Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

July 2020

Well there goes July. This month, Wuhan experienced an excessive amount of rainfall and as a result, the hot temperatures were slightly delayed and we got flooding in return, blah. In other news, J and I just came back from a short getaway to Guilin, a popular tourist destination in the province of Guangxi in southwestern China. It was good to finally be able to get out of the familiar for a bit – definitely a much-needed break.

Impressive cloud formations outside Guanggu 7th Road subway station in Wuhan, early in the morning.

View of villages and surrounding mountainous areas in Yangshuo, Guilin, during a motorcycle ride. Guilin is known for its beautiful karst hills and landscape that look like oil paintings.

More karst hills near Yangshuo, this time as seen with the setting sun from the Gongnong Bridge over the Yulong (meaning “meeting dragon”) River, a tributary of the famous Li River in Guilin.

View from my perspective as I was laying down to rest in a pavilion during a long(ish) hike in 36-degrees-Celsius weather…lots of stops and sweat required.

Evening falls in Yangshuo, which is relatively quiet because of COVID-19. Normally this town would be full of tourists, especially foreigners, but the tourism industry has really taken a heavy hit this year all over the world.

Lights hanging from the ceiling at the guesthouse that accommodated us during our stay in Guilin.

Brief pottery experience in Yangshuo! In about an hour I only got the hang of moulding the clay into a simple circular bowl/dish – fun but not easy!

Check-in at my workplace – that’s my expression of “it’s too early and I’m not ready for work”. Yep, not embarrassed at all posting this selfie – sometime I like it in its most natural, rawest form, heh.

Selfie time with Mr. J <3, at a Japanese restaurant that was decorated with abacuses on the wall.

In summary, Guilin was great aside from the fact that we went in scorching heat. August will (should) be an entire month of monstrous heat in Wuhan – bring it on, summer!!

My stories 05: Everybody’s Changing

“So little time
Try to understand that I’m
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel the same
You’re gone from here
And soon you will disappear
Fading into beautiful light
Cause everybody’s changing
And I don’t feel right…”

The song “Everybody’s Changing” has been on my phone ever since I discovered it, and I remember very distinctly the circumstances under which I first heard this song. It was October 26, 2017, my final week in Glasgow. I was having lunch with a friend at Chaiwallah, a cafe/restaurant nearby the University of Glasgow that popped up a few months before. (Side note: the site of the restaurant used to be a public toilet but has since been revamped into a cafe. As far as I am aware, at the time of writing, the cafe has closed down.) The space was small but cozy, fitting only approximately 15 customers. I wasn’t very close with the friend with whom I had the lunch date, and within the less than one year that I had known her, we never had a one-on-one conversation. Yet, there was an unspoken mutual bond between us, so it was only natural to finally have a chat with her in a relaxed atmosphere, before I left Glasgow for good.

We ordered our food, and mine was a sandwich with sweet potato, avocado, onion, and cheese. Though the portion was small, it turned out to be one of the best sandwiches that I’ve ever had, but in fact, food was not the spotlight of this meal. Our conversations were light but pleasant, brief but memorable. We talked about God, aspirations, relationships, the past, the present, the future. And then I heard it – a song played in the background that instantly caught my attention. I don’t know what it was that appealed to me. The instrumentals? The voice of the lead singer? The vibe? It didn’t matter – I knew I had to find out the title of the song and who sang it. Thankfully I had Shazam on my phone, which opened up promptly despite my phone usually being sluggishly slow. I told my friend, “I’m sorry, give me a moment, I like this song.” She smiled and waited. In a few seconds, “Keane – Everybody’s Changing” appeared on my screen, and it was like a dose of epiphany…of course!

Keane. I should have recognized that voice, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Perfect Symmetry” were songs by Keane that had significantly impacted various phases of my life, and now, “Everybody’s Changing” made its way into my heart. The song speaks of embarking on the walk of life while all of a sudden realizing that nothing is the same anymore. It speaks of the struggle to accept change in order to stay alive in the game of Life but at the same time, trying to remain true to oneself and remember one’s own identity. But in this day and age, we are all sacrifices of our own products, aren’t we? When we are twisted, bent, and scarred beyond recognition, is it those around us who have changed, or is it us and only us?

Just imagine the sweet potato, avocado, and onion fusing together in a warm cushion of cheese – oh it was lovely!

(This short essay was written on January 16, 2019.)

