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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Hello Japan – Kyoto, Japan

Author: Amy

Hello from Japan – yes we chose to head east on the remainder of our trip.  Initially our plans had us going back to Europe for the summer but after taking the flights to get this far East we decided to keep going.  We found some good flights and . . . hello Japan!!!

Here we are in the Ginza district - posing with the cherry blossoms we found.

Japan has been a great stop for us.  We purchased a Japan Rail Pass in Beijing — you have to buy it before you land in Japan to get the discounted price.  The pass allows you to travel throughout Japan on their fabulous trains.  We took the Shinkansen bullet train from Osaka to Kyoto and 3 or 4 different trips with the pass.  We felt like royalty riding on these trains.  They were so comfortable and CLEAN!!  Everything in Japan is so civilized and orderly.  You rarely see people eating or drinking on the streets and we never saw litter anywhere (we had read that in a travel guide book and it’s true).  If we saw smokers there were designated areas for that and people definitely obey the laws here.  There are white lined squares painted on the sidewalk where smokers could stand and smoke together and yes, people stayed in the lines. Our first taste of the intense order here was walking across an extremely very busy street; you don’t jay-walk in Japan and cars obey the laws. People cross major intersections from five different directions with no fear of ever getting hit. They say Japan is one of the safest countries in the world and we definitely felt safe . . . people were also so eager to help you if you looked lost.

Here comes the Shinkansen train.

Enjoying our down time on the Shinkansen.

After we landed in Osaka, we headed to Kyoto, which has a cute small town feel with a population of 1.5 million.  We had hoped we could catch some early Cherry blossoms but it had been a cold spring there and it also rained most of our stay.  Kyoto is known for it’s Geisha district of Gion and we had hoped to see some strolling about but since it was cold and rainy we didn’t see any.  We did see various different women wearing the traditional dress (kimono’s) with the mat/backpack on their back and the special shoes. We had a great hostel in Kyoto, which is where we were able to start posting our blog after our time offline in China.  After Kyoto we headed to Tokyo where the weather was much nicer, a bit cool but sunny and great weather to wander around in.  We visited the Ginza district, which is full of high-end shops, everything you could imagine.  Kendal wanted to pop in to the Abercrombie and Fitch store to see what’s new in teen fashion.  As we entered the store there was a small line and we noticed people were getting their picture taken.  It happened to be 2 male models showing their abs to all who entered the store and you could get your photo taken with them.  Not one to miss the opportunity Kendal stood in line and had her photo taken.

Kendal and her 2 favorite things about Japan.

A highlight was our visit to Tokyo Central Wholesale Market (Tokyo Chuo Oroshiuri Ichiba) or better known as the Tsukiji market, which is located in the Tsukiji district. We took a visit to see the market as well as to have the finest, freshest sushi.  The Tsukiji Market is the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world!

We learned so much in China and I would recommend to anyone to definitely visit China – but after being there for a month we were ready for someplace new and Japan hit the spot perfectly.

Keegan at Tsukiji market with a huge tuna fish that the man just brought in.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Japan

 

Good Bye China – Beijing, China

Author: Amy

The fun part of a big city like Beijing is that there is so much to do.  We saw all the major attractions as well as touring the Hutongs, seeing an acrobatic show, visiting both the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube (where Michael Phelps made history), having dinner with our new friends we met on the Li River cruise and trying the famous Peking Duck.

We took this picture in one of the much nicer and cleaner Hutongs we visited.

Within Beijing there are small pockets of neighborhoods that did not get torn down when the huge high-rises were being built.  These old neighborhoods are called Hutongs.  They are narrow street areas that often don’t have individual plumbing.  The people go to a central bath and shower area.  Amazing in 2012 with huge buildings surrounding these neighborhoods that some are walking down the street to use the bathroom.  We took a walking tour of the Hutongs to learn a bit about the history.  The morning of our tour we woke to a snow covered city.  One of the saddest parts of Beijing for me was the pollution – everywhere you looked it was grey and haze covered.  The day it snowed it seemed to have washed out the pollution and it was a clear beautiful morning.  The difference was staggering.

Hutongs

This was the typical view from our hotel window.

This was the day after it snowed, unfortunately this only lasted for that day.

