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Kyoto is a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Wednesday morning we rented bikes from the hotel and went to a French restaurant, Boulangerie, for croissants and ran into Mats and Robert (our friends from the night before).

Boulangerie Rauk
Boulangerie Sheep pastries—obviously, because it’s the year of the sheep.

Then we continued our search for gloves until we finally found, what I’m convinced they are the last two pairs in Kyoto (they have some serious personality). Then we biked for an hour in thirty-degree weather to Arashiyama. As we were crossing the Togetsu-kyo Bridge near the main street area, it started to rain and hail (so fun). So we parked our bikes and searched for shelter. We found a soba restaurant but when Daniel went inside to ask how long the wait would be, the hostest refused to acknowledge him. So we walked down the road and found a cute Japanese style restaurant (I think it was called Shigetsu), which much nicer service. We ate a very traditional meal, but it was very bland, nonetheless, lunch was an experience.

Biking in Arashiyama Kyoto
Biking in thirty-degree weather to Arashiyama.
Biking in Arashiyama Kyoto
As we were crossing the Togetsu-kyo Bridge in Arashiyama near the main street area, it started to rain and hail (so fun). This is just before that happened.
Shigetsu Restaurant Menu
The menu which we couldn’t understand a word of. Thank goodness for photos that are semi descriptive.
Shigetsu Restaurant Arashiyama
We ate a very traditional meal, but it was very bland, nonetheless, lunch was an experience. This is part 1.
Shigetsu Restaurant Arashiyama
Part 2 of lunch.

As the rain and hail stopped we found our way into the Bamboo Forest— this place was absolutely magical and enchanting! We meandered through the forest until we found Tenryu-ji Temple, which had the most beautiful garden and lots of newly budding cherry tree blossoms.

Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
As the rain and hail stopped we found our way into the Bamboo Forest— this place was absolutely magical and enchanting!
Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
Jumping Jaxy—in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama.
Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
Team shot in the Bamboo Grove/Forest.
Bamboo Grove Arashiyama
Go pro shot of the bamboo.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Us in front of Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Jumping Jaxy—in Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Us in front of the koi fish pond.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
The rock garden in front of Tenryu-ji Temple.
Tenryu-ji Temple in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
The most magnificent garden filled with budding cherry blossom trees.
Cherry Tree Blossoms
Spring is here apparently—its cherry blossom season.
Tenryu-ji Temple Cherry Blossom Season in the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
Finally! Cherry Blossom season coming to fruition.

We took lots of photos and then got back on our bikes to go to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. We climbed up a hill for a good twenty minutes, learning trivia about monkeys along the way, until we arrived at the top where we could see panoramic views of all of Kyoto. On the hill there are about 200 monkeys roaming freely. The monkeys all have red faces and butts because their blood shows through their skin. They all looked like they were freezing by the way they sat huddling, perched up on various things. There are a few monkey guards who keep the monkeys from charging people (which happens every now and then) by running at them and barking—unique approach. Daniel and I posed for a few photos amid the city views and the monkeys before climbing down the mountain.

Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Monkey see monkey do. But I actually sit like this, so I’m not sure who is copying who.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
This is GRANDMA—the oldest monkey at the park—you can tell she’s old because she is skinnier, less fluffy, and more worn down than the rest—is 35 years old (the average age for this kind of monkey is 30) and appeared to be smarter than the rest because she was sitting at the base of an outdoor heater.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Daniel and I posed for a few photos amid the city views and the monkeys.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Same same, but different.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Unreal Kyoto panoramic views from the monkey park.
Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Keep reading www.PocketJax.com!

We got on our bikes and started riding as the sun disappeared behind the mountain. About 20 minutes into our ride I hit a curb the wrong way and went flying—next thing I knew I was on the floor with the bike behind me. I freaked myself out and started crying. Daniel came over to hug me, asked if I was okay, and then told me we could fix my jeans. At that point I looked down and realized the fall had shredded my jeans open, this was when I actually started to cry (sad but true). Through my torn jeans we could tell that I was bleeding a bit, but couldn’t really access much of my skin. Daniel found a bike store about three shops away from us (pure luck) and we hobbled over. The two guys running the shop spoke 0 English. They saw I had been crying, saw my shredded jeans, and tried to ask Daniel what happened. They were able to communicate with each other by using Google Translate (so amazing). Eventually Daniel got on the phone with someone’s wife who was translating in English and Japanese for everyone. I called he hotel to see if they could arrange to get the bikes—because we couldn’t fit them into a taxi—and they couldn’t have been sweeter or more helpful. Between the hotel and the bike shop something was worked out. While this was going on, one of they guys at the bike shop ran down the street to bring us hot chocolate because it was freezing. So nice! They called us a cab and we went back to the hotel.

Japanese Bike Shop
Despite not being able to exchange a word in a common language, this man was a complete angle to me. He even ran down the street to bring us hot chocolate because it was freezing out. So nice!

As I was cleaning myself up in the room, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to two very sweet staff members who brought me big Band-Aids, gauze, sterilizing agent, and water as a “sympathy gift”. I was so touched. Before we left for dinner, we went down to the lobby to thank the manager. He handed us a bag, which he told us was “a sympathy gift from the men at the bike shop”. Inside the bag were two bike lights, one that looks like a cat and one that looks like a dog. I was so deeply moved by their kindness. After all, we interrupted them, took time out of their day, and put them out, and yet they managed to give us something yet again. The kindness of people here is something I will never forget.

Animal Bike Lights
A sympathy gift from the bike store guys—cat and dog bike lights.. I was so deeply moved by their kindness.

For dinner we walked to a famous restaurant called Ippudo Ramen and ordered delicious vegetarian ramen. Daniel and I both highly recommend this place! After dinner we wandered around the very empty and very quiet streets for a bit (all of Kyoto at night feels like a tea ceremony because no one speaks) before heading back to the hotel to sleep.

Ippudo Ramen Kyoto
Shotgun restaurant style at Ippudo Ramen.
Ippudo Ramen Kyoto
The most delicious vegetarian ramen. Daniel and I both highly recommend this place!

Thursday we woke up early (even though it was so difficult to get out of bed) and went back to Boulangerie for breakfast. We sat next to Mats and Robert and exchanged stories about the day before. Breakfast was delicious, scrambled eggs with unlimited breads and coffee. Daniel and I took the bus to Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”. The original building was built in 1397 and was converted into a temple, but then in 1950 a monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground—weird. In 1955 the temple underwent a full reconstruction—the temple and its garden were majestic and ridiculous. On our way out, we tried various types of mochi snacks and green tea (some with gold leaf inside).

Boulangerie Rauk Kyoto
The pastry section of Boulangerie. So yum!
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”. The original building was built in 1397 and was converted into a temple, but then in 1950 a monk consummated his obsession with the temple by burning it to the ground—weird. In 1955 the temple underwent a full reconstruction—the temple and its garden were majestic and ridiculous.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
I liked the tickets so I took this shot—Daniel told me it was silly…..
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
…one minute later as we’re taking this photo the woman standing next to us puts her tickets out. Photo jacking.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
Us in front of Kinkaku-ji.
Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed “Golden Pavilion”.
We offered to take a group shot of these boys and instead of letting us take it, they asked us to be in it, and still made one of their friends take it.

For lunch we went to Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry to check out all of the strange and exciting food. We bought some weird cheese stick but didn’t like it. Then we tried Onigiri, the triangle sushi rice wrapped in seaweed with poppy seeds, and it couldn’t have been more delicious! We spent around forty-five minutes walking up and down the pathway, checking out the different foods at the different stalls. Eventually we ended up at Iyomata, a hole in the wall sushi-only restaurant and had some tasty and authentic sushi.

Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Nishiki Market has these colorful glass windowed ceilings that are different than every other inclosed outdoor area.
Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Random foods at Nishiki Market.
Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Dried, dehydrated, and flattened squid shop.
Nishiki Market aka Kyoto’s Pantry
Sweets shop.
 Iyomata Sushi Nikishi Market Kyoto
Iyomata, a hole in the wall sushi-only restaurant. Tasty sashimi!
Iyomata Sushi Nikishi Market Kyoto
The chef behind the sushi.

In the afternoon we went to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine to check out the majestic orange gates. We learned that the shrine itself is dedicated to the g-ds of rice and sake (we were big fans from the start) and is populated with dozens of stone foxes; the fox is considered to be the messenger of Inari, the g-d of the rice harvest. We hopped onto the back of some American families tour and learned a bit about the shrines before leaving. This shrine was totally worth all they hype!

Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine Kyoto
It’s a miracle I was able to get this shot so far away with no one in it.
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine Kyoto
Jumping Jaxy—in the orange gates of the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine. Kyoto
Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine Kyoto
This shrine itself is dedicated to the g-ds of rice and sake (we were big fans from the start) and is populated with dozens of stone foxes; the fox is considered to be the messenger of Inari, the g-d of the rice harvest. We hopped onto the back of some American families tour and learned a bit about the shrines before leaving. This shrine was totally worth all they hype!

