Tag: Traveling

Two Americans in China in Vietnam

Two Americans in China in Vietnam

For Chinese New Year back in February, we went to Vietnam. I can’t believe how long it has taken me to post this (well, actually I can, it has been a crazy busy year!), but better late than never!

The Hong Kong Airport is surprisingly entertaining during CNY
The Hong Kong Airport is surprisingly entertaining during CNY

We have been traveling around Southeast Asia quite a bit recently since we live so close to the Hong Kong airport, which makes it very quick and cheap to travel around the region. Even though most Americans don’t typically think of Vietnam when pondering vacation choices, I had heard great things over the years about it from Australians and Europeans, so it had long been on my list as a place to check out. While there are many cities to visit in Vietnam, we decided to just go to Hanoi. It is a smaller city but it is only a couple of hours from Halong Bay.

Unfortunately, we went during Lunary New Year, which Vietnam also celebrates (they call it Tết). Similar to in China, the Vietnamese usually travel home for Tết, so most of the shops and restraunts were closed when we arrived! Oops! But thankfully they usually only take two or three days off, so the city wasn’t empty for long.

View of Halong Bay from one of the mountains we climbed in the bay.
View of Halong Bay from one of the mountains we climbed in the bay.

Since there was nothing to do in Hanoi, we booked a cruise at Halong Bay. That was wonderful! Halong Bay is beautiful and crusing is just so relaxing and carefree. I would be interested in going back to Halong Bay just to do a longer cruise. I would also be interested in going on other cruises in the future.

When we got back to Hanoi, things were starting to open up, so we caught a Water Puppet show. I have a weird facination with puppets (I blame Sound of Music) and I have a decent collection of antique (over 100 years old) and reproduction puppets from around the world. So of course I had to go see the dancing water puppets. We ended up going to two water puppet shows at two different theaters in Hanoi. The shows were very similar in story and structure, so if you are in Hanoi and you aren’t sure which theater to go to, I don’t think it matters.

A Queen Fairy and her attendants.
A Queen Fairy and her attendants.

Dating back to at least the 11th century, the Vietnamese would use flooded rice paddies as a stage for wooden water puppets to dance on. This folk tradition has evolved into today’s water puppet shows. The theaters today have waist-deep pools of water as a stage. There is a black screen that hides the puppeteers from the audience. The pools is flanked by musicians and singers. The puppets are made of wood and painted with laquer to protect them from the water. Sometimes the dragon puppets even spout fireworks!

The water puppets shows were some of the coolest things I have seen in my travels and I would definately reccomend them and watch them again (I also brought home three puppets for my collection!). I’m really surprised that I had never heard of water puppet theater before or seen some rendition of it in America. I guess you will have to go to Vietnam and see this awesome cultural performance art for yourself!

Do not buy any paintings in Vietnam. They are all from Dafen Art Village in Shenzhen.
Do not buy any paintings in Vietnam. They are all from Dafen Art Village in Shenzhen.
I beleive this church was dedicated to Saint Samwise the Loyal, who didst carryth Frodo unto Mount Doom to destroyeth The One Ring.
I believe this church was dedicated to Saint Samwise the Loyal, who didst carryth Frodo unto Mount Doom to destroyeth The One Ring.
It's amazing how many dongs you can fit in one hand.
It’s amazing how many dongs you can fit in one hand.
Puppets for sale near a water puppet theater.
Puppets for sale near a water puppet theater.
Your Local Cousin Helps You Travel Like a Local

Your Local Cousin Helps You Travel Like a Local

Hi everyone, I came across this really cool company and wanted to let you know about it!

What Is Your Local Cousin?

cousin1Your Local Cousin www.yourlocalcousin.co, is disrupting travel and is part of the sharing economy. We have been in business since February 2015 and match travelers looking for customized advice with actual locals in over 80 countries and 200 cities. Travelers looking to get a local perspective on where to find the best beaches in Maui, shop in the Grand Bazar in Istanbul or where to find the best paella in Madrid can choose to text, e-mail or speak with a local. We typically charge between $15 for a 30 minute Skype call and also offer customized itineraries for $25 – $60 and travel maps for $10. We pay locals 70% of revenue and vet all of them over Skype.

How to Use Your Local Cousin

Travelers can find locals by the city or country that they plan to visit and then pick the one that they feel will be best able to plan their trip. Each local’s profile mentions their interests, in other words what they can advise you on and also includes the kind of traveler they can help i.e. families with kids, expats, business traveler, senior citizens and backpackers etc. Travelers can decide to speak with a local, connect with them over text message or whatsapp or ask them to prepare detailed itineraries depending on the duration of their trip. Once connected, the traveler can provide further detail about their trip and ask any questions from the local. The more detailed your questions the more useful are the recommendations! Once don with the interaction, travelers also rate locals on the quality of information provided and responsiveness.