One evening we went to an acrobatic show.  It was so much fun – I think this is where cirque du soleil got their ideas.  Some of the girls seem to have no spine the way they bend and the men and women are so strong.  The grand finale included a huge steel ball that eventually fit 6 lit-up motorcycles racing inside at high death defying speeds.  They would add one motorcycle at a time and the suspense each time they added another was so much fun.  That was a great night of entertainment.

The grand finale was incredible!

We were lucky to be invited to dinner by the family we met on the Li River Cruise; Frank, Karen, Isabelle and Jacob.  We had a great time getting to know them, comparing travel notes and learning a lot more about China.  As travelers they also know what it’s like to be in need of laundry services; they immediately told us to bring a couple loads of laundry and offered the use of their washer and dryer. (Laundromats are not as common to find as one would think).  The dinner they gave us was incredible; great Chinese cuisine.  What we enjoyed most that night is just getting to know another incredible family on our travels.  There are great people in this world.  They also gave us “the” place to go to have Peking Duck in Beijing.

The National Aquatics Center - also known as the Water Cube where Michael Phelps won 8 Gold medals

The National Stadium - also known as the Bird's Nest

We kept putting off going for our duck dinner and we ended up going our last night in town.  We told our taxi driver the name of the restaurant and we asked him to drop us there.  The thing about taxi drivers in China is they don’t speak English (obviously, we’re in China).  We need to have our directions written in Chinese so the driver can read it.  He dropped us off in the relative area where the restaurant was but then we had to walk – he told us that while grunting and giving hand gestures. The part of town that the restaurant was in was very charming so we walked a bit and eventually found the restaurant.  It was packed and there was a sign at the front of the door that said “FULL/CLOSED”.  And there was also a women telling us they were closed and it was full.  We decided to walk inside if anything to get a peek at this place.  As we walked up we saw many, many groups waiting to be seated I was ready to walk away but Steve decided to try to talk with the hostess.  Well I’m not sure what happened but whatever Steve said worked.  Somehow she sat us immediately.  The dinner was a lot of fun in a beautiful lively restaurant.  They bring the duck to your table and carve it right in front of you.  You eat the duck with thin pancakes – it felt like making a taco.  The duck was delicious and we all had a fabulous last night in Beijing.

So many neighborhoods in Beijing are simply beautiful!

Our Peking Duck

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2012 in China

 

The Great Wall of China – Beijing, China

Author: Keegan

The Great Wall of China! It was originally created to defend the Chinese Empire from Mongolian and Manchu enemies in the northern territories. It was built over a 2000 year period by several different Emperors.

While in Beijing we also went with Paul and Anna to see the Great Wall of China – one of the Seven Wonders of the World!  I don’t know why but before we left home the one place I wanted to see was the Great Wall of China.  Maybe it is because of the movies like; Karate Kid and Kung Fu Panda.  There are different parts of the wall that are available for tourists.  The part of the wall we went to was called Mutianyu.  The cool thing about this place was that you could climb up stairs to get to the top or take… a ski lift. We chose the ski lift and to hike along the top of the wall.  We are glad we did because even after the ski lift the walk was really long and hard, there is so much to see. After hiking through parts of the wall that are really in good condition we hiked to another area where the wall was a bit broken down but we kept on going into a “non-tourist” area and there was no wall left just little pieces of the wall here and there. The wall had a lot of stairs to climb up and down as you went along.

That's Kendal and my mom, this was just a part of our hike - it was so hard but really fun. The wall was constructed sporadically starting in 221 BC during the Chin Dynasty.

The Great Wall of China - one of the Seven Wonders of the World - this was a great day!

Here we are at the non-tourist area - it was worth the danger and extra time it took to get there. During its construction the wall was also called "the longest cemetery on earth" because so many people died building it; more than one million people died

On the way back down Kendal and I were trying to talk like we were from England and Anna and Paul were trying to talk like they were from the US . . . it was so funny we couldn't stop laughing.

One of the really fun things about the wall was going down. When we went down we got to TOBOGGAN, YEAH it was ssooo much fun except there was an older lady in front of me (no it isn’t my mom jeez why would you think that she was even old… just kidding just don’t tell her that EVER) and when we finished 15 minutes later (it was supposed to be only 5 minutes lol) this lady was like OMG I went ssssssooooooo fast she was so proud of herself.  Okay enough with this slow lady. After that we went to a restaurant that was pretty good. And that my friends was the Great Wall of China!