Daniel downloaded an app called Bean Hunter, which tells you about all the best local coffee shops in a city, so on the way out of Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine, we went to a local place known as Café Goo. We ordered a coffee and a green tea (considering how unpleasant the coffee has been for the last month and a half I wasn’t all too excited about taking the risk on ordering another bad cup). Turns out the coffee here was excellent—smooth and strong without any bitterness—and the owner couldn’t have been sweeter.

Cafe Goo Kyoto
How they do coffee at Cafe Goo!
Café Goo Kyoto Coffee Shop
We ordered a coffee and a green tea. The coffee here was excellent—smooth and strong without any bitterness—and the owner couldn’t have been sweeter.
Kyoto
On the walk back to our hotel in Kyoto.

I headed to the outdoor market to look for a pair of pants (to replace my shredded jeans) and Daniel went to the hotel to relax. I found a store called Who’s Who and had the most fun with the cute Japanese sales associate who spoke no English. Every time I would try pants on she would bring out a different top, jacket, and pair of retro athletic shoes to try them on with. I am pleased to report I found a pretty cool pair of trousers. Oh—one random and interesting thing to note, in some of the stores they have “face covers” for people to wear when they try on anything that goes over their head, so as to avoid getting makeup or sweat on the clothing—strange but also not the worst thing I’ve ever heard.

Who's Who Store Kyoto
I found a store called Who’s Who and had the most fun with the cute Japanese sales associate who spoke no English. Every time I would try pants on she would bring out a different top, jacket, and pair of retro athletic shoes to try them on with. She even had me try on this dress, even though I told her I only needed pants. Such fun.

I went back to the hotel, grabbed Daniel and we met up with Brandon and Patty (amazing friends from Los Angeles) in the hotel bar. We had a drink and then Daniel and Brandon had some weird interaction with a woman dressed as a bell-boy who eventually gave them a dinner recommendation. The four of us walked to Italiana Sagra, a highly recommended Italian restaurant. When we walked in we ordered a fabulous bottle of wine and started to go over the menu. As vegetarians there wasn’t much that Daniel and I could eat but we figured we would get the grilled sea bass, and Patty decided on the same. Two minutes after ordering the nice waiter came back to tell us there is no more sea bass. Then we asked for something else and he came back a moment later to tell us that they didn’t have that either. He then informed us that the English menu we were looking at was from the year before and many of the dishes had been changed. So we requested pasta with olive oil and garlic, which they weren’t able to do. Then they told Brandon they couldn’t make the dish he wanted. We made the call to leave here and go somewhere else for dinner, but we felt bad so we ordered a bread basked which our waiter presented to us in extreme detail, before we got the bill. We decided to go back to Kappa Sushi (the restaurant Daniel and I had dinner at two nights before). We were seated at a traditional Japanese style table and ordered more amazing sushi! Then we all went our separate ways and decided to meet up Saturday in Tokyo. Such a fun night!

Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa Bar
In the hotel bar meeting up with Brandon and Patty for a drink before a night out in Kyoto.
Italiana Sarga Menu
The menu at Italiana Sagra, which our waiter waited a good twenty minutes after we had ordered to inform us that the English menu we were looking at was from the year before and many of the dishes had been changed.***They say SOURCE instead of SAUCE****
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Traditional Japanese style table at Kappa Sushi where we ordered more amazing sushi!
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Group shot at Kappa Sushi!
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
One more for good luck.
Kyoto Streets
Daniel asked this doctor to take a photo of Brandon, Patty and I (soon to be him too) and the man had no clue how to use the camera. So Daniel took a selfie with him.
Kyoto Streets
After a few miscommunications we found a different doctor to take a photo of us.

Friday morning we woke up early, went to breakfast at Boulangerie, saw Mats and Robert, ate and said goodbye.

Boulangerie Rauk
Last breakfast at Boulangerie in Toyko.

 

We took a cab to the Kyoto Station and met the nicest couple— originally from New York, but living in Los Angeles named Laurie and Washington—on the platform as we were waiting for our train. We chatted with them until our train arrived as we were in separate cars. The bullet train was quick and easy, yet again, and we passed Mount Fuji on the way, which was stunning. We arrived at Odawara Station and ran into Laurie and Washington again. They gave us a box of Pierre Hermé French Macaroons as a gift—sweetest people ever!

Kyoto Station
This is what we look like when we’re rushing through an awesome train station.
Kyoto Station
The JR bullet train kind of looks like a porpoise.
Mount Fuji Japan
We passed by Mount Fuji on the way to Hakone. Insane!
Pierre Hermé French Macaroons
Pierre Hermé French Macaroons—a gift from Laurie and Washington. SO NICE!

Konichiwa Kyoto

We arrived at the amazing Kyoto Station and took a taxi with the sweetest driver ever to the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa.

Taxi Driver Kyoto
The sweetest Taxi driver I’ve ever met!

When we checked in I spoke with the receptionist for a good 20-minutes and planned out our transportation and itinerary for our three days in Kyoto with the help of Katie’s amazing guide. (THANKS KATIE!) Daniel tested out the toilets (and told me it was an immediate priority that I do the same) and decided that we live like peasants in America.

Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa
Lobby of Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa.
Kyoto Guide
Katie’s AMAZING Kyoto Guide.
Japanese Toilets
Fancy Japanese toilet usage instructions.

We walked across the street to Musashi Sushi, a conveyer belt style restaurant, for lunch. The place was delicious, but carried many things we’d never seen before like, raw horse meat, figure squid, boiled bones of fish, and black throat sea perch. We tried a “cream cheese sesame roll” that was basically a Jewish style bagel (minus the bagel).

Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Musashi Sushi–a conveyer belt style restaurant.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Daniel posing with round one of our sushi.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Many things we’d never seen before like, raw horse meat.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Boiled bones of fish—any takers?
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Another thing we’d never seen before—black throat sea perch.
Musashi Sushi in Kyoto
Cream cheese sesame roll aka the Jewish style bagel roll (minus the bagel).

After lunch we walked through a massive outdoor shopping mall Eirakucho and stopped for some hot milk tea, right as it started to rain. Each place we’ve been since Thailand has gotten progressively colder. We tried to buy gloves at a few stores, but since every store is preparing for spring they no longer carry winter clothes. One employee at Zara told us to try Uniqlo—when we asked her for directions she walked us out of the store and down the road until we were a few stores away (so kind and unnecessary, but we were so grateful and impressed by her kindness).

Outdoor Mall in Kyoto
Awesome and massive outdoor shopping mall in Kyoto. These three religious guys wear shoes made out of rope and follow each other in lines.

We took the subway to Kiyomizu-Gojo station and took a beautiful and very tranquil walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto. The walk up to the temple, called Teapot Lane, is lined with little shops selling snacks, and local handcrafted gifts and knickknacks. Another interesting thing to mention is that the temple was full of tourists that we have been referring to as “rent-a-geishas”—(exactly what it sounds like—tourists who rent geisha costumes and walk around the city in wooden sandals moving at a snails pace for the day). I have could never have done this for two reasons despite my love for dress up—1) There is no way I could ever feel comfortable moving so slowly 2) It was so cold outside (40 degrease Fahrenheit) there was no way I was going to suffer through the day in a silk dress and flip flips.

Cemetery on the way to Kiyomizu-dera Temple
The most massive cemetery on the walk to Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
At the entrance to the walk up of Kiyomizu-dera Temple with a new Cherry Blossom tree!
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Shrining it up in front of the orange towers.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Jumping Jaxy— at Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Us taking a photo on a little lookout ledge out in front of Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
Buddha at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto. Looks so different to every other one we’ve seen.
Geisha's in Kyoto
The city is full of tourists that we have been referring to as “rent-a-geishas”—(exactly what it sounds like—tourists who rent geisha costumes and walk around the city in wooden sandals moving at a snails pace for the day).
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto
New friends at Kiyomizu-dera Temple. I think we were all equally excited about being able to be a part of a photo together.

After the temple we went to explore Gion, Kyoto’s well-known entertainment and geisha district. While we saw more than our fair share of “rent-a-geishas” we didn’t see any authentic ones—to be expected as it is considered very rare to find them. After walking the streets for a while we headed over to a green tea ceremony at a place called En. A woman in a kimono, who I’ll refer to as a tea geisha (because I’m not sure what else to call her) explained traditional Japanese manners to us and then told us that a tea ceremony is about four things—1) Peace and Harmony 2) Respect 3) Purity 4) Tranquility. After a lengthy explanation of these things, a younger tea geisha walked into the room and performed the tea ceremony in dead silence (all you could hear was the sound of water boiling in the kettle and being poured). Every movement is so precise and thought out; every action has meaning. Once the tea-geisha was finished with her presentation, we were given a Japanese sweet and the necessary tools to make our own green tea from Matcha powder—this was great! After the ceremony Daniel asked the tea-geisha “Do people actually speak to each other at Japanese tea parties?” and her answer was “Only a little bit—the main guest asks the host about the history of the tea utensils, but that’s all the conversation made”—for the record this is definitely not my kind of tea party.

