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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

 

The Train Ride is How Long? – Kunming, China

This blog ended a little longer than we would have liked – sorry.

Author: Amy

Waiting for our train ride to Kunming

Our planning process has gotten a little late on the draw.  We were a bit nervous of how things would be once we arrived in China.  We definitely didn’t want to be completely lost and risk being taken advantage of.  We worked with a couple of different travel agents while in Thailand trying to get a tour booked. But as we were working with them we found ourselves having to do all the research and checking on what they suggested because we didn’t necessarily want to see all of what a typical tour includes or in the same amount of time.  We found it hard to explain that since we have ample time we like to have a rest day or two and we need activities that will keep the kids interested as well. Well, it ended up that we were too short of notice for the tours and the one we had been working with didn’t take credit card at such a short notice.  We ended up doing the planning ourselves and it all worked out in the end.  After Yangshuo we headed to Kunming where the weather was 70’s and beautiful.  Getting there was another story.  We found our trains online but couldn’t figure out how to book so we decided it would be more efficient to go face to face and buy the tickets to make sure we would get the right train. Long story short; it wasn’t the language barrier that hurt us it was the fact that they ran out of soft bed compartments . . . as we walked away from the ticket counter we realized we would be in an open-berth for 18 hours on the first leg, immediately followed by an open berth on the 12 hour second leg.  Let me just say that after the first leg we never boarded a train in China again.

The open-berth

This is a picture from our moving train - not sure what this area was but this same scene of deliberate beautiful yellow flowers went on for miles.

Author: Steve

It’s funny the longer you are married the more you get to know the more discreet intricacies of your spouse’s mood and behavior.  For example, you’re quicker to notice in the eyes of your wife when she’s simply had enough or she’s about to explode!

We just got off an eye-popping 18 hour night train ride from Yangshuo to Kunming and Amy and Kendal did just about everything in their powers not to have to go to the bathroom over that 18 hour period (Kendal didn’t make it).  The bathrooms were all squatters, I don’t want to give much detail other than when you walk in all you see is a hole in the floor and, well, imagine them not being cleaned over that period of time.  The four-bed private berths were full when we purchased our tickets so we ended up in an open berth for six.  The sights, the smells and the sounds of that open berth for 18 hours was an experience we will never forget.  We have had 98% success rate on nice train rides; this unfortunately wasn’t one of them.  We were all exhausted when we staggered off that train, funny thing is we had planned to take another 12 hour train that same day to Lijang but because of the first leg experience we decided to forgo that trek.  When I saw the look in Amy’s eyes as we walked through the train station I knew we needed to hit our emergency splurge-fund for a nice hotel for a few nights in Kunming.  Luckily we found Kunming to be a great place to visit for a few days . . . partly due to the nice hotel and a bigger part due to the great weather and Green Lake Park.

Kendal meeting a friend in Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park in Kunming was established in the 17th century. Walking around checking out all the different locals performing everything from traditional folk dances to tai-chi to choreographed line dancing was great fun.

Dance group getting ready to perform. Every morning you can literally see hundreds of people out performing tai-chi in unison - very cool.

Here's a little guy making sure his Green Lake Park stays clean

The bird life in the park is alive and well

Every where you look were different groups of men and women enjoying the park in their own way - here are a group of men that found a nice shaded area to play cards.

Domestic air travel is very reasonable here in China and you don’t have to book in advance to get the best deal so we agreed that we’d be doing the rest of our long travel via the air going forward.  But we also all agreed that we needed that experience (or maybe that was just me agreeing with myself); long 18 hour train in China . . . accomplished, check!

Kunming was a great visit for us, the weather was great and Green Lake Park was beautiful

Special Note: It would be wrong not to mention that there was a silver lining that came with this interesting experience, we luckily ended up with 2 mid-twenty girls as our bunkmates.  They were so nice (as we are seeing much of the people in China are) and loved practicing their English on us.  They even went so far as to give up their lower beds so the kids wouldn’t have to climb up to the second or third level (third level was quite high). I found out later that you pay more the closer to the ground you are so they were so generous to give those beds to our kids.  They talked to us about Kunming and tried to help us with hotel names. I can only imagine what that trip would have been like if we would have ended up with a couple of guys that hocked, spit and smoked all night (and yes there were a number of those guys on the train) and not those cute girls as our bunk-mates . . . the stars sure were aligned for us at that point.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in China

 

