my favorites: canals

the canals of tongli in western china

the canals of tongli in western china

ok, i admit, have a list of favorite canals is a stretch.  and strange.  but here’s the thing: writing about venice on tuesday really got me in the mood for that other-worldly venetian spirit.  and i think canals have something to do with that.  two cities immediately come to mind with the same spirit of venice that somehow only a boat in a narrow green canal can create:

the canals of venice in los angeles

the canals of venice in los angeles

  • venice, california – it still amazes me that most angelenos don’t even know of the venice canals, though it was always on the top of my list for visitors (and the town’s namesake).  south of santa monica, tucked away just east of the crazy beach and west of eclectic abbot kinney, the canals wind through blocks of stunning houses, each creative and different from the next, connected through narrow alleys and steep foot bridges.  i could spend an afternoon wandering the canals, peeking into residents’ lush yards (probably not recommended?), and then spending the evening strolling abbot kinney and eating at one of its many famed restaurants.  the hardest part?  finding the canals.  good luck!
just some family fun along the venice canals in los angeles

just some family fun along the venice canals in los angeles

  • tongli, china – referred to as the venice of the east (sensing a theme here?), tongli was my favorite city on my tour of western china.  during a cruise along the canals, i overheard women singing at a restaurant, waved to elderly chinese men taking an afternoon stroll, and listened to the patter of light rain on the stone bridges as we passed underneath.  i also witnessed a truly absurd fishing habit.  an older woman had tied the ankles of large black pelican-type birds to her rickety boat. on command, the birds would dive for fish, catch them, regurgitate them into an empty bucket, and then get their necks wrung by the woman.  extremely strange.
the site of the bird fishers. seriously mad ritual!

the site of the bird fishers. seriously mad ritual!

which places have you visited that are simply magical?

street/canal signs in tongli

street/canal signs in tongli

jaunt chats: macau

macau landscape

macau landscape. source: see-ming lee link to photo:

so…who’s heard of macau? i had heard some stories (mostly along the lines of vegas on steroids), but had yet to talk to anyone who had been. and then my friend, kate, was sent over for an entire month for a work project. bingo. read on for her recount of the this many-faced city.

first impressions
i was sent to macau, china on a work trip in february 2012. i had never heard of macau before i was told to board a plane in three days, so i spent a couple of days researching the macau and hong kong areas of china before i left. i found out macau was the las vegas of asia, except about ten times bigger and with much higher stakes poker. hong kong was a very western city with a large mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds. so i shoved as many work pants and sweaters into my suitcase as i could and headed out!

once i landed, i had to figure out how to get from hong kong (where my flight landed) to macau. commercial airlines do not fly to macau so i needed to take a ferry. i recommend anyone traveling to macau from the US stay the night in hong kong before and then figure out the ferry the next morning! you’ll be exhausted after a long plane ride and that way you can look up the ferry schedule in the morning and not have to wait – the ferries run about once every two hours. however, since i had to report to work the next morning, i had no choice but to wait for the ferry the evening i arrived in hong kong. i just missed the 8pm ferry and had to wait two hours in the hong kong airport until the 10pm ferry. not ideal, but i made it!

grand lisboa casino in macau

grand lisboa casino in macau. source: By WiNG (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons link to photo:

i had never been to asia before, so there were lots of memorable moments. when i arrived at the casino in macau (we were investigating fraud at a casino, so i worked and lived there), people started taking my picture for no reason. i think it is because i’m tall and beautiful – ha!

i also liked watching my male coworkers interact with the very aggressive prostitutes in the casinos. if any male decides to visit macau, you must prepare yourself for continuous cat-calling in mandarin. one prostitute followed a coworker up to his room and knocked on his door!

asian gambling is much different than in vegas. no one drinks any alcohol – in fact, we had a difficult time getting an alcoholic beverage in the casinos. they drink tea and smoke cigarettes and concentrate on their poker game.

interestingly, macau was a portuguese colony and there were many catholic churches and beautiful cathedrals. i was in macau on ash wednesday and walked to a local catholic church for mass. there were a ton of nuns at the church – all of different ethnic backgrounds. they mostly spoke mandarin and some english, but they were very friendly and wanted to hear about the catholic community in the united states. they let me keep a psalm book in mandarin with a photo of pope benedict to give to my grandfather. he loved it!

