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Category Archives: Asia

I felt sad the morning we left Beijing.  I had truly enjoyed my time in China and was sad to be leaving.  But at the same time, I knew that in a matter of hours, my life-long dream would be coming true!  How could I stay sad with that in mind?

We said our good-byes to Mike at the airport and promised to keep in touch.  If you ever need a tour guide for Beijing, Mike Zhang from Beijing Private Tours is the best.  Anyway, we went our separate ways and when we reached the ticket counter we were informed that we would be able to change our tickets to a direct flight to Japan.  Instead of having to lay-over in Hong Kong, we would be able to be in Japan in just a few short hours!  This was the best news ever!  I could hardly contain my excitement!

Good-bye, Beijing!

Good-bye, Beijing!

The time came for us to board our plane and take the 4 hour journey to the island of Japan.  As we were in the air I began to get really nervous.  All kinds of thoughts were rushing through my mind.  What if we got to Japan and I didn’t like it?  What if it’s not everything I hoped it would be?  What happens then?  Everything in my life had led up to this moment– all of my past and all of my plans for the future would be wasted if it turned out that it wasn’t what I had thought.  Until those few hours sitting in the airplane, those thoughts had never crossed my mind and I felt as though my entire identity would be destroyed if that was the case.

As we began our descent I looked out the window at the green grass and mountains and teared up.  I wiped the tears from my eyes as a feeling of peace and excitement replaced my fears.  I knew at that moment that this was so right.  That this was the right direction for my life.  I felt my self grinning from ear to ear.

After a bit of a struggle to figure out transportation and our money situation at the Narita Airport, we were able to board a train that would take us to Shinagawa, the ward in Tokyo that we would be staying in.  We started out in a tunnel, but when we finally made it outside, I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery that was passing me by.  Even when my neck started to hurt, I didn’t want to look away for fear of missing out on something.  I tried to commit everything I was seeing to my permanent memory.

My first sights of Japan.  Beautiful!

My first sights of Japan. Beautiful!

The sound of the Japanese language ringing through my ears was wonderful!  My heart ached to be able to someday be fluent in Japanese.  How could I have doubted that I wouldn’t have liked Japan?!  I was already so in love with everything and I hadn’t even been off the train yet!  I don’t think I had ever been so happy and grateful in my life.

By the time we reached Shinagawa station, it was dark outside.  It took us a few minutes to find our way out of the station and when we did, we didn’t need to look far to find our hotel.  We stayed in Shinagawa Prince Hotel, which is located directly across the street from the Shinagawa station.  Shinagawa Prince Hotel is such a cool place to stay, by the way!  They have their own aquarium and three towers of hotels and restaurants.  I loved staying there.

We went to drop our things off in our rooms and I ran to the window to get a good look of the city of Tokyo.  When I threw back the curtains I saw fireworks going off!  I tried to get a good picture but it ended up being a bit blurry.  As a joke, I told my grandma that they must be doing fireworks because they knew I was coming and wanted to welcome me to Japan.  Really, the fireworks were because we arrived on one of the days of the Bon Festival.

"Welcome to Japan, Abbie!"

“Welcome to Japan, Abbie!”

We were all hungry and Tyler and I wanted to eat real Japanese food so we split up from my grandparents.  They went to the McDonald’s near our hotel and Tyler and I went walking around Tokyo to find a good place to eat.  We didn’t walk far before we found a ramen shop so we decided to stop there.

Ramen Shop Sign

Ramen Shop Sign

This ain't no instant ramen.

This ain’t no instant ramen.

We entered inside and ordered us the best ramen I have ever had!  I can’t remember the exact kind I ordered, but it was so delicious!  I have never really liked Top Ramen like we have in America, but I really can’t eat it at all now that I have had the real stuff.  It was sweltering hot in the ramen shop but we were so hungry so it didn’t matter much.  Here’s a fun fact for you–when you are eating ramen, it’s polite to slurp.  Because slurping isn’t really polite in America, I had to get used to it at first, but once I got the hang of slurping, it was really fun!

