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Heading home – by Renee

Oops… I didn’t realize that Alex had blogged.  No harm in having 2 blogs of our last day…

We spent our last day of this trip at Tokyo Disneyland.  It was hot but not as crowded as we feared.  They had most of the usual rides although Country Bear Jamboree in Japanese is quiet different.  

Probably the best thing was the Electric Light Parade which was the best we’ve seen at any park!  Lots of new (to us) floats including the Genie, Nemo and a really spectacular Cinderella.

Fireworks and a projection display on the castle was a perfect end to our trip.

Oh. And the kids played a little Pokemon GO at Disneyland too 

Our next post will be from Portola Valley!

The Second Happiest Place on Earth – by Alex

Sorry, but this will be a short blog, with no photos.  We have to get up very early tomorrow.

Today, we went to Disneyland. This is the second happiest place on Earth after home, where we will be in 30 hours!

We rode lots of the rides, which were very similar to the ones in the U.S. Even though this Disneyland was contracted out to another company for operation, it still felt more Disneyey than Hong Kong. 

For dinner, we went to the same hamburger chain as our first meal in Tokyo. 

There was an amazing light parade, with lots of characters. It was more Disney-themed than the others. There were floats from characters you recognized (Cinderella, etc.), characters you forgot were Disney (Rapunzel), and a float that is commonly known as sponsorship. Our day ended with a fireworks show (but not a traditional show for some reason), and a projection show on the castle with movie clips, animations, etc. They were an excellent way to end our trip.

(o)Edo (Alex)

Today, we saw more of Tokyo. We started by taking the Oedo subway line and meeting up with Gary and Matthew. 

We stopped by an Apple store, which looked very similar to all of the other Apple stores. There was an Apple Camp going on where they were drawing on iPads. 

Our next stop was one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the world. It was more plain and simple than others, but was still very cool.  It holds the  spirit of the Meiji emperor who opened Japan up to the rest of the world in the 1800s… He was very visionary… He wrote a Mission Statement for the new Japan that said “be good citizens and be nice to each other”.  The shrine was in a foresty area, which is very different from the bustling city very close by. There are some good luck objects that you could buy and carry around with you. We did do the clap 2 times, bow twice, and clap once more ritual. We took a nice walk back through the forest area and down the streets.

There was a long line of girls near a store. It turns out that the girls were waiting to take their photo with a boyband member. For those of you who don’t know, Japan essentially mass manufactures boy and girl bands using cookie-cutter templates. One of the first was AKB48

In that neighborhood was a crazy shopping street where everyone who wants to buy wild colored clothes from wild colored stores goes.

Our next stop was the Shake Shack. If you have never been to one, go. They have some of the best burgers in the world. You can find your nearest Shake Shack at It was, as usual, amazing. 

After Shake Shack, went to a small Samurai museum. They had some original armor, some reproductions including one of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whom we learned a lot about in school. For a complete California Public School approved rundown on him, go to or search up Tokugawa Ieyasu on I have no idea how many KQED documentaries I watched on him during the last 2 months of school. We saw an actor perform some samurai moves, and we got to wear some reproduction armor.  

After all of this, we went to a place with a Japanese version of snow cones. I got a strawberry one that was about 3 feet tall (not really but it was still tall) with virtually zero calories, besides the strawberries. It was amazing. 

We ended the day with dinner with Gary’s  family including Akiko (Mom) and Ellie (daughter).  I don’t think I have had a bad Japanese meal in Japan… unlike one other country in particular (not to name any names, but it starts with “Chi” and ends with “na”).  Gary’s family gve us some chopsticks with our names in Kanji on them which were really pretty.  Now I have to learn how to use chopsticks. 

Domo arigato gozaimasu to Gary, Matthew, Akiko and Ellie for being so nice in showing us around. We hope you had fun too!

This is what we did today.

PS a fancy store was selling this cantaloupe for   $162.00 US.  Are you kidding me?????  It had better cure cancer for that price.  A peach was a comparative steal at $80.00.

Sumo – by Alex

Today, Dad’s friend Gary and his son Matthew took us to see some Tokyo sights.  

