The flight was long. I dozed off and awoke from slumber more than i can count. We landed in Hong Kong a little after sunrise and i could barely walk. As soon as i exited the plane, i was greeted by dense and humid air which felt very different from the dry yet damp summer fog of San Francisco. The light blue sky was blanketed with a thick layer of smog, this was definitely a densely populated area. Everyone looked fairly different from Americans. Small humans with unfamiliar faces hidden by cheap masks. After going through all the medical checkpoints and security, we finally got onto our next plane. This flight was a lot shorter and my TV screen actually worked this time. I stared blankly at the cramped screen, images of some remade movie flashed across my eyes. Next thing I knew we were landing.
A gust of humid wind greeted my face again, this time the sky was as clear as the calm Hawaiian sea. The terminal was full of quiet humble conversation that no normal westerner could comprehend. We were really tired and then we met out contact Hiroshi who is an artist in Tokyo. For three days we spent in Tokyo Hiroshi took us everywhere.
My favorite day in Tokyo was biking! People brushed by me as I sped away on the shaky but durable Japanese bike. A man with a bright vest started hollering in Japanese. He started to ride in my direction, specifically in front of me. At first, I thought he was trying to go to a shop but then he looked at me and purposefully went on front. I grabbed my brakes and squeezed as hard as i could. An obnoxious screech filled the air, ruining the Japanese Zen atmosphere. People thought of this as an acrimonious act because of all the commotion. Eventually i acquiesced to their customs and stayed in the bike lane. Once we returned the bikes and got our bags we called two taxis because one was not enough for out bags. The acrid smell of smog filled the entrance of the Kyoto Royal Hotel. As we drove off towards our apartment, we noticed that we were going in the wrong direction.
The humidity was gone the next day when we went to see the monkeys. I was surprised how immaculate all the public transport was. I've never seen anyone cleaning the trains, but they were spotless. After hiking for about fifteen minutes, we reached the money village. There were mini little fur balls everywhere. Running around and jumping all over the place, the monkeys were energetic. This one medium sized one was swimming in a mini pond with gleaming Koi fish that reflected the sunlight. This little one climbed up a small tree towering above the water. It leaned in and out hunching back and forth when is suddenly leapt through the air, flailed like a penguin trying to fly, then broke the surface of the pond, scaring all the Koi in the process. We bought some food for a dollar and the monkeys climbed up on the fenced wall and reached in. We held our palms out for the monkeys to grab the food and eat it then put their hand back through for more. These monkeys were very calm until you invaded their space or took photos very close to them. I was taking photos of a baby when the older brother jumped at my phone, luckily i backed away quick enough that my phone wasn't taken.
Mount Kōya or Kōyasan is where we stayed. The temperature up in the mountains was a complete polar opposite than in Kyoto or central Osaka. It was actually chilly up here. A calm breeze flowed through the mountains, tugging on the tree's limbs gently. A monk greeted us and took us around all the beautiful temples and shrines. The sky was dark and gloomy, so there were no tourists out. We walked into a towering temple. The peaceful ringing of the bells greeted our ears as we strode calmly into the dim, candle lit shrine. A large figure absorbed the rest of the temples beauty, it was covered in gold and each part was carved with excruciating detail. We continued to walk towards our ryokan. We entered the building and were immediately greeted with hectic English combined with Japanese. He said the onsen closed at pm 9 and at am 6:30 the prayers started. By then we were all pretty wiped out so we collapsed into our traditional beds and instantly hit the sack. The next morning I awoke to fast language i didn't know on the loudspeaker. I got dressed and went down for prayers. The calming sound of the monks humming made me feel at peace from all the commotion of the world. Next it was time for breakfast. We sat down on small mats, all the food was premade in front of us. I thought we would eat with everyone else but we were directed to the Gaijin area where foreigners were placed. The food was vegetarian, because of this they had a lot more creativity in the way they cooked and arranged the food. When we finished we went up to our rooms to pack and leave. We made our way through the cemetery, dark and light green moss obscured the Japanese characters on the stout gray tombstones. It was a cool day, it had rained earlier so everything had a dewy glaze. After walking a couple more kilometers we found the temple. It was called Kukai's tomb. He brought back Buddhism from China to Japan. Surprisingly, there were the minimum amount of tourists. We practically had the temple to ourselves. We walked in a loop and ended back at the ryokan we stayed. Then we got on the funicular after taking the bus. It was so steep i thought it was a cart clinging onto a thin metal rod on the side of a cliff. Once we reached the bottom, a rush of people headed towards the train even though it wasn't close to departure. Once we arrived in Kyoto after an interesting mix of several trains and subways, we settled into our comfy hotel room.
