Our room was quite comfortable and we were able to relax a bit before we went out to explore the city.

IMG_3332

From there we went and walked around Connaught Place and got a feel of the area. Then we went to the area around India Gate. The place was busy, but it was still nice to walk around in the warm afternoon with the deep blue sky above us. It was a nice walk around the area. By then we were a bit hungry.

We ended up having afternoon tea at Mister Chai inside the Shangri-La Hotel. I was able to enjoy my first masala chai in India, and it was amazing. In addition to the two cakes we ordered, it was a nice first meal in India.

After having enjoyed our afternoon tea, we walked back towards Connaught Place when we eyed some interesting structures. It turned out we were walking by Jantar Mantar, an ancient astronomical site in the city. We were fascinated with the place. The astronomical instruments are fixed physical structures that would help in the observation of space. Because of their design, they had a very Avant-garde look. It was neat to go around and explore.

By then the early morning flight was catching up with us and we went back to the hotel to rest. By the time we were ready to have dinner, Jun and I were too tired to venture out of the hotel, and we ended up having a nice dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurants: Chutney’s. It was a lovely and delicious meal.

It was also nice just to go up the elevator to our room and rest. But then a surprise happened. A few minutes after getting into our room, the power fuse in the room blew and all the lights went out. Maintenance came and partially fixed the problem, which was fine for the night. Jun and I were able to go to sleep.

Day 2

Our second morning started again with a power surge. So we got ready in the dark. Then we contacted the hotel staff to hopefully fix the situation. They said that it would be fixed by the time we were done with breakfast. So we went down to have breakfast, which was nice, and then came back. The power was back! So everything was fine.

To start the day we went to Old Delhi to walk through the narrow streets and explore. By late morning we ended up at Jama Masjid. It’s one of the largest mosques in the country. It was beautiful and a nice way to start our explorations of Old Delhi.

From there we made our way to the Red Fort, which had been the main, royal residence for the Mughal emperors until 1857. The fort is massive, and there are a lot of beautiful structures inside. It was really nice to walk around the grounds and see the intricate details in the architecture of the buildings.

Afterwards, we went back to Old Delhi to walk around a bit. In the early afternoon the streets were packed with people and vehicles. Jun and I agreed we were ready to go somewhere else. We decided to take the metro south towards the Tomb of Humayun.

The garden-tomb complex was beautiful. There were different tombs located near Emperor Humayun’s tomb, and each was quite beautiful and serene in design. When we got inside the historic park, we first visited Isa Khan’s Tomb. The structure was beautifully decorated and a peaceful place to be. From there we continued our walk towards the Tomb of Humayun. It has the distinct Indo-Persian architectural style that is more famously associated with the Taj Mahal, but the Tomb of Humayun was gorgeous. Jun and I explored the mausoleum and the surrounding gardens soaking in the beauty of the place.

Afterwards we decided to walk to Lodi Gardens, which was relatively close by. The gardens are free for the public to use, but inside the park are some additional tombs and other 15th century architectural works the Lodhis—rulers of the area around the 15th and 16th centuries—had built. People who live in the surrounding area use the open grounds recreationally, so we were treated to college students singing to each other and playing guitars. It was nice to see families and friends have fun. As we were walking, we also saw a monkey going around the park. That was neat. When we were about to leave the park, we also experienced the cacophonous call of the birds in the trees at dusk. I hadn’t heard so many birds loudly calling for a long time. Jun was surprised by it since it’s not that common to have so many birds in one place in the urban environment of Chinese cities.

Before going back to Connaught Place, we walked a bit around Lodi Colony, which is known for the variety of murals on the residential buildings. Some were quite amazing, others were funny, and some were perplexing; they all, however, created a very vibrant neighborhood.

By then it was early evening and we took the metro back to Connaught Place. We had planned on just cleaning up and going out for dinner, but as soon as we went into our room the power surged again. We contacted the front desk and they at this point changed our rooms. By the time we had switched rooms we were tired from the long day and decided to just order room service. Soon after dinner we got ready for bed and slept until morning.

Day 3

After having a nice lie in, Jun and I got ready for a more relaxing day. We decided to venture down to visit the Qutub Minar, part of the Qutub complex of monuments and buildings from the Delhi Sultanate. As we were leaving the hotel, we wished to stop by an ATM to get some cash. But as we walked towards the metro station, every ATM we encountered was out of service. When we got to Qutub Minar, there were no ATMs in service either. We guessed that we would have to get by using our credit cards until we found a working ATM.