Gion District Kyoto
Gion District—home of the geisha.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
A woman in a kimono, who I’ll refer to as a tea geisha (because I’m not sure what else to call her) explained traditional Japanese manners to us and then told us that a tea ceremony is about four things—1) Peace and Harmony 2) Respect 3) Purity 4) Tranquility.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
Cup of self-made matcha green tea, with a bamboo whisk.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
Japanese sweet to enjoy with your cup of tea.
En Green Tea Ceremony Kyoto
This younger tea geisha performed the tea ceremony in dead silence (all you could hear was the sound of water boiling in the kettle and being poured). Every movement is so precise and thought out; every action has meaning.

When we got out of the tea ceremony, the weather had dropped into the high thirties. We made friends with a fabulous woman named Deisha from Portland, but then split up because we were turning blue. We returned to our hotel, put on more clothes, and went to a very cool Japanese restaurant called Kappa Sushi. The sushi was insane—best salmon nigiri we’ve ever tried. Towards the end of our meal a good-looking older Japanese woman carrying a white pony fur purse with a taxidermy frog (serious jewels inset for eyes) and wearing a dental hygienist mask sat down next to us—she reminded me of the sassy socialite woman from the movie Harriet the Spy. Anyway, we started talking to her (her name is Sudako) and learned that she lived in the Oakland Hills for twenty years but now lives in Osaka—small world. We asked her why people wear the hygienist mask and she explained that she wears it for allergies because it’s spring time (even though it feels like the dead of winter), but some women think it’s very fashionable to just show their eyes—so they pinch the top of the mask and make it look higher up on their nose to appear more western—so strange. Before we left, she gave us some sage life advice aka she told us about the importance of buying quality products—“I bought a $700 lice-cooker and it’s never failed me”. Fun fact: just like Daniel’s niece, Sudako’s granddaughter is also named “Orivia.” I’m so thankful we had the opportunity to meet her. She was a real gem (just like the eyes on the frog on her purse).

Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Awesome Japanese restaurant called Kappa Sushi. The sushi was insane—best salmon nigiri we’ve ever tried.
Kappa Sushi Kyoto
Round two.
Dental Hygienist Mask Japan
We asked Sudako why people wear the hygienist mask and she explained that she wears it for allergies because it’s spring time (even though it feels like the dead of winter), but some women think it’s very fashionable to just show their eyes—so they pinch the top of the mask and make it look higher up on their nose to appear more western—so strange.

Shivering cold, we walked down the narrow streets in search of a drink (it was now 35 degrease out). A man approached us and asked what we were looking for, we told him a good bar and he pointed us down the narrowest passage of micro restaurants and bars to a place called Concrete Bar. Confused as to exactly where he was pointing, he then walked us towards a brown door (shorter than I am) covered in stickers and slid it open to reveal a two-story closet sized bar—so cool! We sat down and ordered whiskies and were soon joined by two men from Sweden named Mats and Robert. We spent the rest of the night drinking and chatting about all the fun things in life (e.g. travel, great food and drinks, Netflix and HBO television shows).

Concrete Bar Kyoto
A man approached us and asked what we were looking for, we told him a good bar and he pointed us down the narrowest passage of micro restaurants and bars to a place called Concrete Bar.
Concrete Bar Kyoto
A tiny brown door (shorter than I am) covered in stickers reveals a two-story closet sized bar—so cool! HI Daniel!
Concrete Bar Kyoto
Group shot inside of Concrete Bar—me, Daniel, Mats, and Robert.

Kyoto coming in for the win!

Tokyo—The City of Dental Hygienists

From the moment we boarded our flight to Japan we immediately felt like we were transported out of China. The plane was so nice and new and everyone was so quiet. Each individual seat had a TV on the back of the head rest (which was amazing considering the Chinese airlines often don’t have any TV’s and when they do only 4.7% of them work)—I watched the Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Daniel worked on editing Larry’s promotional video for his website Kosher Beijing Tours. We had the cutest flight attendant—she served us Japanese beer and rice snacks, and gave us even more when she found out we couldn’t eat the main course because we were vegetarian. We had such a nice flight we didn’t want to get off the plane due to the nice environment.

ANA flight snacks
We had the cutest flight attendant—she served us Japanese beer and rice snacks, and gave us even more when she found out we couldn’t eat the main course because we were vegetarian.
ANA flight from Beijing to Tokyo out the window
Window views on the flight from Beijing to Tokyo.
ANA flight to Japan
Happy to be on our flight from China to Japan!

We arrived at Narita International Airport at 8:30 PM, but everything was closed for the night—all the shops, all the restaurants, and even Starbucks (not that I’m a fan, but when is Starbucks ever closed?). We through the airport for the greater part of an hour until we finally found a SIM card that wouldn’t cost us $15/day or $13/day for portable wifi.

Narita International Airport
Narita International Airport —virtually empty!
Narita International Airport
Fake food window displays everywhere!

 

After we got data (and could sort of use Google Maps) we entered the subway station. Interestingly, unlike China, when we asked people if we were boarding the right train they all put their heads down and ignored us (there wasn’t even an attempt to help)—not what we expected. Anyway, we found the correct subway lines and navigated our way to the Minato-ku neighborhood (near the Tokyo Tower) to get to our hotel Mielparque Tokyo. There was a general welcome sign in the lobby that read, “We hope you both beautiful happy time.” We checked in and went up to the room—much smaller than anywhere else we’d been but that’s what we’ve heard about Tokyo living spaces.

Mielparque Tokyo Hotel Room
Mielparque Tokyo Hotel Room—I’m pretty sure the pillows were stuffed with some type of heavy grain-like substance. Strange but we slept well.
Mielparque Tokyo Hotel Bathroom
The most amazingly compact bathroom at Mielparque Tokyo.

We ran to grab dinner down the block at any open restaurant we could find with veggie options. We found a ramen place and ordered our ramen two ways (one with spicy broth and one with miso broth) through a vending machine, then the chef took the ticket and made us some of the most delicious soup I’ve ever had. We ordered hot sake and beer to go with the meal—everything was super delightful. Totally full and ready to pass out we walked back to our hotel in the freezing Tokyo weather and go into bed. I’m pretty sure the pillows were stuffed with some type of heavy grain-like substance. Strange but we slept well.

Ramen Vending Machine in Minato-ku
Ramen Vending Machine in Minato-ku, Tokyo.
Tokyo Ramen in Minato-ku
We ordered ramen two ways (spicy broth and miso broth) through a vending machine, then the chef took the ticket and made us some of the most delicious soup I’ve ever had. We ordered hot sake and beer to go with the meal—everything was super delightful.
Tokyo Ramen
Thoroughly enjoying my miso flavored ramen!
Ramen in Tokyo
This is the name of the ramen place. It’s as much as I can tell you.

Tuesday we woke up, wheeled our bags to the subway station (no escalators or elevators at some stops aka Daniel had to carry our luggage up lots and lots of stairs), and got on the train to the JR station. Then we took the JR bullet train to Kyoto Station. The bullet train was amazing; quick, clean, and quiet. Daniel slept and I worked on the blog.

Japanese Subway Station
Daniel buying tickets at the subway station.
Japanese Subway Station
Some of the subway stops don’t have escalators or elevators aka Daniel had to carry our luggage up lots and lots of stairs.
Japanese Subway Station
This is what it looks like on the subway in Japan.
Tokyo Face Masks
Tokyo—the city where everyone looks like a dental hygienist.

Beijing by Happy Larry’s Kosher Beijing Tours

Saturday morning we woke up early, grabbed breakfast, and went down to the lobby to meet Larry. From the minute we first shook his hand, I just new we were going to have an excellent time together!

