Japanese Joy

After having anticipated our summer vacation for months, it had finally arrived! Last year my mom mentioned that she wanted to visit Japan and if we would like to go with her. Of course we said yes. After we agreed to go my brother and godmother decided to come as well. So the trip would be a family vacation.

We started our trip with a few days in Hong Kong. It was a nice diversion away from the mainland and we got to have a relaxing time by ourselves before going to Japan. We visited a wetland park, a really neat museum in Central, and had some really nice food.

Day 1

While Hong Kong was nice, we were excited to go to Japan. And everything was going nicely until after we had boarded our flight. Shortly after they had closed the doors, the captain announced that our flight would be delayed because of an earthquake in Osaka. We were a bit shocked and worried since my godmother, Mom, and brother were arriving before us. We weren’t sure if they were effected and couldn’t reach them.

After some time our flight was cleared to take off and we were soon on our way to Osaka. When we got there everything was business as usual. Immigration and customs went quickly and efficiently, and then we went looking for the others. Walking to the Starbucks that we agreed as our meeting point I heard a familiar voice. My mom was there! We hugged and chatted before we got down to business of what we needed to do before we could leave for the hotel. First we needed to get money and Jun wanted to get a sim card. Once we were done with that we decided to take a taxi. There, however, were no taxis to be found; we ended up taking a limousine bus. The ride was quick and dropped us at the train station we needed for the train that would take us to where our hotel was located. After figuring out which train line we needed we arrived at Juso and walked to the hotel. Check-in was quick and we were soon in our room!

After freshening up for a bit we ended up taking a walk around the place to get a feel of it and to snack on some of the local foods. After awhile we were ready to head back for a good night’s sleep.

Day 2

Our first full day in Osaka started early. Like 3:00 in the morning early. My mom was having a difficult time adjusting to the time difference and got bored. She ended up waking us all early. As a result we decided to have an early start in exploring Osaka.

We first went to Osaka Station to get ICOCA cards for local transportation and to get some breakfast. Once we had finished all of that we decided to visit Osaka Castle. We took the JR Loop train to get to the park. It was easy to navigate from the station to the castle. The surrounding park was quite nice and it was a nice stroll going through the park to get to the castle.

At the castle we found out that the elevators were not in operation due to the earthquake and were being checked. We would need to go up to the top using the stairs. Fortunately each floor had different displays about the city and the castle so we could rest a bit before continuing to go up. When we did get to the top we were rewarded with really nice views of the city, and the breeze up there was nice as well.

After the castle we continued to go around the park, but we soon decided to look for a place for lunch. After consulting with different apps we settled on an udon place nearby. The food was delicious and it was fun trying to figure out how to order at the noodle shop. But we persisted and we were rewarded with a nice lunch.

After lunch we then went to Shitennōji Temple. When we got there it started to rain, so we had a quick visit around the temple. It was a really nice temple. We were amazed at the number of turtles in the water features at the temple. But because of the rain we didn’t stay long here.

With it raining we decided to do some shopping in Umeda and see what there was to see. Apparently there was a lot to see!

At that time we decided it was getting late and we went back to the hotel and relaxed before going to sleep.

Day 3

Another rainy day and we decided that it would be best to try to do things inside. The first place we went was to visit Kaiyukan aquarium. It was a great experience. There was such a diverse range of marine life that you could see from all over the world. The central tank was awesome and you could view it from different angles as the aquarium went around it. And there were penguins! It was neat to see the emperor penguins. We even got to see some of the nesting pairs. It was a nice way to spend the morning.

After leaving the aquarium we went in search of a place for lunch. We ended up having sushi at a nice restaurant close to the aquarium. Then we also had some matcha desserts as well.

As it was still raining we decided to go to Shinsaibashi and Dōtonbori. These are shopping areas in Osaka. They are also covered shopping arcades and we could do some shopping and explore the area without getting wet.

We then went back to Osaka Station for dinner at a small restaurant that served beef in bento boxes. It was again a nice dinner.

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Day 4

On this day we started using our JR Rail Pass to visit different parts of the surrounding area. We decided our first trip would be to go to Kyoto.

When we got there we quickly boarded another train to visit Fushimi Inari-taisha. This temple complex is dedicated to Inari, the Japanese fox goddess. It’s an amazing place and is full of red torii (gates) that go around the temple complex. With the recent rains the air around the grounds was crisp and left a mythical feel to it. It was a joy to walk around the temple.

From there we walked down a side street with a number of street vendors selling all kinds of Japanese delicacies. We ended up having lunch trying different types of food.

Then we went to visit the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and got to explore around the grounds. It was a stark contrast to the modern architecture of the palace in Tokyo. The gardens at the palace were particularly beautiful.

