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Happy Holidays!

25 Dec

ImageHello everyone!

Thank you for being patient during the radio silence on our blog. The past 5 months have gone by faster than we realized! We are now happily settled in the Bay Area in our new home surrounded by friends and family, and we have added a member of the 4 legged variety to our family- a Shiba Inu named Mochi.

Rest assured, we will jump start our blog in the new year. We’ve got tons of content to share- from the rest of our travels to our new adventures with Mochi the Shiba Inu. Below is a video of Mochi and his litter mates at 6 weeks! (change to HD for the best quality!)


Again, from our family to yours, happy holidays!

jung 2012 holiday pic

We’re Back. For Reals.

25 Jul

Even though we technically flew back to the states last Wednesday, we were still “traveling” in the last week. Less than 2 days after we got to SFO, we jumped into our car and headed towards LA for a family/friends reunion. After enduring many transit connections over the course of our trip, the 6 hour drive down I-5 seemed like a breeze!  We spent a long and fun filled weekend in LA and now we’re back in the bay area, ready for more reunions galore. Here are some things we are embracing about being home:

Having personal space. It’s nice to not be surrounded by people wherever we go!

Getting free water with ice in restaurants.

Non-confusing weather. July in the northern hemisphere should be no rain jackets or umbrellas.  We’re talking to you, Europe!

Consistent internet.

Driving…from one end of the parking lot to another.  Hey, the Gilroy Outlet is very big.

Our laptops. It’s glorious to be blogging with a real keyboard!

And the most important thing:

Spending time with our families and friends in person.

We are so happy to be home!

Germany Memories

10 Jul

We’ve been to quite a few wonders of the world, more World Heritage sites than we can count, and have seen many things which we had previously dreamed of (and some of which we know we’ll never see again *ahem* North Korea). But as our time on this RTW comes to a close, we look back on the highlights and realize that the highlights weren’t just what we saw or experienced around the world. Rather, the highlights included those that we interacted with.

Jeannie has extended family in many parts of the world (we previously blog about her Vietnam family here). It was Jerry’s first time visiting the cousins in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Sandhausen, and Jeannie’s first time seeing her younger cousins that hadn’t been born yet when she last visited in 2001. Yes, Germany and more specifically Berlin has a whole lot of historical relevance and much of its history has been written by America in the 20th century. We made our touristy rounds of those as well. However, we found that some of the memories that will stay with us forever are the ones where we simply played with the kids in the park, rode bikes together to the garden, and watched Deutschland in the Euro Cup. Although we don’t speak any German and the kids don’t speak much English, we somehow found a way to communicate and truly form a bond.

Here are some pictures for now. Stay tuned for a video in which the cousins take us to an “adventure park” and Jeannie ends up nearly in tears when she’s forced out of her comfort zone. It’s actually pretty funny now that it’s over, but Jeannie didn’t think it was so funny at the time!

We can only hope to reciprocate the love and hospitality someday when they find a time to visit the US. Hint hint Deutschland family!

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Vietnam, Foreign

4 Jun

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Vietnam was one of those places where on one hand I felt a sense of familiarity since my last visit 18 years ago, but on the other hand, it was quite foreign to me at the same time. I wavered between both feelings during our 12 day stay.

Here’s the foreign stuff:

You know how you’ve heard of so and so distant relative but if you ever saw them on the street you wouldn’t recognize them? Or when your family’s not socially networked when you go away to college and so you come back to find out that suddenly your baby cousin is now a kid who can read and has a Facebook profile? That’s how I felt about my family that are still in Vietnam.

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I always knew I had relatives in Vietnam, but I never really knew who they were or even some of their names. Sure I had met some of them 18 years ago, but over the years, it was out of sight, out of mind. So it was really neat to sort of “discover” and get to know my cousins better. Not to be cheesy, but I feel like I gained more family while on this trip. The last time I felt this way was when we got married.

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See the cute little girl? I had no idea she even existed!

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I had no idea my cousin is artist/teacher. I knew he was a teacher, but I thought it was some academic subject, not art. He is super talented, he made those busts!

I played badminton with my cousin. That was incredibly fun though sweaty. Badminton was quite foreign to Jerry before he met me, but familiar to me, as I got my first badminton set in 5th grade.
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No one in my family in the States played badminton while I was growing up, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my cousins in Vietnam play almost every day!

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I thought we left food drive thrus when we left America in February, but it turns out in you can ride your motorcycle right up to a vendor and get stuff like meat buns and fruit without getting off your bike.

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I had no idea Saigon had its own version of Notre Dame. It was a duh moment!

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Jerry found these buildings to be oddly shaped. Built very tall instead of wide, when there was plenty of land to be had.

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Who knew the post office was this baller? Although given the amount of cardboard boxes it handles, I shouldn’t be surprised 😛

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Jerry discovered the best DDR players to be in Vietnam (we thought they’d be in Japan). And as you’ll see in the video at the end of this post, go kart racing is where folks take the opportunity to not drive like they normally do outside.