Adding to our list of Olympic Stadiums, we went to the site of the 1964 Olympics, which has been torn down and is being rebuilt for the 2020 games.  So we get to cross off 2 games at once.  But here’s the only picture we could get through the construction wall:

We then went to the Sumo museum. I learned about sumo there. They had some clips of sumo that involved very heavy objects (humans) tumbling onto not as heavy objects (other humans in the first row of the seats). It was very interesting to learn about one of Japan’s most popular sports. The sumo wrestlers don’t just focus on Sumo, they also write poetry, practice calligraphy, etc.

If you rub the wrestlers’ butt you get good luck.  

Next, we went to the Edo museum. This museum was organized extremely well, showing life in Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) as it progressed over time from the move of the capital of Edo to modern day.  They used to carry people in wooden boxes:

After this, we went to the Akihabara “Electric City” neighborhood. This is the part of the city with lots of very small electronic stores, etc. We went to a little street that reminded us of a bazaar with shops on both sides.  Just like in Xi’an but the shops were more fun.  Anna bought some erasable pens

There is also a lot of anime art in Akihabara

Lastly, we went to a bookstore with an English section.  Anna got the new Harry Potter book here. She says she is going to save it for the flight.  I don’t know if she can hold off that long.

This is what we did today.

Shinkansen – by Alex

Yesterday, we took the Shinkansen train from Kyoto to Tokyo. The Shinkansen is Japan’s bullet train, and it was a great experience. We had reserved seats that had tons of leg room. The seats in the economy-class equivalent had more legroom than first class. United would’ve fit 3 rows in one row on the Shinkansen. There was no security, which was amazing, and trains run on insanely fast frequency. There were trains running about every 15 minutes, with the possible capacity of every 5 minutes. We think that they do not run at maximum capacity because the trains were nowhere near full. The ride was just over 2 hours, and we passed Mt. Fuji. However, it was very foggy, so we could not see above the 1/3 mark of Mt. Fuji.

We don’t have many photos of yesterday, sorry…. I took some on my camera but it’s hard to post them to the blog.

When we got to Tokyo station, it was an experience. Tokyo station is insanely big although it was only semi crowded. It felt a lot less crowded than, I don’t know, Incheon airport. We found a coin locker and put our bags on it so that we could find lunch. The restaurant we went to was outside of the station (just barely), but we had to pass through a ticket barrier. For some reason, the five other ticket machines that we passed through gave us our tickets back, but this one decided that it would be mean to give us our tickets back. Now, our bags were in the Shinkansen area of the train station and we were outside of the station where they do not speak amazing English. We got lunch and thought that we would go check out a bookstore, because Anna is desperate to get the new Harry Potter book, but is unwilling to get it on Amazon. This was at 2:26. Just when we got close to the store, which is on the other side of the station, we got a text from the person who owns the apartment we are staying, saying that we will meet at 2:30. This, of course, makes us feel extremely rushed. We quickly walked back to the gates where are bags were, and tried to figure out how to get through the barriers. Dad wanted to push through, but the gates were not happy about that. We went to the central office where they let us through. We eventually got our bags and got in a cab and made our way to our apartment.

At the end of the day, we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. The food was mediocre, but the music was horrible. There is only so much Bon Jovi that you can listen to before you start living on a prayer that something written AFTER 2010 starts playing so Mom and Dad will stop singing. You can imagine how pleased Anna and I were. 

But we did get Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts to add to our collection.

There was an English bookstore nearby that had lots of interesting books, including some books about Hillary Clinton. (E.g. “American Evita”) There was no Harry Potter, however. 

The last thing we did was watch a light show. It was essentially playing on a massive screen at 1/8 speed. 

This is what we did yesterday.

Beijing – by David

We’re finally getting caught up on blogging … (which is a sign that we’re less wrung out emotionally in Kyoto than we were in Beijing)

We had 3 days in Beijing, and squeezed in as many of the top sights as we could, given the huge city and the unbelievable traffic causing it to take forever to get from one sight to the next.  But without our awesome guide “Sunny”, and our very gutsy and aggressive driver “Mr. Moe”, we would have just been stuck in our hotel room.