We finished eating and decided to take a look around.  We walked for probably close to an hour and a half.  So many people were dressed up for Bon in their Yukata and they all looked so elegant!  I wanted to wear a Yukata too!  Tyler and I crossed to the other side of the station where there were more restaurants and shops.  We eventually walked to a four way stop that gave us a magnificent view of the Tokyo Tower all lit up for the night.  It was beautiful!  I was happy to spend time with Tyler like this in Japan because Japan had kind of connected us since we were little kids.

The lighting made this building seem otherworldly.

The lighting made this building seem otherworldly.

The Tokyo Tower at night.

The Tokyo Tower at night.


We had a full day tour of Tokyo the next day so we decided to head back to the hotel and get some rest.  On our way back I decided I wanted to take a picture with some girls in Yukata.  After Tyler helped me work up my courage, I asked a group of girls in my best Japanese if they would let me take a picture with them.  They were gracious and said yes.  Unfortunately, the picture didn’t turn out…

That night, I went to sleep as the happiest girl in the world.  I couldn’t wait for what tomorrow would bring.



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The car ride was a little long.   We drove farther out into the Chinese country side toward Dragon Gorge.  As we drove, Mike told us a story about a Chinese Emperor who was looking for the Fountain of Youth.  He would send people out to look for it and if they couldn’t find it he would kill them.  Since no one could find it, the Emperor killed many people.  One day a man came to him and told him that he would be able to find the Fountain of Youth if the Emperor would send him with a large group of men and women and supplies to help them survive.  Desperate, the Emperor agreed to give the man everything he had asked for.  But the joke was on the Emperor.  The man took the group of people and left China.  Mike speculated that this group of people may have gone to Japan but no one knows for sure.  Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

We parked a ways a way from Dragon Gorge and had a lady with a van take us up the hill to the top of the gorge.  Mike told us never to do that if we were without a Chinese tour guide.

Dragon Gorge starts out as a cute little town made up of a hotel and restaurants.  There was a place for a stage where parties often occur.  It was a cute little town.  The mountains surrounding it had red Chinese characters but I didn’t ask what they meant.

Dragon Gorge

Going to Dragon Gorge was my grandpa’s idea and I’m glad he thought to go there.  It was well worth the trip.  We walked a little ways more and entered into the mouth of a dragon that was attached to a cliff.  Inside of the dragon were escalators that would take you to the top of the dam that was nearby.  We walked through a cave and found our way to the small boats that would take us on a lovely river tour of Dragon Gorge.  It was cooler here than anywhere else we had been so far.



We had to climb over a few boats before we could make it to ours.  I was a little nervous that I would fall in the water because there were gaps in between the boats.  But that was kind of an unrealistic thought.  Still though…it would have been bad if I had.  We found seats and sat down.  The trip down the river was relaxing.  Tall cliffs surrounded us on both sides of the river and many of the cliffs had blaring red words looking down on us.  It was gorgeous and relaxing and wonderful!

So pretty!

So pretty!

We passed by a place where you could stop off on your way back to the entrance and bungee jump.  Tyler and I told Mike that he should try it.  He wasn’t too thrilled with that idea though.  We continued on for a few minutes more and were dropped of at a landing site that had a small Buddhist temple at the top and other paths you could hike along if you wanted.  We went up to the temple.  It was quite and peaceful.  There was a small souvenir shop just before you climbed the stairs to the temple.  I wondered how often people actually purchased anything from that shop.   Tyler and I entered into the temple where there was a big bell.  I stepped up and rang it.  The sound was deep and lovely and it echoed off the mountains.  We didn’t stay long, but I’m glad I went in to take a look.

Wouldn't you want to ring it?

Wouldn’t you want to ring it?

"Kong!" said the bell.

“Kong!” said the bell.