Honeymoon in Japan – BONUS POST!

Of course seven posts weren’t even enough to fully document the amazing honeymoon trip to Japan, so I decided to write a final bonus post. Whereas the other posts in the series were location- or theme-based, for this post, I went through all of my photos again and picked out some unposted ones that I particularly liked, in no specific order. Hope you enjoy them too!

The sun was preparing to set moments before landing in Seoul Incheon Airport in South Korea, where we were scheduled for a connecting flight to Tokyo Narita. With the help of Google Maps, I have identified the horizontal island in the middle as Seonjae-ri and the large one on the right as Yeongheungdo by their shapes and location 😉

Lake Ashi in Hakone was one of the highlights of our trip and we especially enjoyed exploring the surrounding areas on foot. After we descended to Lake Ashi from Owakudani by ropeway and before we walked the Ancient Cedar Avenue, we made a detour to Onshi-Hakone Park (“onshi” means heavenly/divine gift), which offered a great panoramic view of Lake Ashi. There was also a beautiful path in the park that was lined on both sides with old trees that I don’t know the names of, making it almost a tunnel. We spent quite a lot of time there even though it was an unexpected find along the route.

Before the boat tour on Lake Ashi, we stopped for lunch at Togendai Lakeview restaurant, where we got a curry omurice and an order of sausages with rice. Even though it was a tourist area, the food was surprisingly not ridiculously expensive and the quality was still up there!

An experience that I wrote about in the Hakone post was eating Wagyu beef at Itoh Dining by NOBU. This was my second wagyu beef experience (Kobe beef the first time in 2018) but the first for my husband J, so we made reservations to sit right by the counter so we could see the chef’s every move. The anticipation was building long before the raw ingredients even appeared on the grill…

…and there he was, preparing the wagyu beef like a piece of art. I definitely wouldn’t mind another serving…heh. For the full description of how the food tasted, please read the Hakone post.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that this trip became much more interesting with a selfie stick, which I was using for the first time – I know I’m behind the times. I never liked selfies but having someone to share precious moments with changed that. (1) J and Annie at the Ancient Cedar Avenue near Lake Ashi; (2) J and Annie at Odawara station before taking the slow train to Tokyo; (3) J and Annie at the entrance of Waraku in Otaru, where we had conveyor belt sushi for lunch; (4) J and Annie at Otaru station before heading to Sapporo.

We really had a nice surprise with the snow on our last day in Hakone – look how pretty the snow made everything!

Pre-flight meal at Narita Airport terminal 3, while waiting for our flight from Tokyo to Hokkaido. The terminal itself was designated for low-cost carriers but there were still a variety of food options – another plus for Japan. J and I ordered different types of noodles but we both got gyoza as a side. I love gyoza but they’re essentially dumplings and I feel like I can get them all the time in my daily life, so I don’t go out of the way to get the Japanese type very often. But they are so delicious that I can’t resist sometimes!

Little figurines sitting on a bench in Hakone-Yumoto, near Tenseien, a hot spring resort. They were connected to a wire so I assumed that they’d light up during the evening. It was too bad that we didn’t stay in that area after sunset – the light displays would have been quite lovely, I bet.

While window-shopping on Sakaimachi Street in Otaru we came across more “figurines” – sake in bottles in the shape of little snowmen?

Here’s a more humble landmark of Otaru aside from the canal or Sakaimachi Street – a statue of Bunko the firefighting dog. When Bunko was a puppy, he was rescued by firefighters during a fire and ever since then, grew up with the firefighters. During his 24 years on Earth, he would participate in firefighting missions as part of the heroic team that guarded the city. This statue commemorates the story of Bunko and look – someone put a sweater and hat on Bunko to keep him warm! J seemed to like him a lot too 😛

Final photo to wrap up this bonus Japan post – sunset in the distance as I was waiting for the flight from New-Chitose (Hokkaido) to Dalian (where I’d end up stranded for two months because of COVID-19). Starting the post with a sunrise and ending it with a sunset would have made it a perfect circle but alas, both were sunsets, which were lovely just the same.

June 2020

The Japan honeymoon series was the longest I’ve written in a while – check it out if you haven’t yet! But back to the monthly summary posts. The end of June marks the halfway point of 2020…WHAT! Half of 2020 is over…how did this happen…huh. So far this hasn’t been the best of years for obvious reasons, and one wonders what the second half of 2020 will bring. Let’s first recap the month of June and see what we’d been up to.