Renaissance Hotel Breakfast
Good morning from Beijing!
Renaissance Hotel Breakfast
Daniel enjoying his breakfast.
Renaissance Hotel Breakfast
The view from breakfast over the Forbidden City.
Happy Larry Travel—Kosher Beijing Tours
Happy Larry Travel aka. Kosher Beijing Tours

We went outside and got into the car (a black VW with a driver that spoke no Engrish—“Ni-HOW!… No Hello”) to drive two hours to The Great Wall. During the ride we drove past the Olympic Village and saw the Bird’s Nest and the Cube (or the “Blue Bubble” as Larry calls it). During the long drive (as a result of traffic so intense it made Los Angeles look like rush hour’s not so bad) Larry gave us a bit of an education. We learned that:

  • Beijing is known for it’s insane traffic (especially this weekend and then next tree weekends because this is a period known as Weeping Day, where people drive all over the city to pay respects to their ancestors grave sites).
  • People worship the heaven and their ancestors here
  • Beijing has 56 nationalities, 16 districts, 22,000 people, and is expanding in size rapidly
  • The one child policy is still in effect, but the policy is stricter depending on where you are from (city or countryside), and your socio economic status—you have to pay the government a good chunk of money if you want to have a second child
  • Larry on the cultural perspective of child rearing “boys are construction banks and girls are money trees”. Back in the day people only wanted to have boys because boys take care of their parents during their old age. However, to raise a boy you must work your entire life to provide well them (the mentality is you want them to have what you didn’t). You have to buy them a nice car, a good apartment, and be able to supply a good resume for them (regarding information such as family status, familial accomplishments, number of properties, etc.) when it comes to finding a wife—by the way, everything you do to provide for them, is all done with the intention of finding them a good wife. Additionally, when you find a suitable wife for your son, you must pay your future mother-in-law a significant sized dowry in cash (in addition to proving that your son has a good resume, a nice car, and a nice apartment/property inheritance)—hence the expression “boys are construction banks”. Without a good enough dowry the mother-in-law can block the marriage. Thus, they say “girls are money trees” because they make their family lots of money in the form of a dowry and inherit property from both their own family as well as their future husbands family.
  • “Marriage is just marketing and PR” according to Larry. Love is involved, but that’s only once child and parents do a good enough job of marketing their children to a suitable match.
  • There are lots of TV shows that focus entirely on dating. I’m not talking about The Bachelor here—this is more like a legal TV auction that people op-into. They go the show, provide information about themselves as well as their contact information so that people watching the show can call in and become potential suitors. So interesting.

After a very educational car ride we eventually arrived at the Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall. We bought tickets and started our very long and steep climb up the stairs–there were steps of all sizes, some of which went up to the height of my knee. As we ascended the steps we were quickly winded, at some points we were climbing at what felt like a 40-degree angle (but then again I didn’t do so well in geometry, so I’m not really sure what I’m talking about). At one flat part of the steps, some boys approached Daniel and asked if they could take a photo with him, then a girl snuck in and did the same. I don’t think Daniel has ever felt more famous or cooler in his life–he was absolutely beaming afterwards… I guess flattery is the way to his heart. We were the only white people at the wall that day, and apparently quite a source of fascination for many of the Chinese people from rural parts of the country who had traveled there and never seen a white person before.

The Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
Us posing with a great Han warrior at the bottom of the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall.
The Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
The Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China from higher up. What a view.
Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
The Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall.
Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
Some boys approached Daniel and asked if they could take a photo with him. I don’t think Daniel has ever felt more famous or cooler in his life–he was absolutely beaming afterwards… I guess flattery is the way to his heart.
Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
We were the only white people at the wall that day, and apparently quite a source of fascination for many of the Chinese people from rural parts of the country who had traveled there and never seen a white person before. Chinese chick and famous white Daniel.
The Great Wall of China
One of our favorite signs on the way up the wall; “please bring your own child”—fail blog submission.

We took lots of photos and videos at The Wall— I think Larry had a little too much fun directing the shots—and eventually found a place where you can pay to get dressed up in traditional Chinese garb and take more photos. Of course, there wasn’t a question of as to whether or not we were doing this. We walked into the alcove where you could pick your outfits and before we know it five Chinese ladies wearing dental hygiene masks were aggressively tying gowns and hats and sashes onto us—they chose the emperor and empress costumes for us (good choice). Larry took a bunch of photos of us (at certain points random people would just come up and pose with us, or take photos of us on their own cameras—so strange) and then we headed down the steps to get back in the car.

The Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
Selfie at the top of the top of the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall.
The Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall of China
Jumping Jaxy—the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall of China.
The Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall of China
Larry having too much fun directing tandem Jumping Jaxy shots.
The Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall of China
Another tandem Jumping Jaxy shot directed by Larry.
Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall of China
Selfie with Larry at the top of the Wall. Cutest man.
Dress up at the Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
The beginning of being swiftly dressed into an empress costume.
Dress up at the Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
Five Chinese ladies wearing dental hygiene masks were aggressively tying gowns and hats and sashes onto us.
Dress up at the Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
“lets get down to business, to defeat the Huns”—we came, we saw, we conqured—now we’re the Emperor and Empress of China according to Larry.
Dress up at the Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
Some random dude hopped into this picture after taking a photo shoot of us on his own camera.
Dress up at the Huanghuacheng section of The Great Wall of China
At certain points random people would just come up and pose with us, like this chick.
Great Wall of China
Jumping Jaxy—Great Wall of China dressed up in traditional empress garb by 5 Chinese ladies wearing dental hygienist masks.
The Great Wall Camel
I admit I wasn’t supposed to take this, because you have to pay for the photo, but still, have you ever seen such a fluffy camel before?
The Great Wall of China Signage
A totally ridiculous sign that clearly must be in China for a reason, informing people not to use the site of the Great Wall as their public bathroom.

For lunch we went to a traditional Chinese restaurant called “Wan Rong Seafood” or “Seafood and the Duck” (which sounded more like “Seafood in the Dark” with a local accent). It turns out we arrived right as a massive party was ending—at the other tables there were super drunk men with very red faces stumbling around and intermittently being escorted to the bathroom to vomit. Larry told us that in China men drink alcoholic spirits with 56% alcohol because it’s considered macho, even though it burns their tongue and throat when they drink it. The prices at the restaurant were super cheap so we assumed that all of the dishes were tapas, unfortunately, we were very wrong and ended up with a massive order of all vegetarian food. Between Larry, the driver, and the two of us, we couldn’t even begin to order the feast we had in front of us. We left the restaurant absolutely stuffed and the wreckage left over from the party was like nothing I’ve ever seen before (I took a photo of one vacant table to give you an idea).

Wan Rong Seafood Restaurant Beijing
For lunch we went to a traditional Chinese restaurant called “Wan Rong Seafood” or “Seafood and the Duck” (which sounded more like “Seafood in the Dark” with a local accent).
Wan Rong Seafood Restaurant Beijing
In China men drink alcoholic spirits with 56% alcohol because it’s considered macho, even though it burns their tongue and throat when they drink it.—The wreckage left over from the party was like nothing I’ve ever seen before (I took a photo of one vacant table to give you an idea).
Wan Rong Seafood Restaurant Beijing
The prices at the restaurant were super cheap so we assumed that all of the dishes were tapas, unfortunately, we were very wrong and ended up with a massive order of all vegetarian food. Just a small sample of the food we ordered.

On the car ride to The Summer Palace I took a bit of a nap due to my food coma. I woke up feeling super groggy, but the newly famous face of Mr. Daniel got me through the rest of the afternoon. Larry showed us a map of The Summer Palace grounds, which sits on 300 hectors of land—massive. We walked around, went by the river (but it was so old and windy out that they cute little boats weren’t operable), and learned about the Chinese government.

Map of the Summer Palace Beijing
Map of the Summer Palace Beijing.
The Summer Palace Beijing
Us in front of the Summer Palace in Beijing
The Summer Palace Beijing
The cute royal looking boats in front of the Summer Palace—it was too cold and choppy to go out.

The traffic on the drive back to the hotel took forever! When we finally arrived, we did laundry, and then went upstairs to eat dinner. We sat with our new friends Ervin and Fabritzio and exchanged funny stories about the day, before going downstairs for a quick swim and jacuzzi.

Renaissance Hotel
The Renaissance Hotel lobby.

Sunday morning we woke up at 7:30 AM and soon after received a call from Larry to inform us that we should dress warmly because it was “chilly cold” outside (42 degrees Fahrenheit). We met him in the lobby and drove to the Temple of Heaven (273 hectors of land). The park surrounding the temple is unlike any place we had ever been before; it is filled with senior citizens doing every kind of exercise (in large groups) imaginable—weight lifting, Kung-Fu, Thai-Chi, Tibetan dancing, Chinese body slapping, aerobics, jumping, etc. Due to Larry’s incessant encouragement, Daniel and I joined in on a few exercises—mainly Tibetan circle dancing—of course Larry joined in also (see video).

Park Outside Temple of Heaven
The park surrounding the temple is unlike any place we had ever been before; it is filled with senior citizens doing every kind of exercise (in large groups) imaginable.
Park Outside Temple of Heaven
Thai-Chiin the park outside of the Temple of Heaven.
Park Outside Temple of Heaven
Daniel trying out some exercises with the senior citizens.
Park Outside Temple of Heaven
More park exercises.