How to Become a Local Cousin

Local experts, aka ‘local cousins,’ are individuals from various backgrounds who should be fluent in English (additional languages are always a big bonus), love to talk about their city and are passionate about helping others have a great experience when they’re visiting and of course don’t mind getting paid for giving advice :). Our local are individuals who live in a city, went to school there recently or own a business / home there, thus they possess in-depth information about a place and are not passers-by or outsourced agents. Locals get paid via Paypal and are also rated by travelers. Locals and travelers do not have to meet in person or provide any personal details to the traveler other than perhaps their Skype handle or email address. If you want to become a local, please register on www.yourlocalcousin.co by clicking on “Become a Local Cousin” on the top right of the home page and complete your profile.

About Your Local Cousin

I founded Your Local Cousin with my actual cousin, Aarti Kanodia (based in New York) and have a CTO also based in NY. I have traveled to more than 30 countries and decided to help travelers solve the problem of wading through information overload online, heavy and outdated guidebooks and sifting through biased reviews on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor only to get stuck in tourist traps. We want travelers to get customized advice from real locals who share common interests at price points that are affordable. We allow travelers to get the “inside scoop” on where to find all the cool places locals love to visit and avoid the tourist traps. We want to bring the old-school back into travel planning which is seriously missing the ‘human element’ these days. We are YOUR next best thing to speaking with a friend who lives in the city you are visiting.


We have been featured in Travel and Leisure
and USA Today
and Chicago Tribune

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Xi’An’s Very Own Capsule Hotel

Xi’An’s Very Own Capsule Hotel

Today’s guest post was submitted by Karen. I love staying in inexpensive hostels when traveling around China. This new capsule hotel might be worth checking out if you ever visit Xi’an. 

capsule 2Taking up an entire floor of a commercial center near Xi’An’s train station is China’s first, fully-functional capsule hotel. Capsule hotels were popularized by Japan, and China’s construction of the same concept is a nod to the Japanese culture that’s popular among the Chinese youth.

Each capsule in the Xi’an Youth Capsule Hotel is 1.25 meters high, 1.2 meters wide, and 2.1 meters long. For about $10 a night, people can sleep cozily in a capsule that is complete with a WiFi connection and a small flat-screen TV.

Apart from the hotel rooms’ personal size, Xi’an’s capsule hotel differentiates itself from the rest by having zodiac sign themed areas. The staff classifies guests into different star-sign zones upon checking in. Men can only sleep in the Taurus and Sagittarius zones, while women may stay at the Aries and Virgo zones. Guests who snore loudly are assigned to the Leo zone, the zodiac sign for lion.

The hotel’s staff says that the Leo zone is not meant to embarrass anyone. It was constructed in order to be fair to guests who want peace and quiet while sleeping.

capsul hotelWhile the hotel is still very novel to both locals and tourists, experts are worried about the lack of amenities. Hotels around the world rely on casinos in order to bring in serious revenues. Staying in the hotel may only cost $10 a night but apart from an Internet connection, TV, and a small area for table games that offer entertainment like ping pong, there are no other facilities to entertain guests. Pundits have been suggesting that the hotel employ the services of an online casino provider since there’s WiFi and a small screen TV inside the capsules anyway. It would be very advantageous for the hotel to have an online casino service, and InterCasino – one of the biggest slot gaming providers in the world – enumerates several benefits of such games on this page. The capsule hotel’s management, however, doesn’t seem to be very interested in the idea yet. But hopefully it’s only a matter of time before the establishment looks to offer more entertainment to its visitors.

The Xi’an Youth Capsule Hotel is located at Building 7, Wanda Plaza, Mingle Yuan Xincheng District, Xi’an.

Have you ever stayed at a capsule hotel? Where do you like to stay when you visit Xi’an?

If you would like to submit a guest post to Two Americans in China, email us at TwoAmericansinChina@gmail.com. 

Zoe in America – First Stop: San Francisco!

Zoe in America – First Stop: San Francisco!

Zoe's first time on an airplane!
Zoe’s first time on an airplane!

I had been excited for over 6 months about my trip to America since my godparents told me they were going to take me there for Chinese New Year, but from the very beginning, I barely knew anything about our plans. My mom decided this would be a surprise trip for me and she did a good job. So most days started like this: “Zoe, are you ready to go? Are you excited?” “Yes, yes, I am. But where are we going?”

My dad even messaged me before my trip to Shenzhen. He told me they had secret plans for San Francisco.

“Hey Zoe, do you know what are we gonna do in San Fran?”

“No, so what are we gonna do?

“Do you really wanna know? But you have to promise not to tell mom that I told you this.”

“No no no, don’t tell me, no spoilers!”

“Ok, I won’t tell you our hot air balloon trip…”

“Oh my god, you are so mean, but I love you.”

“because we are not going on one.”

“I …….”

So deep in my mind, I thought we were going on a hot air balloon trip. And I pretended I knew nothing about it.

The minute we got out of the airport and were waiting for a taxi, I looked at the sky, it was a beautiful afternoon, the sunset was like a fire in the sky, but not so strong as fire. Yes, it was like a giant exploding orange, and I saw so many birds, I was like a 5-year-old child, so excited and so surprised. And then I finally realized, “OH MY GOD, I AM IN AMERICA!”