When we got to the ticket counter for the site, we were told that there was no network signal so it was cash only. We were frustrated! We’ve been trying to get cash and hadn’t been able to find a place. Instead of giving up, we went for a hunt of a working ATM. We went along the road until we found an urban village. On the main street of the village, we found several ATMs, but not all of them worked with our cards. After trying different ones, we finally found one that did work! After getting the cash we went back to Qutub Minar and started our visit there.

The place is really neat. There are a lot of structures at the site that gives a glimpse of what Delhi once looked like. And the minaret itself is quite grand. The artistic details on it are quite intricate and beautiful. While it definitely took some time to get there, it was worth it to experience such an amazing place.

By then we were ready for lunch and found a nice restaurant near the site. It was quite busy and we had to share a table with other people. The food was great and we left feeling recharged.

From there we took the metro to visit the Lotus Temple. It’s a Bahá’í House of Worship built in the mid-1980s. It’s built in the shape of a lotus flower and is very much reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. It was nice to visit and see the building.

Afterwards, we went back to Connaught Place to take a break. We ended up at Starbucks and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon into early evening.

Because we had a late lunch and snacks, we decided to just go back to the hotel and call it a day. As we were walking we stopped at some of the stores in the area and just meandered back to the hotel.

Day 4

Our day started early with us checking out of the hotel and going to Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station so we could get the Gatimaan Express, a semi-high speed train, to go to Agra. The train ride was nice. We booked executive class and were treated to a meal, free drinks, and newspaper service. The price was really reasonable as well. Jun and I were surprised. For comparable service class in China, you wouldn’t get any of that, and the ticket price would be much higher. So we enjoyed the ride.

When we got to Agra, we quickly found our way to the hotel. It was really nice, as part of the welcome service we were given double chocolate chip cookies! That was great. Definitely would recommend the Double Tree in Agra. After we had settled in, we then went on our tour of the city.

We started at the Taj Mahal. The place was spectacular. It was simply sublime. Pictures don’t do it justice. We were mesmerized by it as we visited the site. From a distance you can definitely see the beauty, but up close you can see the added details that went into the design and construction of this work of art. We found it difficult to leave. We could have stayed there for much longer.

From there we went to Agra Fort. The fort is still partially occupied by the military so not all of it is accessible to the public. The parts that are open were really fascinating. Like the Red Fort, it had been used by the Mughal Dynasty as a residence, but in 1638 the capital was moved to the Red Fort in Delhi. In many ways Agra Fort’s architecture is much more interesting. We really enjoyed going around the place. It also has a nice view of the Taj Mahal.

By then it was mid-afternoon and we were hungry. We went for lunch and then did a little shopping in the surrounding area. By early evening we decided to go to Mehtab Bagh. It’s a garden complex directly opposite of the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River. It’s a wonderful spot to see the Taj Mahal and the river. It was a wonderful way to end our day.

When we went back to the hotel we rested for a bit and decided to eat at one of the hotel’s restaurants—Kebab-e-Que. It was a nice meal and we left quite happy. We went back to the room, relaxed, and then called it a day.

71235021_10107192957013290_8150478846852857856_o_10107192957003310

Day 5

As we had seen the main sights in Agra, the next two days allowed us to take things at a slower pace and see some of the less traveled sights in the area.

On this day we took an Ola car to Fatehpur Sikri, which is a town near the border of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The modern town is built around the remains of a historic capital of the Mughal Empire. Emperor Akbar built the city as his capital in 1571, but later moved his capital in 1585.

Our driver was quite nice and helped us a bit to navigate and orient ourselves at the site. We enjoyed walking around the palace complex and the adjacent Jama Masjid mosque complex. The architecture at the site is quite grandiose. The grand entryway—Buland Darwaza—to the mosque complex is enormous in scale. It sets a distinct tone that you are entering into an important area.

There are a lot of beautiful architectural aspects to the different buildings in the complex. Taking a moment to imagine what it must have been like to have lived here brings forth scenes of imperial splendor and opulence. It was a nice way to spend the late morning and early afternoon here.

Afterwards, we went back to Agra. When we got back to the hotel I asked the front desk if we could get more chocolate chip cookies. The man was surprised that I asked, but he was happy to give us two cookies! I was quite happy. We then went back to our room and rested a bit before dinner. A friend of Jun’s lived near Agra and came into the city to spend some time with us. He took us out to a nice dinner at a restaurant called Pinch of Spice. The food was nice, and he even showed us the proper way to eat with our hands. Jun enjoyed catching up with an old friend, and I was happy to finally meet him and get to know him.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and agreed to meet up the next day before we left on our night train to Jodhpur.