st. paul's ruins in macau

st. paul’s ruins in macau. source: taken by stephanie (creative commons) link to photo:

i was not a fan on mandarin cuisine, but it was fun to get to try it in asia. there are a ton of high end restaurants and shops on the casino strip and each casino had a food court with a mcdonald’s, pizza and kentucky fried chicken – for some reason the locals seem to love KFC!

must-see sights
if you are going to visit for a day, you must spend a day walking around the casinos and people watching. i had so much fun walking through the casinos. the shopping is also fabulous; there are a wide range of shops, from high end like prada and gucci to cheaper local stores. however, the clothes are designed to fit asian women – so if you’re tall of curvy, nothing will fit. but accessories are still available and one size fits all!

senado square in macau

senado square in macau. source: taken by lao loong. link to photo:

if you like religious churches and cathedrals, macau has some very beautiful sites. i walked around the town one weekend afternoon and saw a handful of different churches. the downtown square area is also fun. i just missed chinese new year by a week, but the decorations were still hanging on the streets. there was also a traditional dragon dance in the square when i went – i’m not sure if they perform every day or if it was a random dragon dancing event. there are tons of cute china and stationary stores in the square. i would recommend walking around the city during the day, it can get pretty dark and confusing at night – the streets aren’t very well lit and the landscape is pretty hilly. you can definitely see the city of macau, outside of the casinos, in a day.

i also had fun experiencing a night club in a casino. unlike the gambling, the night clubs are very similar to vegas – think lots of glow sticks, glitter, dancing and alcohol. most people visiting the casinos are from mainland china or hong kong and can speak english, so you’ll make friends on the dance floor. techno music and avril lavigne were hot when i was there!

macau tower

macau tower. source: By WiNG (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons link to photo:

who should go
i would recommend anyone who is into gambling and likes to focus on the strategy and competition, as opposed to the social aspect. the gambling looks pretty intense. i didn’t get to visit a spa at the casino, but i heard they were very nice. the night clubs were also fun – so anyone into dancing and glow sticks would also have fun in macau. if you’re already planning a trip to hong kong, macau would be fun to see in a day or experience a night dancing and eating out, but i wouldn’t recommend planning a long vacation to macau, unless you really like the casino experience.

what to pack
i recommend packing layers. it can be cool in the mornings, but gets pretty muggy by afternoon. don’t forget eye drops and nasal spray – smoking is allowed everywhere, so your allergies can flare up if you’re not use to cigarette smoke. i would also bring a computer/iPad to communicate via email with friends and family. the internet in the casino was free and with the time difference, calling home is difficult. a small purse or something to keep money close to you is a good idea as well as pick-pocketing can happen. and lots of books/movies for the long airplane ride.

mandarin food in macau

mandarin food in macau – photo by kate

last thoughts
you are probably going to stick out in crowds – so embrace the tourist mentality. most people were very friendly and helpful. and knowing a few phrases in mandarin before going would be helpful as well. most casino employees knew english, but taxi drivers, and local store owners did not. if you’re up for an adventure and aren’t afraid of experiencing new and different cultures a trip to macau would be for you!

old portuguese quarter in macau

old portuguese quarter in macau. source: taken by stephanie (creative commons) link to photo:

jaunt chats: tokyo

a park in the middle of tokyo

a park in the middle of tokyo

my friend, erin, really has it all figured out. she works a full-time job, is extremely over-educated (she is going for her doctorate in education now…that is, at the same time as working her full-time job), and still manages to find time to know all the cool things going on about los angeles. she also wants to go on a river boat cruise with me, so that scores major points in my book. she went to japan recently, and agreed to write a bit about it for us, despite almost all of her photos being deleted post-trip! make sure you check out her itinerary, which includes visits to areas like roppongi, harajuku, and shibuya.  arigato!


walking through tokyo neighborhoods

walking through tokyo neighborhoods

well, japan has always been my husband’s dream place to go – and we like to go on an international trip at least every two years… so we finally made it happen! we booked our trip through a travelzoo deal (our second through travelzoo) which included airfare on singapore airlines, hotel at hilton tokyo, a half day bus tour and airport transfers. we decided to go during mid/late march in hopes that we would see the beginning of cherry-blossom season but not have to deal with all of the traffic that comes with cherry-blossom season.

