What’s it really like to do this?

We have been on the road for a little over 13 weeks.  That’s crazy when I think about it, but at the same time, Tokyo seems so long ago and we were so new at traveling as a family.  Now 13 weeks later, what’s it really like?  Well, it has its ups and it has its downs just like if we were living at home.


First off, we are still traveling with our carry on luggage and doing just fine, although Lauren is tiring of the same clothes – mind you she has bought a bunch of new stuff on the road.  We are so much better off packing light.  We can get in and out of trains faster, we can all fit in one cab together, and packing up doesn’t take that long.  Claire might start running out of room soon with all of her little things she squeezes in there, but we are working on it.  And really, wearing the same things hasn’t bothered me too much. Laundry has been fairly easy to get done when we don’t have a washing machine. In Thailand there was a place around the corner from the hotel that charged a little over $1 for 1 kilogram of laundry – about 2.2 pounds.   Drop it off in the morning, pick it up around 7:30pm all washed and folded.  I could get used to that!!!  Actually I might be looking into wash and fold in the city the minute I get home!  Doubt the price is as good 🙂


Travel day

I haven’t gotten rid of much, which means I must have packed well – one pair of pants, a dress, and a flat iron – gone are those days, not even sure what I was thinking.  I added a cool handmade top in Chiang Mai, so I got rid of one tank top.  I am looking forward to adding a few things whenever I might see something.

We are opting for bigger places to stay out the city center when we can, especially serviced apartments which have laundry in room and maid service, plus they are usually bigger.  And often times being out of the city center means we aren’t dealing with the craziness at all times.

How are the girls getting along?  I have to say, pretty well.  I have been thinking about this a lot because there are times where they are fighting (yes even on the road) and driving us crazy, but then I think about it and realize that we are spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together – fighting is bound to happen, especially in close quraters.  But there are more times where they are playing in the pool together, or working on Mine Craft together, or practicing hairstyles and playing endless games of Uno and gin.  Oh, and watching The Voice – they are very into The Voice right now!   The good is definitely outweighing the bad.  If they could just tone down the bickering in cabs, Dave and I would feel much better.  Why is it that the minute we get in a cab, me in the back with all 3 girls and Dave in the front all by himself, they start in on each other.  “your touching me!”  “Get over on your side!”  Like there’s a side with 4 people in the back seat!  It’s enough to drive both of us crazy!!!!

Really, when will we ever get to say that we spent every day together for a year and pretty much got along the whole time? When will we ever get this chance again?  To just hang out and do something together every day with no homework, housework, laundry, sports, etc.  I have spent more time in the pool, I mean really time in the pool, playing with the girls than I ever have before.  I am able to help them with projects, read Harry Potter with the twins, watch The Voice with them, talk about anything that comes up and never feel like I have something else to do.  It really is a once in a lifetime chance.  Don’t get me wrong – we have our days and more than once I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, but it all comes around in the end.



The homework situation could be better.  To get them to focus can be difficult.  There are no set days and times because it depends on what else we are doing that day.  If I come home from a day of sightseeing and am exhausted, I can only imagine how they feel, so school work doesn’t happen on those days.  Really sightseeing is part of the education.  I would just like to have them work on each subject a few times a week – math, spanish and reading.  We research different things on the web depending on where we are and what we have seen – temples in Cambodia, elephants in Thailand, maybe just the country itself.  Each girl is trying to complete a project for each country.  Slow going, but going.  What they are seeing out in the world is a great education in and of itself, but it is on my mind each day that they need to keep up to go back to school next year.  I ordered cursive books for the twins because they have been dying to learn.  Dave’s dad brought them last week and Grace is almost finished!

They do have their devices – ipad for Claire and Kindle Fire for the twins.  These are good and bad.  They would prefer to play on them and watch shows, listen to music, etc. then to do homework.  I don’t really blame them.  That’s a hard thing to do even for adults.  We too have to carve out time to do our work and then spend half the time surfing the net.  There are times when we want to throw them out the window!!!!  Times where we have locked them in the safe with a code the kids don’t know. Setting limits can be hard too because it’s not like we have a house full of toys, books, games, etc. at their disposal to keep them entertained.