We went to the southern part of the park where Chinese parents go to match make for their children. Apparently marketing your child takes up some serious real-estate because people mark off their areas with newspapers and rocks. The parents bring a resume (that includes information about their child’s accomplishments, family history, family worth—e.g. number of properties—etc.) as well as a bunch of photos of their child in various life stages and situations. Then they wait to interact with parents of similar status who have children that might be potential matches for their own. If they have a good interaction, the parents will bring their children to meet in the park the following weekend. We met an older Chinese man and I took a photo with him. He spoke no English, but told Larry that he would be my Chinese-father-in-law after I married his 31-year-old son who Larry referred to as “Chinese Mr. Right.”

Temple of Heaven Beijing China
We went to the southern part of the park where Chinese parents go to match make for their children. Apparently marketing your child takes up some serious real-estate because people mark off their areas with newspapers and rocks. The parents bring a resume (that includes information about their child’s accomplishments, family history, family worth—e.g. number of properties—etc.) as well as a bunch of photos of their child in various life stages and situations. Then they wait to interact with parents of similar status who have children that might be potential matches for their own. If they have a good interaction, the parents will bring their children to meet in the park the following weekend. We met an older Chinese man and I took a photo with him. He spoke no English, but told Larry that he would be my Chinese-father-in-law after I married his 31-year-old son who Larry referred to as “Chinese Mr. Right.”
Park Outside Temple of Heaven
The southern part of the park where Chinese parents go to match make for their children.
Park Outside Temple of Heaven
Match making central—good thing we already found each other or who knows what could have happened here.

As we walked through the park we saw hundreds more senior citizens gathered around a large structure playing various games (dominos, Chinese checkers/chess, cards, dice, some we don’t have names for) and instruments on wooden beams. We also found an area where a woman with a Madonna microphone was signing surrounded by a crowd who brought their own music books in order to participate. It’s amazing how the Chinese people make such an effort to keep their minds and bodies sound even in old age.

Temple of Heaven
As we walked through the park we saw hundreds more senior citizens gathered around a large structure playing various games (dominos, Chinese checkers/chess, cards, dice, some we don’t have names for) and instruments on wooden beams.
Park Outside Temple of Heaven
BYOSM—Bring Your Own Sheet Music.

After spending a fascinating and freezing morning in the park we eventually saw the Temple of Heaven, which has three levels (the highest one to represent heaven, the middle one to represent humans, and the lowest one to represent the earth). The architecture was magnificent, but eventually it got so cold we decided it was time to end our outdoor morning excursion.

The Temple of Heaven has three levels (the highest one to represent heaven, the middle one to represent humans, and the lowest one to represent the earth).
The Temple of Heaven has three levels (the highest one to represent heaven, the middle one to represent humans, and the lowest one to represent the earth).
The Temple of Heaven
A failed Jumping Jaxy shot by Larry in front of the Temple of Heaven.
Temple of Heaven Beijing
OK but for real—Larry wanted a serious photo in front of the Temple of Heaven.

Next we went to Hongqiao Market aka The Pearl Market for a little bargain shopping. Unlike the Ladies Market in Hong Kong, the people in the Pearl Market are all over you from the second you walk onto the floor. Daniel’s first purchase of the day was a cell-phone (not actually for him) which cost him nothing. Then we went to another area of the market to a place called Steven’s Shop where Daniel scored with more gadgets and electronics. While he was doing the electronics thing, I went into a costume shop with Larry. I tried on some furry white snow monkey costume and later realized (long after I took it off) that I looked like a yeti because it had shed all over me. Larry found tape and helped me stick all the fur off in the middle of the electronics store—quite the spectacle. For lunch Daniel and I went to Subway, while Larry and the driver found a Chinese restaurant. I tried my first hot milk-tea (very good) and then ran back into the market to buy a ring and got over excited and bought a ridiculous silicone cell phone case.

Hongqiao Market aka The Pearl Market
Hongqiao Market aka The Pearl Market in Beijing.
Hongqiao Market aka The Pearl Market
Daniel doing what he does best at Steve’s Electronic Shop in Hongqiao Market.

Next we headed to Tiananmen Square, which we learned is the biggest public square in the world (more than 44 hectors). We passed by the Chairman Mao mausoleum in the middle but were unable to enter because it’s closed on Sunday and Monday—Daniel suggested that it is because he is sleeping. We walked around the square and tried to replicate the same photo my parents took when they were here visiting exactly a year ago. Then we crossed the street, and ventured into the Forbidden City—this place is gigantic, 170,000 people can fit inside. We learned about the emperor and his 300+ concubines, saw the different areas of the grounds and eventually found our way to the emperor’s quarters. I pushed through the sea of people and made my way to the front and center so I could take a photo. As I was taking the photo the man behind me put his elbows on my shoulders and used the top of my head as a tripod—I was so shocked by this I couldn’t do anything but laugh—ridiculous!

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square Beijing China
We walked around Tiananmen Square and tried to replicate the same photo my parents took when they were here visiting exactly a year ago.
Tiananmen Square Beijing China
Tandem Jumping Jaxy in front of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square in front of the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City Beijing
Forbidden City—this place is gigantic, 170,000 people can fit inside.
The Forbidden City Beijing
Forbidden City detail.
The Forbidden City Beijing
The Emperors Quarters— I pushed through the sea of people and made my way to the front and center so I could take this photo. As I was taking the photo the man behind me put his elbows on my shoulders and used the top of my head as a tripod—I was so shocked by this I couldn’t do anything but laugh—ridiculous!
The Forbidden City Beijing
This is the crowd of people I pushed in front of to get the previous photo of the emperor’s bedroom.
Forbidden City Love Trees
The hugging love trees in the imperial garden. Smooches.

When we got back to the hotel Larry had a few questions about his website for Daniel—the next thing I knew Daniel was building Larry a brand new site and I was adding copy and photos. While website construction was going on we had some appetizers with Larry and he arranged for a driver to take us to the airport the next day as a thank you. Just wait until you see the promo video on Larry’s site Kosher Beijing Tours!

Monday morning we packed up and left for the airport. Beijing International Airport was the first place in a while where we were able to seamlessly check into our flight without a problem. Part of the reason we were able to check in could be because All Nippon Airways (ANA) is not a Chinese airline; the other part could be attributed to the fact that Daniel called United Airlines the night before to confirm. The security at this airport is the most ridiculous and unnecessary waste of people and time I’ve ever seen in my life. They have multiple security check points, scanners and wanders. I was wanded for a good two minutes until the security chick discovered a cellophane mint wrapper in my back pocket and questioned me about my intentions with it (Wait what? Is this real life? Welcome to crazy China). Then they took our portable China because they thought it was a bomb. They showed us some print out in Chinese after they took it that they claimed said it we weren’t allowed to have it. Daniel told them that in America they would consider this stealing.

Beijing International Airport
Beijing International Airport
Beijing International Airport Security Line
Security Line at the Airport. This man refused to accept that there was plenty of space around him and instead decided to become my shadow. If he could have fit in my bag, I’m sure he would have climbed in. This is apparently normal here.

We tried to find a quick restaurant to eat at before boarding the plane, but were weirded-out to learn that the only restaurants in the terminal were gourmet other than Pizza Hut (but for them to make a pizza takes 40 minutes). We found a poor excuse for an Irish Gastro Pub and begged them to make us French fries in ten minutes. Then we rushed to our gate to board the plane.

Beijing International Airport
The only restaurants in the terminal were gourmet other than Pizza Hut (but for them to make a pizza takes 40 minutes). We found a poor excuse for an Irish Gastro Pub and begged them to make us French fries in ten minutes.
Beijing International Airport
Kewpie doll mayo sauce.

Aside from the airport, we had a fabulous time in China. Now off to Japan!

Beijing Bound

Friday was our last morning in Shanghai. We started off our day with a trip to McDonalds, so Daniel could get his egg McMuffin, and then took the train to the South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market to pick up our tailor-made goods. Daniel tried on his two shirts, which fit perfectly (thank goodness) and I tried on the jumpsuits Wu Quin made me. I love them—he did such a great job.

McDonalds Shanghai
Daniel’s last egg McMuffin breakfast at McDonalds in Shanghai.
South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market Shanghai
South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market— Wu Quin and I.

On our way out of the market Daniel decided he wanted to buy a “real Samsonite” suitcase from same man I bought one from the day before. To our delight, the man proceeded to do the same “jumping on the bag test” as he did the day before to prove how sturdy it was. [Don’t worry, we got a video of it this time and we highly encourage you to watch it now before reading the rest of the post.]

He’s so theatrical. Aren’t you glad you did that?

We got back to the Sheraton and were met with a level of unnecessary security (eight guards standing outside the building, a metal detector and x-ray machine at every entry point, and four security guards ‘wanding’ people) because of the world “water skating” aka figure skating competition occurring in Shanghai—this city is super serious with their security. We went up to the room, packed up and taxied to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (a 45 minute drive compared to a two hour subway to train ride).

