Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lanterns! Lanterns! Lanterns!

August has been a "Lantern Festival" packed month in Sasebo.  Last week was the Obon Festival and just a few days ago was the 10,000 Lantern Festival in Emukae.  I missed both of these festivals last year... we were out of town for the Obon festival and school started on the same day as the festival in Emukae.  I have been looking forward to the month of August for the entire year so that I could see the amazing lantern festivals for myself!

Obon is a yearly festival that is a way to remember the family members and friends who have passed away during the year.  This festival is steeped in tradition.  The family members make and carry their family's float to the park, and they light candles, say prayers, and bring gifts for their loved one.
Pushing the family float to the park

The floats varied in size... some had to be pushed, some carried by several people, other floats only required one person to carry them.

Lighting candles

This man sat and read all the prayers. His stack of prayers was quite large!

Gifts that were brought
One of my favorite parts of any Japanese festival is seeing the ladies and children dressed in their kimonos. I love it!  The little girls are especially precious all dressed up!

One of the little girls playing with Liam, my friend's little boy... too cute!!
The next part of the Obon festival consists of placing the lantern for your loved one in the river.  As you can imagine, it is quite a beautiful sight at night in the river. 
Lanterns ready to be purchased

Decorating their lantern

Then, after the lanterns are purchased and decorated, they are passed along a small bridge that is lined with about 10 men.  The lantern is passed from man to man until it reaches the end and then it is placed in the water.  However, before each man accepts the lantern, he bows.  This is done for every lantern! 
Passing the lanterns down the bridge to be placed in the river.

The following week was the festival in Emukae (a town which is about 30 minutes away from Sasebo).  I was looking forward to this festival not just because of the many lanterns and the huge "lantern tree" but because one of my Japanese students, Yasuko, was taking me! I knew it was going to be great, and it was! She was able to able to explain to me what all the foods were, what everything said, and even where to find the restrooms! It was great!! At the beginning, I thought this festival had 1,000 lanterns however, Yasuko quickly corrected me and told me there were 10,000 in the town! Wow! There were 3,000 in the lantern tree and 7,000 throughout the town.
The lantern tree before the lights turned on...
And after...

It was huge!!

Yasuko and I infront of the tree! We had so much fun!!
You could even walk in side the tree...

The tree wasn't the only sight.  The town was lined with lanterns and delicious food booths!  

With Yasuko's help, I was able to try a candied miniature apple... it tasted like an apple inside of a jolly rancher. (Don't you just love the man's face behind me!!)
Of course, no festival is complete without a beauty pageant!  The best part is I was able to see one of my Japanese students compete!  Eri, is right in the middle with the black, white, and red kimono. She was beautiful and she won!!  How exciting!

The kimono beauty pageant

I had such a wonderful time at both of these festivals... definitely something I am going to miss when we move back to the states!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Asia Backpacking Adventure: Part 3

Last time we left off with us boarding an over-night train to our final destination... Singapore!  This is the place Chris and I were looking forward to going to most because we have heard so many wonderful things about it; we were not disappointed at all!  We loved every minute of our time here.  Our train pulled into Singapore about 6am so we had two full days to enjoy this exciting city!  Singapore is a very young city and it is extremely clean, safe, and very modern.

Singapore is also called, "Lion City." Because of this, they have a huge statue of a Merlion in the center of the town.  So, of course, we wanted to see it.  And, of course, when we got there we noticed it was covered for repairs--just our luck!  Here is what we should have seen:

This is what we saw instead... a  much smaller replica of the Merlion (you can see the covered lion in the background).

But another amazing sight Singapore has to offer is the unique Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  You can see some of it in the background of the above picture.  It is crazy!  It's made up of three buildings with a surfboard type looking thing on top.  On top there are restaurants, a nightclub, an infinity pool, and an observation deck.  You are supposed to pay to go all the way up to the top, but somehow Chris and I found ourselves up there enjoying the view for free. :)  We were pretty impressed with ourselves and the view wasn't too bad either!  

It was a super hot day while we were sight-seeing and we thought, "what better way to cool off than a fun popsicle!"  They had every flavor imaginable, but I immediately chose the watermelon-lemon flavor.  It was so very refreshing!!

Now most big cities have a Chinatown, but Singapore has a "Little India." Chris and I quickly added this place to our day because we just love Indian food!  We made a quick stop for a mango lassie and then kept going...
The entrance to Little India

A temple inside Little India
A fun thing we heard about from several people was the "Night Safari" at the Singapore Zoo.  Most of you know Chris' fascination with zoos and aquariums so we knew this place would be a must!  The Night Safari opens every night from 7:30pm until midnight and guests get the unique opportunity to see how the animals live at night.  There is a tram ride that takes you around to all the animal exhibits and nocturnal animal shows.  The animals are roaming around (instead of sleeping or hiding like they do during the day) and most of them are howling.  That part was pretty scary!  Sorry for the lack of pictures... we were told not to take pictures because the flash would frighten the animals.