We just missed our first flight on the way to Bali of all places.  Manila has a bad traffic problem to begin with, but with the APEC conferece (Obama was there) it was worse.  We planned to leave our hotel, which was only 3 miles from the airport, 5 hours early.  When they came to get our luggage, they said all roads to the airport were closed due to dignitaries coming in.  When we finally left, still 3 hours early, we never made it.  It took over 3 hours to go those 3 short miles!!!! Our flight was on the tarmac with doors closed 😦  Dave literally thought we would sleep in the van for the night.  All worked out okay, but it was a long sleepless night.  The girls are learning how to travel for sure.  They slept in their first airport, the Jakarta airport, and survived.

Enjoying the Bali sunshine now.  It is really hot here!!!!  More to come later.


Elephant poopoo park

Yesterday we went to The Elephant PooPoo Park!!!


It was super fun.  The Elephant PooPoo Park is a place that is eco-friendly and wanted to recycle something.  The owners decided to make paper out of elephant poo!!!!  I sounds gross, but it was awesome.  We had a nice guide that walked us through the park.  She explained that the park gives bananas, sugar cane, and more food to the elephant rescue program in exchange for lots of elephant poop.  Elephant is the most common poo, but they also had accumulated small portions of horses and cow poo.  We got to touch it and smell it at the poo fiber hut.


The cow poo smelled like buttery corn and the elephant poo felt like hay.  The park looked like the elephants had walked through it, becuase elephant poo piles were spread on the pathways.  They said not to worry though, because the poo had already been dried, so it was clean.  We washed our hands after anyways.

They actually make the paper outside right at the park, so the next place she took us to see was the cleaning and boiling shed.  They scoop the poop into a pre-cleaning drums, and then into a cleaning drum.  After they let it soak for 2 to 3 hours, until the sediments fell to the bottom, they move it into big pots filled with water and heated with wood fires.  The workers mix the poo with big spoons that look like paddles. When we got to try I thought it looked like moss or algae in swampy, brown water.


After they finish the cleaning and boiling, it’s clean, and gets moved to a mill machine, where they turn it into a pulp and dye it different colors such as blue, red, purple, yellow, etc.  When the pulp is of the right consistency, they scoop it into specifically sized balls.  Balls of colored elephant poop!!!!  How great is that?



Well , it’s pretty great, but it’s not paper yet.  As the tour moved on our guide took us to the screening process, and we got to do it twice!  The colors we got to choose from were yellow, red and purple.  The first time I chose red.  We had to pick up the correct color poo ball, without gloves, and it was cold!  Then you dipped a giant screen in the water and layed a pooball on top of it, I used my fingers to pull in apart.  Then you and your helper use your fingers to smooth out the clumps.  It felt like wet toilet paper.  After that step,  you patted your hands on the top to spread it out.  I did it the second time with purple.


You then picked the screen from the water, and I got splashed.  They screen was then set to dry on bamboo rods, with all the other paper.


The park makes 100 big papers a day.  We then got to peel off a dry piece.  The orange piece had a huge bug on it, but we blew it off.  Of course the twins still didn’t want it, so I took it.  It fells really sturdy after you pull it off.


It all went by too fast, and we took pictures with drying papers.


We ran up to the next building, and got creative.  We got to pick an elephant poo product to decorate!  The twins each picked a journal, but everyone knows I have enough of those, so I made a passport holder.  I probably won’t use it to hold my passport though. I decorated it with cutouts that were made of poo paper.  Mine had my name, different color hearts, a huge elepant, and a humming bird.  The inside had flowers, more elephants, and more hearts.  But the back might be the best.  I used different shapes in different shades of brown to make a pile of poo!  It even had fumes coming from it.  It was the last thing to do, besides the gift shop, so that’s where we headed.  I bought a scratch pad that had a recycle sign.  It reads, Made With Real POO!  We all climbed into the taxi, and thought about how great of a day it was.



Ha Long Bay

I’m not even sure what I can say about this place.  Words or pictures will never do it justice.  I’m just so happy we were able to experience Ha Long Bay.  To say it is magical or picturesque or one of the prettiest places I have ever seen, might be an overstatement for some and an understatement for others.  But we loved it.

Ha Long Bay is quite a long bus ride from Hanoi, but we found a brochure where we were staying advertising a sea plane ride to get there.  Dave thought that would be a cool experience.  We got a great deal and are so glad we did!  To see the bay and the islands from above is breathtaking.  The day we flew in was a bit hazy, so it made it all the more majestic.  And this is a view you can’t get from the boats below.