The medium sized F.C. Tokyo player tore down the field swiftly trailing the ball. The drums erupted and chanting started. He passed the first defender and the all the fans started yelling and hooting. Suddenly, he cut left and passed the goalie who dived for the ball. He passed it into the bare goal with ease. The crowd erupted and every screamed with relief now that they were winning 1-0. The drums made the game all the more exciting and when the other team would get on our half i heard lots of random sounds that were meant to distract the player with the ball from scoring. Loud spontaneous whistles and off beat drums did the trick often causing the opposing player to shank the ball during a shot. The minuscule fans opposing F.C. Tokyo were drastically minuscule compared to the home teams fans. By the time it was 1-1 both teams were going at it and the drums were being pounded on non stop. The shouting and clapping didn't stop either. At one point they sang a lady gaga melody which was very peculiar. About 3/4 through the game Tokyo scored again. A beautiful pass across to a teammate who finished with ease.
My brother and I got on the subway nervously. We were tasked with picking up our friend Kai from the Shinjuku bus station. In Japan the signs were very misleading everywhere, but luckily I had an instruction manual I had previously created. I waited patiently for 8 stops before getting off, checking if it's the right stop, then proceeding to find our transfer line. It was another 3 stops before we reached Shinjuku. The station was packed and the escalator was towering and filled with salarymen heading to work. We excited searching for at least a hint of familiarity, but there was none. My eyes darted around searching for any sign of a bus stop or anything of that order. I saw a bus and I knew it was going to the stop. We followed it for about 5 minutes and we arrived in familiar territory. Soon enough, I started to recognize all the shiny light filled electronic stores. We waited at the stop for a couple more minutes, searching for a bus that was big and said destination Shinjuku on it. Once we saw one I searched the bus scanning each passenger from outside. I saw Kai and he waved. We were relieved to see him, we had thought the bus was gone or something for it was ten minutes late. We walked around and bought udon soups for lunch. After my dad arrived, we walked around to Harajuku town. This place was full of tourists and stores that had Western written all over them. I bought three t shirts for ten bucks. we then proceeded to walk around Shibuya and got an amazing Kebab.
After a smooth landing into Bangkok, Thailand, I was immediately consumed by sweltering humidity. It reminded me a lot of Hawaii. There were a lot of custom rules, script signs in Thai and grammatically incorrect English saying that buying Buddha statues was against Buddhism. Next was a heat camera that detected anyone who had a high temperature to make sure any foreign sicknesses didn't reach here. We were greeted by a nice man with a pink polo shirt named Kenny. I was very surprised at the fact that he was Thai and his name was Kenny. Later on he said he's uses this name for Westerners have trouble saying his other name and Kenny is easy to say. We stepped into the van and were greeted with calm air-con that instantly fought over the scorching heat outside. Our guide Kenny met us at the airport with orchids and on the way to the hotel, taught us a couple of Thai words and phrases, such as thank you or hello. After a 40 minute drive through all the tuk tuks and speedy mopeds we arrived at the Peninsula Hotel. It was easily one of the best hotels I've ever stayed in. The view was indescribable. The hotel staff met us and gace a us a tour of their secret airline museum on the top floor - it was awesome! We were pretty tired after that so we hopped in the pool and took a short nap. Later that night Kenny took us out to dinner with his boss, Supakorn. We had THE BEST curry and pad thai I had ever had. The mix of spicy sweet and salty made the excellent dish even more savory and delicious. The crumbled peanuts mixed with vinegar and lime was unlike anything I had eaten before. Next came the Tham Yum which was a very spicy soup that was also a little sour. It was great and I instantly loved it. Supakorn told us all about his life and family, and about Bangkok. Supakorn was really nice and excited for our time in Bangkok. He ordered us mango sticky rice for dessert - my favorite!
