Annie Bananie en Europe

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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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜€

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 πŸ˜›

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰

Honeymoon in Japan, part 4 – Otaru, a winter wonderland

The second part of my honeymoon in Japan with J was in Hokkaido and the first stop was Otaru, a port city 45 minutes away from Sapporo by train. Several friends recommended Otaru as a day trip from Sapporo, but we stayed there two nights as we wanted to take it easy and enjoy the city to its fullest. From Tokyo, we flew to New-Chitose airport and immediately the cold hit us. It was mid-winter in the northernmost part of Japan, alright!

Like in Hakone, we stayed in a hostel/guesthouse in Otaru, but it felt more like a homestay as the hostel was a large house in a residential area. Otaru itself had a quaint small-town vibe but there was no shortage of tourists, even during the winter. In fact, many people come specifically during the winter for the Snow Light Path Festival, which happened in February and which we unfortunately missed. Still, Otaru had its own charm to offer.

Perhaps Otaru is most well known for the canal that runs right through the city. All of the points of attraction are pretty much within a 20-minute walking distance from the canal, making it where most tourists are concentrated. During the Snow Light Path Festival, the area surrounding the canal is supposedly decorated with hundreds of candles and lanterns that radiate during the night!

To be honest, I’ve seen my fair share of canals so this one in particular wasn’t anything new or fascinating for me, but J and I still had to take the obligatory selfie πŸ˜›

Aside from the Otaru canal, Sakaimachi Street is another main tourist attraction lined on both sides with small shops selling food and souvenir, especially hand-made glass crafts, which Otaru is known for. There were also several museums for people who enjoy browsing museums, but neither J nor I was museum-minded, so we skipped most of them.

The exception was the music box museum. Actually, I’m not even sure if we went into the museum part because what we saw was a huge area with perhaps thousands of types of music boxes on sale. They were so colourful and pretty and instantly put me in a delightful mood! I could tell that the quality of the merchandise was top-notch, with a lot of attention to detail on each music box. But of course, the prices were proportional to the quality and we were happy with just browsing around, thank you very much!

Around Sakaimachi Street, there were also some snow sculptures of well-known characters, including Snoopy and Totoro. Also this happy snowman seemed to be completely ready for winter with its blue hat and scarf πŸ˜€

I mentioned in one of the previous posts how grateful I was that we brought a selfie stick along with us, and we certainly took full advantage of it in Otaru. Well OK, maybe J got a bit tired of my constant request for taking selfies together but in the end he gave in πŸ˜› Walking by Otaru canal by night, it already seemed sparkling with light and we thought that it was gorgeous the way it was, so missing the Snow Light Path Festival wasn’t that disappointing after all!

I randomly noticed a block of snow floating in the water and remarked that it looked like a heart. Not long before it disappears completely…

Slowly we made our way back to the hostel, which was a bit of a distance from the city center (approximately 20 minutes on foot). Daylight at least provided some warmth but the temperature dropped quickly and drastically as night fell!

The area around our accommodation was extremely quiet and deserted, with not a single person in sight. It even felt a bit spooky at times but we rather enjoyed the silence and serenity and much preferred them over the bustling lights of city night life.

And here are some bonus photos, again from J’s morning run. The things I miss by not going running with him…bah!!! But then again running outdoors in the coldest days of winter, in the snow…again I send my admiration and respect to my beloved husband. He managed to capture some really great views of Otaru on his phone!

Bonus #2: pre-departure from Otaru, at the train station. From Otaru, we would take the local train to Sapporo, where we’d stay for our final three days in Japan. Goodbye, Otaru, it’s been a fun time!

But something else is missing, no? Could it be possible that I didn’t write about Otaru’s…food? Aha, I figured this is enough for one post and saved the better part for the next entry. Coming up next – yakitori and sushi, spoiler spoiler πŸ˜‰

Honeymoon in Japan, part 2 – It’s snowing in Hakone!

Part 2 of the Japan honeymoon series is dedicated to Hakone…again! While the previous post already outlined some of the special moments that J and I shared in Hakone, I felt that it was necessary to write this post separately because…it snowed on our last day in Hakone! Well, snow is not a big deal for me as I grew up in Canada, but it was an unexpected surprise for both of us and a farewell gift from Hakone.

We were told that Hakone doesn’t get that much snow (and we would be covered in snow when we were in Hokkaido anyway), and the previous two days were either cloudy or sunny with no sign of flakes or flurries. When I opened my eyes on our third and final day, I drew open the curtain in our room and was fascinated by what I saw. They weren’t just a few tiny flakes – all of Gora was covered in a sheet of white. In fact, it was still snowing in the morning, so with excitement I shook my husband to wake him up. “Look outside, it’s snowing!”