Ha Long Bay has close to 2,000 small limestone islands.  To see it is to believe it.  And in order to see it, you get on a boat overnight.  There are so many to choose from, but we chose the Bhaya.  Yes, this seems touristy, but it’s the only way to see Ha Long Bay.  Luckily, we were there in the off season, so it didn’t seem as crowded on the water.


Once on the boat, they take you out on smaller boats, kayaks if you prefer, to see beautiful lagoons the first day.


The girls and Dave always had fun swimming in the bay before we had a cooking lesson on board and learned how to make spring rolls.  Plus Dave and I got to partake in some coconut wine.  Fun and delicious!








The next day we are up early to head to the Sung Sot Caves.  This was crowded and Dave almost wanted to bag it, but thankfully we didn’t.  After walking up steep stone steps behind  a line of other tourists, we saw two caves that were pretty cool.  But when you walk into cave 3, that’s when your jaw drops!   The cave was massive!  Almost 10,000 square meters.  We couldn’t believe it.  With stalactites and stalagmites, it felt like you were in another world.  Just to walk around the cave took a while.  You can’t even believe something that enormous could be hidden away in these limestone islands.  No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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If ever in Vietnam, Halong Bay is a must see!

My blog by Awesome Lauren

This is Lauren.  This is my first blog.  I don’t really like traveling.  After the touring, I just want to sit down and rest in my bed.  But I have seen some good things:

Japan – My favorite place we have been on this trip is Tokyo.  It was very clean and efficient and has great toilets too!!  Some play music and the seats are heated too!

Japanese toilet

Japanese toilet

My favorite food in Japan was Ton Katsu – it was like friend chicken.  We went to a traditional ryokan where we got to wear kimonos.  We had a 12 course meal – it was good.

Ton Katsu

Ton Katsu

my kimono

my kimono


12 course Japanese meal

We went to Harry Potter World !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  There was Honeydukes with all of this candy like exploding bon bons, sugar quills and choclate frogs.  There was pumpkin juice too.  I bought a wand at Ollivander’s wand shop – it was a holly or a different wand.  The ride we went on was 4D, you could hear air, rain, dragons come at you and you turn and twist.  You get surprised!


The conductor

The conductor

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express

The Flying Car!!

The Flying Car!!

potions class at Hogwarts

potions class at Hogwarts

China – my favorite thing in China was Disneyland, it was so fun!!!!!!!   We went on this Buzz Lightyear ride five times. Then we went to this Stitch encounter.  When it started to turn darker, we went to the light parade.  Then we saw fireworls.  It was an amazing day!  We celebrated our birthday there.


Buzz Lightyear RIde

Stitch encounter

Stitch encounter


Small World

Small World

Light Parade

Light Parade



We also saw the Great Wall of China.  We went up a ski lift to get to the wall.  We walked along the wall for an hour or so.  I thought it was cool.  But then…we went on a tobaggan!!  It’s like a sled, but you control your speed.  It was super fun!

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

Toboggan Ride down

Toboggan Ride down

We have also been to Vietnam and Cambodia.  In Vietnam we hung out and in Cambodia we saw a lot of temples.  Keep it short and simple I say.



There’s just something about Vietnam

I was excited to go to Vietnam. People who had been there raved about it, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I loved it!!  I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on it. Was it the people?  The food?  The landscape?  Maybe it was the experience of all of that together. The minute we walked off the plane, Dave and I knew this would be different.

From the drive to our hotel, you could just see the liveliness of the people – they were out cooking at the sidewalk cafes or just hanging out, or on their scooters going all directions, and I mean all directions.  There seem to be no traffic laws that people followed, but somehow it all works.  It was a little crazy for the girls – walking the streets of Vietnam is an adventure in and of itself. We were told to just walk with purpose across the street and stick together in a group. If you wait for a space in the traffic, you literally could wait all day. Plus,  you never know what they might be carrying on their scooters.  They use them like cars and they can get a lot strapped on them. It’s a wonder they stay upright.


Scooter parking

Scooter parking

The area we stayed in, Tay Ho, was awesome and had a good mix of things to see and do with both locals and expats. There were lots of restaurants, shops, spas, etc. Some of our favorites were Cong Caphe – this great coffee shop new friends of ours showed us. I got the coconut coffee, it’s like a dessert!  We loved La Bicicleta – a Spanish restaurant in Vietnam. I know, sounds weird, but it was so good we went twice!  The chef was from Spain, so it was authentic and delicious!  The gourmet market, Annam, in the mall next to our hotel was a treat – some days I might have gone in there 5 times!  They definitely knew who I was by the time we left.  We ordered Indian food, sushi and of course the delicious Vietnamese food. I loved it!!!  With all of the fresh vegetables Vietnam has, their food was amazing – spring rolls, pho, just to name a few of the basics and simply because I can’t remember the names of all the food that we tried.