Day 6

After having a leisurely morning, we met up with Jun’s friend who took us to the suburbs of Agra to visit the Tomb of Akbar the Great in Sikandra. Because it’s more remote than the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, there weren’t a lot of visitors when we went there. It was beautiful. There were a lot of animals on the surrounding grounds, which covers about 119 acres. Jun and I really enjoyed our time there. Jun’s friend chose a wonderful place to take us.

Afterwards we went back to central Agra to have an early dinner. We ended up in a commercial shopping area, and we got to visit an Indian mall. It was not to the scale of Chinese malls, but it was quite nice. We had dinner at a bar-restaurant called Khiskey Whiskey. The inside was much more the whiskey bar than the outside, which was more a casual restaurant. We enjoyed sitting on the balcony, which had a descent view of the surrounding area. The food and drinks were nice; it was another nice place to relax.

By then we decided to go back to the hotel to get our bags so we could then go to the Agra Fort train station to catch our train to Jodhpur. Jun’s friend went with us. As we were waiting, he taught us how to check the train status. It turned out that our train was going to be two hours late and that we had plenty of time to wait. As a result we ended up having tea and dessert at the hotel before we left. Jun’s friend soon had to go and we said goodbye. Shortly afterwards we also left for the train station.

When we got there we had to wait a bit longer than anticipated before our train arrived. When it did, it was quite late and there were two people already in our sleeping berths. The man wanted to trade with us so he could be closer with his family. We agreed and soon we were in our beds. It wasn’t too bad. I actually got a fairly decent amount of sleep.

Day 7

While the train ride was decent, it still wasn’t a nice bed in a quiet, calming bedroom. Several times throughout the night I was awoken, especially in Jaipur when many passengers disembarked and others came aboard. But I did get to sleep some, more so than I usually do on long flights.

When we did get to Jodhpur, we weren’t actually sure we were in Jodhpur. No one made any announcements, and there were people still on the train. Jun and I checked the map on our phones and found out that we were indeed in Jodhpur. So we got off and ordered an Ola car. After finding the driver we were soon on our way to the hotel.

Since we were quite early for check-in, we needed to wait a bit before we could get into our room. But as we waited we were given a garland of flowers and a welcoming drink, and the owner of the hotel came and greeted us. He gave us a history of the hotel—his family has owned it for many generations—and gave us advice on places to see in Jodhpur and the surrounding area.

71580152_10107204999954140_7880574198505013248_o_10107204999939170

Once our room was ready, Jun and I went and took our showers and relaxed for a bit before we left to see what the city had to offer.

We decided we would first go to Mehrangarh Fort, which was built in 1458 and is the largest fort in Rajasthan. To get there we thought we would just take an Ola, but for some reason no one wanted to take our request. We ended up taking a tuk-tuk, and the driver ended up being our main driver while in Jodhpur.

The sheer size of the fort is staggering. It’s huge! The inside of the structure was spectacular. Inside the palace there were some amazing rooms. Walking around and admiring the architecture was a great way to start our stay in Jodhpur. After we left the palace we decided to get some drinks at a café inside the fort. It was a nice and relaxing with an amazing view.

Afterwards we took a walk around the area. After a bit of exploring we ended up at Jaswant Thada, which is a royal cemetery. It’s set surrounded by a lake and rock formations with the city below. It’s quite a lovely place.

From there we then went down into the city. The transition from the calm of Jaswant Thada to the chaos of the city was jarring. We ended up walking towards the Ghanta Ghar Clock Tower inside Sadar Market. The place was neat. The clock tower dominates the center of the bazaar, which had a charm to it that was nice. We continued our walk around the busy streets and passed different corners that were quite blue. Jodhpur is known as the blue city for the different buildings painted blue. In some areas the entire area was blue.

We then backtracked a bit and went to Toorji’s Step Well. Even with the utilitarian purpose of storing water, they were designed in a way that was intricate and ornate in such a simple way. It was nice sitting and enjoying the view. The neighborhood around the step well also has a lot of neat shops that were fun to browse.

By the time we were done shopping we were ready to go find a place to eat. We ended up at a roof-top restaurant with a nice view of the fort: Indigo. The food was delicious and we left happy. From there we took a tuk-tuk back to our hotel and called it a day.

72334705_10107198473932340_4148848041824092160_o_10107198473927350

Day 8

After a wonderful breakfast in the hotel’s garden, we were ready to head out to visit Mandore Garden. After getting into our Ola car, the driver changed his mind that he didn’t want to go to Mandore and had us get out. The guard at our hotel was nice and called a tuk-tuk for us. The driver turned out to be the driver from yesterday! He quickly took us to the garden and even waited for us.