It was about 11:00 AM when we arrived at the airport for a 1:30 PM flight to Beijing. But, as our travel luck in China goes, the lady at the Shanghai Airlines desk told us our tickets weren’t open and we couldn’t board or check into the flight. With no cell data or call time, paired broken wifi at the airport, we couldn’t call United Airlines. We went to the ticketing desk where they were unable to do anything so we missed our flight. Daniel managed to get the guys behind the ticketing desk to let him use their phone and called United in Asia (he waited on the phone for 45 minutes until he finally got an agent). In the meantime, I looked at the Hello Kitty food and got us Subway for lunch. By the time I walked back to the ticketing desk around 2:15 PM, Daniel was already checking in our bags. We were immediately escorted through two security points, the terminal, and up to the gate to make a 2:30 PM flight. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the plane that I realized we were flying China Eastern airlines.

Hello Kitty at Bread Talk in Shanghai Airport
Hello Kitty cakes at Bread Talk in the Shanghai Airport.

Daniel and I were seated separately on the plane so I got really bored really quickly. I amused myself by taking selfies amid the sea of passed out and snoring Chinese men surrounding me until the flight attendant told me it was illegal to have my phone on during a flight in the Republic of China. For the remainder of the flight I watched the man across the isle compete with himself to see how far he could stick his index finger up his nose. When it was finally time to get off the plane I was body checked so hard—by a man resembling Jabba the Hutt—that I fell back into my seat. Manners are very different here.

China Eastern Airlines
China Eastern Airlines flight to Beijing—amusing myself by taking selfies amid the sea of passed out and snoring Chinese men surrounding me.
China Eastern Airlines
More selfies with sleeping men.
China Eastern Airlines
View from over my head to give you context of how bored I was.

When we entered the Beijing Capital International Airport we went straight to baggage claim—we were the only one’s waiting there (so strange). My bag came off of the conveyer belt fairly quickly but there was no sign of Daniel’s. We waited for a while until eventually a distressed airline employee led us over to the oversized luggage corner where we found Daniel’s bag completely unzipped with the lock still on. Clearly we had purchased a high quality bag (thank goodness, nothing fell out)—we managed to fix the zipper so it zipped properly.

Baggage Claim at Beijing Airport
Daniel waiting in the VIP Sky Priority area at baggage claim.
Baggage Claim at Beijing Airport
We were the only one’s at the conveyer belt.
Fail Blog Chinese Signs
One of the many confusing Chinese signs (the second one) hanging on the bathroom wall with nothing to help contextualize it. Fail blog submission.

After the bag fiasco, we found an information desk and asked a woman who spoke about 3.2% English if she could write down the name and address of our hotel for us in Chinese. We boarded the Airport Express train towards our hotel and took it to the first stop where a woman in a yellow jacket, with a Madonna microphone strapped to her head, crammed us into an elevator with 12 other people. When the doors opened, we found our way to the exit and decided to film a quick “Welcome to Beijing” video when a local taxi driver approached us. He said “taxxzi?!” in very broken English and Daniel confidently answered “I’m from South Africa” (apparently he thought the man asked if he was from Australia). Daniel showed him the paper with the address of our hotel in Chinese (from the woman at the information desk in the airport) and he looked confused. It turned out that all she had translated was the word “hotel”—so that got us nowhere.

We got directions, took two subways, rolled our bags for ten minutes down the street and finally arrived at the Renaissance Hotel. We had a delicious dinner upstairs, made friends with two guys who work for SAP (one from Valencia and one from Bosnia—but they both are based in Dublin), and headed down to the hotel pool (and jacuzzi!) for a swim.

Swimming and playing with the GoPro (Daniel's favorite activities).
Swimming and playing with the GoPro (Daniel’s favorite activities).

After we got out of the pool Daniel called a local guide named Larry, who his cousin Lorin had recommended we use. Prepare for Larry because this man is my new obsession (more on him in the next post).

Sayonara Shanghai

Thursday we spent the morning working on the blog because I’ve been having schpilkas about getting so far behind with these updates… With the last week of our trip almost fully recapped, I felt a lot better (but I think Daniel was annoyed because we missed the 10:30 AM McDonald’s egg McMuffin breakfast deadline—sorrrrryyy).

Shanghai Subway
Shanghai Subway—advertising in the tunnels.

We grabbed some snacks from a convenience store to tide us over until lunch and took the train to the Jewish Refugees Museum—so crazy to think that this existed in China during World War II. The museum refers to Shanghai as a “Noah’s Ark” from 1933 to 1941, accepting around 30,000 Jewish refugees running from the Holocaust in Europe. We went through a few exhibition halls, read some individual survival stories, and saw the former site of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue—one of the only two synagogues in Shanghai built by Russian Jews. It was a great experience and it didn’t take a long time to see the whole museum.

Jewish Refugees Museum in Shanghai
“The past is in the present, but the future is still in our hands.” —Elie Wiesel
Jewish Refugees Museum in Shanghai
Art inspired on this quote by Evelyn Pike Rubin “Tomorrow we could be starting a new life in a strange city, in an unfamiliar country, with an unfamiliar language, climate, and people, where we would be safe and free.”
Jewish Refugees Museum in Shanghai
Ohel Moshe Synagogue—one of the only two synagogues in Shanghai built by Russian Jews.
Jewish Refugees Museum in Shanghai
The Jewish Refugees Museum—so crazy to think that this existed in China during World War II.

When we finished up at the museum we took a taxi to find some lunch in the area of the Jade Buddha Temple. We attempted to eat at the vegetarian restaurant—which we found on a local website—but it turned out the the restaurant was located on the temple grounds for the Monks. So, we decided to wander around the area until we finally found Tsui Wah Restaurant, aka the only place with English on the menu. All you need to know about this restaurant is that you shouldn’t go. No bueno.

Not such good food in Shanghai
This is not actually the food from Tsui Wah Restaurant, but this should give you an idea of what it tasted like and what the service was like. [This picture was taken outside of an outdoor restaurant—seems to be where people throw their leftovers #nomnom.]
Post lunch we went to the Jade Buddha Temple and checked out the amazing and ornate statues of different deities and Buddha’s. We even snuck onto the back of an English tour to hear a bit about the history of the temple. The Jade Buddha itself was magnificent, definitely worth seeing!

Jade Buddha Temple Shanghai
Jade Buddha Temple—absolutely magnificent, definitely worth seeing!
Jade Buddha Temple Shanghai
Jade Buddha Temple Shanghai wall detail.
Jade Buddha Temple Shanghai
Jumping Jaxy—in front of the Jade Buddha Temple while people were lighting offerings on fire all around us.
Jade Buddha Temple Shanghai
Jade Buddha Temple ceiling-lamp selfie.

On the way to the subway station I saw Coco, a milk tea place, and had to stop to get one. The people behind the counter spoke zero English so we decided to have some fun with them. When they handed the tea over the counter, Daniel proceeded to ask them—in some strange question arrangement—”This is Taylor Swift’s favorite drink for summer?” Obviously, their answer was “Yes Yes.” I love milk tea.

Coco Milk Tea Shanghai
I love milk tea!

Eager to go to my first fitting at the South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market, we took the subway to meet up with Wu Quin. I was absolutely amazed to see how quickly he was able to produce such well made clothing! After discussing a few more alterations, I told him I would return Friday to pick up the finished products. At the same time, Daniel tried on his shirts and then gave his tailor some feedback—she didn’t seem to take his request for alterations too well (rather she defended all of her work wholeheartedly until another tailor in the market finally came over to agree with Daniel). Nonetheless, everything worked out for us.

On our way out of the market, we glanced over at a suitcase. The man selling the suitcase (“this real Samsonite suitcase”) then gave us the performance of a lifetime—chasing us around the market with a calculator, and jumping on the suitcase to show us how strong it was, all while screaming out “Hoooi! Heeeyah! Hooooi!”. Absolutely HILARIOUS! We bargained with him a great deal and ended up buying it. We inquired as to if he could get us one in a color other than “electric vomit” and he pulled out a black suitcase with some strange name on it. We asked him if this was the same suitcase as a Samsonite, and he proceeded to tell us it was a Samsonite—then he pulled out a silver Samsonite luggage logo, popped out the one that was currently sitting in the suitcase, and replaced it. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this. Just way too funny.

Back at the unnecessary Sheraton business suite we were delighted to find that many of the socks we purchased from buyers at the Sock Expo had arrived. We went through the socks, made some calls, and did some work on Say it with a Sock (very exciting).

Say it with a Sock socks
Socks from the sock show arrived at our hotel!

We went for dinner at 9:45 to a highly rated Italian restaurant on The Bund called Goodfellas (yes, like the movie). The owner of the restaurant, Marco, welcomed us with Prosecco and delicious bread. We ordered wine, delicious minestrone soup (this was the best one I’ve ever had), and pizza. The food was unreal and the service was fantastic!