Delicious daily meal from roadside cafe. Maybe $4

Delicious daily meal from roadside cafe. Maybe $4

Our friend, Cynthia, who has been living there for a year, took me to the local market one morning. What a treat!  To see all the beautiful fruits and vegetables, flowers, fresh tofu and coconut juice reminded me of the farmer’s market back home. The only difference was that they also had chickens, fish and other meat products sitting out which we don’t normally see.  And truthfully that might be a good thing. But I did buy tofu – which Claire said was the best she had – coconut juice for Dave and some fresh carrots for the twins.


The farming fields were literally a bike ride away, so everything was so fresh. We also had a view of a floating vegetable garden right outside our window where people in boats would paddle by hand in the morning to go and pick fresh vegetables to sell in the market or on the street.

View of floating garden

View of floating garden

The old quarter was a quite an experience.  It was super busy with scooters outnumbering the cars and even people it seemed!!  I mean thousands of scooters. It was the craziest experience. We all just had to take it in and watch our step.  There were scooters with two people as well as families of 4 all riding together, one kid in the front and one sandwiched between the two parents, sometimes standing on the floor board.  Many didn’t have helmets, which seemed insane to me with how crowded and nuts it was on the streets.


It was a little more difficult at night in the old quarter, so we ventured down there a few more times during the day to shop.  The shopping is a trip – streets dedicate to one particular item – sunglasses on one street, backpacks on another, and office supplies and toys on yet another.  I wonder how each stall stays in business with so many to choose from.  We had fun looking at the local art and the girls each picked a painting to send home along with the one Dave and I chose.  Should be fun to open all these boxes we are sending home when we get back next summer.

We all are enjoying the spa experience when we can – I might be enjoying it a bit too much, but I realize once we leave Asia, I’m back to American prices and these prices are just to good to pass up!!  The girls each enjoyed their first spa experience and I keep telling them not to get used to it 🙂

I think we are going to like Vietnam.

Don’t Tell Me This Town Ain’t Got No Heart: Thoughts on Hanoi by Dave

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Hanoi Scenes

Vietnam was one of the places that I was really looking forward to visiting based on what I’ve heard from people. I remember my friend, Tom Green, visited sometime in the late 90’s and raved about it. I am an Anthony Bourdain fan and he loves Vietnam. Usually they say they like the people and the food- I do like a good bahn mi sandwich. I am also gaining a new appreciation for soups after the Ramen in Japan, so was also excited to try out the pho here as well. But the reason why it was so great was still somewhat ambiguous to me, so we planned to spend 3 weeks to check it our ourselves. I was thinking third world, jungle, crowded, communist.

So here’s how it went on our first stop in Vietnam- Hanoi:

We took a short two hour flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi in the afternoon. When we landed we did not expect to see a fairly new international airport which was almost empty. Keep in mind that at this point we had spent 3 weeks in Chinese cities which had just way too many people.

We were staying in the Tay Ho district of Hanoi, which is about 15 minutes from the old quarter/city center and sits on the edge of the city’s largest fresh water lake. I am glad that we randomly chose this part of town to stay as the old quarter was so crazy with scooters everywhere. It was great to take a short cab ride to the old quarter if we wanted to and then come back to a more sane part of town, especially for the kids. Tay Ho is also where a lot of the expats live in Hanoi.


View of Tay Ho from our Apartment

Both Kelly and I immediately got a good vibe about Hanoi, but we really couldn’t put our finger on it. Hanoi has a lot of rivers and lakes all around, so there is a lot of greenery. And while there are cars here (the import tax on cars is 150%) the primary mode of transportation is scooter – lots and lots of them.

What really struck us right away, especially since Vietnam is technically communist and we just came from China, is the amazing variety of food you can find here. I am starting to find out that I am starting to judge countries based on the types of cheese that are available. There is a specialty grocery store in the small mall under our apartment that pretty much rivals any Whole Foods back home.