The gardens were nice. This used be the site of the capital of the Marwar kingdom before the founding of Jodhpur. As such, there were royal palaces and tombs in the park. While on a smaller scale than some of the other places we had visited, the structures here were still beautiful and impressive. After enjoying our time there, Jun and I went to find our driver and venture off towards Umaid Bhawan Palace.

The construction of Umaid Bhawan Palace was completed in 1944; it is the last great palace built in India. The palace is still lived in by the royal family of Jodhpur, who live in half of it. The other half has been converted in a hotel and museum. The palace is huge. Non-hotel staying guests or guests of the royal family are allowed to visit only a small portion of the palace. It was still nice to get to see it up close.

From there we went back to the Old City and walked around a bit and did some shopping. We then went back to the step well to rest for a bit. Afterwards, we found a café—Sam’s Art Café—nearby and idled away the afternoon with drinks and snacks.

71810465_10107201008852340_3790382417668210688_o_10107201008847350

Close to the start of evening we decided to go up to Signal Hill to see the sunset. The views from Signal Hill were really nice and we got to see a beautiful start to the evening.

By then we were ready for dinner and ended up at a hostel restaurant called Dylan Café. It was a very low key place, but the food was quite delicious.

After enjoying our meal we found a tuk-tuk and went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 9

The next morning we started the day by going to the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park just beneath the fort. The park serves to protect the delicate desert environment. It’s quite a beautiful place. There were only a handful of people there, so we essentially had the place all to ourselves. It was nice to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the quietude of nature. The area was really well maintained and it was a nice way to spend our morning.

Afterwards, we walked back to the city and decided to have a light meal at Café Sheesh Mahal. It was a nice and relaxing place to spend a meal.

From there we went back to the hotel to get ready for our excursion to Osian, an oasis in the Thar Desert. Our driver was early and was already at the hotel when we got back. We told him we would freshen up a bit and that we could get an early start. He was a really nice man. He even bought us some masala chai on our way to Osian.

When we got there, we first went to the Sachiya Mata Temple. It was busy and full of people there to show devotion to the goddess. The architecture of the temple is quite lovely. It was interesting to experience how Indians show their religious devotion.

From there we went on our desert safari camel ride. It was nice. We got to ride a camel around some sand dunes and we also saw the sunset. It was a nice a relaxing excursion.

Afterwards we went back to Jodhpur and had dinner at a lovely restaurant before going back to the hotel.

Day 10

Our last day in India. We had an early afternoon flight from Jodhpur to New Delhi, and then a late fight to Hong Kong. Everything went smoothly and we were soon on our way home. We even stopped and had pizza Indian-style from Domino’s.

72865980_10107223399491320_1332338042500808704_o_10107223399476350

Our trip to India was amazing. We got lucky with the weather and we were able to experience some wonderful things. We both left wanting to come back and explore different parts of the country in the future. It was a great way to celebrate our third anniversary.

Quintessential Quanzhou

After going back and forth with the pros and cons of taking a trip during the Mid-Autumn Festival so close to the Chinese National Day holiday, Jun and I decided that we would take a trip. Since we waited pretty late to book this trip, we basically searched for a place where there were still train tickets available. After going through different possibilities, we settled on visiting Quanzhou in Fujian.

70040108_10107153272830710_8882663624271724544_o_10107153272825720

Day 1

Our train to Quanzhou left late in the morning, so we were able to leisurely make our way to Shenzhen North Railway Station. After going through the formalities of ID checks and security, we were soon on the train and on our way to Quanzhou. The ride was nice and we soon found ourselves in Quanzhou and waiting for a cab to take us to our hotel—the Hilton Quanzhou Riverside.

The hotel was really nice. Jun and I spent some time freshening up before we ventured out to explore the city.

We first visited Kaiyuan Temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple complex in Quanzhou and the surrounding area. The gardens were nicely tended and complimented the temples structures. The two most impressive sights were the two pagodas that mark the southwestern and southeastern ends of the grounds.

After we had explored the temple complex we walked along West Lane, which had a lot of different shops and food vendors. It was a bit chaotic with the number of pedestrians and scooters vying for space. It was a nice walk, and we found a number of stores where you could go up to the roof to get a view of the surrounding area. We found these nice carp magnets at one of these stores, appropriately named Gift of Carp, that we were happy to purchase for our home.