Here I am getting ready to fly back down but actually I ended up going pretty slow. The wall is said to be the longest man-made structure in the world. Some say that if you combine all the sections of the wall together it is 1000 miles longer than the distance between New York and California!

We are pointing at the "non-tourist" area I guess we were pretty proud we went there. The girl on the left was traveling alone and she joined us for the day. She was about to start medical school in the US but wanted to travel for 6 weeks before she started . . . she was really fun too.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in China

 

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square – Beijing, China

Author: Kendal

The entrance to the Forbidden City - built from 1406 to 1420

About to enter the Forbidden City - unfortunately it was a pretty smoggy day

While in China we visited both the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Since where we were staying was only about a couple of miles away we were able to walk to the Forbidden City. While walking a nice man started talking with us and his English was very good. He asked about the USA, movies like the Titanic, and where we were from etc… after 5 blocks or so Keegan, Mom and I started falling back because we knew that he would want money for something, so we let dad deal with him (my dad had read about young people posing as art students to get you to their studio to “view” their work but then they expect a lot of money for their art before you can leave the studio). I saw my dad and this man exchange some words and then the man walked away. We heard him say to my dad, “Why are you so tense?” My dad said that he told him, “I’m sorry but don’t want to see your art and I have no money”.  Dad said that ended their relationship.  After a while it gets annoying when people follow you for blocks and keep asking you to buy something even though you say, no thank you, politely but we’ve learned to deal with it.

In the Forbidden City and no, we don't know the guy on the left. The Forbidden City consists of 980 buildings and covers 7,800,000 square feet - it's huge!

When we finally reach the Forbidden City we went in line to buy our tickets, it was so crowded with people.  I can only imagine how busy it gets during the busy season. The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.  For almost 500 years, it served as the home of Emperors and their households. It is a huge part of Chinese history.

The Throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Here's Keegan running around outside the Palace of Heavenly Purity

A Guardian Lion in the Forbidden City

Visitors include many Chinese people from all over China (and China is huge) as well as people from other countries. Chinese people are always taking pictures of us, and this day was no different, they aren’t used to seeing different ethnicities in their country so we were always getting stared at and people often took our picture in China.  A couple teenage boys were really nice and polite and asked if they could take a picture with us, we said, “sure”.  Then we asked if we could take their picture with us as well, they were happy to pose.

Here are the nice boys we took pictures with . . .

We enter the city and the view is breathtaking and amazingly huge.  There are buildings all over the place which are all used for something different.  It was pretty nice because while we were in China we watched the movie The Last Emperor so we saw the Forbidden City in full action with all the Unics and how they lived in the Forbidden City.

Leaving the Forbidden City

Unfortunately Mom got really sick while in Beijing so we had to go and do some of the sight seeing without her. The heavy smog didn’t help my mom get better any quicker either.  While she was sick we went to Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square is a large square in the center of Beijing. It was originally the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City, the gate was demolished in 1950 and Tiananmen Square was enlarged.  Tiananmen square also holds a Mausoleum where Chairman Mao’s body is laying for people to view.  He was the founding leader of the People’s Republic of China.

Dad – Back in 1989 student-run demonstrations aimed at continued economic reform and liberation took place, and at the beginning it was peaceful. Then the demonstrations turned more aggressive and turned into expressions for mass political reform and freedom of press. Well the peaceful nature did not last and the government shut out all global media by banning foreign press from their country and then declared martial law on May 20, 1989 and on June 4th military action occurred better know as the “June Fourth Incident” or the “June Fourth Massacre”. People believe that the violence took place in the Tiananmen Square but the majority actually took place in the streets of Beijing. No one really knows how many people were killed, some say hundreds and some say thousands. But in the end the Chinese government prevailed.

In Tiananmen Square with the Forbidden City in the background; Tiananmen Square was built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty

In Tiananmen Square with the Monument to the People's Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in the background

Tiananmen Square in the middle of Beijing, China; the 3rd largest city square in the world at over 970 acres!

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in China

 

New Friends and Karaoke – Beijing, China

Author: Keegan

Okay so if you have read my previous blogs then you know how I always start … kind of like this “Hello again” or “Hi People”. Today though will be different! Well, maybe not thaaat different.

