Hiking Zhangjiajie in Hunan: A Must See in China

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Hunan.

In high school, I worked at the only Chinese restaurant in my very humble town called “Hunan Village.”  I neither knew what, or where, Hunan was at the time.

Fast forward six years later, and I meet the inspiration for my foray into China: a man named Chen.  Through our friendship, he inspired me to not only self-study Mandarin in Japan, but also to study abroad in Beijing and later take the plunge and move to Shanghai.  Honestly, without Chen, China wouldn’t even be a part of my life. read more

Hiking in China: 7 Habits of the Modern Day Chinese Traveler

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J and I were descending one of China’s greatest treasures: the National Park of Zhangjiajie.

Every corner we rounded presented us with a new jaw-dropping landscape of carved sandstone valleys poking through a sea of lush green trees. J and I took a deep breath, inhaled the clean air of the countryside and lost ourselves in the sea of clouds swirling in between the mountains.

That is, until Avicii arrived. You know, the Swedish DJ. The Chinese tourist who came bouncing down the trail behind us was blasting him full volume from his iPhone speaker. read more

Hiking Japan’s Holy Pilgrimage, Kumano Kodo

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How in God’s Name did I hear about this virtually unknown trail, the Kumano Kodo?

Well, I first stumbled upon this off-the-beaten-path pilgrimage when I worked for the Japanese government and found this photo on a pamphlet:

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Something about it captivated me. Maybe it was the bizarre costume/pilgrimage outfit that is so ancient, even my knowledge from four years of Japanese language and culture classes left me in the dark. Perhaps the fact that it was one of only two UNESCO recognized pilgrimages in the world appealed to me, and I was dying to check ‘pilgrimage’ off the bucket list. read more

Cat Island, Gardens and Udon in Takamatsu, Shikoku

Visit Takamatsu Tourism

I stepped off the train platform at Takamatsu station, awash in nostalgia.  Five years ago I found myself at this very same bus and train station housed in the city’s harbor.  I was struck first by the smell of crisp and raw ocean air washing over me.  The brilliant blue sky reflected the ocean surrounding the island.  Unlike the streets of Tokyo, the people here walked at a slower pace, a smile on their face, with a peaceful calm floating over the city.

I was so grateful to return to one of Japan’s most charming small cities: Takamatsu. read more

Southern California vs. Northern California… and a Life Update

I somehow live here now?

I somehow ended up living in wine country

So, my life has been flipped upside down.  I am now kinda, sorta, living in Northern California.

A month prior to my Asia trip, my boyfriend told me he wanted to take a job offer in Northern California.  Although I’m kind of itching to get out of California, we both knew that taking this job was the right thing to do.

So when you get back from Japan and China, boyfriend said, we’re moving up North.

And… here I am.  North of San Francisco in a place I never, ever expected to find myself in. read more

Moving Abroad And Saying Farewell: It Never Gets Easier

Cloudy Skies in Shanghai

I woke up to cloudy skies.  I wanted sunshine for my final day here, but I knew a clear day was a rare blessing in Shanghai.  The weather reflected the feelings in my heart: uncertainty, haziness, fear.

I walked out of Z’s room to find she was already in the living room, staring out into the sea of Shanghai’s skyscrapers from her 25th floor window.  Her apartment wasn’t big, but it was cozy.  My suitcases were lined up neatly near the door, my entire life packed into two large bags and one carry on.  My heart winced as I looked at them. read more

First Time On a Cruise: The Good, the Bad and Mexico

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Way back in January, my boyfriend surprised me with a lovely present: a cruise vacation.

Richard loves cruises.  Whenever I get my new issue of Travel & Leisure in the mail, he skips all of the articles and looks at the cruise ads.  He’s already sailed on dozens of cruises from countless lines on various continents.

So it was no surprise that this cruise fiend was hellbent on taking me on a cruise.

Between his 100 hour work weeks and my limited vacation time, we were only able to go on a three day cruise to Ensenada, Mexico.  It wasn’t my dream destination, but I was happy to get out of the house, go somewhere new and finally get some nice R&R time with my lovely boyfriend. read more

5 Steps to Hanami (View Cherry Blossoms) in Japan

Spring has Sprung!

Spring has Sprung!

Ah, March.  The prelude to Spring.  The light at the end of a long winter tunnel.

Or in Japan, it’s the start of one of the most prized occasions of the year:

Cherry Blossom Season.

Whatever high expectation you have for watching cherry blossoms in Japan (or better known as ‘hanami,‘ which literally means ‘watch flowers’ 花見),  Japan will not disappoint on this front.  It’s a magical experience.

While many tourists envision their hanami experience like an anime opening (think wind blowing in your hair as sakura petals brush past your skin), the reality may differ somewhat.  To get the kind of hanami experience you’re dreaming of, it involves more than hopping on a plane and finding a sakura tree–it will take a whole ‘lotta planning. read more

Visiting Japan? 5 Reasons You Should Go to Nagano

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Chances are, most travelers never heard of Nagano.  Some people know it as that place in Japan that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics–but other than that, Nagano, unfortunately, still remains widely unknown.

Nagano is one of Japan’s larger prefectures located in the Shinshu region directly west of Tokyo (about a one hour bullet train ride away).  It is one of the most mountainous regions in Japan and is known for its snow, great peaks and amazing forests.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle! In Matsumoto City

Nagano is special to me, because it’s the first place I ever went to in Japan.  I did a one month study abroad program here, and it was nothing less than magical.  The mountains, the food, and most of all the kind hearts of the people in the countryside are what made me fall in love with this place–and convinced me to come back. read more

How My Vietnamese Mom Forgot Thanksgiving

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Growing up with my mom wasn’t easy, especially in rural, coal-mining Utah.  My mother was the only Asian woman in the entire town, thus meaning we were surrounded by white people (and a few Hispanics and Native Americans).

Growing up in such a predominantly white culture, I was raised to believe and practice in American holidays.  My  classmates at elementary school gathered with all of their relatives at a big table, carved the turkey, and watched the Macy’s parade.  They had large family gatherings with turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy–the works. read more