Ready for the tram ride around the zoo
Chris also read about a fun place to eat called the "Lau Pa Sat Festival Market." This place was amazing!  It was a huge open-air food court in the middle of the city that had every type of food imaginable.  It took us forever to decide what we were going to eat, but we finally agreed upon fried wontons with noodles, spring rolls, fruit smoothies, and beef, chicken, and mushroom satay.  It was so very delicious!!

Inside the open air market

Chris with our food choices!

On the weekends there is a "Wonder Full Show" at the Marina Bay.  It is not only fireworks, but also a laser show on fountains that act as a screen.  Pictures are displayed on the water during the show. We've never seen anything like it, but it was fun to watch with the skyline of Singapore in the background!


and laser show.

Of course we had to take one last picture of Singapore before we left.  We had a busy two days in this city, but we are glad we decided to make it a stop on our trip!

I hope you enjoyed reading all about our summer adventure.  Chris and I had such a wonderful time, not only getting to check places off our Asian checklist, but meeting people and experiencing cultures that make our world amazing.  I'm so blessed to have someone to travel with (not to mention plan my trip and pack my bag for me)!  We had a great summer... now it's time to get ready for a new school year and Chris' fall (and final) tour on the ship.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Asia Backpacking Adventure: Part 2

And the adventure continues...

We left on Saturday morning from Chiang Mai and flew to Koh Samui, Thailand.  Two words describe what we did here for three days: pool and beach!

I lied. Remember in our first blog where I said I didn't help much in making the travel plans? Well, in the very beginning stages of planning our trip Chris asked his geographically-challenged wife where I would like to go and my one and only request was "somewhere hot with a beach."  So, see... I did help! Chris decided on Koh Samui not only because of the weather and beach, but I quickly learned he had a hidden agenda, too.  Koh Samui also has great diving!

Koh Samui was truly a "beachy" town lined with markets and fun places to eat.  Most of the places we ate at were right on the beach. Now, I don't mean you could see the beach... your feet were in the sand while you ate.  How fun!!
Relaxing at a beach-front restaurant

Eating dinner on the beach at the Ark Bar

It was fun at night!
Also, most of these beach-front restaurants had "seafood bars." They had fresh sea creatures sitting on ice and you would hand pick your seafood and tell them how to cook it.  Of course, Chris had to try it!  He ordered the red trout and it was delicious!
Chris choosing his fish

The finished product!

 Chris once again brought me to an amazing hotel (which he got for super cheap).  It had an incredible view which we woke up to every morning and an infinity pool (which is my new favorite thing).
The view from our hotel balcony

Eating in the pool... this was super exciting for us! 

And Chris wasn't satisfied with eating "at" the pool, he wanted to drink "in" the pool, too!
One day while we were there, Chris went on a dive trip to the island of Ko Tau. He went with a Japanese company so he was able to talk with the Japanese divers about living in Japan.  He was hoping to see the infamous whale shark.  He didn't have any luck, but he did see some pretty incredible things. He saw soft corals, a cool "swim-through" a giant puffer, schools of barracuda, giant groupers, and moray eels. Chris felt bad leaving me at the hotel, but I wasn't complaining! This is how I spent my entire day:

After three days in Koh Samui we packed our bags and we were off for our fourth destination... Kuala Lumpur.  We were headed here for one reason only, the Petronas Twin Towers.  Never heard of them? Neither had I!  (Now I know they are featured in the movie "Entrapment" if you want to check it out).  Chris loves architecture and unique buildings so Kuala Lumpur was on his list.  The funny part is the effort we put in to get to see the towers and were only going to be there for literally a few hours!  

We had to take a van from our hotel to the ferry station, a ferry to the bus station, a bus to the airport, and a plane to Kuala Lumpur. Once we arrived we weren't done... we then boarded another bus to take us to the train station then we took a rail train to the towers.  Are you tired yet?  We were!  Now, to a girl who is prone to get motion sick on a swing, this was a traveling nightmare, but surprisingly enough I did pretty well! This was the part of our trip where Chris' "Amazing Race" commentary was in full-force!  At times he actually made me run! I think he thought there was really going to be a prize when we got to the towers.  I hope he wasn't too disappointed!

We were both pretty thrilled that I made it successfully through the ferry ride (my least favorite form of transportation).

A unique statue we saw while we were on the ferry.

Finally, we made it to the towers!  Chris was thrilled. He was like a little kid!  Me, I kept thinking, "we took a van, ferry, bus, plane, bus, and a train to see these?" Just kidding, they were pretty impressive!
He made it!!

Chris loves these maps, especially when they say, "You are here!"

The sky bridge that connects the two towers.

Sorry about all the pictures... remember, they are the sole reason we came!

In all of Chris' researching, he found the best view of the towers was from the Sky Bar.  We walked forever and by the time we got there it was evening, which was great because the view of the towers at night is pretty spectacular!  Our plan the whole time was to be able to see them during the day and night. Here was our view as we ate our dinner comprised of appetizers:

We had to document that we were there...

I told you we only went to see the towers, so after dinner we headed back to the train station and boarded the over night train to our fifth and final destination...