Tour Guide Dave explaining some Chinese-American history to Zoe.
Tour Guide Dave explaining some Chinese-American history to Zoe.

Then we walked into Chinatown, I thought it was just happened on the way to the bridge. But then my mom said, “ here we go, Chinatown, that’s our trip for today!” I thought she was joking. “Haha, you are funny.”The next day, they took me out, of course I knew nothing about where were we going! I just kept guessing by looking at the building near us. San Francisco is so crowed, it was just like Hong Kong. So when I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, I was so sure we were going to the world known bridge. I shouted, “ yay, I saw the bridge!” but they pretended they didn’t know what I was talking about! So I am even more certain. Maybe we would take the hot air balloon on the bridge! But, we didn’t!

But then I noticed they were kinda serious, but we stopped moving!

“errr….what? really? Chinatown? But I am a Chinese myself!” but at the end of the trip, it was definitely a great place to visit!

I do know Chinese culture well enough, but I didn’t know anything about American Chinese culture! We had a tour guide, David. He is an  American Chinese himself, but could not speak Chinese (most people in Chinatown speak Cantonese.). He showed us around Chinatown and told us a lot about the history. IT was all very surprising to me. I thought the first Chinese immigrants just came to America and then “la de dah , we were in America” and then lived happily ever after. But I was totally wrong. They first came here as railway labor workers. They didn’t have citizenship, they couldn’t get married, they couldn’t own property. So to speak, they didn’t have many human rights or much freedom. The buildings in Chinatown showed us how they managed to squeeze into such tiny spaces. They rebuilt everything after the great earthquake and great fires of 1908. Life was tough but they stayed. Looking at the buildings, I tried to imaging myself in that time, but I couldn’t, I could not image how they left mother China, stayed in America, worked in America and lived in America. But look nowadays, they finally got paid back. The first Chinese immigrants to American took China with them and kept it the way it was, so no matter how many years after, their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren all know where they came from.

One of the many gorgeous murals around Chinatown.
One of the many gorgeous murals around Chinatown.

What do the Chinese like the most? Food , money and gambling. You can really see that in Chinatown. There was an open area where many people just sat together and gambled. People in Chinatown also kept some Chinese traditions that we don’t follow in mainland China. As a young person, I don’t have much experience with traditional China. The most traditional Chinese thing we do is Chinese New Year, but the most memorable thing about Chinese New Year for kids in the lucky money they get in their hongbao. It’s just a big break from work for many people, and the tradition part is gone.


Zoe Gong was born in rural Hunan in 1995 and is fluent in English. She has worked in English training centers and at expat restaurants since she was 16. She is currently a tourism management major at Changsha University in Hunan.

Two Americans in China in San Francisco

Two Americans in China in San Francisco

Ack! I can’t believe how long it has been since I last posted! I planned on doing posts while I was on vacation, but time just got away from me and the Internet at my in-laws house was terrible, so I hardly spent any time online. Anyway, here is how we spent our Chinese New Year!

After many years of saying we would, we finally were able to take Zoe to America! It was her first time out of the country (well, she has been to Macau and Hong Kong, but…you know…Hong Kong is China) and her first time flying. It was an exciting trip for her, mainly because we didn’t tell her any of our plans, so she had no idea what to expect from day to day. She will be sharing her reflections on the trip later. (Be sure to click on all the images for captions!)

My husband and I live in Florida, but we always layover in California. We had never been to San Francisco before and always wanted to go, so we arranged a long layover in San Francisco.

San Francisco is a very cool and interesting place. Honestly, while we were there, it didn’t feel like we were back in America – it felt like Hong Kong. The city is so crowded! Not just the downtown area, but the whole city is just wall-to-wall buildings. I’ve never been in another American city like it.

We did all the touristy things. Instead of going to Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge individually, though, we took a bay cruise that went by both of them. It was a lot of fun.

We saw the famous sealions, but they were backlit when we went to see them so the pics didn’t turn out very well.


We went on a historical tour of the city with Emperor Norton!


Emperor Norton was, at one time, a successful businessman. After going bankrupt, though, he declared himself the first Emperor of America and became a popular local in San Francisco. When he died in 1880, over 30,000 people attended his funeral. He now gives tours twice a week of his beloved city. If you are ever in San Francisco and want to learn more about this fascinating city, definately go on one of his tours.

We went to Fisherman’s Warf…

QQ Photo20150309132503

where we found a really kitschy museum called Musée Mécanique that is home to hundreds of old mechanical arcade machines. The machines are all in working order, and for a quarter or two you can play a game, have your fortune told, watch a scene, or look at bawdy pictures. I thought one featuring a Chinese opium den was very interesting.

Seth and Zoe enjoyed seeing who could be “electrocuted” the longest.

QQ Photo20150309132454

Of course, the main reason we went to San Francisco was to visit Chinatown, but that is a post for tomorrow!


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