As we headed back down the mountain to meet our boat, Mike asked us a surprising question.  He looked at us and asked, “You do this, right?”, as he crossed himself.  I was so surprised that he asked us that!  Christian religion is not something really allowed in China.  I felt nervous answering him because I didn’t want him to get in trouble, but we answered his question and explained that though we are Christians, we don’t cross ourselves.  He asked about our family’s life style and the roll of women and things he couldn’t have asked anywhere else besides out in the middle of nowhere.  Once again, I was hit with the realization that China is not a free country and I felt a little sad that these people are so curious and yet are kept from things they really want to discover.  I felt lucky and so proud to be an American.  The questions didn’t last long though as we made our way back to the boat.  We made it back to the entrance of Dragon Gorge and after taking a few more pictures made our way out of the park.

As we were leaving, a little girl came up to me and wanted to speak English.  I could tell she was unsure of herself so I said something in Chinese to try and open her up a little bit.  She said hello and went on her way.  Mike said she was too shy to speak English with me.  She was sure cute, though!

Small garden inside the park area.

Small garden inside the park area.

Funny English.

Funny English.

We left Dragon Gorge and headed back to Beijing.  Tonight, Mike was going to treat us to our next culinary adventure– Hot pot!  Hot pot is basically seasoned water you boil at your table and dip meat and other vegetables into to cook them.  I loved it!  It was so hot in that restaurant though, that people were taking their shirts off!  It was rather shocking!  And I could have done without the cigarette smoke that floated around the restaurant.  But I loved hot pot.  My favorite was the beef.  It was so thinly sliced and tender and delicious!  We made a huge mess at dinner but I don’t think anyone in the restaurant got away clean either, so I don’t feel too bad.  Next time I have hot pot it won’t be in the middle of the summer.  It’s much too hot.

We had one more item on our agenda that day, and that was a drive past the Olympic Village.  We were tired so we didn’t get out to look around but I will never forget how beautiful the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube were!  Beijing is an amazing place.  I’m glad the 2008 Olympics were held there.  I hope someday I can go back and visit again.

This was our last night in Beijing.  In the morning we were heading to Japan!  Finally I would be in the place I had only dreamed I would ever see!  I was so excited!  But at the same time, I had so completely enjoyed my time in Beijing that I was sad to go.  After only two days with Mike, it felt as if we had been life long friends.  Beijing was more than I had ever expected.  I’m so grateful I was able to spend time there.  Mike dropped us off at our hotel and told us he would pick us up and take us to the airport in the morning.  I went to bed that night dead tired and with bittersweet feelings.  Like I said, I hope I can return to Beijing someday.

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Early.  We woke up earlier than normal.  The breakfast buffet the hotel prepares in the mornings wasn’t even ready.  It may have been an early morning, but I was glad to have slept like a rock during the night.

Mike picked us up at the lobby after breakfast and we left to go to the Great Wall.  This is a must see if you go to China.  It was surprisingly not far from where we were staying in Beijing.  Mike took us to a section of the Wall called “Mutianyu”.  We got there early enough that there weren’t too many tourists there.  We parked and had to climb a very steep hill to get to a tram that took you the rest of the way up the mountain.

The path to the tram was lined on either side with tiny shops.  “Good deal for you!  Only one dollar!” could be heard echoing through the street.  We made it up the hill and jumped on the tram.  We had the option of waiting to ride in the same car that Bill Clinton had taken when he was president, but we didn’t take it.  When we got to the wall, there were a few stairs we had to climb to get to the main part of the wall.  The stones were steep and worn.

When we made it to the top of the wall, I looked over at the mountain to my left.  It had Chinese written on it.  I was curious what it said so I asked Mike.  He said the characters meant “Loyal to Mao”.  Another reminder that this was a communist country.  It was easy to forget that sometimes.  It felt free, like America, but little reminders would pop up every now and again.  Like how Mike didn’t know what Facebook was or how he had never been able to use YouTube.

“Loyal to Mao”

The section of the wall we went to wasn’t very long.  I’m sure it wasn’t much more than a mile but it was actually pretty hard work making our way along the wall.  It rose and fell with the peaks of the mountain so it was an up and down hill battle.  The walk ways were crumbling a little so you had to be very careful where you stepped or else you would take a nasty tumble.  It was incredible to see how long the wall went.  Farther than I could see.  Each post was a nice break because the air would blow through them and create a natural air conditioner.  It was wonderful!  The whole time we were on the wall all I could think of was “Mulan”.  Quotes kept rushing through my head like, “Now all of China knows you are here!” and “How many people does it take to deliver a message?– One”.  And of course, the songs from “Mulan” were on repeat inside my head.  I even caught myself humming them as I walked along.

