Visiting Greece was always something on our bucket list, and this May/June we were able to travel internationally with a group of friends (Winnie, Kacey, Daniel, and Albert) for the first time. It turned out to be one of my favorite trips so far. Having friends to laugh and do stupid things with while exploring a foreign country took us out of our usual hotpot-and-board-game-at-home situation. Not to mention, we ate so much delicious food! One of the best things about traveling with a group is being able to family-style every meal and try as many dishes as possible without breaking the bank. Outside of Astoria, New York lacks an abundance of amazing Greek food so of course we had to stuff ourselves given the chance.
Although Tie and I usually plan a pretty thorough itinerary for our trips, this time we decided to be a bit more spontaneous as we were traveling with a group and understood that some of us would have conflicting interests. I admit that not having a solid plan made me kind of stressed out in the beginning, but I eventually accepted that this should feel like a real vacation so just lounging around sometimes should be okay.
This past weekend, Tie and I went to Pennsylvania with our friends to check out the annual Lantern Festival. We’ve seen others post their pictures and videos of the event from previous years and it looked beautiful. Props to Winnie for organizing!
We bought our tickets from Eventbrite months in advance. I didn’t realize just how popular the Lantern Fest was, but it was completely sold out in the few weeks leading up to it. Some friends had to turn to social media to ask for additional tix. Early bird gets the worm! Tickets were $37 and includes one lantern and a smores kit. Kind of pricey, but someone’s gotta clean everything up.
I was inspired to do a self-guided photography tour of Hong Kong after watching one too many old DigitalRev videos on YouTube. After doing some research online for interesting places to shoot, we embarked on our adventure (which ended up taking about two days – Kowloon on the first and Central on the second). I wish we had explored the neighborhoods instead of just snapping a pic and moving onto the next spot. Maybe next time when we have more than 2-3 days in HK. My feet started hurting after a while since we were walking to and fro each place, so bringing comfortable shoes is a must. Now on to the list!
The next day we were originally supposed to go to Haikou, which is north of Hainan. We got up early and headed to the railway station, which was quite far from our resort. Just our luck, it turns out that even when traveling within the same country (in the same province!), we needed our passports to buy tickets and we had left them in our hotel safe. Darn it! Went all the way there for nothing. So instead we rode all the way back to the hotel and came up with a contingency plan for the rest of our time in Sanya.
On our second day in Sanya we went to Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park (what a mouthful). It was only 11 minutes by car from our resort so we took a cab. At the park, our taxi driver purchased a group ticket for us and two other strangers who hopped in for a carpool to the entrance. Cabbies would always offer to buy tickets because they get a kickback (price is the same for us), but what we should’ve done is held onto the physical ticket instead of letting the two strangers hang on to it. More on that snaffu later. It was just the beginning of what would become a long, long morning.
Tie and I decided to visit Sanya, Hainan (part of China) from of our love for Hainanese chicken. As it turns out, the best Hainanese chicken is found in Singapore, which is an adaptation of the original dish, Wenchang chicken. More on that in a later post. Nonetheless, Sanya is often regarded as the Hawaii of China. Now, having been to both, I can say that the two are totally different aside from the tropical climates. I haven’t been back to the mainland in almost a decade. Like most of China, Mandarin is the common dialect in Sanya. It felt strange being regarded as foreigners since Tie and I either spoke English to each other or spoke Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. But it was easily the most memorable leg of our Asia trip, as it felt at once familiar and like unexplored territory.
I took a semester of Japanese back in college, but aside from watching anime and JDramas every now and then, I haven’t really been seriously studying. Until now! I recently downloaded HelloTalk, a popular language-learning app which I highly recommend. Now I text with native Japanese people on a regular basis (still not confident enough to engage in speech conversation yet). I’ve been observing the way sentences are strung together and became more determined to properly learn grammar/syntax. One of the most confusing and difficult parts about learning Japanese are all the particles! So I found a nifty list of all 188 of them from Nihongo Ichiban and decided to make a printable cheat sheet you can download here. Enjoy!
Amsterdam was a mix of romantic walks along the canal, well-curated museums, and some seedy things. We spent a total of five days living out of a tiny AirBNB by the canal and walked our way around the city. I had attempted to rent a bike before quickly realizing that there was no way I could avoid getting hit by a car or running someone over. So we got our cardio in instead.
Last night we celebrated our friend Albert’s birthday at Gaijin in Astoria, Queens. Gaijin (written as 外人 in Japanese) means “foreigner,” and Chef Mark fully embraces his identity, putting a new spin on traditional Japanese omakase. The restaurant has only been open for five months but it was completely full when we went. A few weeks earlier, we reserved the seats by the bar (there are 8 available) for the $125 full omakase (chef’s choice). Table seating is for guests ordering a la carte. There were three people preparing the food behind the counter so service was a bit on the slower side, but the wait staff were all very courteous and refilled the genmaicha (brown rice green tea) we ordered without extra charge.
Many of our friends ask, “how do you guys travel so often?” The reality is, we do not come from wealthy families nor do we make boatloads of money, but we are very lucky in the flexibility our jobs offer. Moreover, we are the type to go the extra mile in trip planning, as opposed to simply purchasing a LivingSocial or Groupon deal. Not that I am criticizing people who do this. Everyone has a different travel style – some just want a getaway without stressing over the logistics. Let someone/something else – be it a travel agent, tour company, or deal package – handle that. We are just the type that enjoys taking the process into our own hands.