From there we then went to Arashiyama so we could see the bamboo forest and Tenryū-ji. It was a beautiful area and the gardens were gorgeous. We then did some shopping at the small stores in the area. I also got to have sakura-flavored ice cream that I had been craving for since the last time I was in Japan. It was so good too! The last thing we did there was to see the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park. As it was a bit of climb to see them, Michael, Jun, and I were the only ones who went up. It was neat to see the monkeys walking around freely.

Afterwards we went back to the train station and went back to Osaka for the night.

Day 5

On this day we took the train to Himeji to see the amazing castle there. It was quite easy to find the place as it dominated the skyline. The castle was amazing and it was fun to walk around. There weren’t too many people there so it was nice to just enjoy exploring the castle. We were also able to visit a garden nearby. It was nice, but nothing too special in terms of flowers or layout.

Afterwards we went to this really nice udon restaurant where we could see them make the noodles that we were eating. It was so delicious. We all left happy.

From Himeji we next went to Kobe for a few hours to explore the old European enclave near Shin-Kobe station. It was interesting to see the European buildings in Japan. There were a number of snack places that I think most of us enjoyed more than the buildings. There was one place that sold chocolate brownies that were really delicious.

As it was getting late in the day we decided to take the Shinkansen back to Osaka and find a place to eat dinner there. We ended up at a weird place where everyone had to order something; anything was fine but you had to order at least one thing. It was strange.

Day 6

The rain came back, but we didn’t let it stop us. This day had us go to Nara. Nara was really neat and we got to see deer roaming Nara Park in the rain. That was the highlight of this day. When we got to Nara it really started to rain and we ended up taking shelter in a covered arcade where we wandered through different stores and had lunch at a really nice curry place.

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While we had hoped the rain would abate, it didn’t and we decided to just go and explore the park in the rain anyway. It ended up being fun. As we walked around the park we got to see deer just walking around chasing people who dared to buy food to give them. We also went through some temples that were made ethereal in the rain.

As we were walking back to the train station we did some shopping and found an amazing ice cream place that had some great matcha and French vanilla soft serve in really tasty cones. It ended up being a nice way to end up our time in Nara.

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On the way back to Osaka the others decided that they wanted to go to Tokyo just to say they had been there. So when we got to Osaka station we booked tickets on the Shinkansen to go to Tokyo the next day. Once that was settled we went back to Juso to have sushi for dinner and go to bed.

Day 7

We got up early and headed to Shin-Osaka station for the train to Tokyo. Once we settled in we enjoyed the quiet journey to Tokyo by mostly taking a nap.

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When we got to Tokyo we first went to find a pharmacy for Mom who needed some cough medicine as the rain from the previous day and the lack to sleep finally caught up to her. We quickly found a pharmacy and Mom was able to take the medicine she needed. Afterwards we walked to the grounds around the Imperial Palace to see it. Then we walked to Ginza so they could see the shopping district. We ended up having Chinese food at a decent restaurant in the area. We walked around Ginza and did some shopping.

From Ginza we took a train to see Meiji Temple. We ended up taking the long route to the temple, but it was a nice walk through a residential area of Tokyo so it wasn’t all bad. And then we walked into Yoyogi Park that was more like a forest. It was interesting to leave the city behind and to visit the park and the temple. It was a bit busy, but not too bad that it was not enjoyable.

Aftewards we went back to Tokyo station to get ready to go back to Osaka. We first went and found some food to eat on the train ride back. And we also got to see a Kit-Kat boutique. That was neat. Kit-Kat’s come in different flavors in Japan and are a common gift to give students as the name sounds like a Japanese phrase wishing good fortune. While we didn’t buy any here, Jun and I did buy some matcha and banana Kit-Kats at the airport on our way back. Both were quite good and I would like to try other flavors as well.

Once we borded the train ride back to Tokyo we ate our dinners and just relaxed. I did end up sitting next to an interesting gentleman who could not sit still and every ten minutes would go wander around the train before coming back. He did, however, have an interesting book of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the cover in strange poses. If only I knew Japanese!

Day 8

Our last day in Osaka and we decided to take it easy and explore some of the older parts of the city. We first went to Tsūtenkaku and walked around the area. That was a neat little area. And then we went to explore the area around Hōzenji Temple. That was also interesting. There was a Fudo Myo-o statue covered in moss because people over the years had thrown water on it to purify themselves. All the water pouring eventually led to moss growing on the statue.

Because we had seen a lot in our week here, we really weren’t interested in seeing different sites and ended up spending the afternoon doing some shopping. Jun ended up buying a really cute Pikachu! And then we ended the day with our last dinner together by having a nice sushi dinner.

Day 9

Mom, Michael, and Gaye had to leave early so they could catch their flight. So Jun and I said goodbye to them and wished them a safe journey. Jun and I got a few more hours of sleep before we went ourselves to the airport. We took the train one last time and had quite an easy experience checking in and going through immigration. We ate lunch and then boarded our flight back to Hong Kong. It was much more relaxing and easy than our trip to Japan.