Kung Fu Class – Yangshuo, China

Author: Amy

In Yangshuo, China heading out one morning to meet our ride for Kung Fu class

 “Do your best!”  That’s what our Kung Fu master said to us each time he showed us a new form or kick.  The week went by amazingly quick.  We were picked up in town at 8:30am and driven to Master Jason’s Dojo out in the countryside each morning, we spent 2 hours working up a sweat; running, stretching, punching and kicking then we would be driven back to town for about a 2-hour rest.  At 1:30 we were picked up again and then driven back to the Dojo for two more hours in the afternoon.  From the first day I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy, ‘lets get to know each other course’ . . . it started with a “good morning” and then an “okay start running”.  On the second morning all of our muscles were aching when we woke up but after our warm up we felt good and went again.  It was a great week of learning how hard we can all be pushed.  It was the four of us, our Master Jason (who is an 8th generation Shaolin Master) and another guy from Holland (so no hiding in the back row).  The mountains and valley that surrounded his Dojo were breathtaking and I must say I would daze off into the scenery as I did some kicks contemplating “how did I get here?”  Kung Fu is a great exercise for flexibility, muscle strength as well as mental capacity as you need to remember the forms and the order they are performed.  We did not do any sparring but Jason would show us how the form would be used as defense or offense in a sparring situation.

This is the street we would meet our ride for Kung Fu class. The mountains of Yangshuo simply engulf this whole city, it's so beautiful.

I was able to get a shot of Master Jason before we entered the dojo while he was waiting for us. To see him perform his art is simply amazing, a true Master.

It was nice with such a small class we all got plenty of one-on-one time with Master Jason to hown in our form to "try your best".

The views outside of the dojo were unbelievable.

Another shot from outside the dojo.

Our "last day of class" picture . . . what an incredible week!

We stayed in the town of Yangshuo, it is a quaint tourist town but since we arrived on the boarder of season is was very quiet and calm – also it was rainy so that kept things low key.  The weather was cool – in the 50’s and rainy.  We had read that it can be a bit of a loud area in the center of town, where we stayed, but we did not have that experience.  It was a pleasure to spend our time in this very pretty town in China.  The people seem quite content and happy to have the tourists.  One thing that seemed odd but then we found true throughout rural China is the energy conservation.  No hallways, lobbies, retail, or even restaurants were heated.  If we came into a restaurant they would either put on a small electric heater or light a little fire and place it near our table.  The people all wear coats, gloves and hats all day long.  By the end of our time here we were pretty cold to our bones and looking for some warmer weather.

That's Kendal outside our the guest house we stayed at in Yangshuo. The employees at the Rosewood were all very nice and eager to help.

Yangshuo, China

Outside of Lucy's, one of our favorite places to eat great Chinese food and do homework

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in China

 

Li River Cruise and Hostels – China

Author: Kendal

We landed and spent the night in Guilin, China…That’s right CHINA!!!! We are officially on the other side of the world! When we got here it was freezing out! So we had to buy some extra layers before we headed to the city of Yangshuo, by boat, the next day.  The hostel we stayed in didn’t have heat, only electric blankets so we had to make sure they were on so we wouldn’t freeze in our sleep…an experience non the less.

This is our hostel in Guilin, China. My Mom and Keegan are in the back of the photo. They had a lot of pride for their hostel.

Before this trip the word hostel had no meaning to me, just an odd place where people stay when they are traveling… But during this trip the word hostel has taken on a whole new meaning. Hostels are not what I made them out to be in my head; crowded tiny places where people can hardly move and nothing is ever clean. They are kind of like dorm rooms in college. It depends on the country and the hostel on whether or not they have shared or private bathrooms, which are always, clean and tidy. There is usually a common area where people can go to hang out, eat, and share their stories of the day with other people and use the WIFI. We have had some great experiences by staying in hostels and met some great new friends.  My parents use Tripadvisor to check out people’s reviews before they book – they figure if they have a large number of good reviews it’s should be okay. The one we stayed at in Guilin, China was only $22 for the night for all 4 of us – and it had a private bathroom (the shower actually faced the toilet, my dad’s the only one to shower that morning). The hostel people are usually always very helpful, in Guilin they helped us set up our Li River Cruise.

Mom and Keegan hanging out at the hostel.

Keegan LOVES the hostels. Here he is in Chengdu, China at our hostel.

We headed out the next day for our boat bright and early, while waiting for everyone to get on the bus we met a nice American family who are stationed in China for about 14 months, the dad is a Marine. They have two kids around 6 and 3yrs old, they were so much fun to hang out with on the 4 hour boat tour. The boat is basically taking you from one town, Guilin to the next town, Yangshuo, via a scenic river cruise. The river is called the Li River and the views were amazing – it looked like a fairy tale scene.  The Chinese 20 yen has a picture of mountains and a river; we got to take the exact same picture on the boat!  It was a beautiful way to start our experience of this new country.

View from the Li River in China.

The view seems endless. The trip was rainy but we enjoyed every minute of it.