We have also met lots of expats here who have given us the low down on things in Hanoi- where to buy things, where to go, good restaurants, etc. So we felt pretty welcome and plugged in right away. The first couple we met, on our first morning in Hanoi was a Canadian couple named Justin and Cynthia. We literally met on the street as I was contemplating getting a haircut and shave from an outdoor barber on the side of the road. It was my first haircut/shave on the entire trip, I figured the guy had customers so he must be ok. Kelly thought it was shady. So Justin and Cynthia walk by, I ask if they are from Hanoi, and if it’s kosher to get a haircut on the side of the street. Justin says he might not be the best person to ask as he takes off his baseball hat and reveals his bald head, but he gets a shave at a place down the street (which is indoors). We ended up hanging out with them several times in Hanoi. Justin also happens to be a float plane pilot on the airplane we were thinking of taking to Halong Bay. Small world.


Roadside Barber

What’s so great about it?

The Food-not just the Vietnamese food. We had great tapas, Indian food, Japanese, and of course French. Kelly might like Vietnamese food more than Japanese food (What the…). Everything has to be fresh here as refrigeration isn’t as common as in the States. The produce here is great as well, we heard that the government banned all pesticides so everything is just as good as the $6 organic grapes you buy in the States. We have been eating lots of fresh spring rolls and pho for breakfast.

The Coffee-Vietnamese coffee (served both hot and cold) with condensed milk is both coffee and dessert. And it is STRONG. The kids love the hot chocolate here too.

The Prices- The 5 of us had messages (one hour for the adults, 30 minutes for the kids) for a grand total of $37. Of course for the kids it was their first ever message. Afterwards Grace said, “Life changing experience.” I think I’m screwed. We’ve had great meals at restaurants for around $40 all in. The also don’t tip in Vietnam, which I find kinda nice.

The Dong-my inner adolescent came out the first couple days (actually the entire time). The currency in Vietnam is the Dong. So Kelly got sick of me saying- Man, that purse is a lot of Dong or that tour is just too much Dong. And the exchange rate is around 22,000 dong to the dollar so most of our bills were north of 1,000,000 dong. So you kinda feel like a baller when you get bills that big.

Sure it can be hot and humid-and we were there during some of relatively cooler months. Yes there more trash on the streets compared to the U.S. Yes the traffic is cray cray-crossing the street can be a life and death experience. Its still a third world place. But surprisingly the third world aspects of Hanoi didn’t bother me one bit.

The vibe here is very international. It feels like things are happening here. We met expats from from Canada, the U.S. (Washington, Florida), Japan, Korea, Australia, and South Africa. The general feeling is that expats tend to stay longer then their initial time commitment since they like living here so much. Cynthia told us a story of a friend who tried to get demoted in order to stay longer. Justin’s son visited for the first time from Canada and after two weeks decided to pick up and move to Hanoi. That has to be a good sign for a country.

You really should check out Hanoi (and Vietnam in general). Its a place on the rise.

Now I get what all the fuss is about.


Claire at a communist themed cafe


Grace on the roof deck of the same cafe


Lauren gets a haircut (not on the roadside)

Shanghai and Hong Kong by Dave

Shanghai and Hong Kong were much different experiences for us compared to Beijing and Xian, mainly because Shanghai and Hong Kong are international cities and because I had good friends and family members showing us around both cities. I think you need to visit China with someone who speaks Chinese. We had a guide or a friend in each city in China and it really made a big difference. Our guide, Rafael, in Xian (recommended to us from our friends the Hagans) was awesome, he really took care of us.

We took an overnight train from X’ian to Shanghai. It was terrible-long, somewhat clean, and the air conditioning didn’t work. It was a long night. This was our 2nd overnight train in China. The first one was from Beijing to X’ian. The kids were pretty excited since this was their first experience on a train. Kelly and I found the first overnight train experience to be somewhat overwhelming-we got to the train station pretty early and we were literally the only westerners in the entire huge train station. We thought that was kinda strange. As we got closer to our 9:00 PM departure time more and more groups of western tourists showed up, which made us feel a little better (is that bad?). After our 2nd overnight train (to Shanghai) we decided that we were cool with the train thing and bagged our last overnight train (Shanghai to Hong Kong) and just took a plane. I figured that if we can’t get a good night’s sleep on the train, what’s the point. Add to the fact that the scenery wasn’t that great either. Kelly and the kids were real troopers, I’m glad we as least gave it a try.