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From the airport in Hong Kong we then made our way back to Shenzhen.

Overall, it was a great trip. I was really happy that I was able to see my mom, brother, and godmother. It was like the trips we took when we were kids!

An American Adventure

America! Because of my need to get my driver’s license renewed this year, Jun and I decided to visit my family in Oklahoma at the end of May during the Dragon Boat Festival.

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The first thing we needed to do after we got our tickets was for Jun to apply for his American visa. He did the online application and went for his interview in March. He was nervous throughout the process, but in the end he had nothing to worry about and he received his visa easily.

We left China for the U.S. right after I finished work. We headed straight for the China/Hong Kong border. We decided to stay in Hong Kong for the night so we wouldn’t have to rush to the airport the next day. The next morning we woke up early and journeyed to the airport. We got there at a good time as there was hardly anyone in line to check-in. We got our tickets and went through immigration without any issue. Then we waited to board the first of three flights back to Oklahoma.

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Our flights were actually nice. We flew United. After all the controversy this past spring with passenger relations, we were a bit curious to see how things were going to be. We were both pleasantly surprised at how comfortable our flight was. The food was descent for airplane food. We even got ice cream, which was a nice surprise. There was no issue throughout the flight, and the flight attendants were lovely to us on all the flights. It was a nice way to start our trip.

Day 1

After many hours on a plane we finally reached Oklahoma City. My mom was at the airport waiting for us. It was great seeing her for the first time since Australia in 2015. We hugged, and then she hugged Jun. This visit was her first time to meet him in person. She then drove us to have a quick dinner. After going over the options, we decided to have a light Chinese meal in Oklahoma City’s Asian district. So after leaving China we had Chinese food! A slow transition in culinary choices. After dinner we went back to my mom’s house and met up with my brother. We said hi and then everyone got ready for bed since it was so late.

Day 2

On our first full day in my hometown, we got up early with my family and started to make plans. The first thing we did was to go with my mom to her salon and get haircuts. Afterwards Jun and I walked around the historic downtown area while my mom worked. Jun enjoyed seeing the area where I had spent most of my childhood. For my part it was nice to walk around the area; it looked very much how I remembered.

We went back to my mom’s salon and then went to get my driver’s license renewed. The whole reason for this trip back and I was able to get it done in 10 minutes. It was the easiest of things to do. Afterwards we went back to my mom’s salon since she had to work. Jun and I continued to walk around the town. We went to see more historic buildings and then to one of the parks in town. We then walked to see where the first house I lived in was, but it started to rain and we slowly made our way to my mom’s place. Afterwards we waited a bit for her to finish for the morning before going back home for lunch. Mom then drove us to Edmond for a bit of shopping. She, however, had to work that afternoon and took us home while she went back to the salon.

That evening we went to Ted’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant, where we met up with two of my cousins. It was nice seeing them for the first time since 2013! Dinner was amazing and it was great to catch up with them. After dinner we went back home and started to get ready for bed.

Day 3

The next day Jun and I stayed at home in the morning while my mom worked. It was nice just to relax and enjoy not doing anything. Later that afternoon we went to do some shopping for different things. We had a nice lunch at Pepperoni Grill, a simple Italian restaurant, and then did some shopping.

Afterwards we then went to downtown Oklahoma City to see the Bricktown area, the Myriad Gardens, and the Oklahoma City National Memorial to the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing. It was nice to walk along the canal. We stopped at Sonic to get drinks, and then we went to Pinkerton to get some cupcakes. We enjoyed eating them at the Myriad Gardens. They were really good, especially the Oreo one.

After finishing the cupcakes we went for a walk around the gardens. Then we went up through the downtown area to the memorial. We walked around it and I explained the reason for the memorial to Jun. It was not the happiest of conversations, but it was an interesting one.

After seeing the memorial, we went back home where we had a light dinner of leftover food from Ted’s. Then we went to bed early since Jun and I were still adjusting to the time difference.

Day 4

We only stayed in Oklahoma for a short time. Since this trip was the first for Jun to the United States, we wanted to give him the opportunity to see more of it than just one state. So we decided to take a road trip to Colorado.

This morning Mom and I went to get a rental car at Hertz. It was an easy process and it was fun to drive a car after not being able to for years. When we got back home we packed the car and got on our way to hit the road for Denver.

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It took us about 10 hours to reach Denver with the frequent breaks. Our first stop on the trip was to stop at Braum’s to get some ice cream before we left Oklahoma. It was a nice treat in the morning. Our next stop was later in Salina, Kansas, where we had lunch at Hickory Hut, a nice barbecue restaurant with awesome sweet potato fries.

