Twenty Years in US

IMG_7296On this day twenty years ago, I came to the United States. My point of entry was Anchorage, Alaska. I still remember stepping off the plane, exhausted after an eight-hour flight from Shanghai (and a short flight from Beijing before that), yet excited from seeing the gorgeous snow mountains from the air, and the rows of private jets on the ground. As I stood in line at passport control, it suddenly struck me: I am in a different country and I will be on my own. My family and friends and everything I am familiar with are now thousands of miles away…

There was not much time to be sentimental. I boarded another plane and flew six more hours to JFK. As it approached, I watched the beautiful night view of New York City with all those bright lights and elegant bridges, and felt like I was in a dream. When the wheels touched the ground and passengers applauded, tears rolled down my face. At that moment, so many feelings went through my mind that it felt blank. A new chapter began.

So that was the first trip by air in my life. And it lasted over 20 hours. I was a rookie traveler then and thought even the churning baggage carousel was impressive. Today, I am quite experienced. I have been to 33 countries and 64 airports around the world. Still, that same excitement when the plane touches down in a brand new place never left me.

IMG_7298Many things have changed in twenty years. For example, I came here holding a Chinese passport with a US visa. Today, I have a US passport with a Chinese visa. Between the two countries, no matter which direction I fly now, I consider it ‘going home’.

BTW, here is a post that I published around the 18th anniversary. 🙂 Can’t believe it has been two years since then! Time flies. I wonder what I will be writing about five years from now, or ten, or another twenty…

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Five Days in South Korea (Busan, Seoul)

Early this month we had a wonderful visit to South Korea, including 1.5 days in Busan and 3 days in Seoul. Hopefully our itinerary below would help people plan their trip to this great and interesting country. I found this site to be quite helpful when I did my planning.

Our day started at 3am US EDT. Due to delay we almost missed our connecting flight at San Francisco. Luckily we made it to the gate 4 minutes before it closed. We arrived at Incheon International Airport around 3pm the next afternoon. Then we got our Korail pass and boarded a KTX train to Busan. Because it was a holiday week the seats were sold out, but we managed to sit for 2.5 hours out of the 3.5-hour ride. Not bad. We arrived at Busan around 8pm – 28 hours after we left home. I promised myself never to make such crazy arrangements ever again.

Day 1. Busan Aquarium, Food Alley, Geumgang Park (with cable car). We made an attempt to go to the famous Beomeosa Temple but were too exhausted to walk the required distance.

Day 2. Jagalchi Fish Market, Gamcheon Culture Village. Afternoon train to Seoul.

Day 3. Half-day DMZ Tour.  Deoksugung Palace (changing guards).

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Day 4. Lotte World Aquarium, Lotte World Tower, Coex Aquarium, Namsan Tower.

Day 5. Changdeokgung Palace, Myongdong Shopping District.

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Except the DMZ Tour, all the other places are accessible via subway/bus. A must-have is a Cash-bee card. It can be used to pay for subway, bus, taxi, train, or even in convenient stores, and it is good in both Busan and Seoul. That said, we walked on average 15,000 steps a day even with the great public transportation!

The next day we departed Seoul heading to Beijing, China… To be continued.

 

Trip Brief – Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia

It has been a week since I returned from a wonderful 12-day trip in Europe:

Amsterdam, Netherlands -> Belgrade, Serbia -> Montenegro -> Dubrovnik, Croatia -> Frankfurt, Germany

The trip included five flight segments from four airlines, train, bus, ferry, and lots of walking (average 15,000 steps a day). It was a nice combination of city and nature. As usual, there are too many pictures to go through and too much fun to put into words – highlights for now and details in the future.

Amsterdam:

Belgrade:

(Reception at the Royal Palace – our small tour group with Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia)

Montenegro (Kotor, Lovcen National Park, Sveti Stefan):

Dubrovnik (climbed the city walls):

Frankfurt:

In addition to enjoying the breath-taking views, we also appreciated Van Gogh’s masterpieces, drank Rakija and local beers, tasted wines, ate lots of meat (in Serbia) and fish (in Montenegro and Croatia), met wonderful people everywhere, and added precious moments to our memories… More details to come.

 

The Southernmost Place I Have Ever Visited

That would be the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina that I visited in February 2014. It is still a few hundred miles north of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, but it is already “more South” than the tip of South Africa and New Zealand.