We had great time in Shanghai mainly because our friends, the Shu’s, (Malcolm and Haeli and their kids Oban and Ansel) gave us the red carpet treatment. Malcolm is a friend of mine from my days at Lehman Brothers and he is a restauranteur in Shanghai. He started a chain of fast casual restaurants called Sproutworks which serves fresh salads, paninis, juices, and shakes – definitely check it out if you’re ever in Shanghai. Both Malcolm and Haeli took time from their busy schedules to show us around, along with their private driver, which was really convenient.

This is my third time in Shanghai. My really good college friends, Sean and Hugh, used to live there so I’ve visited them before. Visiting with the kids this time I was curious to see Shanghai during the daytime. There really isn’t much to see from the sightseeing point of view, so we spent the next few days walking around the French Concession area (lots of expats) and Xintiandi area.

We checked out lots of restaurants-most of them run by Malcolm’s partners or friends. We celebrated the twins birth day at Liquid Laundry-Huge full floor open space with a Brewery and Pizza oven – delicious! Other food we ate: Dim Sum. Shanghai dumplings at Din Tai Feng. Mexican food at Cantina. Burgers at Blue Frog. Taiwanese food at Malcolm’s Uncle’s former restaurant Bellagio. Amazing final night dinner at Mercado (rustic Italian) overlooking the Bund.


Happy Birthday Lauren and Grace

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The Bund

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Shanghai Scenes


Pretty much


Thank you Uncle Malcolm!!!

Hong Kong

I forgot how beautiful Hong Kong is. Kelly and I ended our honeymoon with a weekend here many years ago, but at the time we were just ready to head home.  It reminded us of San Francisco given all the bridges and the bay setting, but it has 7x more people than San Francisco. For a big city it’s pretty efficient-you can find a cab anywhere and the subway is great. We stayed at the Harbour Grand Hotel on the Kowloon side which had ok rooms but ridiculous views of Hong Kong and a rooftop pool. I caught up with another old Lehman colleague Voon Wong (a.k.a. Voon-doggle) who just moved to Hong Kong from the Bay Area. After dinner with his family we had a drink at a rooftop club overlooking the city that had an (empty) jacuzzi in the middle of it. Also had a chance to catch up with my cousin Ralion and his cool wife Des. It had been way too long since I saw him last.



View from the Pool


Cousins Reunited

Next Stop: Vietnam (Hanoi, Hoi An)

Great Wall Toboggan Ride by Dave

So we stayed near the Great Wall at Mutianyu which is a little less touristy than other parts of the wall. We also stayed at our own little farmhouse which meant we could just walk to the entrance in the morning before all the tour buses came. You originally had to hike up and down to the wall. Then they put in a chair lift up and toboggan ride down. Genius.

Here is the first picture you see when you get off the chair lift-


Yes that is a picture of Michelle Obama on the Toboggan down ) with Secret Service guy behind her.

Wanted to try out my new GoPro out (thanks Zack Martin) so this was a perfect opportunity. Its a little long, but the commentary by Grace will keep you interested. If you get a chance to see the Great Wall you should definitely check this out!

Had some issues downloading this movie clip to this site so let me know if you can’t view it.


Turning Japanese…I think I’m turning Japanese…I really think so….By Dave


If you can name the band referenced in this post’s title you know your one hit wonders.

Had this post all ready to go on the flight from Tokyo to Beijing. Then arrived in Beijing and totally forgot that Gmail/Google/Facebook/Wordpress/YouTube was a no no in China (Thanks comrades) and the VPN situation was kinda spotty. Anyway here it goes, need to catch you guys up….


Japan has been really really good to us. We are already thinking of when to come back (2020 Olympics perhaps?). We love the civility here. When we were having lunch at Harry Potter World at the busy restaurant, we noticed how relatively quiet and civil everyone was. You ordered at one station-by the time you went to another station your meal was getting plated, as you grabbed your meal there were several people finding a table for you, and when you were done they took the tray for you. No crazy kids running around everywhere. No napkins and food on the floor. Kelly and I both said this scene would not exist back home.

The civility extends to all the arigatos (“thank you”) as you exit a store or restaurant, the white gloved cab drivers in all the cities, the way the train conductor walks through your train car, opens the door to enter the next car, but then turns around and bows back to everyone in your car before he leaves. I mean, who does that? It’s kinda cool.