The term “retaliatory consumption” (or “retaliatory” anything) has gone viral in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. The term is used to describe the act of spluring in spending, after the outbreak ends, in response to forced reduced spending during the outbreak. Here we see what I think is “retaliatory going-out”. Once everything has been restored to more or less a “normal” state in Wuhan, people can’t wait to go and find themselves in the all-too-familiar comforts of the crowds of the big city (near the Jianghan Road commercial district here). Ah, cars, shoppers, street vendors, no discrimination, everyone gets a spot on the road even though there is no order to be seen! I guess it ain’t really Wuhan without the crowds and disorder…

J and I went to Jianghan Road to see if the city has recovered but we didn’t expect to see THAT many people, though we shouldn’t have been surprised. We did by chance stumble upon a place that sold amazingly delicious crispy beef buns. I only have a photo of the process of making these buns and don’t have one of the finished product (I do, it just doesn’t look SUPER impressive) but trust me – they were SO GOOD. SOOOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOOOOOD. Street food doesn’t get better than this and I’m gonna have to go back to Jianghan Road for this very bun again!

So, has the outbreak ended in China? Hard to say – “experts” will say that it will not end completely and we’ll have to anticipate living with face masks in the long run. Not exactly too pleased by the restrictions but you gotta do your best to be a law-abiding citizen and not create fears…most of the time 😉

Wednesday morning, 7:40 am, arriving at the office for a meeting at 8 am, *yawn*. The sun was only beginning to wake up so forgive me for not yet being fully awake @_@

This classy bookstore was a new discovery in June. I only went because I had a ¥50-off coupon for any purchase over ¥150 that only worked for vendors in the “culture and tourism” category (I was too late that week for the dining coupons), which included bookstores. Anyway, in addition to buying several books, I took my time enjoying the rare tranquility that was in the bookstore (there were perhaps only two others there aside from the store employees).

Entrance to the station where I sometimes take the subway home from work. I don’t often do this as the station is approximately 2 km from my workplace, and I usually take the bus with my coworker. But when I do pick the subway, I scan a shared bike and cycle there within 8 minutes.

A major event that happened in June was moving in to the condo that we bought! This would have happened in March if it weren’t for COVID-19, but there are no “ifs” in life, so June it was. Here’s one of the shelves that I’ve set up so far, mostly with random stuff so that the shelf doesn’t look empty. Hopefully the place doesn’t get too cluttered too soon 😛

So…food??? Yes, food. I mentioned earlier that there were coupons that could be claimed, and that’s actually the Wuhan government’s way of encouraging economic recovery by promoting consumption after the city began opening up again amidst COVID-19. Coupons of four categories (dining, retail, supermarket, and culture/tourism) are released every week and if you’re quick to click, you may be lucky enough to get one. J and I usually go for the dining ones because well, one must eat (not to mention that I love food too much 😛 ) That explains why we had so much good food this month…

…and if you thought that was all, you’d be wrong. We still cooked at home a couple of times a week, but those coupons were certainly great incentives (*ahem* excuses *ahem*) to dine out. I guess the plan to encourage spending really worked…at least on us. Contributing to the economy, can’t go wrong with that!

July so far has brought us a lot of rain – A LOT OF RAIN. This is the storm before the calm (AKA the period of flooding before the hottest summer days arrive). To myself – endure and survive, then enjoy!

Honeymoon in Japan, part 7 – Ski lesson at Teine

Perhaps one of the most anticipated parts of our honeymoon in Japan was the ski lesson in Sapporo, more specifically at Mount Teine. Neither J or I have ever skied before (that time during a middle school trip where I “skied” for one hour doesn’t count) and a lot of people are shocked – how are you Canadian but haven’t skied before??? Well uh…I just haven’t? Sorry for disappointing you as a Canadian!

But now I can say that I have skied…in Japan! C’mon, one of the main reasons people go to Hokkaido in the winter is to ski, so we had to seize this opportunity. A brief search for info led me to the web site of the Teine ski resort. A bit of background here – Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972, and some of the skiing events were held at Teine. Today Teine is popular among locals and tourists alike, and the Sapporo Teine ski center offers a variety of skiing and snowboarding lessons for people of all ages and levels. Best part is that it’s only a 15-minute train ride from central Sapporo. Done deal, we were going to Teine for our first REAL skiing experience!