The next day at night we were supposed to go to a Muay Thai boxing arena. When we entered we were greeted with jeering and two guys in a ring punching, kicking, and blocking like crazy. It looked very tiring, but regardless the fighters swung on. Red threw a nasty right hook which connected with blue's face. Blue was off guard as red swung again and flew a lightning fast kick to the side of the head. By then blue was exhausted and practically gave up. Red kicked him and blue crumpled to the ground unconscious. I stared in awe because i had never seen anyone get knocked out before. Even though he was still on the ground the crowd went wild and cheered. The ref took red's hand and put it in the air declaring he was the winner. This was a very short and quick match rather than some of the other ones that lasted 5 rounds with three minutes of fighting in each. Near the end kids who were 14 got up to fight. I was in shock, they would never do this anywhere in the US, but I knew it was okay because it is a traditional sport and the kids chose to do it. After, Supakorn arranged for us to meet the fighters - they were smaller than me!
We then went to Koh Samui, an island in south Thailand that was really beautiful. The ocean and pool were a nice break to cool off and the resort had really cool things to do like kick boxing and mountain bikes. My favorite thing in Koh Samui was going go kart racing. The track and cars were amazing -- super professional with timed laps and video. Some Germans showed up with raching gear, like gloves. We also went to the night market, where a live band played a lot of songs from the U.S. The food at the night markets was incredible, so good.
After an hour flight to Yangon from Bangkok we were greeted with a lot less wealthy people and hotter weather. Tin Tin and our guide Thiha met us at the airport and drove us to the city. In the mornings in Yangon to the mid afternoon it was hot, but then it would rain usually around 1 pm because it was almost the rainy season. We stayed in a place called the Governor's Residence which is a beautiful place. Ponds filled with lily pads and tadpoles surround the bridges that connect room to lobby and pool.
I was awoken at five AM because we wanted to go see the sun rise over a special temple. It was a gleaming temple surrounded by golden leaf. It shone in the light as it rose above the horizon. The beautiful sounds of monks praying was mellow and I felt at peace. It was called Shwedagon. A towering spire covered in beautiful gold leaf was the most eye catching out of the whole temple. Smoke from the incense arose over the orange sun that also reflected off the many yellow colors of the temple. Thi has walked us in a giant circle around the temple and had us meet with monks, some who were my age. After we left the temple Thiha took us around to city hall and central Yangon which was marked by a smaller pagoda and old British buildings. It was busy but not loud. Everyone was spitting red juice everywhere and I found out from Thiha it was betel juice. It was like nicotine except you chew it like tobacco. He later ook us to meet an amazing puppet master who explained how the puppets were made and how they worked and then gave us a show. One thing I really liked about Myanmar so far was the food! They had really fresh naan bread and curry, which are my favorite.
After Yangon we went to Bagan. It is a very massive plain filled with old brick temples. We got some bikes to ride but biking in the humidity was a whole other story then just walking in it or resting in it. I felt like I was in a sauna for the whole time. After our first water break I thought I was going to collapse! After we stopped for lemonade and then riding a little more I felt so much better because once we picked up the speed the wind was stronger and cooled me down a lot. I discovered that although I was very tired stopping would make me even more hot. Sweat trickled down the side of my face ending up on the bandanna on my neck. The bike I was riding was a hard-tail with very narrow handlebars, this was a completely different bike from my full suspension bike with the widest handlebars I had back at home. The wheel size was different too so when I went over sand I would skid from side to side attempting to stay upright and keep my balance. Contrary to popular belief, the faster you go the less likely you are to crash. My bike at home would've easily tore through the sand like a dirt bike. We finally reached a small shop place where our bike tour guide said we would be picked up. He said the bus would come at 10:30 and it was 9:20 now. My dad and I both knew it would be a lot later because of my brother and mom taking their time. We were in the shade and by then were accustomed to the sweltering heat. We guzzled down water after water like a hummer limo uses gas.
By the time they showed up we were half asleep. As the doors to the van opened we were greeted with the air-con, it was like opening a refrigerator. We stepped in and drove off on our way to mount Popa. It was a beautiful and scenic drive and we passed many farms and small villages. We stopped by a sugar making village area. Tey made peanut oil and drinks out of palm tree juice. I took a shot of palm tree vodka and ate some coconut palm tree sugar cookie. All of it was very good and right from the source. I could tell we were going to leave this place with a lot of food. Soon enough we bought 3 packs of the cookies and some sugar and nuts. Two packs of the cookies were for our driver as he was a kind character. We saw lots of temples that were massive. Our guide So so taught us about the differences between a pagoda and temple. A temple you could go in while a pagoda was a solid spire. They were gleaming in the sunlight with at least a couple Buddhas in each temple. The people were like Vietnam, they had very little, but were extremely happy and positive. I liked the Bagan people a lot. They were all kind and funny. The kids were really fun to be around, and they all play soccer or futbol as well.
