My Adventure Abroad

Mou-ichido Hokkaido

Omikuji!  Omikuji are fortune-telling strips of paper that can be found at temples and shrines throughout Japan.  Most of the time they’re only in Japanese so we just walk past them.  But when I was at Hokkaido Shrine last spring, my cousin said they have them in English and we should both get one.  In this photo I’ve paid my 100 yen “donation” and I’m picking out a fortune from the box.  The fortunes range from great blessing/luck to great curse.  Here’s what the website www.japan-talk.com says about omikuji: “The omikuji will go on to break down your fortune in health, love, marriage, business, childbirth, disputes, studies, travel, finding lost articles and achieving your desires.  These will generally follow the…

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

I’m not a big whiskey fan.  But maybe that’s because I haven’t had a lot of experience with it.  But Japan is famous for its whiskey.  According to its own propaganda, it is one of five major producers of fine whiskey in the world.  The five are Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada and Japan. The Suntory Yamazaki Distillery is located in Shimamoto, in North Osaka, Japan.  It’s just north of Takatsuki, only a few stops further on the JR line.  Since they produce nice whiskey and I know nothing about it, I thought it would be fun to check it out.  And anyway, John enjoys whiskey.  I think his Irish/Polish grandmother used to give it to him when he was sick….

Osaka Earthquake

Today, Monday June 18, our house shook at 7:58 am.  It was quite a jolt.  The kids were getting ready for school and Avalon was finishing up some last minute homework at the table when the ground starting rumbling and the house started shaking and I started panicking.  It was the strongest, scariest earthquake I have ever felt.  That’s saying something because I’m from California and I’ve felt my share of earthquakes.  But as it turned out, we were one of three cities that felt it the strongest.  We live right next to the center!  That’s never happened. The epicenter was in Takatsuki where I work every Tuesday.  The neighboring city, Ibaraki, also got a lot of damage and that’s…

Tianmen Shan ZJJ

Our last day in Zhangjiajie (which I will now call ZJJ) is Monday, April 2.  Our flight out isn’t leaving until the evening so we have some time for one last adventure in China.  We decided to see Tianmen Shan.  It means Heaven’s Gate (Tianmen) Mountain (Shan).  Our hosts at the guesthouse encouraged us to go see it so we packed up our things and prepared to walk down their 500 steps for the last time.  They gave us a ride to the town of ZJJ after one last breakfast at their house. The summit of Tianmenshan is connected to the town of ZJJ below by a super-duper, incredibly long cable car.  There’s a luggage storage area at the cable…

Avatar Mountain & Walking on Glass

Saturday, March 31.  After our wonderful host from the guesthouse saved us by loaning me several hundred USD worth of Chinese Renminbi, we were able to enter Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.  It’s a massive park with some pretty cool natural wonders.  As far as natural landscape goes, China is an incredible place.  So if you go there be sure to get out of the cities.  Here is the underside of a beautiful natural bridge.We had a colorful map with little cartoon pictures all over it and details regarding every cable car, bus route, bathroom location and walking path.  We hiked around, rode a cable car up to Yuanjiajie, walked to see Avatar Mountain, and generally just covered a lot of ground…

Glass Cube Guesthouse

Zhangjiajie.  (The best part of our China adventure, in my opinion.) How do you pronounce this word?  My main problem with trying to speak Chinese, or even listen to it, is that the word sounds nothing like the way my brain sees it.  The pronunciation is so different from English.  Zhang looks like it should rhyme with the word “bang.”  But it doesn’t.  It’s more like something that rhymes with the word “lung.”  And the rest of it I can’t even phonetically spell because you can’t even assemble the roman letters in the correct way.  The sounds don’t even translate to spelling!  But after a lot of practice I can say this one word, Zhangjiajie, in Chinese. After cycling on…

The Emperor’s Terracotta Army

For the second half of March 30, Helen and her driver took us to see the excavated Terracotta Army.   I explained to my Japanese friends that they are called terracotta because that’s the earthen material that they are made from.  Pretty much everything has already been said about this amazing 20th century discovery.  Farmers digging a well discovered these ancient relics on March 29, 1974.  That’s after I was born!  These warriors below are in disarray, some missing their heads or extremities.  This is much like how they were found when they were discovered.  Amazingly no two warriors are alike.  They all have distinctive hair, faces and shoes.  Their hair and shoes reflect their status and they also carry…

Bicycling the Xi’an City Wall

Our awesome guide Helen is with us all day today, Friday, March 30.  It’s going to be a busy day!  First we will ride bicycles around the entire perimeter of the Xi’an ancient city wall.  Then we will go to the lively Muslim Quarter to marvel at all of the vendors with delicious smells and odd sights.  After lunch Helen is taking us to see the famous army of Terracotta Warriors.  At the end of the day we will be too tired to move another inch.  At that point she’s going to drop us off at the airport for our next flight across China. Xi’an’s wall is the best preserved existing ancient city wall in China.  It was ordered by…

Traveling China

The following day after our long walk across the Great Wall we tooled around Beijing with our guide Michael. On Wednesday, March 28 he took us to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  We saw Chairman Mao’s mausoleum from the outside.  There was a long line to go inside and see him.  Michael said the Chinese government brought in the same team that preserved Lenin and erected his mausoleum, which is in Moscow’s Red Square.  But I read that Moscow wouldn’t talk to Beijing about how to embalm Mao, and neither would Hanoi (Ho Chi Minh also suffered the same fate).  I also saw Lenin’s final resting place in Red Square but didn’t go inside.  It’s kind of freaky that…

10K hike on the Great Wall

We planned to meet Michael, our friendly Beijing guide, in the lobby of our hotel on Tuesday, March 27 at 8:30 am.  That meant we had to get up early to take advantage of the big breakfast buffet in our hotel.  What I learned in China is that Chinese people love to eat.  Breakfast is dim sum both sweet and savory, omelets, waffles, salads, breads, cakes, potatoes, lots of meat, wonton soup, noodle soup, fruit and vegetables without their peels, fried rice, and on and on.  The boys came down with only a little time to eat so I told them tomorrow they should make a point of having a more leisurely breakfast. We’re going to the Jinshanling area of…