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After lunch we drove straight on to Denver, where we got to experience what we think was a minor hail storm. Jun also got to experience and see a thunderstorm on the plains. Nothing happened and by the time we got to Denver the weather was clear.

When we got to Denver we dropped the car off and got a new car for Colorado. One-way car renting can be expensive! It was cheaper to book two separate reservations. Once we got the car—a Chevy Tahoe no less—we went to our hotel. We checked in and cleaned up a bit. We were all tired from the driving so we ordered some Southeast Asian food for dinner to be delivered to our room. It was a nice way to end the day.

Day 5

We woke up early this morning and made a plan of what we wanted to do. We decided to start off by going to the Denver Botanic Gardens. We drove there and discovered we got there a bit early. Michael, however, remembered that there was a Voodoo Doughnuts nearby. We made the decision to walk over there and order some doughnuts. We were lucky that we got there when we did because the line was still short. By the time we left the line was out the door. As we walked back to the gardens we started to devour the different doughnuts. They were so good and amazing!

When we got back to the Botanic Gardens they were open. We put the doughnuts in the car and went to get our tickets. These gardens are gorgeous. There’s a nice mix of sculptures with different styles of gardens. It was a nice, relaxing morning just to walk around the different gardens and spend time with each other. The place has a nice mix of local and foreign gardens. The Japanese garden was particularly lovely, as was the Rock Alpine garden. Also, everyone wanted me to take pictures of them so they could get new profile pictures. Fortunately, we chose a nice place for photos.

After a few hours there we were getting hungry for lunch. Michael contacted one of his friends who recommended a Mexican restaurant in the Highlands area called Matador. The food there was amazing! The restaurant is located in a nice little neighborhood that we explored after lunch. There was a neat used bookstore that had shelves of books. It was a lot of fun to explore it. During our walk it started to rain so we stopped at an ice cream parlor to get some ice cream and to wait out the rain. By the time we finished eating them the rain had stopped and we went on to our next destination.

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For the rest of the afternoon we explored around downtown Denver. We first went to REI and then went around Commons Park to walk up to the 16th Street Mall. We went by Union Station, Larimer Square, and found Tattered Cover bookstore. Denver has a nice downtown area, but by the late afternoon we were ready to head back to the hotel. When we got back we decided just to go to the diner down the street for dinner.

We had had a long day and we all were ready for bed.

Day 6

Today was going to be a rainy day, so we planned accordingly. The morning was forecasted to be clear before the rains hit in the afternoon. Michael suggested we go to Boulder. We got in the car and drove up to see what Boulder had to offer.

We first went to see the University of Colorado Boulder. The campus was really nice and it was peaceful to just walk around with little people there as it was the end of the semester. Jun really liked to see how an American university was structured differently to a Chinese one.

Later we went to the downtown area and explored the different stores on the Pearl Street Mall. It started to rain by then and we decided to have lunch at Salt the Bistro. The food there was amazing and it was a nice way to end our morning. Since it was still raining we decided to do some shopping for the rest of the afternoon and went to different shopping areas in Denver. Jun was able to get a gift for his cousin and we were able to get other things we needed as well.

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Jun also had the opportunity to get an American steak that he wanted. Michael and mom had suggested he go to Texas Roadhouse to not only get his steak but to experience an American chain restaurant. It was a nice dinner and we were all happy to end the day with a good meal.

Day 7

Our last full day in Denver had us go to Rocky Mountain National Park. We first drove to Estes Park and then to the park. It was a beautiful day!

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We first parked our car and took the shuttle up to Bear Lake. What a surprise to see all the snow. We had an adventure walking around the lake. None of us had the appropriate shoes for snow walking so we had to be careful and we shuffled our way around the lake. But it was worth it to see how gorgeous the area was.

From there we then decided to walk around Glacier Gorge and to see that area. Equally beautiful in a different way. It was a nice walk, but we were getting tired by the end and decided to finish up our visit of the park.

We drove back to Denver to have a late afternoon meal and to do some last minute shopping before calling it a day. Later that evening we went and got some Popeye’s Chicken and packed our luggage for our trips home.

Day 8

Mom and Michael had booked a flight back to the Oklahoma at the same time as our flight back to China. We were able to check out of the hotel and return the Tahoe together. At the airport we checked-in and went through security easily. Denver has a really nice airport. We had breakfast together and soon said our goodbyes.

It was great seeing my family, and Jun was happy to meet them and to get to know them. We were both sad to leave, but knew that we would see them soon one day. Michael suggested maybe we could meet up in Japan next year. That would be fun!

Jun and I boarded our flight and then spent almost 20 hours in transit until we got back to our apartment in Shenzhen. By the time we got home we wanted something to eat, to shower, and then to go to bed.

In the end we had a wonderful trip to the U.S.; we were happy with our adventure there.

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Baishui Fairy Waterfall

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

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

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

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

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