The temple on a tall thin mountain was shining with gold. My family and I walked passed many small monkeys, some of them being babies. The villagers and residents held lots of flowers and these weird cigarette cigar type bundled item. They threw one at monkey and they all went wild and jumped for it. It was monkey food bundled up! We bought a pack of 20 and started tossing them around. The monkeys went primal and screeched while scurrying around for one of the bundles. We realized tat the monkeys would learn to take the food from us so we quickly hid them and occasionally handed them out.
My favorite place in Myanmar was Inle Lake. The very big lake is surrounded by mountains with houses built on stilts over the water. The people in these floating villages even have floating farms! Our guide there, Ko Ko, loves cycling and seemed to know every person on the lake. One day we biked to a pre-school wherr I taught English to the very cute kids. At first they looked at me like I was from outer space but then started smiling and laughing. I also went to another school to teach, and helped the eighth, ninth, and eleventh grade classes I was in pronounce English words. I would read a short passage and they would repeat what I had to say. One story was about how fires can be good and bad. They understood the words, but didn't get the concept at all and I would ask after is fire good for cooking and they would repeat what I had said to them. It was a great experience and the kids were clearly amazed at this weird foreigner coming in and reading to them in a weird accent. I had trouble understanding the teachers and kids English and many times just nodded my head and said okay. I would ask a kid what his favorite color was and they would say their name, it was an enjoyable moment for everyone and the kid would laugh so I would laugh along. I made noises for when you put a fire out and the kids were clearly new to this and they made the noises too. I have a feeling those kids will be making that sound a lot because they kept making it throughout my made up lesson.
I love soccer and and after dinner we came across local boys playing and I joined in their game. They were great! I enjoyed it so much I played for like an hour and half. Of all the places we traveled in on this trip, Myanmar was easily my favorite of all. I liked everything about it, the people, food, outdoors, biking and the amazing ruins.
When I arrived in Cambodia I was already excited. Different people and different food, a change from Thailand and Myanmar, which were both outstanding. Our guide Semna took my brother, dad, and I to the Angkor National Museum. The building stood out completely from the other small cramped shops surrounding it. The lobby was immaculate and empty, lacking the usual groups of tourists that swarmed usually. Seven exhibits dedicated to the temples of Cambodia and Buddhism. Most of the statues had intricate designs and often had either a frown or smile which meant they were either a demon or a god. There was this amazing myth about the oceans milk and how the gods and demons fought over this eternal drink or Amrita. They fought and fought until the gods gave up and asked Vishnu for help. He suggested they work together and they did for 1000 years pulling the sacred Naga snake together like tug of war churning the ocean in search for this Amrita. During the 1000 years other things were discovered as well as the Amrita at the end. Essentially the demons were tricked because when the Amrita was discovered Vishnu took it and handed it to the gods because he knew the demons would use it for evil. There were any stories like this about mythology. Another myth talked about a boy named Garuda who became Vishnu's private vehicle or a giant bird that would fly Vishnu around. This was all very captivating and the carvings that were taken from the temples were beautiful and complex.
We left the temple and proceeded to walk around the old market. People and scooters littered the streets and the smell of home cooked food permeated the area. We topped in a cafe to eat Semna recommended and it was really good. It tasted like Thai but different, but just as good. That night, my friend River from my high school arrived from teaching English in Myanmar.
The next day at sunrise, Semna took us into the temples. They were amazing! We were in some quiet places looking at the stone and tree roots, the temples were so large it was hard to understand how they could be built without machines. Semna took us to some really secret places and explained all about the temples we saw which were so different. Before lunch, we then went to a new zip-line ride and parcours in the jungle. Semna showed us a flying lizard, which I had never seen.
Yesterday my family, River, and our Vietnamese friends went to what's called a street circus after a very filling and scrumptious dinner. The actors filled the stage, their faces were painted with huge smiles as they greeted everyone in the crowd with a pacing around the stage area. We were in one of those circus tents except on a much smaller scale and a lot quieter. A man and woman were playing instruments like drums and guitars during the whole show. The actors were frolicking around and having fun when a man with a mask and scarf came in, he looked very eerie and took away what was left of the overall happiness on stage. He represented the Khmer Rouge and he enslaved all of the girl's (Sokha) brothers and dad. She shouted and cried out in pain. They were incredible acrobats and musicians, one of the best shows I have ever seen! After the show our guide Semna took us to meet all the performers.