On the Great Wall

So long!

It didn’t take too long to reach the end of our Great Wall tour.  At the end we were given the option of walking down the hill or taking a toboggan down the mountain.  Needless to say, we took the toboggan. It was so freaking awesome!!!  We went down the metal half-pipe at lightning fast speed!  Or we would have but sometimes we got in a bit of a traffic jam.  At the end of the toboggan ride there were a couple of guys dressed up in old fashioned Chinese clothes so we paid them and took a picture with them.  They were really funny guys.  I’m glad I got a picture with them.

Funny Chinese guys!

I wanted to get some souvenirs and do some bargaining before we left the Great Wall.  I ended up getting a couple of t-shirts that said “I <3 北京 Now more then ever”.  I had to buy them because of the grammatical error on the shirt–everyone needs a grammatically incorrect Asia t-shirt.  Plus I wanted a Beijing t-shirt.  She wanted the equivalent of $50 for two shirts but I talked her down to $40.  I felt really good about it too.  But…I didn’t bargain very well.  I could have gotten them a lot cheaper so Tyler made fun of me for the rest of the day.  He still does on occasion.

We left the Great Wall and stopped at a roadside restaurant.  It was such a cool restaurant because you had to catch your own fish and then they would cook it for you.  It was so fun!  Tyler caught the fish right away and they cooked it up for us.  We had an eggplant dish and some other egg dish.  I really liked everything we ate.  The egg thing was interesting, but not my favorite.  But everything else was really good.  We ate outside under a shaded pavilion.  The ambiance was wonderful!

Next on the agenda was Dragon Gorge!



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The car felt good.  Even though Tyler, Grandma and I were crammed in the tiny back seat of Mike’s VW, I still fell asleep.  The air-conditioning was too much to resist after a good meal and a full morning.  I was so glad to finally have a chance to rest for a little bit.  I woke up the beeping of Mike’s car parallel parking down the street from the Summer Palace.

We got out of the car and walked by a tunnel entrance.  I’m not sure where it lead to, but the smell of urine was quite powerful.  The walk wasn’t far to the gate of the Summer Palace.  I was struck by the beauty of the Summer Palace as soon as we passed through the entrance gate.  Immediately in front of us was a beautiful lake surrounded by pagodas and trees.  To our left there was a long bridge over the lake and to our right stood the enormous palace where Empress Cixi Dowager had once lived.

Lake Side

It was a little cloudy for a while.

Before we had entered the Palace gate, Mike had us read a short description of the place we would be visiting.  We had been trying to pronounce Chinese the correct way since we had started this leg of our journey, so when my grandpa read the Summer Palace description he pronounced “Cixi” in a funny way that made Mike laugh.  “Cixi” is pronounced as “sushi” according to Mike, but the way my grandpa had said it sounded more like “Sexy”.  Mike laughed so much.  That became a running joke for the rest of our trip.

Anyway, there were boats floating out on the lake.  Some were paddle boats, but the ones I was most impressed with were the dragon boats that carried tourists to the Palace on the other side of the lake.  They were huge!  And oh so beautiful.


These boats are awesome!

We walked up and around the bridge which was really steep and for some reason, I remember it being a little slippery.  But it was magnificent!  After that we decided to take a boat over to the palace.   It was slow moving but another welcome rest.  We docked right next to a boat made out of marble.  How that thing floated, I don’t know.  I guess water displacement is the answer.  Just like for all other boats–it’s science!

Marble Boat– Science!

The boat rocked a little as we all climbed out.  Back on solid ground, we made our way along a path that led up to a museum about Empress Dowager.  There was a photo of Chairman Mao inside the museum that I took a picture of.  Later I realized I wasn’t supposed to do that…oops.  I heard all through the museum Chinese tourists whispering, “Sushi, sushi!”.  I determined to look up Cixi’s history when I returned to America.  If you ever get the chance, look up her history.  It’s very interesting.