It’s also the thoughtful little things you notice. The trays you put your money in when buying something instead of handing money directly to the person behind the counter. The sensors on train toilets-wave your hand over one and the seat lifts up/down, wave your hand over the next one and it flushes. The provided wipes for toilet seats. Kelly even mentioned some sort of disposable mat if you needed to change in the stall. (At least thats what we think it was). The small sink next to the trash can to dump your partially full drink before throwing it away. The tiny soy sauce dispensers that look like tiny fish when you get take out sushi. The umbrella bag dispenser- you put your wet umbrella in a slot and move it towards you and your umbrella is covered as you walk into a store.

So we spent 3 weeks in Japan. After starting in Tokyo, we took the shinkansen, the bullet train, to check out some of the rest of the country. Here’s my take on each stop.


A great respite from uber urban Tokyo. About an hour and a half away. Up in the mountains, huge lake with views of Mt. Fuji-even though it was overcast when we were there. We saw a Swiss cowbell (more cowbell!) at our train stop-kinda random, maybe they bought the funicular train we took up the mountain from the Swiss? The place reminded me more of Europe than Asia.

Our stay at the traditional Ryokan was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.  At check in you leave your shoes at the front desk and walk around with socks/wooden flip flops on hallways lined with tatami matts for your entire stay. We were given Kimonos to wear all around the Ryokan-who doesn’t like walking around in a comfy robe everywhere? We even had two different types to chose from. The onsens- public hot springs/baths, the 12 course Japanese dinner in our own private room. The multi course breakfast of smoked/raw fish, rice porridge. Its was actually really good and all the girls liked it as well. The service was on a completely different planet than I am used to.


Lauren really likes her food


Not sure if you can read that-its lots of food.

Hakone also had this great open air art museum-apparently the first in Japan. What was great about it was the beautiful gardens with huge sculptures mixed in with very kid friendly, hands on play structures. There was a huge Picasso museum as well. This is what the Japanese spent their money on in the 80’s.


Chia pets gone wild


Self portrait





Foot soaking areas


This one’s called-College Flashback


Egg-cellent museum. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself)


Two hours on the bullet train and we were in Kyoto. We stayed at a hotel above the train station which I know sounds weird but this is not like any train station I’ve ever seen. It was like a small city unto itself – 20+ stories up and several city blocks long with malls in and under it. There was a floor just with different types of ramen shops based on region. It was pretty easy to take little short trips from there. Kyoto is a less dense city than Tokyo and has more natural beauty. We also got to walk through typical Japanese neighborhoods.

The girls really loved the monkey park overlooking the city. Only in Japan-here the humans get put in a cage to feed the monkeys. We were told not to stare directly into the monkey’s eyes. NO MAD DOGGING the monkeys. That is how Planet of the Apes started. We also loved the Bamboo Forest, and the boat ride we took on the river on a traditional boat with a guy just using a long bamboo pole to get around. We spent the rest of the time just checking out the food. We saw one temple, but that was about it. When it was raining we spent an hour after dinner hanging out in a huge electronics stores in the massage chair section-which was the most packed department in the entire store.

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Lost in Translation


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Streets of Kyoto


Do not feed the humans



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Grace: Look Dad, its a monkey.


Up the river with no paddle-just a bamboo pole


Bamboo Forrest


Beer vending machine on the street. Let that sink in. Beer vending machine on the street.


My Ninjas.

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My Ninjas in massage chairs after a full day of Ninja-ing.


We went to Osaka mainly for Harry Potter World and I wished we had stayed a little longer to check out the city. It had a really cool vibe. I read that Osaka is a little more laid back and less reserved than Tokyo or Kyoto. We stayed at our first Airbnb in the Shinsaibashi neighborhood. Initially it was a disaster. Its was run by a property manager and the unit’s owner hadn’t paid the electricity bill, so we were without electricity or internet when we got there. Thankfully we got a hold of the property manager and I told her if the electricity wasn’t turned on by 5:00pm (it was 3:00pm at the time) we were out. She said she would pay the bill herself and by 4:30, and after a hefty discount on our rate, we were good.

As for the Shinsaibashi neighborhood – it might as well be in Brooklyn. Hipsters, fixie bikes everywhere. I got a hold of the property manager using the free wifi (4 times) from Saturdays/Surf NYC- the surf/coffee shop playing Jack Johnson. We got tacos with tortillas made from scratch in the Nacho-Libre Mexican wrestling themed restaurant around the corner. For breakfast we had overpriced (but thick and delicious) toast.