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A detailed post with beautiful photos and more information about this amazing Glacier can be found here.

This is what I wrote right after returning from the trips two years ago… It was an exciting experience. How time flies! Looking forward to returning to South America in the near future.

[Daily Post – South]

 

Beihai (Northern Sea) Park in Beijing

Beijing SeasThis map shows a part of central Beijing. The Forbidden City is inside the blue rectangle which is the moat. The Beihai (Northern Sea) Park locates outside the northwest corner, with an islet in the middle. It is a classical imperial garden that opens to the public. The combination of “Middle Sea” and “Southern Sea” areas is the home of China’s paramount leaders and remains a mystery to the general populace.

I visited the park three times. The first time was with my dad when I was 6 years old. No photos came out of it as we didn’t have a camera back then. The second time I was with my mom at 15. It was winter time and the frozen “sea” was all covered by snow, quite pretty. The third time was in 2009 when I went back to Beijing for a visit. By then I had a digital camera and was able to capture the beauties of the park.

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This was in late fall. The park is far more beautiful in summer when those water lilies are more alive. The 118-foot-tall white pagoda is made of white stone and sits on the highest point of the Islet. You can reach its base after climbing many steps.

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In addition to this focal point of the park, I really enjoyed strolling the rest of the park as well. In fact, I got so tired from all the walking that I wasn’t able to get to the famous “Nine Dragon Wall” since it is quite out of the way. I did see it during both of my previous visits so no regrets there, but still, it gives me a good reason to return in the near future.

 

Cruise on Wind Surf

Classic-Carib_STMAAR_STMAAR_2016I just returned from a 7-day Caribbean cruise on the gorgeous Wind Surf, the world’s largest sailing yacht that brought me to several new countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis) as well as territories (Sint Maarten <Netherlands>, Guadeloupe <France>, Saint Barthélemy <France>). It was such a wonderful trip that I can’t wait to return for another sail-away…

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We actually didn’t spend much time on the usual cruise-related activities – shopping, sitting on the beach/deck, swimming, etc. Rather, we did different interesting things that involved the following means of transportation:

Note: I forgot to take a photo of the clear-bottom kayaks so I borrowed a picture from the Sea Thru Kayaks VI website.

Each of these excursions was fun and deserves a post of its own. For details on the Yellow Submarine, check here. We also hiked/walked a lot at every location – average 10,000 steps a day. After we sufficiently exhausted ourselves we would return to the yacht, change into ‘casual elegant’ clothing, and enjoy a truly gourmet dinner like this:

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In addition, there was wine, there was music, and there were incredibly numerous stars in the night sky. Mountains, oceans, rainbows, sunsets, unfurling sails – simply too many beauties grabbed me everyday. I can still feel all the happiness and excitement even now, days after I returned home a few shades darker and several pounds heavier. Till next time…

An Unforgettable Trip to Beijing

Last night I returned from my ten-day trip to Beijing. The main purpose of the trip was to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. While I was there, I also met up with two old friends and had lots of fun.

The picture below was from a 10-km walk along the central line of the old Beijing city, from YongDingMen(永定门)on the south side, thru TianAnMen(天安门)Square, to ZhongGuLou(钟鼓楼)on the north side. The scenes along the route were beautiful when the air quality was good.

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I also spent a day touring YuanMingYuan (圆明园,Old Summer Palace). It was built in the 18th and early 19th century, an amazingly beautiful and luxurious complex of palaces and gardens for the emperors. Then it was destructed by the British and French troops during the Second Opium War, and further burnt to the ground by the Eight-Nation Alliance. Today only ruins stand as a reminder of this once glorious wonder.

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The park itself was made very beautiful, even though the sky was overcast and gloomy. This picture is just one of the many that look like paintings.

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Then it was the big celebration of my mom’s birthday with a dozen family members in three generations. Here is a photo of my mother with her two daughters and a granddaughter.

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It was a great trip until the last day, when it snowed all day in Beijing and my flight was delayed. Then 3 hours after we boarded the plane, the flight was cancelled. By then the subway was closed, highway was shutdown, and I ended up spending the night at the airport. My return to the US was delayed by 24 hours.

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This is just an overview of the trip, each section could easily be expanded into one or more posts. I also plan to resume writing family stories now that I heard more from my mom during this trip. Stay tuned. 🙂