This was at one of the many huge malls on the very popular Wangfujing street which was a block a way from the hotel we were staying

NEE HAO (that’s hello in Mandarin).  While we were in China we made SUPER GREAT friends that we ran into everywhere, their names were Paul and Anna! They are from Manchester, England.  We first saw  (and met them) in Chengdu at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Center. We hit it off right away, they are traveling for 10 to 12 months and started on January 1st! They were really funny and they just happened to be staying at the same hostel as us.  One day we went to a face changing opera and they were going to go depending on how we liked it (F.Y.I It was pretty darn awesome but save that for a different blog!), and we loved it! So then we talked more and more and we learned they were going to many of the same places in China that we were going.  They were going to see the Terracotta Warriors one day and then they were going to Beijing so we decided to meet up with them in Beijing. When we were leaving the Terracotta Warriors I saw someone who looked just like Paul so I tapped him on the shoulder and said “hey don’t I know you” and then I was like “ HEY you’re Paul” they ended up seeing the Terracotta Warriors the same day we did. On one of our last… ‘Get togethers’ we went to … drum roll please… KTV!!! A.K.A Karaoke!!! It was a BLAST so how it works is…

  1. You get one private room for your group, which includes a buffet (Chinese food) and drinks with the karaoke studio! They put the language in English for us and we sang all the songs we knew.  The audio equipment was really high-tech and really loud.
  2. You get to sing, eat, and dance all in one package and for two hours the total for all six of us was only $20!!

That's Kendal and Anna, they sang a number of songs together

That's me and my dad letting loose

We all took turns at the control center for song selection

In the room they have two nice leather couches, two microphones, maracas and a tambourine! Then they have (off to the side a little) a huge touch screen TV so you can pick your songs. They have a ton of songs but some very important songs to me were missing like Moves Like Jagger By Maroon Five and Party Rock Anthem By LMFAO!!  They did have a lot of cool songs too and we all fought over who could sing next. They had an interesting selection of food for us but I stuck to the Fanta and fried rice. If you have never tried karaoke you need to try it because it is great fun!

This is Paul and Anna showing us how England throws down

My conclusion for this blog is that we made some new great friends and also had an incredible time at the KTV!!  We hope our new friends visit us when they hit the USA!

What a great night of Karaoke with good friends Anna and Paul from England!

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in China

 

Terracotta Warriors – Xian, China

Author: Steve

Here's a shot while we were on the wall after we finished our bike tour.

We arrived in Xian, China all set to see the world-renowned Terracotta Warriors but never expected to have such an incredible time in the city of Xian.  We only scheduled one night there.  Xian has a population of over 8 million people and their history dates back over 3,100 years.  Xian has one of the most intact and preserved city walls in China, constructed in the 14th century back in 194 BC during the early Ming Dynasty.  We walked to the wall from our hotel and noticed the place we wanted to enter was surrounded by at least 6 lanes of heavy traffic (very similar to the Arc de Triumph in Paris). So we figured, great we’ll just go underground to cross the street and come up in the middle.  Well we couldn’t find the underground entrance, so after 20 minutes of searching Amy spotted a police box and it said ‘bilingual’ speaking police.  I was very excited because I wanted to get to the center to start our bike tour before it got any later.  You see the wall is so complete that you can rent bikes and ride 15K around the entire upper perimeter of the wall and we just wanted to get our bikes before it got too late.  The police man was reading his paper when I walked up to his box, I asked him if he could tell us where the entrance to the tunnel is to get into the south entrance of the wall. He jumped out of his seat and out of his box (remember bilingual police) eager to help. He stared at me as I asked again how to get to the center on the other side of the huge roundabout with non-stop cars, buses and trucks. He gave me an inquisitive look but no answer. So I immediately went to charades and explained what we were trying to do. Ahh . . . he got it! So he took one hand and held it palm up and then with the other hand took his forefinger and middle finger and started walking them across his other hand, and pointed to the street.  Then I looked at him inquisitively and said, “So you want us to walk across that street?”.  He kept repeating in a grunting sound. “Uh, uh, uh”, and nodding his head up and down.  Pedestrians do not have the right of way in China so I was viewing this as one of those dangerous adventures. I told Amy to take Kendal and I would take Keegan (it’s typically safer to cross in a crowd but sometimes it’s easier to cross with 2 rather than with 4 for speed) and we would hopefully see each other on the other side. “Good luck”!