J and I opted for the one-day beginner’s lesson for 17000 yen per person. It was recommended over the half-day lesson by many reviews, and we figured that we went all the way there anyway, so we might as well get the full experience. Off we went for a lot of crashes and falls…

A shuttle bus (not free) took us from the Teine train station to the Olympia Ski School. There was snow aplenty, alright, and in fact it was snowing as we were on the bus. The careful reader would notice that the clock reads approximately 4:35 in the photo – no we were not there that early. This photo was taken at the end of the lesson, while we were waiting for the 5 pm bus to take us back to the train station 😉

When we arrived at Olympia, I was surprised to find that there were lots of schoolchildren! They seemed to have their gear ready to go and they looked like they knew what they were doing more than we did. We were told later on that kids in Hokkaido go skiing quite often in the winter as part of their school curriculum, so they get training and exposure to the sport at a young age. Supposedly Japan has had quite a few Olympic skiing medalists too!

We had made a booking well in advance (price included gear rental) and as soon as we got to Teine Olympia, we headed for the rental area where the staff fitted us with gear that was our size. This includes skis, poles, boots, ski wear (jacket and pants), gloves, beanie, and goggles. Took a while to put everything on, and walking in those boots certainly made me look like a wobbly doll…!

Ahem, yep, I think we were ready…? Looking badass and ready to take on the world, one mountain at a time, starting with Teine. Little did I know how many times I would almost break my bones when I stepped into the falsely gentle snow…

Well at least J looked happy here as we started our morning training session. We were a group of approximately 20 people (some were only there for the half-day lesson so the group was much smaller in the afternoon) with four staff members, including one instructor. The morning session consisted of simple lessons of basic techniques and manoeuvres. We got the hang of how to handle our skis and poles and practised skiing down a small slope several times.

Not sure what I was doing here or whom I was talking to, but you can see here that the snow had no sign of stopping, at least not in the morning. By the end of the morning session I must have fallen at least three times due to my inability to control my movement and RELAX! J seemed to be doing pretty well – zero falls in the morning, impressive!

The lesson continued in the afternoon after a long lunch and we were headed for a 1.7-km (if I remember correctly) beginner’s downhill trail to test our skills. Exciting! On the way we saw these kids who, once again, knew exactly what they were doing and were probably going to take on the expert hills or something. I’ll stick to my beginner course, thank you very much!

No photos of my actual falls and crashes were taken, but believe me, there were quite a few instances where I was positive that I lost a tooth or broke a bone. I often lost balance and was too nervous to react, and the staff even had to come rescue me and reset my skis several times! Sorry guys! As a result my body was hella sore the next day and I felt like someone had punched me like a sandbag. The pain was NOT pleasant, but it was a necessary part of any learning process, especially a physically demanding sport. Then again I also never learned to properly skate, probably for similar reasons…oh well! Overall still a very fun experience, as you could see from my happy face here…probably just after getting up from a crash!

At the end of the lesson J decided to relax in his own way – by chilling (literally?!) in the snow?! Aren’t you cold, sir? Seems like something I’d do as a child in Canada, rolling in the deep, fluffy snow 😀

And here is one of the friendly staff members that accompanied our lesson, Stephen. I actually got a selfie taken with all four staff members, but my phone DIED right after and the photo ended up corrupted! I was unable to get them all together again after the lesson ended but I managed to catch Stephen before he left. We talked for a while and I found out that Stephen comes from a skier’s family in California, and he’s been in Sapporo for five years. Lots of sharing of stories, and J and I were so thankful for the help that Stephen offered during the lesson, especially at the beginning when I didn’t know how to put on my gear!

To end this post (and the entire Japan honeymoon series) I present you this photo of a badass-looking bald guy (can’t see his face but you can tell he’s badass) with the cutest backpack ever. It was so adorable that I wanted to go hug him – the backpack AND the bald guy. It actually amused me greatly and for a moment I forgot about the pain in my body 😛

And that’s it, folks, the end of the 7-part series on my honeymoon with J in Japan! It was such an unforgettable trip for the beginning of our marriage, and we certainly hope that this wouldn’t be our last trip to Japan 😉 If you want to catch up on the previous posts in this series, go for a click: part 1 – tidbits of Hakone; part 2 – snow in Hakone; 3 – brief stop in Tokyo; 4 – little Otaru; part 5 – food in Otaru; and part 6 – exploring Sapporo. Till next time 😉

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