The boats really complete the view.

Here we are on deck of the boat as we cruise the Li River.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in China

 

Bangkok and Beautiful Phuket – Thailand

Author: Amy

One of the Long tail boats on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

We are on our final week in Thailand and we have had a great experience as you have read.  We spent a few nights in Bangkok after Chiang Mai before we journeyed to the beaches of Phuket.  While we were in Bangkok we took a boat cruise through the downtown area on the Chao Phraya River. We were able to see some different temples from the boat as well as some barges and many funky boats.  It was very cool to see the city from this point of view.  We were able to see some homes of some of the locals and some of the huge high-rises. As many of the cities we encounter there are the very rich and the very poor. Bangkok is the largest city in Thailand with approximately 12 million people it is known as Krung Thep meaning “city of angels”.  While Kendal and I kept our eyes open for Ryan Gosling, Steve took advantage of an opportunity to attend Muay Thai fights at Lumpini Stadium and we hit the popular “Chatuchak Weekend Market” which holds an amazing amount of “fakes” of whatever you can imagine.

A little snack on our cruise

One of the funky river boats in Bangkok

Here's Kendal and Keegan with a view from our apartment in Bangkok

Yes we are on a yearlong trip but is it a vacation???  Well our week in Phuket was a real vacation.  Phuket is a small island in Thailand.  It was hit hard by the Tsunami in 2006 but is still luckily a huge tourist destination.  It has been rebuilt and the main part of town is really commercialized.  We chose to stay at a resort north of the main area, which was really quiet.  We lazed away our days pool and beachside.  We completely loved this resort and Phuket in general. The resort had activities which we took part in – yoga, pizza making, scuba diving, Thai boxing, etc.  Other than that we relaxed and did very little.  Our room had a kid area with bunk beds and a PS3 so Keegan was in heaven playing video games whenever he had a chance.  We all joined him from time to time.  The front desk rented movies so we watched some movies as well.  After the relaxing week we are ready to hit China.  Steve has us booked the whole first week for Kung Fu twice a day 2 hours each session.  That will be interesting  .  .  .  .

Here's Keegan teaching Steve some of his skills

Steve and Keegan enjoying the pool

Keegan chillin' in one of the pools at the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket, Mai Khao Beach.

The beach we were on was so beautiful and peaceful

Me and my daughter heading out to dinner on the beach; Phuket, what a beautiful place!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Thailand

 

Muay Thai – Thailand

Author: Steve 

Here's Kendal being taught a strong elbow throw from a trainer in Chiang Mai

Back some 25 years ago I was lucky enough to get involved in Tae Kwon Do while in college. I did this for about 3 years, 2 of those years quite religiously.  My friend, who was the Sensei, invited me to his Dojo.  My main intention of accepting his invite was simply to learn self-defense but I very quickly came to appreciate the beauty of the martial arts.  And since I was a struggling college student my friend not only gave me a good deal but also gave me private lessons whenever I had a few hours to train. Our goal was to make me a more confident fighter so most of our training was in the ring.

That's Keegan being taught the technique of a strong straight kick

I had been training for a few years when I met Amy. When she met me I constantly had discolored and bruised arms and legs and the occasional black eye or bruised face. One day I took a really good shot to the mouth.  I remember everything happening in slow motion; I was sparring and we were instructed to break, I put my arms down and turned to the middle of the ring when I saw in the distant mirror a high kick coming straight to my mouth from my opponent.  All the other students that were watching said it was like a movie, it was a beautiful kick to my mouth, then my head just snapped back and I went straight to ground. That beautifully placed kick ended up cutting the inside of my top lip open.  When I saw Amy that night, my mouth now twice its normal size, she looked at me for a minute and said in a very calm and concerned voice, “I don’t want you to do this any more”.  That was the last time I fought, which was the right decision.

While we were in Phuket we also took a class from a former Muay Thai pro that really knew how to train beginners

Fast-forward 25 years and here we are in beautiful Thailand where the national sport is Muay Thai or Thai-Boxing.  This sport is bigger than soccer here in Thailand.  Instead of the 2-limb contact of boxing, or the 4-limb contact of many martial arts this is the contact of eight limbs. The eight limbs being; fists, elbows, knee’s and feet.  The kids and I decided to take a few beginner lessons while in Thailand; I had forgotten how incredible this workout can be.  I’m sure I would never want my kids to get in a ring without heavy protective gear but the lessons have definitely made them appreciate the beauty of this art and its intensity.

I will never, ever forget taking Muay Thai in Thailand with my kids - priceless!