Four replica Terracotta Warriors on the wall

This was one of my "wow" moments during our year adventure; to be up on that wall (which wasn't crowded at all) and complete the perimeter while listening to traditional Chinese music echoing out through speakers was just incredible for me.

This is a shot from above; Amy spotted a cool bar while we were riding so we ended up having a drink after our bike ride

Chinese pomegranate farmers discovered the Terracotta Warriors in 1974. What’s amazing to me is if the farmers would have dug for their water-wells a couple of meters in the other direction they might never have found this incredible discovery.  The first Emperor, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, was I’m sure loved by most of his people but when you really look at what he did, he might be viewed by many as a great study on paranoid leaders. When he was 13 years old he ordered these warriors to be built and it took 36 years to complete.  He had 8,000 warriors, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses built out of clay (terracotta) and colored to protect him while he was dead in the after-world. This full construction took over 700,000 laborers.  These warriors were built in the 3rd century (209-210BC).  It is also believed that Emperor Qin ordered that the tomb workers and supervisors involved in its design be buried alive to protect its secrets. Each life-sized terracotta soldier is modeled on an actual person – they have distinct facial features and hairstyles. It takes at least 2 years to reconstruct a single warrior.

The turtle shell umbrella covers the carriage and symbolizes longevity

The incredible Terracotta Warriors lined up and ready to protect in Pit 1

Terracotta Warriors Pit 1

To see the pits first hand was unbelievable - they were all so much larger than I anticipated

This was a great education on not only Chinese history but archeology as well

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in China

 

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – Chengdu, China

Author: Amy

Just having some breakfast. The caretakers "replant" the bamboo each day to keep it somewhat of a natural environment.

WE SAW PANDAS, WE SAW PANDAS, WE SAW PANDAS!!  Chengdu China is famous for its Panda Breeding and Research center.  We arrived early in the morning at the center because Panda’s sleep a lot.  Our expectations were blown away we thought we might see at the most five pandas and from far away.  We saw so many – they were so cute, cuddly and adorable.  We were able to see them eating and active.  We even saw some cubs playing with each other and their mama.  Kendal found a new favorite animal – the Red Panda.  There were a lot of them at the center as well.  They just wandered around and were fascinating to watch.  They look like a fox, raccoon, panda mix.  They are a beautiful red with black legs and a long bushy striped tail.  The property was immense and beautifully landscaped.  The Pandas all had a lot of room and looked really healthy and happy.  They tour of the research center also provided an educational 30 minute video on the background of the center which also included detail on the breeding aspect of the center (that covered a large portion of the health education for the kids this year – wow).  Overall it was a great experience.

Mom and baby wrestling around.

It's amazing to watch them eat. They peel the bark of the bamboo with their teeth and only eat the inside - they are really fast with that skinny stick of bamboo.

The Red Pandas - our guide brought us in quietly and they all stayed and let us watch them. Another group came in that was quite loud and they all scurried away.

Such a cute face - curious about who's looking at him.

Chengdu was a really nice town and we stayed at great hostel called Lazy-Bones. Lazy-Bones offered a free guided walking tour of the city in which we gladly participated.  The tour took us to many different types of markets. We were even allowed to have a short visit with some kids at school and they all were so happy to see us they shared their mastery of the English language as soon as they saw us and shouted “Good Morning Teacher”.  We stopped at some temples and visited a Nunnery for lunch.  It houses Nuns who have shaved heads and wear a robe just like male Monks but are female – thus, Nuns.  They have a lunch that you can join them for less than $1 US.  We shared in their vegetarian feast (which was amazingly delicious) and listened to them chant before and after eating; another unforgettable experience.

Woman preparing her chili's to be sold in a market in Chengdu

This is the Nunnery where we ate lunch. It was so well taken care of. Out of respect we did not to take any photos of the Nuns.

One night we went to the famous Face Changing Opera.  We again saw the energy conservation where you wear your coat the entire show – some people even had blankets.  The show was very fast moving, showing many different types of entertainment. They did shadow puppets, a comedy act, dancing and the infamous Face Changing.  It was amazing to see the masks change – we believe in magic!! We really enjoyed the show.

The Face Changing Opera. It was full of color and you could enjoy the show not knowing the language.

We learned the face changing secret is passed down from generation to generation. The masks change right in front of you while they are performing.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in China

 
 
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