Mike took us down the hill that led us away from the museum and over to an outdoor hallway called the Long Corridor.  It really is a “Long Corridor” too.  It goes on for a half mile!  In every section of the corridor there are paintings that tell a story.  We stopped for a rest after walking a ways down the corridor and Tyler pointed out a painting and began making up a story about what was happening in the picture.  We all laughed.

Outdoor Hallway

The bad thing about being white– you can always tell when we are hot.

Even though we were in a shady spot and the sun was starting to drop in the sky, it was so hot!  We kept walking and headed toward the palace.  When we made it there, my jaw dropped.  The stairs.  There were so many stairs.  I was tired and there were so. Many. Stairs.  Not as many as at Big Buddha, granted, but still.  I wasn’t as tired then.

We had to pass through a few gates before we got to the main staircase for the palace.  It sat all the way at the top of the hill.  The staircases were made out of marble.  I kept thinking, “What a stupid stone to make stairs out of.  They are so slippery!”.  I really think people must have slipped and cracked their heads all the time.  The stairs on their own would have made a great defense if the palace ever got attacked.

Here’s the palace!

Pretty door on one of the gates.

The walk to the palace was pretty!

The walk up to the palace was quite beautiful.  It was slippery and I was tired but it was worth it.  The view was amazing!  You could see everything and I was so happy to be there!  I think that’s how things go in life though.  The things that take the most effort in life are the things that are most worth it in the end.

The climb down was a little dangerous and I slipped a couple times but we made it down safely.  It was time to go.  We made it back to the entrance to the Summer Palace after walking along the rest of the Long Corridor and through a maze of water lilies.  Outside the gates my grandpa bought us some soft serve ice cream.  I don’t remember what the flavor was exactly.  I think it was vanilla, but it tasted different than any vanilla I had ever tried.  It was sweet and tangy and cold and delicious!

The sun was setting but Mike had a few more things on our agenda.  He took us to a Chinese acrobat/Kung-Fu show.  It was pretty awesome!  I didn’t take any pictures since it was in a theater but it was pretty cool.  It was performed by teenagers who were still in school.  I don’t know how anyone could ever move like that.

The last event for our night was dinner.  Mike took us to a Peking Duck restaurant.  The hostess led us to a private room where Mike ordered Coke and Sprite for everyone.  I left to go to the bathroom, a dreaded event for me since pretty much all the toilets I had encountered that day were squatters.  When I came back, Tyler had hidden my backpack.  This had become an on-going event because whenever I would leave I would say, “Don’t let anyone steal my stuff”.  So he would hide my backpack and say someone had stolen it.  I knew Tyler wouldn’t tell me where it was so I tried to get Mike to fess up, but he wouldn’t.  He thought it was funny too.  What they didn’t understand is that even though, I knew they had it, I got this horrible anxious feeling without it close by.  After all, it had all my money, passport and souvenirs in it.

We sat around the table and waited for our food to come.  When it did, it smelled magnificent!  They brought us what seemed to be tortillas with the Peking Duck.  The idea was that you would roll up the duck in the small tortilla and dip it in sauce.  The meal was delicious!  I’m not normally one for dark meat but I really enjoyed it.  Mike told us the duck’s head was a delicacy so he ordered it for us.  Tyler ate the bill of the duck and I ate the brain.  I’ll try anything once, as long as it’s not bugs…  The brain was good.  It was pasty but tasted like meat.  I would probably eat it again.

Finally the meal was over and I was rewarded with my backpack.  The feeling of relief I had has no description.

Mike drove us back to the hotel and once again told us when he’s pick us up the next day.  We thanked him and went up to bed.  I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I need my rest for the next day because we were going to the Great Wall.

The Asia Trip: Beijing パート 5




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Still on our first day in Beijing.  We left the Forbidden City to take a tour of the Hutongs.  Hutongs are traditional Chinese neighborhoods.  There are little shops mixed into the neighborhoods but mostly they are made up of small shack-like houses.  Mike said he grew up in a hutong but he no longer lives in one.  Hutongs are pretty dirty looking compared to any neighborhoods I’ve ever seen.  The one we went to in particular was a bit of a tourist spot, it seemed like to me.