First day, we started at Tiananmen Square.  I thought it was going to be fun to walk and look around.  NOT.  At 10am it was already over 95 degrees, and there were about a million people in the square. Most of them were waiting in a 4-hour line to go to Chairman Mao’s mausoleum and get 30 seconds’ view of him.  

We passed on this opportunity, not that I wouldn’t have found it interesting.  Maybe in January next time.  But we did get a photo at the Square.   

Like the color of the Beijing sky?  Fortunately it was just visual haze… It didn’t affect our breathing.

And no, I didn’t unfurl a “Freedom” banner at Tiananmen Square.   I’ve suggested doing all sorts of crazy things, and actually done some of them! The kids roll their eyes at me.

Then we went to the Forbidden City temple complex.  I thought it was going to be fun to walk and look around.  NOT. At 11 am it was already over 105 degrees, and everyone from the square was there, and there were zero trees and the stone was very hot.  The complex is HUGE, with nestled layers of temples within courtyards. So we got a rhythm… fight our way through the crowds to get through a gate, find a somewhat-shady spot, drink water, look at the temple, fight the crowds to get the door of the temple to look in, take a photo, then rinse and repeat.  And when passing a water stand, buy some more bottles.  

By the time we got to the garden at the end (the only green spot in the place), we literally didn’t have the energy to look at it… we just needed to get out.  Maybe in January next time.

Cooling down in the afternoon, we had a nice visit to a tea store, where they gave us a nice tasting of different flavors. I liked the “oolong” best, others liked jasmine, hibiscus or fruit.   Wikipedia says “Oolong is especially popular with tea connoisseurs” so I guess that’s me.   And holy oolong, they like their tea water hot!

Then we went to the Temple of Heaven.  They say it’s their most important monument and the most iconic image of China; the Emperor did the exact same ceremony there to bring a good harvest, every year for 600+ years…

We suspect that getting a good harvest was the best thing the emperor could do to stay in power.  We also think the only thing anywhere close to that level of continuity in America is the Thanksgiving feast.

Day 2, we went to the Great Wall.  Quite a day, and a lot of exercise.

(For those in the know, we saw it at the Mutianyu section… there are many places to see it. This is the same section that Michelle Obama and Sasha and Malia saw…. there were pictures of them everywhere.)

We got an early start, so after a pretty long drive we were on the wall by 10am… which is a darn good thing because it’s just you, the wall, and the sun bouncing off the rock into your face.  We walked about a mile on the wall, and got a rhythm…. Walk to a watch tower, find a shady spot, drink water, look around, take a photo, then rinse and repeat.   

But it was truly cool, and seeing the wall stretching across the tops of the mountains as far as you can see (in the haze) in each direction was amazing.


And here we are with Sunny, our guide… who never broke a sweat even though wearing skinny jeans for the hiking

At this section you can ride the few-thousand feet to the top of the mountain in a cable car, and you can come down on an “alpine slide” sled… so we of course did those and saved a lot of wear and tear on our knees. But we let Alex and Anna go first down the slide, since Mom and Dad don’t like to go as fast as they do.

In the evening we saw the famous Peking (NOT “Beijing”) Acrobats.  They did lots of amazing and “impossible” tricks. But we all commented afterward that we were surprised by the low production values…  there were mis-steps and mistakes that no Las Vegas show would ever make. Example:  one guy stacks up a bunch of chairs and balances on the top one, and he stacked so many chairs that he was up above the arch of the stage (yes, I know, it’s the “proscenium”) and you couldn’t see him!  You’d think someone would say “hey, if we use one fewer chair, people might be able to see”.

Next day started at Olympic Park.  We REALLY enjoyed walking around the Bird’s Nest stadium; it’s one of the world’s most amazing structures.  The guys who built it must have been cursing at the architect the entire time. Our driver kept calling our guide and asking “where are you?”, because most people spend 30 minutes and we spent 2 hours.

 We went to a (very big) jade store and Anna bought a small necklace that is very pretty.


