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.

Spring Festival with Family

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

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

Day 1

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

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

Day 2

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

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

Day 3

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

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

Day 4

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

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

Day 5

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

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

Day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 7

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

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

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

Day 8

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

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

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

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

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

Day 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singapore Time

While we were in Japan my brother kept mentioning all the food he was going to eat in Singapore when he and my mom went there after Japan. Having listened him mention chicken rice, laksa, and satay made me want to go to Singapore and eat those foods. I hadn’t been back to Singapore in a few years and Jun had never been, so we thought that as a nice treat for us at the end of our summer we would take a trip to Singapore.

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Our trip started at Futian station on a Friday evening. I met Jun there, who had to take the train down from Guangzhou. From Futian station we took the metro to the airport. Everything was going well at the airport until our flight was delayed. It wasn’t a serious issue since we were going to arrive early in Singapore and had planned on staying at the airport until later in the morning. It was more of a nuisance than anything else. Fortunately our flight left around 2:00 in the morning and we were on our way.

Day 1

When we arrived it was still early; Jun and I weren’t sure if we would be able to check-in early at our hotel. We decided to take a shower at the airport just in case. After we were both clean, we left the airport and went straight to our hotel.

Luckily for us our hotel—the Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay—did allow us to check-in early and even have breakfast. They were really nice at that hotel. We went to our room and dropped our stuff off and went back down to have breakfast. Afterwards we went back to the room to take a nap.

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When we woke we noticed we still had a few hours before we were going to meet up with some of my family friends for lunch. Jun and I then decided to take a walk around the area. We first went to Clarke Quay and walked through it to go to Fort Canning Park. Fort Canning has been used for many things over the years, but is now a park with numerous attractions. It was a nice walk that helped us wake up a bit.

Soon we had to go back to the hotel to meet up with my friends. When they got to the hotel they drove us to Sentosa for lunch. We had a nice Western lunch at Chili’s and caught up on everything since the last time we saw each other.

After lunch Jun and I went to Bugis to do a bit of shopping. There’s been a Timbuk2 bag that I’ve been wanting to buy for the longest time, but they have so few outlets in the world. Shipping it to China would be expensive. Fortunately I was able to buy it in Singapore!

Afterwards Jun and I walked around the Kampong Glam neighborhood. It was nice to see the mosque there. It was beautiful. The street art in the area was also interesting and wild. It was a nice way to end the afternoon.

Afterwards Jun and I went around the downtown district before going to have dinner at Momma Kong’s, a crab restaurant in Chinatown. This dish was the one I had really wanted to eat in Singapore. The chili crab we had was amazing and delicious. It was a great way for us to end the day.

Day 2

We had a late start to the morning. We were meeting with another family friend for lunch, so Jun and I decided to take a leisurely walk around the hotel before she and her husband arrived to pick us up.

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Our friends took us to PeraMakan, a really nice Peranakan restaurant at the Keppel Club that was amazing. It was nice catching up with them. They also gave us some great suggestions on what we could do and see in Singapore, as well as what we could eat.

After lunch they drove us to Chinatown so we could go around the area. Jun and I walked through the side streets and went to some temples and saw some neat street art. We also found this great bakery, KELE, which has some nice pineapple-based treats. We tried a few different types of desserts; we ended up buying a tin of pandan-pineapple cakes. They were really good.

After Chinatown Jun and I went to the Kinokuniya bookstore on Orchard Road so I could get a copy of Amanda Koe Lee’s Ministry of Moral Panic. I ended buying another book and could have bought more. I just didn’t have enough space in my bag.

After the bookstore Jun and I decided to watch Crazy Rich Asians. We found a movie theater near us and were lucky enough to be able to get seats for the next movie. The movie itself was enjoyable, although it did diverge from the book in interesting ways. Overall, though, it was a fun movie.

From there Jun and I tried to find a chicken rice restaurant that our friends recommended, but couldn’t find it. We ended up eating at Makansutra Gluttons Bay, which ended up being equally enjoyable.

After dinner we took a walk around the bay towards the Marina Bay Sands. It was a lovely walk and a nice way to end a long, happy day.

Day 3

This day started with us taking a walk around our hotel. We went back to Fort Canning Park and found this really neat underground passage.

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After the park we went straight to the Gardens by the Bay. We first went to the Flower Dome and saw a variety of flowers from everywhere. They also had an interesting mix of sunflowers with a Wizard of Oz theme and orchids with a Peranakan theme. It was eclectic, but it was fun. After the Flower Dome we walked to the Marina Barrage and back to the Supertree Grove. The gardens were really beautiful, and a great way to start the day.

From there we went to Little India to meet one of Jun’s friends. We ended up eating lunch at Amaravati, a lovely Indian restaurant. The food there was wonderful and delicious. After lunch we went around Little India and enjoyed seeing the area.

From there we went to Orchard Road to meet up with the friends we met on our first day for dinner at Marchê. It was a nice dinner and we were happy that we got to see them one last time before we left the next day.

Jun and I took a walk along the street after dinner. Then we went back to the hotel.

Day 4

Our last day in Singapore had Jun and I wake up early so we could go on a hike in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. The area is nicely maintained and was a nice change of pace to the rest of Singapore. Besides a few other people going around the reserve, it was simply quiet there. It was wonderful! We also found our way to the TreeTop Walk that was in the reserve. That was a neat area where we could see different parts of the reserve from a high vantage point. On our way back to the entrance we also got to see a troop of monkeys going about their business in the park. That was a pleasant surprise.

After our hike we went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and checked out.

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We then went straight to the airport where we spent most of the afternoon. We did some shopping, saw the butterfly garden, the sunflower garden, the orchid garden, ate some Malay food, and then almost lost our passports! It was my fault; I had placed it on a cart and forgot to pick it back up before we went to see the butterflies. Fortunately, we remembered them and quickly went back and got them before someone else found them. Besides that one incident, our trip back to Shenzhen went smoothly and effortlessly.

Overall, our trip to Singapore was wonderful! We wish we were still there.

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.

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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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