My grandparents had done this same tour a few years previous when they came to Beijing for the first time and loved it so much that they wanted Tyler and I to experience it as well.  But this time we had a specific errand to run while we were there.  My grandparents brought us back necklaces made from pottery the last time they were there so my mother wanted us to get one for her.  We were on a mission to find the shop that sold the jewelry.

Mike took us to a bike rental shop and then off we went against the crazy Beijing traffic.  They don’t follow the rules of the road in Beijing very well.  Stop lights often don’t mean much.  While we rode into the hutong we noticed a lot of rickshaws passing by.  Apparently you can pay to have a rickshaw runner take you around the hutong, but I’m glad we rode bikes instead.


I think this was a door to a shop in the Hutong.

The streets were tiny.  The cars and small motor vehicles had to be careful while driving through.  People sat outside, eating their lunches while they took a break from work.  Every now and again a resident would pass by on their bike and I got into the habit of saying “Nihao” to them as they passed.  The shock on their faces was so priceless that I giggled to myself every time!  I could just picture what they were thinking in their heads…”White people don’t speak Chinese!!!”  Of course, they would have been right about that.  I only had a few phrases in my repertoire.

We wound our way through the hutong and eventually found the shop after Mike did some asking.  Unfortunately it was closed down for renovation.  So Mike took us to an area where there were more shops and restaurants.  We stopped to take pictures at a bridge.  It was a nice spot with lots of scenery.  I parked my bike next to a couple of girls and said, “Nihao” to them.  This time one of the girls spoke back with more than the courteous “Nihao” reply.  She spouted out all kinds of Chinese and I became flustered!  I said in rushed English, “I’m sorry!  I don’t actually speak Chinese!”  To which, with a disappointed look, she replied in near perfect English, “Are you an American?”  I immediately felt even more embarrassed.  I replied in the affirmative and wished her a pleasant day before running off to take pictures.  I suppose it serves me right.  After that, I was less giving with my “Nihaos”.

Hutong Shop

The corner where I embarrassed myself.

The Bridge

The bridge where I embarrassed myself.

We finished off our hutong tour by doing a bit of shopping down a souvenir alley.  I got some pretty cool stuff and Tyler found a Japanese couple to talk to.  He knew how excited I was to go to Japan in a couple of days so he wanted me to come and talk to them but couldn’t find me because I was shopping.

It was a little past midday and we were all starving!  Mike told us he would take us to a dumpling shop for lunch.  My grandparents were wary.  Like I said before, they aren’t ones for trying adventurous foods.  We returned our bikes, hopped in Mike’s car and made it to the restaurant pretty quickly.  Cigarette smoke permeated every inch of the restaurant.  I wrinkled my nose at the smell.  It’s not one I will ever get used to.  Mike asked us what we wanted to drink and ordered Sprite and Coke for everyone.  I told him I just wanted some water.  He seemed surprised and asked if I was sure.  I was sure.  It was hot and I was thirsty.  In a minute, I understood why he was surprised I would ask for water.  They brought me a tea pot and cup.  The pot was full of steaming hot water!  The Chinese drink their water hot.  Needless to say, that’s not what I was expecting.  I drank the Sprite instead.

The dumplings were delicious!  What dumplings are to the Chinese, are what we call Pot Stickers in America.  But real Pot Stickers are so delicious!  Even my grandparents liked them.  We had a few different fillings and I wish I could remember what was in them, but I remember one of them had a faint black licorice taste.  Those weren’t my favorite, but the others were amazingly delectable.

This restaurant was memorable for me because it was the first time I was forced to use a squatter toilet.  I never got the hang of them.


I just had to throw this in for kicks and giggles.

By the time we finished eating, we were full and ready to go.  And Mike had just the place to take us– The Summer Palace.

Click the links below to get the rest of the story:

The Asia Trip: Beijing パート4

The Asia Trip: Hong Kong パート3

The Asia Trip: Hong Kong パート2

The Asia Trip: Hong Kong パート1


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