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.

 

A Good 2016, A Better 2017

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My year 2016 has been quite busy and productive, although I didn’t accomplish all the goals I set out at the beginning of the year:

  • Read 50 books. Done. I finished 50 books and here are the book reports: Q1; Q2; Q3; Q4. Interestingly, the average length of this year (2016)’s books is 343 pages, almost the same as last year (2015)’s 342. In both years the longest book I read was by Stephen King.
  • Visit 5 new countries. Done. I actually visited 8 new countries: Netherlands, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia.
  • Swim 80 times (average 1.5 times a week). Partially done. I swam 50 times, average once a week. But I started doing Hot Yoga this year and attended classes in a studio 7 times. On average I walked 5,080 steps a day, falling short of last year’s 7,000.
  • Publish 50 blog posts (on Saturdays). Not done – only posted 18 posts, even fewer than last year’s 28.
  • Lose 5 pounds. Not done – my weight at the end of the year was the same as the beginning of the year. At least I didn’t gain pounds.

Seems only the travel and reading goals were accomplished, same as last year. It is a clear indication of where my passion is. 🙂 Here is this year’s travelogue:

  • January. New York City, NY (work); Cruise on Windsurf, Caribbean
  • April. Charlottesville, VA
  • May. San Antonio, TX; Carlsbad, NM
  • July. Amsterdam; Belgrade; Montenegro; Dubrovnik; Frankfurt. Trip Brief
  • October. New York City, NY (work)
  • November. Mystic, CT; New England

Now here are my goals for 2017, not much different from 2016:

  • Read 50 books, 20 of which from shelves at home
  • Visit 3 new countries
  • Swim 80 times (average 1.5 times a week); yoga at home everyday
  • Publish 40 blog posts
  • Lose 5 pounds

I am looking forward to a better year ahead – closer to God, healthier, happier, wiser…

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.

 

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…

A Good 2015, A Better 2016

Goodreads 2015 books

My year 2015 has been quite busy and productive, although I didn’t accomplish all the goals I set out in this post at the beginning of the year:

  • Read 45 books, at least 12 of them have to be from my book shelves at home. Done. I finished 50 books and 17 of them are from shelves. Check out my book reports for details.
  • Visit at least 3 new countries and 2 new National Parks. Done. I visited Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks.
  • Join a gym and swim twice a week, try to add in one class as well. Partially done. I did join a gym on Feb 8th, but fell short of swimming twice a week (I went 45 times, average once a week). Didn’t do classes but walked 7,000 steps a day on average.
  • Publish at least 50 posts on this blog. Not done – only posted 28 posts.
  • Do at least 5 paintings. Small exercise pieces don’t count. Not done – only did one painting.
  • Learn to cook at least 3 new dishes that I feel comfortable sharing with others. Not done – might have cooked new dishes but nothing to share. 🙂

Even so, I still feel great about this past year. Lots of new and exciting experiences. Here is a brief travelogue:

  • January. Southern Florida; Secaucus, NJ (work)
  • March. St. Michaels, MD; Cheasapeake, VA
  • May. Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway)
  • July. New England, Quebec City, Montreal
  • August. New York City, NY (work)
  • October. Paris; London (work)
  • November. Beijing
  • December. New Orleans, LA; Lancaster, PA

Now here are my goals for 2016, more realistic than the 2015 goals, I think:

  • Read 50 books
  • Visit 5 new countries
  • Swim 80 times (average 1.5 times a week)
  • Publish 50 blog posts (on Saturdays)
  • Lose 5 pounds

I am looking forward to a better year ahead – work, read, write, travel, exercise, learn, enjoy.

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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. 🙂