Museums in Vietnam:
I pretty much got schooled by these museums in Vietnam. I won’t even pretend that I am knowledgable about Vietnam’s political history or current political climate. I guess there is always the assumption that if you’re from a certain country, how dare you not know the history, right? Well, better late than never! What I knew about Vietnam’s past I cobbled up through years of random things I’ve heard in passing from my family, the TV, or in school. And to prove this point, we flew into Hanoi on April 29th. Our hotel receptionist told us the following day (4/30) was a holiday. I blankly looked at him and said, huh? Then it registered with me that it was Black April. I actually only learned about Black April during college, not even from my family. And why would they tell me? I certainly didn’t ask. So this trip to Vietnam was a huge history lesson for me. I didn’t even know that the US used Agent Orange during the war either. That was a huge shock for me and seeing the pictures, that was eye opening. I think that when we come home, I’d like to ask about the war and my family’s boat escape story in further detail with my family if they feel like talking about it. I’ve only heard bits and pieces, but maybe I’ll have more intelligent questions to ask now that I’ve seen one side of the story (i.e. the museum exhibits).

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I had never heard of the “Hanoi Hilton” or that former Senator McCain was a prisoner there. Jerry had though.

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Vietnam Military History museum in Hanoi. I learned a lot about the French colonization of Vietnam here.

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The site where the northern Vietnamese army tank (pictured above) crashed through the gates of the then called Independence Palace and afterwards renamed Reunification Palace.

The War Remnants Museum in Saigon. There’s no flashy exhibits or fancy technology like today’s museums. But I think it’s well curated and extremely powerful. The photos speak for themselves.

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Not to be all dramatic, but that Agent Orange exhibit had me tearing up. I felt so depressed seeing all the photos and reading the stories. How do you ever repair or repay an action like that? You just can’t.

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So despite flying in and thinking that Vietnam would be the most familiar place for me because I knew the language and the food, it ended up being foreign to me in the most positive and eye opening way. Someday I’d like to take our kids there so they can get a sense of their family roots.

Vietnam, Familiar

4 Jun

Vietnam was one of those places where on one hand I felt a sense of familiarity since my last visit 18 years ago, but on the other hand, it was quite foreign to me at the same time. I wavered between both feelings during our 12 day stay.

Here’s the familiar stuff:

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Crossing the street in VN is always an adventure, and the plethora of motorcycles certainly makes it even more challenging! There’s no such thing as traffic laws in Vietnam.

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Apart from American hipster salads with fancy ingredients such as quinoa and seitan, I’d consider Vietnamese food to be on the lighter side. Well, with the exception of egg rolls pictured above. Although is it healthier when wrapped in lettuce? 😛 Anyhow, it was quite a refreshing change from the greasy and heavy Chinese food that we’d been having.

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Typical restaurant set ups. I didn’t bother to use Google much in countries like Vietnam. I had a feeling that once we ventured outside, we’d just go where our noses and eyes took us.

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One Google exception: we made it out to the “Lunch Lady.” She became famous after she appeared on an episode of No Reservations, but believe me, she was well known in Saigon before that. Definitely worth the hype! Everyday she serves different bowls of noodle soup. I believe on Saturdays she serves banh canh, bun thai on Mondays, etc. We specifically went on Friday, when bun bo hue is on the menu. No worries about being ripped off. Even though she has two tiers of pricing for locals and tourists, it’s still on roughly $1.25 per bowl for tourists. I could have been satisfied after one bowl, but Jerry and I “splurged” on a third bowl. 🙂

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More bun bo hue near my cousin’s house. I actually prefer bun bo hue over pho. I crave pho when I’m sick because it’s simple and comforting, but when I’m just plain hungry a bowl bun bo hue has my name written all over it.

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I didn’t try to seek out the “best pho” in Vietnam. I’m not really that picky about pho, as long as it’s not too salty or skimpy on the portions, then any bowl will do. Pictured left is Ben Thanh market, which is really fun to browse in and well organized I feel.

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We went to what was supposedly the best banh mi in Saigon. We went twice, the first time I thought everything was perfect except for the bread which I felt was too over baked. The second time the bread was softer. Pretty much a winner, although really, you can’t go wrong anywhere I feel.

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Night markets galore in Hanoi and Saigon. Though the wares offered have changed over the years to reflect tastes, I think the concept of a night market hasn’t, thankfully.

One of my favorite things about Asia is the plethora of fresh fruits and drinks. Really no point in drinking soda or anything artificial when you can get fresh squeezed sugarcane juice and coconut juice straight from the source so easily.

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I ate my weight and more in jackfruit and rambutan specifically. It’s really pricey back at home. Another place I also get my exotic fruit fix is in Canada. I think my cousin said that import laws there are more lax than in the states.