Amy, Kendal and Keegan did not want to come with me to see live Thai boxing at Lumpini Stadium while we were in Bangkok. Lumpini is “the place” in Thailand to see Muay Thai!  This stadium is world renown for its Muay Thai fights and I couldn’t imagine not checking it out while I was there.  While we were in Bangkok Ryan Gosling (Amy and Kendal informed me who he was) was there preparing for a movie where he will compete in Thai Boxing.  For a second I thought they would end up coming with me just for the odd chance of seeing this guy but they didn’t, I guess he’s not ALL that.

I’m not sure if you heard the news reports of the terrorist bombings in Bangkok but we headed to Bangkok the day after the bombings so we were even more alert than usual on being smart about where we went and when.  I decided to go to the early bouts at 4pm instead of the later ones to be back to the apartment before 8pm.

Every Muay Thai fight is preceded by a "Wai Khru" where each fighter visits each corner of the ring claiming it as his own. Then they perform a traditional dance called a "Ram Muay" where the intention is to display respect for their opponent and their camp as well as appreciation for their teachers, family and their religion.

It was very interesting; I got second row seats and watched 9 bouts. The bouts are 5 rounds of 3 minutes or until some one gets knocked out. Surprisingly all the weight categories were around 100 pounds give or take 10 pounds. The main event consisted of 130 pounders; which you could really appreciate the skill and power of this fight after the first few minutes. The fighters all seemed to be an average age of about 17 years old. The 9th fight was a couple of really young boys who looked to be about 10-11 years old.  All the fighters fight with a mouth guard, boxing gloves and a cup, no other protection. So to see these young kids going at it for 5 rounds is utterly amazing and at the same time a little unsettling for a dad.  I say unsettling because of all the loud and aggressive gambling that takes place during the entire fight. I did an Internet search before I went so I knew that was to be expected.  The men screaming and betting throughout the fight and giving instruction to the fighters didn’t surprise me but what surprised me was the fighters looking over to the betting crowd for direction on what is needed for the bet.

Fighters wear a "mongkon" (a traditional headband) and a "Prajiad" around their biceps both intended to provide good luck. Live traditional Thai music is played through the entire fight.

Here's a shot of some of the action, notice the sign with a message to the ladies.

I’m not judging, I’m just saying . . . maybe they should be allowed to fight their own fight without this continual barrage of betting involvement.  Nevertheless, the Lumpini Stadium is run by the Royal Thai Army on behalf of the Thai Government (all the judges were government officials) and gambling is allowed.

The whole family took a beginner Kung Fu class in Chiang Mia as well . . . next up, Kung Fu in China!

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Thailand

 

Cooking Class – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Author: Keegan

Me in the Kitchen!

One of our activities in Chiang Mai was taking a Thai cooking class. The school picked us up from the hotel in an overcrowded pick-up truck but all the people who were taking the class in the truck were really nice.  They first took us to one of their local food markets to teach us about all the ingredients we would be using to make our food. After the market they drove us out to this farm type location in the country to do our cooking class.  While we were in the truck we got a list and we checked off what meals we wanted to make. Kendal and I shared a cooking station and we made Pad Thai, Chicken and Cashew Nuts, Green Curry and Banana in Coconut Milk for dessert.  (I preferred the Chicken and Cashew nuts). Our chef (her nickname was Pineapple) that taught us how to make the food was SUPER nice and funny! A few times Pineapple brought out her telephone and played American music and sang along to it.  She knew all the words and told us she loved to go out dancing.  We got a small tour of the property and saw a lot of the different vegetables and spices that they grow right there. It was really fun to make the Pad Thai because we got to use a special pan and our instructor showed us how to toss the noodles in the air (sometimes some noodles came out of the pan).  That day I felt like a professional chef; chopping, dicing, frying it was a really fun time!  The day we did the class was on Valentine’s Day and Pineapple always found a way to fit “love” in a sentence! We had some other people that did the class with us.  There were 10 cooking stations with our one instructor.  They came from a lot of different places such as England, Ireland, Holland and Russia.  We made so many different meals it was a lot to eat.  My mom brought back her spring rolls that she made so we could have them as a snack for later and MAN were they good! My mom also made mango sticky rice – that was the days favorite dessert.  Well that was our cooking experience in Chang Mai!

At the market learning about the Thai spices - that's our instructor Pineapple.

In their garden - checking out the veggies and herbs.

Dad getting busy in the kitchen - he will be an excellent chef by the time we get home. When Dad was putting in all his red chili peppers, because he likes it spicy, Pineapple said, "spicy good today but tomorrow I can not save you"!

Busy, busy and so much fun!!

We all ate together after we made each dish.

Fun in the kitchen - wish you were here!!

Yep, Kendal and I made that - so yummy!!

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Thailand

 
 
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