Food!

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….

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…

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…

Prelude to Spring Break

We’re heading home to California on August 1, 2018.  Our tickets have been reserved and paid for and even the cats have tickets home.  Our Japan adventure abroad is coming to an end.  This August we will have lived in Japan for 2 years.  Before we leave this part of the world, we could (should?) take one final family trip. Our last spring break in Japan.  What to do.  Last year we went on a ski vacation in Nagano with 2 other families.  This time the kids voted to stay home in Minoh and do nothing.  One last overseas trip?  The question is, where to go.  How about Singapore, Malaysian Borneo or China?  The kids say we don’t want to…

Exploring Taipei

The ORIGINAL Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road.  Did we really need to go there for dumplings and fried rice?  (Just a 45 minute wait the lady said.)  Read on. On Friday, March 16 we decided to stay in Taipei.  First: Our cash is almost gone.  We didn’t bring enough.  All over Asia, cash is king.  By now we’ve traveled to many countries so you would think we’d have figured that out.  I called AmEx early in the morning from John’s handy Skype phone number.  He pays a few cents a minute to have a California phone number and so it’s very easy for us to call the US.  The AmEx man said he could assign John’s AmEx card a…

Treasures, Treats & Teatime in Taiwan

We had a lot of adventure and some misadventure in Taiwan.  The misadventure involved nearly running out of cash (because we barely brought any, Duh!) and eventually not being able to access any more.  Not only did we waste 2+ hours trying to get cash at the American Express international office on Fuxing North Road, but it got down to us counting dim sum dumplings at Din Tai Fung to see how many we could order.  This kind of limits the Din Tai Fung experience when you are trying to figure out if you can afford 5 or 10 dumplings, but we decided to just spend our dwindling wad.  We left enough cash in our wallet for mango snowflake ice…

Making Vegan Ramen

Living in a country that loves its Kobe Beef, lives and dies by seafood, loves pork dripping with fat and cracks a raw egg on everything that goes in a bowl, vegan cuisine is hard to come by.  Luckily I’m vegetarian/pescatarian, not so much vegan, but I do enjoy this kind of food category. It happened one day that I saw on Airbnb an offering of a cooking class, in Osaka, for making vegan ramen and I knew I had to try it.  When I read the awesome description of the class, and the fact that it was near the train station AND the chef instructor listed UC Irvine as a place he had studied, I double knew I had…

Okinawa stories and photos

My prior post detailing my trip to Okinawa started to get a bit long and wordy so I had to cut it off.  Here are more sights and stories from Japan’s famous island to the south. I landed at Naha Airport in the early evening.  By the time I traveled from the airport to my Airbnb apartment and got settled in, it was dark.  On the main street, Kokusai-dori, brightly lit stores were crowded with high school students, marathon runners and foreign tourists.  It was raining lightly so everyone was trying to duck out of the drizzle.  Locals were everywhere, luring visitors to their stores, hawking t-shirts, keychains, Okinawa treats, restaurants menus, drinks and even two Owl Cafes along the…