At the end of the lane was this strange traffic light tower. Apparently, it’s a bit of a known monument in the city as there are a lot of kitsch souvenir items in the local stores of it. But it did mark the end of the pedestrian area of West Lane. While there we also were able to see another street with historic shophouses that were being renovated.

70510501_10107151016412590_6149980314140672000_o_10107151016402610

By that time it was early evening and Jun and I were starving. After consulting Jun’s food app, we decided to go to a local seafood restaurant—Ajing Meishi—for dinner. When we got there they didn’t have a small table available, so they set up a folding table at a corner for us. We were lucky we got there when we did and they were willing to do that for us since it got busy shortly after with people waiting for a table. The food was quite good; my favorite being a seafood noodle dish that had a nice creamy flavor to it.

After dinner we went for a walk around the area before taking a Didi back to the hotel and calling it a night. So far Quanzhou had been a delight.

Day 2

After a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel to start our day, Jun and I ventured off towards Qingyuan Mountain. We first started our trip there by admiring the statue of Laozi, the founder of Taoism. Then we started our hike up into the mountains. More so than in many other mountains in China, Qingyuan had a lot of hidden pavilions that you could visit. Some were behind rock outcrops, others were around mountain lakes. It was quite a joy to go around the mountain and see these hidden places. In the more remote areas there were hardly any other visitors. Near the end of hike we even ended up at a cemetery.

As the cemetery was the end of our stay at the mountain park, Jun and I then went to the Southern Shaolin Temple in Quanzhou. The Shaolin Temple in Henan is one of the great centers of kung fu in the world. Tradition has it that during one of the warring periods in China, many Shaolin monks traveled south to the Quanzhou area to establish the southern temple. While the historic temples were destroyed, they are being rebuilt and opened to students to learn kung fu. The structures that are already built are quite impressive and were a delight to walk around.

Afterwards, Jun and I went back to the historic area to walk around the old town. We first went to visit the historic Qingjing Mosque. It’s the only surviving mosque in the city. It’s roughly a thousand years old. Since Quanzhou was the historic terminus of the Maritime Silk Road, many traders had called the port home. These traders, to build a sense of community in Quanzhou, constructed community centers, such as religious structures, in the city. Where there had been once numerous mosques in the city, Qingjing is the only remaining one. On the grounds of the mosque are the remains of the original structure, as well as the newer version.

From there we walked a bit and saw a number of other Taoist, Confucius, and Buddhist temples in the city. Jun went to a local dessert place for a snack. I tried one of the desserts, but it wasn’t to my taste. Jun liked it though. From there we continued our walk and ended up going around the city’s West Lake.

To end our day we had a wonderful dinner at Lin Jia Min Nan Cai. The food was quite good and we ended up having his wonderful walnut milk with dinner. It had a nice flavor to it. It complimented our meal quite well.

With us delightfully happy from a tasty dinner, Jun and I went back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 3

Our last day in Quanzhou started with a leisurely morning before we went to the train station to get back home. Everything went relatively smoothly and we were soon back in Shenzhen. Before going back to our apartment, I had to drop off a document at work. While there we stopped at a colorful and nice exhibit—“A Thousand Rainbows”—by the artist Xiong Wenyun. Visiting the exhibit was delightful way to end our weekend excursion.

For the rest of the day we relaxed at home and got ready for another week of work. Quanzhou was a nice diversion from the everyday and a great place to spend a long weekend.

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.

66826822_10106990519265160_127516956247982080_o_10106990519240210

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.

66469093_10106992597031300_298230107988819968_o_10106992597016330

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.

IMG_8722.JPG

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.

66501583_10106992597360640_1733324199369375744_o_10106992597340680

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!

64941213_10106998441738460_7758711102845747200_o_10106998441728480

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.

IMG_E2037

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.

IMG_2047

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).

IMG_8096.JPG

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.

IMG_E1901

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.

58890821_10106828090673360_222526340119658496_o_10106828090653400

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.

IMG_1677

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.

56560649_10106782148047750_3242936329817817088_o_10106782148042760

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.

56424404_10106782260836720_1562391085173440512_o_10106782260821750

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.

56872510_10106783977177160_6203622956724125696_o_10106783977162190

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.

IMG_1634

 

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.

55786365_10106766850284590_7599111187573243904_o_10106766850264630

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.

DSC03856.JPG

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.

56242495_10106769675133570_84318200954617856_o_10106769675128580

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.

56446483_10106778122405170_7349045663180521472_o_10106778122400180

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.

57076245_10106799061508040_8238170151912996864_o_10106799061503050

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.