Puerto Rico: Tresbe

DSC_3000 Outside of its warm weather and beautiful beaches, Puerto Rico is a great vacation spot because you really don't need any Spanish to get around. While my friend Johnny's Spanish was helpful at times to hash out more specific details, my "Do you speak English?" request was usually met with a nod or a point to someone who could.

I utilized my non-Spanish skills a lot at Tresbe, a cafe restaurant about 5 minutes away from our airbnb. Housed in a re-purposed yellow shipping container, Tresbe was a really great place to grab a bite or acai smoothie on their outdoor patio. On the first day, I stayed within my food repertoire and got fish tacos (which were probably the best fish tacos of my life). But towards the end of our stay I got more adventurous and tried ceviche: raw fish cured with citrus juices. I can't wait for my next encounter with ceviche.

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Calle Loiza, a great area to stay at. Walking distance to Ocean Park Beach, and close to bars, restaurants, and grocery stores.

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The most bombtastic fish tacos ever.DSC_2991

Look at that fish meat. Yum.

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Empanadas! DSC_3281

Ceviche: not scary at all, and served with sweet fried dough. DSC_2997

Flan that tasted like straight up condensed milk, my absolute favorite.

A Spoonful of Sugar

Pictures do not serve the art form of drawing characters with caramel justice. This video gets a little bit closer though, and also explains the process more clearly. What happens is an artist trained in this skill takes a ladle of melted caramel, and creates a beautiful animal: generally an animal of the traditional Chinese zodiac, and sometimes other creatures of interest like phoenixes. The customer can then take it home and admire it for a few days or elect to eat it right there.

My siblings tried to save their creations for at least a few days, but ultimately gave in and ate it later that evening. I guess our stomach speaks more strongly than our eyes. DSC_0214 DSC_0428 DSC_0434

Fresh

Living in suburban America makes us grow accustomed to certain things, like a two-car garage and a large lawn. And when a younger version of myself went to China for the first time, I felt like I had stepped into a world of a change. But I guess that holds true whenever you travel abroad (or even to just another state). There are always changes that we might not be so welcome to (such as bathrooms not having toilet paper), but then there are others that make us question our own lifestyle habits. My grandparents not having a large refrigerator confused me at first ("where do they put all their groceries every week?!"), but as I grew older and learned to appreciate fresh produce, it's definitely something I want to incorporate into my future life. Instead of a weekly trip to the grocery store, they buy all their groceries every morning at local markets and usually consume it that same day.

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包子

I've hinted at my love for my grandpa's 包子(bao zi) many times before, both online and in front of my family. And as our departure day got closer, my grandpa decided to give in to my not-so-subtle hints and make them for us. 包子 are filled buns, a Chinese specialty that take far more time and labor than other dishes. The process starts with making and kneading the dough. As the dough rises, my grandparents make the filling: usually a pork and veggie combination, but for me, an egg and green bean scramble. When the dough is ready, it takes a few hours to make the actual 包子--and this is the hardest and most time consuming part. There is a certain craftsmanship to making 包子 both aesthetically pleasing and abundant with filling, and I have yet to master the skills. DSC_0457 DSC_0468 DSC_0471 DSC_0477

Homemade

DSC_0031 The most satisfying meal is one that is home-cooked. While I am an avid foodie that embraces any opportunity to go out and eat, my mouth waters at the though of eating at home--especially as a college student living on dorm food and easy mac.

My grandparents have accumulated some amazing recipes over the years, including some of my favorite dishes like dumplings, scallion pancakes, and spicy Sichuan eggplant. It's things like my family's delicious Asian food that make me feel so blessed to be immersed in two different cultures.

Pancakes made of grated squash, flour, and eggs.

 

Da Cha Zhou!

 

Tomatoes and sugar, a childhood favorite.

 

Along the Songhua

The Songhua is not a particularly pretty river. Its water is brown, there isn't much natural landscaping nearby, and litter generally borders the edges of it. However, the childhood memories of my parents flow deep within this river. As children, they would swim here with their siblings. Years later as college students, they would have their first date together here. Indeed, their everlasting love for the river persists no matter what condition it is in--truly demonstrating the powers of nostalgia. DSC_0105 DSC_0221 DSC_0142DSC_0206

Almost Forgot...

DSCN0705 Sharing my love for Japanese drink machines almost slipped my mind until I found this picture hiding in my photo files. The idea is the same: you put money in, push a button, then a drink dispenses. But oh how the experiences differ between America and Japan! The variety, color, and aesthetic design of the beverage machines make quenching your thirst far more interesting and entertaining. Good job Japanese marketers: you convinced a girl who swears by her bobble water bottle to cave and buy some sugary drinks.

Sayonara

DSC_0196 I am back in China now, but my great time in Japan will be impossible to forget.

It had been five years since I had been back to see my grandma and my aunt in Osaka, and I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to take this initially unplanned trip to see them. A lot of things happen in a five year span--I had gone from an immature middle schooler to a young woman who had completed her first year of college. And in a grandmother's eyes, it's these sorts of changes that bring tears and also attest to how quickly time passes.

With that said, here is a post wrapping up my trip in Japan. I rounded up a bunch of signs of places I went to, restaurants I ate at, and also the supermarket that I frequented everyday.

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From Up Above

DSC_0129 Cities at night are beautiful, and so we went to the Osaka tower with hopes of getting a good shot of Osaka in the evening. We underestimated what time the sun set though,  and I didn't quite get the twinkling lights picture that I wanted. However, I did get this warm summer glow over the city of Osaka as dusk began to fall.

 

Kobe

Upon my, "I would like to be near the ocean" request, my aunt took us to Kobe via a ~20min shinkansen ride. Kobe is a large city that houses 1.5 million, yet feels like a quaint little ocean side town. Swimming isn't allowed, but after being landlocked for so long (Harbin and Osaka are not costal cities), it truly was nice to just be by the seaside. We spent the day walking along the coastline and through the city.

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Summers in Japan mean two things: lots and lots of sweat, and lots and lots of festivals. A Japanese festival, or 祭 (matsuri), celebrates many things ranging from the seasons, good harvests, and children. Adorned with beautiful lanterns, these festivals are filled with are dancers and singers from all ages, happily wearing their kimonos despite the sweltering heat. DSC_0153 DSC_0140 DSC_0125

Grocery Shoppin' Culture Hoppin'

Being in a different country lends itself to huge cultural differences, overwhelming both seasoned and amateur travelers alike. From social courtesies (bowing when greeting an elder, taking shoes off inside, etc.) to logistical things like yielding left when driving, each country has its own rendition of what is "normal". When inside a grocery store, these differences tame themselves a little. Food is indeed the universal language, ignoring whatever tongue or dialect you may speak in. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I felt very much at ease and marveled at the amazing selection of fresh Japanese food available. While there still were discernable differences, the subtly allowed me to go from feeling engulfed to simply being amazed.

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