To be honest I’m not sure why I was that excited. I guess I had subconsciously wished for snow in Hakone and thought that we’d leave snowless until Hokkaido. But really, the scene was just too pretty. I opened the window and could almost touch the icy branches in front of me. I could have sung “The cold never bothered me anyway” loud and clear πŸ˜‰

The morning plan was to chill until 11:30 am, which was the time of our reservation for the meal at Itoh Dining by NOBU (see end of previous post), then leave for Tokyo with flexible timing. However, now that we’ve got this abundant amount of snow, we HAD to go out and take photos after lunch. J and I stayed in the common area in our guesthouse until around 11:15 am, and we left our luggage there and headed out for lunch and a final round of exploration in Gora.

During the entire time in Hakone, Gora only served as a place for us to stay as I assumed that there was not much to see in such a small town/village. Still, I was glad that we had some time left on our last day to see a bit of Gora. I also really like this long wine-red coat because the colour contrasts so well with green (trees) or white (snow). Good pre-trip purchase!

Our main destination was Gora Park and admission was 500 yen, but we got in for free with the Hakone Free Pass. The park was not large and I probably would not have found it to be anything out of the ordinary, but the snow really transformed it into a magical winter wonderland. Just look at how gorgeous those snow-covered branches are on those tall trees!

The tall, umbrella-shaped tree on the right was my favourite one in the park – yes, I made a tree my favourite. In the spring or summer, this place would have been lovely with colourful flowers and plants, but bare brown branches would have appeared so dull if we had visited a day earlier. Nice timing, Mother Nature, thanks! We were in such a pleasant mood that we sang and danced to (and recorded videos of) some snow-themed songs, including “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” and Jay Chou’s “Hair Like Snow”. There were others around in the park but we were not shy – anyone was welcome to join!

It was still cloudy and a bit foggy but we could see the mountains in the distance. Curiously, the Chinese/Japanese character for “big” appears in white in the mountains in the distance…huh??? Did someone carve out such area so that it would be visible if it snowed?

I was quite impressed that the fountain in Gora Park was so well maintained even during the winter – look at that crystal-blue water! Then again I should expect no less from Japan, well done. Also, I really have to thank whoever gifted a selfie stick to J because it was the most convenient gear we brought on our honeymoon. It was my first time actively using a selfie stick and now I’m hooked because I discovered how necessary it was for taking selfies at the correct angles, especially now that I have someone to take selfies with πŸ˜›

Another look at some branches dotted with snow here and there. Somehow I really like how the random line patterns of the thick and thin branches interacted with the snow that managed to stick onto them. It was almost like abstract art or fractals…by nature.

After the short visit to Gora Park, we walked slowly back to the guesthouse where we’d pick up our luggage and head for the train to Tokyo. On our way back, I saw again the huge “big” character on the mountain in the distance, and I was still super curious why it was there in the first place. On a side note, we had to get to Hakone-Yumoto first on our way to Tokyo, and by the time we arrived, there was ZERO sign of any snow. We then realized that only the high elevations got treated to snow (Yumoto was in a valley and Gora was atop a hill) and were once again grateful that we decided to stay in Gora and not Yumoto!

So that was Hakone in a nutshell, summarized in two posts. Of course, I could write on and on about many more details but that would make a mini-novel. Next up, a post that wasn’t going to exist – stopover in Tokyo πŸ˜‰

A very Canadian Chinese New Year

In February, I went back home to Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, bringing along my boyfriend (now fiancΓ©) who was visiting for the first time. After around 16 hours of flight time, we landed in Toronto 9 months after I left, with 13 hours of time difference, halfway across the Earth, just in time to catch some freezing weather and a couple of snow storms!

Being back home means lots of quality time spent with the fam and lots of yummy food! Chinese New Year celebrations included one home-cooked meal and another out at a restaurant, but both were perfect because of the company. I especially missed my goofy sister, who is happily in love with her boyfriend. What’s worthy to note is that we actually got a photo of my dad SMILING! *GASP* Now how rare is that!

Ohh yes it was cold. The boyfriend J and I, along with the entire family, visited Niagara Falls for a few days (more on that later) and were welcomed by a winter Wonderland. J’s smile in the top photo was super forced and seemingly conveyed the expression of “I’m only smiling so we could finish taking this photo and get back in the car”. But then J decided to brave the cold and take a walk around the neighbourhood on the coldest day during the two weeks that we were in Toronto (bottom photo). DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. I mean yes I’d love to show you the area where I grew up and my elementary school and all (and we did go) but you could have picked ANY OTHER DAY…but fine. I’m the true Canadian, I could endure the cold, but can you???

One of the highlights of this trip was attending my first ever live NBA game! This was the game between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards at the Scotiabank Arena and it happened to be Jeremy Lin’s first game after joining the Raptors! I never paid attention to basketball, but everyone who went with me did – J, my dad, my sister, and her boyfriend.

And it was so much fun! The live atmosphere was so intense and the audience was extremely energetic and hyped up (I could only imagine a Leafs game…) It was also a close game as the Raptors were behind by approximately 10 points at around mid-game, but we caught up and ultimately won 129-120! Overall this was a fantastic experience and I was glad to have shared my first-ever NBA game (it was the first for all of them as well) with the ones that I love!