Goodfellas Restaurant Shanghai
We ordered wine, delicious minestrone soup (this was the best one I’ve ever had), and pizza. The food was unreal and the service was fantastic!
Goodfellas Restaurant Shanghai
Goodfellas Restaurant—Marco welcomed us with Prosecco and delicious bread.
Goodfellas Restaurant Shanghai
Goodfellas Restaurant Shanghai. The owner Marco is incredible!

After dinner we walked down the Bund, took photos with The Bund Bull sculpture (which Daniel grabbed by the horns—get it, he grabbed the bull by the horns), watched a few local women running along the promenade in high-heeled Nike’s and matching Juicy terrycloth outfits, and even found a man running backwards in jeans (interesting). What a faboosh day!

The Bund Bull Shanghai
Photos with the Bund Bull sculpture on the Bund.
The Bund Bull Shanghai
Daniel grabbed the Bund Bull by the horns—so profound.
The Bund in Shanghai
Last night in Shanghai. Selfie with a skyline from the Bund overlooking the Huangpu River.

 

Shanghai Sock Conference (CHPE)

Wednesday morning we woke up at 8:00 AM, walked to McDonalds for another authentic Chinese breakfast, and took a cab to the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Conference Center for the Hosiery Conference for Say it with a Sock (our sock of the month club). We spent seven hours walking around the conference learning everything you could possibly imagine (and then some) about all aspects of socks (thread, needles, materials, sublimation, digital printing, manufacturing, packaging, etc.). It was both fascinating and hilarious for many reasons. There were almost no westerners at the conference, not that it mattered, but it was not what we expected.

Morning Fog in Pudong Shanghai
Morning view with a side of fog.
McDonalds Shanghai
Daniel enjoying another authentic Chinese breakfast at McDonalds.
Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Conference Center hanghai World Expo Exhibition and Conference Center
At the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Conference Center for the Hosiery Expo Conference. So corporate.
Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Conference Center hanghai World Expo Exhibition and Conference Center
A little negotiating with some sock manufacturers at the sock conference.
Hosiery Expo Sock Conference in Shanghai - CHPE.
Kids socks at the Hosiery Expo – CHPE

Fully socked out for the day, we headed back to our unnecessary suite at the Sheraton to work on Say it with a Sock and relax for a bit. We went to Time’s Square mall to go to a an all vegetarian Chinese restaurant for dinner. The place was awesome, however, no one spoke English. We were handed an iPad for a menu full of photos of different dishes accompanied by Chinese descriptions. A waiter from India came over to help us—he pushed a few buttons on the iPad after admitting in broken English that he also couldn’t read any of the Chinese descriptions on the iPad. We ended up with six delicious dishes (which was about four dishes too many), but the meal was amazing and this whole night was definitely an experience.

Times Square Mall Shanghai
Times Square Mall—where we found the all vegetarian Chinese restaurant.
Vegetarian Chinese food in Shanghai
We went to an all vegetarian Chinese restaurant for dinner. The place was awesome, however, no one spoke English. We were handed an iPad for a menu full of photos of different dishes accompanied by Chinese descriptions. A waiter from India came over to help us—he pushed a few buttons on the iPad after admitting in broken English that he also couldn’t read any of the Chinese descriptions on the iPad. We ended up with six delicious dishes (which was about four dishes too many), but the meal was amazing and this whole night was definitely an experience.
Vegetarian Chinese food in Shanghai
The vegetarian Chinese restaurant.

As we went to leave the mall we saw a line of people inside trying to wait out the pouring rain. We made a mad dash for the subway and navigated to a stop on the other side of town to go to a night market/bar. We weren’t quite sure which of the twenty four subway station exits to use so we guessed. Turns out we were very wrong, because we ended up walking about thirty minutes to Dada Bar (a cool dive bar with games and local artisans filled with expats). We ordered some beers, chatted with a few vendors and then left.

Dada Bar in Shanghai
Dada Bar—a cool dive bar with games and local artisans filled with expats.

It took us about twenty minutes or so,  in the pouring rain, to finally find a taxi that would take us back to the Sheraton—and when we got one, we were beyond relieved…. Shanghai is freezing!

Silly in Shanghai

Happy Saint Paddy’s Day to you!

Tuesday morning we woke up to the sound of incessant car horns. We opened the curtains to a grey sky, but we were pleased we could see more of the neighborhood we were staying in (compared to last night’s visibility). For breakfast we went to McDonald’s where Daniel had an authentic Chinese Egg McMuffin (minus the ham and mayo).

View of Pudong, Shanghai
The view from our window—hello Pudong.
McDonalds in Shanghai
Daniel’s had an authentic Shanghai breakfast—McDonald’s egg McMuffin.

We took the subway to the South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market to check out the market and the tailors. Thanks to Trip Advisor, we found Wu Quin, a lovely man who makes custom women’s clothes. We negotiated a price, went back and forth on a fitting schedule, and picked out fabrics together for something I wanted to get made. Then he measured me every which way, while we communicated—mostly though hand signals—about how things would work. In the meantime, Daniel had two custom shirts made at the stall next door. Satisfied with our sessions we decided to leave after being told to come back Thursday for a fitting.

Shanghai South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market
Wu Quin’s stall at Shanghai South Bund Soft Spinning Fabric Market.

We took a cab ride to the center of Shanghai to The Bund (a waterfront area). We walked down the promenade overlooking the Hugangpu River and saw the city’s spectacular modern architecture. We also saw over twelve couples taking weddings photos (not sure if Saint Patrick’s Day luck of the Irish means much to them here, but I honestly can’t fathom that a Monday in the middle of winter equates to a perfect day for photos, but then again, who knows…).

The Bund  in Shanghai
Us at the Bund overlooking the Hugangpu River and Shanghai city’s architecture.
The Bund Wedding Photos in Shanghai
One of the many new couples we saw taking wedding photos at the Bund.
The Bund Wedding Photos in Shanghai
Posing with the bouquet for a wedding shot at the Bund.
The Bund Wedding Photos in Shanghai
Teaching another bride how to pose with her hands up in the air—this was fun to watch cause it took her a while to figure it out.
The Bund Wedding Photos in Shanghai
Another couple taking wedding shots at the Bund—how original.
The Bund Wedding Photos in Shanghai
Here comes another bride and groom for some Bund wedding photos.

Wedding photos at the Bund, Shanghai

We took a quick tour of The Bund History Museum—I say quick because there really isn’t much to see. The architecture of the building itself was awesome, but the contents of the museum were nothing special. You can tell that they used translation app on the computer to write out the English descriptions of everything, because they made very little sense.

The Bund History Museum Shanghai
The Bund History Museum—the architecture of the building itself was awesome, but the contents of the museum were nothing special.
The Bund History Museum Shanghai
The Bund History Museum in Shanghai.

We decided to take a hop on hop off bus to check out the city, but decided to go for a quick authentic lunch at Subway. We got onto the hop on, hop off bus starting at the Peace Hotel. Once thing we noticed after just being on the bus for just a moment is that everyone honks their car horns …all the time! It doesn’t matter if there is a red light ahead, a person in the street, or a complete lack of traffic ahead—people simply love to hear their horns make noise. So we drove down the streets at a clip pace, listening to the bus tour amid the ongoing not-so-melodic car horns, and got off in the old city at Yu Garden. From the moment we stepped off the bus, a woman wearing light up, clip-on roller skates approached us trying to pedal her goods. We looked at what she was selling out of interest and then continued on walking, while she shouted 180 Yuen from behind us. She continued to discount her price (without us saying a word or turning around) until she dropped the price to 50 Yuen. At such a ridiculous price, we decided, why not, lets do this—so we bought them.

Subway Shanghai
An authentic Shanghai lunch at Subway—we’re really branching out. Daniel enjoying a local soda called Coke.
City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus in Shanghai
Us just trying to blend in and be local on the hop on hop off bus in Shanghai.

The old city streets were awesome and Yu Garden was absolutely magnificent. We saw rock structures (which they refer to as “rockery”), bonsais, 1800’s teak structures, and ponds full of more koi fish than we knew existed. After walking around for quite a bit we decided to hop back on the bus and head to the next destination.

Shanghai Old City
Exploring the streets of the old city in Shanghai.
Jumping Jaxy
Jumping Jaxy—in the walking streets of the old city in Shanghai near Yu Garden.
Yu Garden Shanghai
Welcome to Yu Garden Shanghai. This rock is older than all of your ancestors.
Tea Garden at Yu Gardens in Shanghai
The Tea Garden at Yu Gardens in Shanghai
Tea Garden at Yu Gardens in Shanghai
A small pool of koi fish among the many at Yu Garden.
Koi Fish Yu Garden
More Koi Fish at Yu Garden.