We had about the most “authentic” Chinese-food lunch on the planet, at a hole-in-the-wall dive.  It wasn’t bad… not too Sichuan-spicy, and the kids actually enjoyed it.

We spent the afternoon at the Summer Palace, where the (only female) emperor used to go to get away from the heat.  (I don’t know why… it was just as hot as anywhere else). There were only half a million people there, so it was an improvement over the other sights. There is a very long covered walkway with over 8,000 unique paintings (and 80,000 unique walkers), and the marble boat is cool.  

We also enjoyed a boat ride across the lake. The 700-acre lake was dug BY HAND, and the mountain (2 miles away) in the background is man-made… it’s the pile of dirt from the lake!   Like I said a few blogs ago, China is very good at building big things.


On the way to the airport on the last day, we had a very delightful stop at Confucius’ temple, on the site where he ran his school.  I wish we had had more time there… all the other palaces you can only look into the buildings from outside, but this one we were able to go in and see the details.  I enjoyed it greatly.


Oh, one big sight… on the last morning, we actually saw blue sky… the first time in 10 days in China that the haze cleared enough to see blue.

So, that is what we did in Beijing.

Random notes:

I was a bit disappointed that pretty much all these sights are not original.  Just about every sight had a sign “a temple was here in 1300 but it burned down in 1500, was rebuilt, was destroyed by the Japanese in 1850, was rebuilt in 1920, fell into disrepair, was rebuilt in 1980”, etc.  Even the Great Wall, the sections that were not renovated in 2002 are crumbling ruins (which we didn’t see).  We liked a quote we saw:  “This was my grandfather’s sword, but my father replaced the handle and I replaced the blade.. so is it really my grandfather’s sword?”

All our guides asked “why the heck would you visit China in the summer?”  Well, that’s our only option. They were also surprised that we didn’t need to pee too much after ingesting so much water… it was sweating out as fast as we drank it.

MANY kids (and adults!) in China came up to us giggling, wanting to take their picture standing by tall Americans.  It happened to David most, but they liked Alex too

On the Summer Palace boat a big crowd of girls wanted pictures with Anna.

And a lot of kids and adults enjoyed practicing their English with us.




Photos and more – by Renee

I wanted to share random photos that I’ve taken (but that haven’t been shared in the blog)

Anna and Alex as Xi’an Warriors

Shopping for “snacks” at Walmart… some of which were good and some tasted awful.

Spanish in Xi’an

Giant bell, at the small pagoda in Xi’an

Chinese fast food -noodles

Three very young girls (3-4 yrs old) playing on a cell phone in the Forbidden City

This photo shows that the Great Wall is mostly stairs.  And oh, so hot. I was very annoyed that local tourists were throwing trash ON the Great Wall.  Of course I picked up ALL the trash I saw and put in the trash bins (at every tower)

Cute statues at Olympic Park in Beijing. (Lots of them!)

Anna with her Chinese zodiac sign- snake.  At a display in the Bird’s Nest stadium

Alex’s sign is a Sheep

In the stands at the Birds Nest stadium

Inside the Nest

At Confucius’ temple… tablets where each year the top 3 students from the national exam had their names engraved.  These are from the Ming Dyntasty

2000 year old tree in Chinese temple

Dining Hall at the Korean royal palace.  Our tour guide made a big deal of how “different” the architecture is from Chinese architecture.  We failed too see much difference.

“Love Locks”   In Paris they had to cut them off the bridges because they were too heavy; in Seoul they built racks to feature them. We loved the metal trees made from thousands of locks.  At the gift shop they sold “lock kits” complete with a marker to write on the lock.

Korean guard at the DMZ

North Korea in the distance

Video wall at Samsung Delight exhibition/electronic playground

Cool piano stairs in Seoul subway.  We wondered who was practicing the bad piano we heard. It was just commuters climbing the stairs.  Each stair made a note.

Guacamole in Kyoto.  We were thrilled to find this great Mexican restaurant (with “Pacific Coast Highway” sign on the wall) and we have reservations again tomorrow night. We would have loved it even if we weren’t tired of rice!