Lets face it, Hiroshima was pretty heavy but I’m glad we went. Claire and the twins had just read the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and her memorial is in the Peace Park. All the girls made lots of paper cranes to leave at the memorial. Just an immense feeling of the power of place given what happened here really not that long ago. The museum was pretty intense, too intense for the twins-hopefully we didn’t scar them for life-what were we thinking?

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Paper Cranes


Origami Lesson


Ringing the Bell



See you again soon Japan!

Next stops: China (Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Hongkong) and Vietnam (Hanoi, Hoi An)

Thoughts on Disneyland by Claire

A few days ago my family and I went to Disneyland in Hong Kong.  It truly is the happiest place on Earth. (Or it better be, becuase if it’s not, that’s false advertising).  We all loved it because there were literally no lines.


The first land we visited was Tomorrowland.  That was my favorite.  We went on the BuzzLightYear Ride where you have a laser gun and aim and the Zurg targets.


It was soooooo fun!!!  I got as high as 499,700 points!  We did the ride five times since there were no line.  After we got tired of BuzzLightYear, Space Mountian caught my eye, though I’m not sure why.  I had never been on a big rollercoaster, they just weren’t my thing.  But there I was with my dad, riding Space Mountian.  When I was off the ride I had the biggest smile on my face, because it was AMAZING!!!  I wanted to go again, but the ride had ended just in time for the last session of the Stitch encounter and Stitch is my favorite Disney character, so naturally we went to that.  That was amazing too.  Stitch would talk to a few people in the crowd, and it was hilarious!!  Then Evil Captian Gantu tries to kidnap Stitich, so the audience has to tell him what door to use so that he can get to his cruiser.  In the end he made it and got away safley.  Whew!  What a relief!  Well, we said goodbye to Stitch and were on our way.


We had done what we wanted to do in Tomorrowland, so we headed down to Fantasyland. The first thing we did was It’s a Small World, which is my Grandpa’s favorite ride.  It’s one of my favorites too.  It was fairly new, and my favorite countries were Japan and Hawaii.  The girls from Japan were dressed in kimonos, and the girls from Hawaii were doing the hula!  Also in Hawaii there were volcanos.

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After the ride, we went to the Mad Hatter Teacups.  The girls and I hopped into a blue one and spun away!!!  We spun as fast as we could.  Good thing our mom didn’t come with us, she would have gotten VERY motion sick, and nobody wants that.  Well the teacups and Small World were fun, but the carousel was great too.  Again, it didn’t have a line.  I picked a horse that was cream with a mane and tail that looked like the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow.  And because I love horses, I named mine.  Her name was Sunshine.

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The ride was over before you knew it, and everyone was getting hungry.  We headed to the Royal Banquet Hall where they made everything sound fancy and shaped things into Mickey Mouse, like Lauren’s Mickey Mouse shaped rice or Mickey Mouse shaped sushi.


We still had to go on the Dumbo ride, which was the only thing that had a line.  A line that wasn’t very big.  We just had to wait 2 minuites.  I got to ride by myself in a blue one.  When the ride started, I went as high as I could and sat there looking at the view.  It was another short ride and was over quickly.  I wanted to ride Space Mountian again, but my dad and I couldn’t get through the parade so we walked around it while the twins watched with Mom.  Eventually we made our way over and rode again.  At the gift shop at the end of the ride, I got Star Wars Disney pins to share with the twins.  The one I took was Stitch dressed like Yoda!!!!!  So cool!!!!  But the thing that really held us back was the Darth Vader mask.  We took turns trying it on.  When you flipped a switch whatever you said sounded like Darth Vader!  It was really cool, but it was $55 US dollars, so we only left with the pins.  The twins wanted to go on BuzzLight Year again, so we did it for a sixth time.  I scored really high again.


After the ride it was our chance to stock up on everything Disney.  I got a Hong Kong Disney pin, Tsum Tsum stickers, and a Stitch keychain!  It was so cool.  The next ride was Orbitron which was like Dumbo, just saucers in Space.


The final ride was Autopia, where you drive cars that are on a track.  You weren’t in full control, but it was still fun.  That’s what we did instead of the fireworks show, but we did watch it from the cars.  They were actually pretty, and we got to see a good chunk of the show.  Then we walked down main steet and got Mickey Waffles and stayed until the Park closed.  All in all it was a great day.


-Claire ❤