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The Vietnamese cardboard box. If you head to the airport on any given night, at the check in counter for flights to Vietnam, you will see lines of folks waiting to check in their cardboard boxes. Who knows whats in them, but keep in mind that Western goods are still prized in Vietnam.

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Jerry and I decided to partake and ship a box of stuff (souvenirs/extra clothes) home. Our stuff is estimated to arrive by boat…oh in a few months or so. It was 66% cheaper by boat than by plane!

So after having spent the last couple months prior trying to sign language our way through Brazil, interpreting what was what on a menu in Peru, and searching the ends of the Internet for the correct bus to take to the Great Wall, I thought Vietnam would be the one place that we’d breeze through. Boy was I wrong, and I’m glad I was wrong. Our next post will go into that!

Why We’re Going to North Korea

24 Apr

Edit: This was originally written a few weeks ago before we got stuck behind the Chinese firewall. Since then, we’ve made the trip successfully and have a lot to share with you.

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What? You’re going to North Korea? For reals?

Those are the questions that everyone asks when they hear we are going to visit NK as part of our trip around the world. After confirming that yes indeed we are going, the responses usually fall into two categories:
There’s no way in hell I’d do that.
I didn’t know you could go. Tell me more!

For those of you in the camp of option 2, this one’s for you.

I’ve always been fascinated with North Korea. As an American, we obviously hear things about NK that are biased and part propaganda (see: axis of evil). And we all know that NK leadership has perpetuated lies and stories about the US that are untrue. The NK government has created a mindset in its citizens that is so communistic and unique that isn’t to be found anywhere else in the world. In short, it’s the opposite of America.

For anyone who’s googled images of NK, you see some of the more interesting pictures in the world. The Ryugyong hotel. Wide open streets in Pyongyang with not a single car driving in it. The world’s deepest subway. The mass games. Those are some of the things we hope to see while we are there. We also planned to visit during the 100th birthday celebration of Kim Il Sung (April 15, 2012). I just found out that tourists won’t be able to witness one of those iconic communist military parades of tanks and rockets rolling down the street, but there will be plenty of other cool things to see. In addition, the NK government has announced they will be launching a “satellite” on the 15th, which will be pretty exciting as well.

I started doing research on NK several years ago on a whim. I stumbled on the koryo tours website and was hooked. After many emails back and forth with their tour guides and management, I was satisfied that not only were their tours safe and legit, they were safe for Americans. All of their tours are tightly controlled and tour guides are with you 24/7; you can’t even leave the hotel for a walk in the evening. Koryo has been running tours from Beijing to NK for decades, and they have taken several hundred Americans over the years without incident. Jeannie and I are going to be two more on the exclusive list of Americans who have visited Pyongyang (by choice). And if we happen to get stuck for some reason, there’s always Bill Clinton to bail us out (see: Laura Ling).

Travel Burnout

9 Apr

Nope, we’re not burned out yet despite having been on the road going on 7 weeks, but we thought we’d talk a little about it here. Before and during the trip, folks told us that we needed off days where we could take breaks from being a tourist. Prior to this trip, I was the type of vacationer that needed to be go-go-go- I had to visit all the places, find the best local version of each food, maximize my time, etc. I think this was fueled by the fear that since vacation days/approvals are so hard to come by (America is a no vacation-nation, grrr), I had to see as much as I could since who knew when I’d come back, or even if ever.

For a marathon trip such as this one, this method definitely wouldn’t fly. We’d burn out so fast! So we’ve been employing a more go-with-the-flow attitude and making sure we take regular breaks most of the days. Every once in a while, spending an afternoon doing nothing does wonders for us and we’d recommend it for those on the move for long periods of time. In some cases, we did miss out on what the particular locale had to offer- for example in Buenos Aires we didn’t go to a tango show, or even see any street tango performances. In Hakone, we skipped out on seeing Mt. Fuji and the surrounding lakes. We also didn’t make it to either Imperial Palaces in Tokyo or Kyoto. I didn’t get to try the hot dog that Valparaiso was famous for, or dine at Porcao, which is supposedly THE place to eat in Rio. We ended up not being able to eat Kobe beef or kaiseki in Kyoto either. The former me might have been upset or disappointed, but the new me is okay with that. Given our schedule, trying to hit up all the “quintessential” places and cuisine that each city has to offer wouldn’t be the most pleasant experience, we’d feel rushed and tired.

The last thing we’d recommend is spending a good mix of time between the big cities and smaller, more rural attractions. In South America, we mixed up our time between scenic (Machu Picchu, Easter Island, Patagonia, Iguazu Falls), and urban (Santiago, Buenos Aires, Rio). In Japan, we also did the same thing by coming to Hakone after visiting the big cities of Tokyo and Kyoto. We employed this similar style for our Australia/Fiji honeymoon- it was a great combination!

Soon we’ll be off to China. If there’s any place where we will need a rest from the people and crowds, this will be it.

Happy Birthday, Jerry!

9 Apr

Happy birthday to my best friend!

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Cheers to more travels, good eats, and adventures!

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