A little more than halfway through our trip, we stopped by the hot spring town of Yufuin in Oita prefecture for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Our legs sore from walking around all day and our back and arms tired from lugging around bags from place to place, it was a welcome respite from the busy itinerary. From Kumamoto, we took the Shinkansen to Kurume Station and then hopped on the beautiful Yufuin no Mori train, which looks like one of those classic cross-country sightseeing designs. Felt a bit like we were transported back in time to the golden age of railway travel.
The main reason we visited Kumamoto was for its proximity to Takachiho Gorge. There’s no way to get there via public transportation, so we rented a car and drove along the scenic Mount Aso route. Tie got his International Driver’s Permit back in New York and booked the car through Budget Japan so picking up our vehicle was a breeze. Even more conveniently, we got an automatic instead of a manual transmission. The only hurdles were getting used to driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right, and learning some new traffic signs (ex. the “Stop” sign is a triangle and not octagonal). I’ll admit, there were a few instances where we veered to the wrong side, but Tie always impresses me with how quickly he is able to adapt while I tried to navigate him on my phone.
This post is very near and dear to my heart. Every time I visit Japan, I make sure to stock up on beautiful, quality stationery. Because I do a lot of calligraphy and hand lettering, I’m always interested in trying out new tools and surfaces. I love the product design in Japan, and there are a lot of specialty stores for people who get giddy over pens and paper like I do. There is no shortage of them in Tokyo, so let’s dive in and get your haul on!
I haven’t been back to Guangzhou, my birthplace, in over a decade. When I was younger, my family used to return every five years or so to visit relatives during the summer (bad time to go unless you’re a fan of the heat, by the way). Since they have mostly immigrated to America and sold off their homes in the mainland, there hasn’t been much reason to go back. This was my first trip to Guangzhou without my parents, but the wave of nostalgia I thought I would have was noticeably absent.
China is changing at such a rapid pace that every time I return, it feels like an entirely different place. My mom’s ancestral home has been torn down to erect new apartment buildings. If you’re lucky, the government will displace you to a new home in a well-developed part of the city. Few street vendors can be seen anymore since the major crackdown right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in an effort to improve the image of the country. Sadly, that’s one of the things I miss most. Ordering fish ball skewers dipped into hot sauce from metal carts, sipping Mexican coke for 1RMB a bottle before recycling them into a plastic crate, or shopping for stationery with my cousin as vendors lined all sorts of pretty pens, notebooks, and art supplies along the road. All vestiges of a past China.
After watching an online video about nagashi somen, Tie and I knew we had to try it on our most recent trip to Japan. It’s a dining experience where somen noodles flow down a bamboo shoot for you to catch with your chopsticks and dip into a savory sauce to eat. Because the noodles are cold, it’s usually only available during the summer months of May – September, where diners sit on a deck overlooking a waterfall for a refreshing meal. We just made it at the beginning of May, even though the weather was still slightly brisk.
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.
When I was looking for a place to stay in Sanya, I checked American Express Fine Hotel and Resorts (FHR) and decided on the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort. I decided to use FHR for our booking due to the many benefits that were provided: fourth night free, complimentary room upgrade, daily breakfast for two, and the additional benefit this property provided was a free private one-way airport transfer. We decided to use the private airport transfer for when we arrived. It feels great not having to figure out transportation to your hotel after getting off from a long flight. When we landed, after going past immigration to the arrival area, our driver was waiting there holding a sign with my name on it.