Oh yes, Niagara Falls. Referring to J, my dad said, “Who visits Toronto for the first time without going to the Falls?!” Yea, I hadn’t thought of that, but after he suggested we stay overnight at Niagara, I was sold. I got to see the falls frozen AND lit up at night? Sign me up. In the end, it was less about J seeing Niagara than me taking as many photos of the falls as I could. Not only were the falls frozen, so were my hands!! It was cold AND windy, the worst combination, but I couldn’t resist taking some long-exposure shots, this being my favourite one. Such a majestic view, and only we would be foolish to stick around for long as there was almost no one else out that night, compared to the always-jammed-packed tourist areas during the summertime. Worth it? A million times yes!

And this was yet another phenomenal view – barren, skeletal branches of trees along the cliff the next morning. There was a short stretch right by the large Horseshoe Falls where the trees seemed like they had been stripped of life, and as the car passed by I had to say, “Stop! I need to get off a take some photos!” In fact, it was raining that morning, and the raindrops got on my camera lens but serendipitously resulted in a blurry effect. I thought the photo were ruined at first but upon further inspection, I really liked the way it turned out! It was almost intentional, but not. It felt even a bit ghostly and delusional, as if I were dreaming…of running back to the warmth of the car because the rain was freezing!!!

Time to meet with some good friends and the ones I couldn’t miss every time I visit Toronto were Florence and Darwin and their daughter Elissa (my sister tagged along too). Florence was my university housemate for three years and from seeing each other every day, we now only reunite maybe once a year at most, but it’s always the most anticipated meet-up in Toronto. Love and miss you!

Because J is the most unromantic man in the universe (whom I love anyway), I decided to at least try to be a bit romantic and get him something for Valentine’s Day – a cute bear holding a chocolate rose. OK, I admit it, I got the bear because I thought he was too cute. What’s yours is mine anyway, no? ^_^

Finally, another group photo with the fam AND the food that we had for the home-cooked meal. There’s we go, that’s the more typical “dad expression”, which my sister says is like a bulldog. Oh, what a delicious meal and what a lovely reunion with my dearest ones on the entire planet. Chinese New Year is just an official reason to go home but now that I’m so far away from Toronto, any reason to go home is a good reason. Let’s just not mention the amount of weight that I gained from eating so much good food during those two weeks…

December 2018

With the end of 2018 also came the end of December…or it really should be the other way around, but I like a little bit of plot twist πŸ˜‰ The monthly photos continue as Wuhan entered winter in full swing, without central heating of course as we’re considered to be in the “southern” part of China according to the heating division. It’s harsh, alright, very harsh, but what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger! Here is December 2018 in nine photos.

Dining at Hutaoli, a (sort of) fancy restaurant with nice decorations and atmosphere. They pride themselves on the live musical performances, which are nice, but it’s definitely not a place to be if you want a quiet, intimate chat with friends because the music is SO LOUD. I guess the point is to try to mimic the style of a bar, so it isn’t somewhere I’d like to go often!

Friends with whom I dined at Hutaoli. On the left: my PhD labmates JJ (front) and YF (back). On the right: J (front) and me (back). JJ and YF are both from Wuhan, and we reunited here years after we all graduated!

A random cat that I encountered in a parking lot at Wuhan University. Not sure that it was impressed that I was taking photos of it and getting closer and closer by the second…

Photo taken by J when he went on his morning run – yes, even in the snow! First snow of this winter season but the final one of the year, and I didn’t even realized that it snowed so hard until after I got up (much later than did J). So cold, but so beautiful!

View of the neighbourhood in my residential complex from the window of my flat on the 11th floor. The snow didn’t make it for a white Christmas, but it was just in time for the new year! Traffic that morning was horrendous, and whereas it normally takes me about 20 minutes to get to church by bus, it took almost an hour T_T

Taking a short stroll around the residential complex in the evening, I passed by a lone lamp that lit up the frigid air. It was probably around 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, nothing compared to the -20s in Canada, but it was still freezing!!!

A trip to Shenzhen in the TRUE south of China in mid-December (warmth!) brought me to the summit of Lianhua (Lotus) Hill, where I was able to get an amazing panoramic view of the most prosperous area of Shenzhen. There was supposed to be a light show that got cancelled the day that I went, but since I didn’t know of it beforehand, I wasn’t disappointed because I didn’t expect it anyway.

Obligatory selfie with J! This is me going, “Why is it so cold in Wuhan 😦 I miss central heating 😦 😦 😦 ” J’s response was probably something like, “Hurry up and take the selfie so I don’t have to pretend I’m holding some sort of pose XD “

This photo was taken at the worst angle as it reveals without mercy the chubbiness of my face, but it was the only angle that was able to capture the Duomo Cathedral (not a real cathedral, but it mimics Notre-Dame de Paris) with the Christmas tree in front of it. Once again J was like, “Are you done with your selfies yet -_-” but no J, one can never take enough selfies, especially with the one you love!

And that’s all, folks, for 2018. It’s only day 2 and I’m already looking forward to the Chinese new year and going back home to Canada in exactly one month! 19 more work days to go – wait for me, my home!

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