i had an office friend at the time who lived in tokyo for five years, so she gave me the low-down on the places to see and eat. she even went so far as to draw me a diagram to the best ramen shop (which was amazing and perfect and everyone should eat it). we went to the ramen shop on a cold, wet day when we had over-exhausted ourselves with walking instead of taking public transportation – so the ramen was exactly what we needed.

anywho, i could really go on for days about the wonderful food (like an entire restaurant that just serves gyoza, the amazing selection from convenience stores (see below) or getting up early to eat barely dead fish (see below again!) at the tsukiji fish market). but what really blew me away was the fact that this HUGE city felt manageable. each “neighborhood” had its own feeling/vibe, which helped you adjust to the throngs of people and giant skyscrapers.

barely dead fish at the tsukiji fish market

barely dead fish at the tsukiji fish market

also – there were parks all over the place, which were really like peaceful historic sites. tokyo and japan in general have a great respect for preserving history. it was remarkable to be shopping one second and look over and see a shrine and a park the next. it was exciting, peaceful, and made you want to live there (minus how expensive it is and the high suicide rate…)

if you go during the month of march/april expect it to be rainy and a little chilly. you’ll warm up with the tea served at all the restaurants and with all of the walking (and brisk walking if you’re short like me and trying to keep up with taller people). i brought layers and some waterproof shoes and was just fine. also – their info about feeding pigeons is hilarious.

plus – i’m that crazy girl who does really detailed itineraries and keeps them – so hopefully this will help you!

shrine in a park in tokyo

erin in a park in tokyo

the multi-colored and delicious snacks from tokyo convenience stores

the multi-colored and delicious snacks from tokyo convenience stores

best ramen in tokyo

best ramen in tokyo

please don't feed the pigeons

please don’t feed the pigeons.

jaunt chats: fiji


not many people outside of los angeles are familiar with LA’s gloomy summer mornings. a thick layer of clouds roll in overnight from the ocean, and the mornings are overcast and chilly, reflecting the aptly named may grey and june gloom. being from oklahoma, i crave the sun and hot days this time of year, and am therefore feeling the need for some talk of the tropics. luckily, my good friend, stephanie, has some insight on fiji, where she and her husband, chris, spent their honeymoon. read her thoughts below; i’m feeling the sun on my legs already!

happily ever after in fiji

deciding where to honeymoon was pretty easy. my now husband and i wanted two things: an amazing beach in exotic locale. and fiji fit the bill.

deserted island or local adventure?

fiji-watersno matter what kind of vacation you’re up for, a trip to fiji is an unforgettable experience. but here’s what you need to know: the islands of fiji consist of two larger islands and smaller more remote islands to the south, east and west.

if you’re looking for a deserted island, tropical drink haven, relaxing paradise type vacation – what we thought we wanted – i highly recommend venturing west to the mamanuca or yasawa Islands, which are a quick boat ride or flight away from nearby hub nbadi on the main island of viti levu. you’ll have a pick of resorts in screen-saver worthy islands.

if you want adventure, then look no further than the island of vanua levu, which was the first island we visited. this is a place where you can do it all, but where the beaches aren’t the highlight.

we were disappointed at first, but after a week of hiking lush landscapes, exploring water falls, swimming in deserted lagoons, meeting the chief of a tribe, mingling with the locals and seeing how they live – we were invigorated, enlightened and made better by the experience.

fiji-waterfallwe were also ready for some rest and relaxation which is where our trip to the mamanucas filled out the adventure. highlights:

  • – arriving by boat, à la james bond to castaway’s remote island of qalito.
  • – diving and snorkeling in world renowned waters. my husband loved exploring fiji’s unique soft coral and colorful tropical fish.
  • – drinking kava with a local. you have to try it. it’s a drink made from the kava plant and it makes you a little loopy. the locals drink it right up – no wonder they’re so happy!

in short, fiji is a special place. a place where you’ll meet some of the friendliest (and happiest) people in the world. you can opt for exciting adventures or simply kick back and enjoy a fiji bitter on the sand. enjoy.