We got off the bus near the Shanghai Museum, but had to figure out how to get across the street, since all of the sidewalks are above street level. We asked two elderly Chinese women (who spoke no English whatsoever) how to get across and they basically laughed at us until they gave us some kind of directions in a Chinese dialect. Realizing they couldn’t understand us, Daniel said “Thank you, you smell beautiful” and we walked towards the museum. At the museum we checked out a few Chinese historical exhibits including: (the Chinese seal exhibit, the ancient Chinese ceramics gallery, the Chinese minority Nationalities’ art gallery, the ancient Chinese jade gallery, and the Chinese Ming and Qing furniture gallery). When we left the museum we put on our roller sakes and went pretty much nowhere (the skates didn’t work that well—aka they didn’t work). We had a silly time attempting to skate around the front of the museum for a bit, all while gaining a few spectators. Eventually we gave up and decided to leave them for people who might know something we didn’t about them.

Shanghai Museum
Who knew a place like the Shanghai Museum could be so wildly entertaining?
Shanghai Museum Interior
The Shanghai Museum. You’ve never seen so many security guards in your life as in this museum.
Shanghai Museum
How we entertained ourselves with our new selfie stick in the Shanghai Museum.
Locals enjoying the art at the Shanghai Museum
Locals enjoying the art at the Shanghai Museum.
Shanghai Museum
The Chinese minority nationalities’ art gallery—including costumes and masks that we wanted to ask Wu Quin if he could replicate for us in all of their glory.
Shanghai Museum
Today we took our relationship to the next level and bought attachable roller skates from a woman who bargained herself down from 180 Yuan to 50 Yuan without us saying a word. Needless to say, we’ve had the silliest day in Shanghai.
Roller Skates in Shanghai
Eventually we gave up and decided to leave our roller skates for people who might know something we didn’t about them.

We walked around the city for a while until we found a milk tea stand. Stupidly, I ordered a large size only to discover that a large here is basically a bucket. So we walked around enjoying a bucket of milk tea until we happened to stumble into The French Concession (which is where we wanted to go anyway). The French Concession is amazing! It kind of reminded us of a more European version of the hipster parts of San Francisco. We walked up and down the streets checking out the shops and restaurants until we found Dr. Wine (a restaurant and wine bar). We ordered wine and food and headed back to the Sheraton.

Tea Time Milk Tea in Shanghai
Stupidly, I ordered a large size milk tea only to discover that a large here is basically a bucket. Not mad.
Dr. Wine in the French Concession of Shanghai
Enjoying a bottle of wine at Dr. Wine in the French Concession of Shanghai.

At midnight we woke up because our room was boiling. We tried to turn on the air conditioning but had no luck. A hotel technician came up to the room to clarify for us that cold air does not in fact come out of the vent and told us a fan could be delivered to our room. Thirty minutes later and after two phone calls to reception there was still no fan. Daniel called down to speak to the night manager and the next thing we knew we were told to move to the room next door which happens to be a suit. Half-asleep we didn’t quite understand why we were moving, especially since all we wanted was a fan, which they brought to the second room anyway. #ThisIsChina.

 

Sheraton Four Points Suite Room in Shanghai
Our totally unnecessary business suite at the Sheraton.

All else aside, we had an amazing day here!

Shalom Shanghai

We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, because we are most certainly in Mainland China. Shanghai is freezing (low forties Fahrenheit), and it’s kind of creepy because you can’t see anything due to the intense grey fog.

The moment we stepped off of the plane we got onto a bus to take us to the terminal. For reasons unknown, the driver seemed to be doing donuts on the tarmac before eventually dropping us off. The Shanghai Pudong Airport pales in comparison to the one in Hong Kong. After going through customs, we tried to acquire SIM cards, but felt strange when a man with a printed sign of a telephone company told us he could give us one for a random price that he entered into a calculator. He didn’t speak great English, and there was no plan booklet to look at, so we decided to skip out on his offer. We went to an ATM to withdraw money (they use Yuan, no more Hong Kong dollars) only to find the ATM was out of money. We missioned around the airport until we eventually found another ATM on the third floor.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

We had the option of a taxi or a train, and we decided to take the train, which connected us to a second train, and then eventually to a third train. We bought our first train tickets, put our bags through security (even though the station was in the airport) and boarded a 6-minute train to another station. At the second station, we bought another ticket, put our bags through security again and arrived at the third station—it was around here that I started to get over schlepping my backpack and going in circles with directions.

At this point, we had one massive issue—we had no cell phone data and the screen shots we had taken of our transit plans from Google Maps, didn’t extend this far. Thus, we couldn’t take a third train because we didn’t know which stop to get off at. All we had was a print out Daniel made, which included the name and address of the Sheraton Four Points hotel (in both English and a Chinese dialect). We decided to forget the third train and just find a cab. But, for some reason all seven cabs in the taxi line refused to take us even after looking at the paper (and unfolding it which only reveled information about our dietary restrictions). Extremely confused we found a guy at a food stand down the street and asked if he could help direct us., surprisingly, he spoke some English. While he was trying to help us a guy passing by stopped to ask where we were trying to go. As he and the food stand owner were working it out, a third guy stopped and took out his phone to help us look up where we were going. The short version of the story is we eventually got in a cab that took us to the hotel, but both of us were so touched that people took time to help us. Truly, it was a kind of culture shock I hadn’t expected.

Chinese Translation Print Outs
Our English translation print out which included the name and address of the Sheraton Four Points hotel (in both English and a Chinese dialect), the Convention center address, and our dietary preferences. [Everything below the fold really confused the taxi drivers.]
The Sheraton Four Points is a very old-school corporate hotel. I’m sure in it’s time it was quite fancy, but now it just seems a little tired and full of smoke (everyone secretly smokes in the bathrooms off of the lobby). Starving, we went up to the hotel restaurant called Panache for dinner. All I can say is the meal represented whatever the stark opposite of the word Panache is. I got a very cold soup , which they took back to the microwave to warm up, with french fries and Daniel got a very interesting interpretation of a penne arrabbiata, which he ended up wearing all over his shirt. I think we’ll have to find some vegetarian Chinese food, cause Western clearly isn’t working. After dinner, we walked across the street to the local convenience store, got some milk tea and decided to call it a night.

Panache Restaurant in Shanghai
The meal that represented whatever the stark opposite of the word Panache is—cold soup, “penne arrabbiata” and fries.
Sheraton Four Points Shanghai
Lobby of the Sheraton Four Points Shanghai.
Panache Restaurant at the Sheraton
Daniel’s very interesting interpretation of a penne arrabbiata, which he ended up wearing all over his shirt at Panache Restaurant.
Panache Restaurant at the Sheraton
This is how our waitress poured our beers at the lovely Panache Restaurant.

Travel: Sometimes Things Don’t Go Your Way

Monday we slept in and ran down to breakfast just in the nick of time. Then we packed up, checked out, and took a taxi to the MTN station (to go to the airport). When we got to the station we noticed that you could check your bags in straight to the airport (at the corresponding airline counter). According to our tickets we had a flight leaving at 2:35 PM on Hong Kong Airlines, however, when we got to the counter they told us that we were not on the flight and to speak with Shanghai Airlines. Annoyed, we ran over to Shanghai Airlines, where they told us our ticket said Hong Kong Airlines. We went through a whole rigmarole with them only to get sent back to Hong Kong Airlines, while on the phone with United Airlines. After an hour of back and forth, we left on the MTN to the airport, with our bags, unsure of which airline we would be flying and what flight we might be on.

Hong Kong International Airport
The Hong Kong Airlines counter at Hong Kong airport. We got to know it well.

At the Hong Kong International Airport we went to the Hong Kong Airlines counter where we were told that we were not confirmed on the 2:35 PM flight. It seems that our airline tickets were booked but never issued. We were then directed to the United Airlines counter, where they got on the phone with the people from the desk at the Hong Kong Airlines. United Airlines told us we needed to go back to Hong Kong Airlines because they might have room for us on the flight. We explained to them that we were just there, and that there was no room for us, but after more back and forth we went back to Hong Kong Airlines, only to hear that we were now confirmed to definitely not be on their flight. So, we went back to the United Airlines counter where they then offered to help us. One of the women managed to find us a 3:10 PM flight on China Eastern Airlines to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport (closer to where we are staying than the airport we were meant to fly into). Delighted to finally be on a flight, we went through security, grabbed sandwiches and boarded a bus from the terminal to go to the plane. China Eastern Airlines was definitely not as nice as any of the Thai airlines we had flown but it got us to Shanghai, so we were happy.

Finally on the China Eastern Airlines plane headed to Shanghai!
Finally on the China Eastern Airlines plane headed to Shanghai!
Flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai
Window views by Daniel—on the flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai.