June 30 was Linc’s 11th birthday! We took the high speed train to Kyoto that day and checked into a beautiful hotel with an amazing restaurant. The kids enjoyed a little pool time, and we headed to the restaurant for the celebratory dinner. On the way we ran into a Geisha! The hotel has a Geisha perform nightly at 6pm. We missed the performance the first night but did go back to see it later in our stay. It was really interesting! We did get a pic with the Geisha the first night- probably the only photo of all 10 of us!

Lincoln’s birthday dinner was fun- he of course ate steak. He insists he looks “derpy” in this photo, and while I agree, its the only one I have of him that night.

The next day we set out for Arashiyama, an area of Kyoto. First stop: the Bamboo Forest. This is the kids at the beginning of the day, all refreshed and unaware of the coming heat and humidity that would suck the life out of them over the next 4 hours!

Our walk through the forest led us to the Tenryu-ji Temple. It was truly beautiful. The gardens have survived in their original form since the it was built (1339-1345)! The buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt a few times over the years, the ones we were able to tour date from the late 1800s. I am going to subject you to some scenes of the garden because they are just too good not to….

Here are the kids hanging out in the shade of the buildings- looks like they are discussing life’s big questions ..

With a little luck and a great concierge, we found a dinner spot that had room for 10. This private room was really fun. The kids loved taking their shoes off and sitting on the floor. It was a great Japanese dining experience!

We had to take 3 cabs everywhere we went- this is what happened to the passengers of the first cab when waiting in the lobby for the second and third cab to arrive! LOL. They had a good day.

Japan 🇯🇵 

Japan… My kind of place. All sorts of comics, action figures, movies, video games, heated stuff and REALLY good food. From the sushi to the meats. the food  was top dog. Today I will be writing about the Fushimi Inari, and my favorite things. I totally dig Japan. The people used to be super brutal but, now they are quiet and polite. I like quiet surroundings, but I do not get that here in China too often.  Most of the time at restaurants we were the loudest, unless we got our own room during dinner.

I loved the Fushimi Inari, which was the temple of Ten THOUSAND Gates. It was beautiful, so much greenery which made it very shady on the hot day. The first part was more of the same, but as we got farther up it became more and more beautiful and different.

Never in my life had I seen so many gates, and I passed through all of them. Once we got up and to the starting point we saw a few shops and started to look around. We ended up buying an object that is supposed to make your wishes come true if you walked through all the gates. You are supposed to keep your charm until it comes true. On the way up mine fell apart so  my wish probably will not come true.

It was a long hike up, and on the way there 5 of us quit. Ayla, Linc, Jen, Tim and I remained. Before the others quit, the hike was easier before the steep hike came. Also there was less of manmade things so lots more animals came out of hiding.  This dragonfly flew at me.

 This frog jumped at Lincoln.

It was a smart marketing choice to make the bottles of water at the top more expensive, because it was much hotter up there. but at least our five wishes will have more of a chance to come true. I loved the experience with an exception; I got super thirsty extremely easily. I had lots of fun in Japan.


Japan Da Boss

My favorite part about Japan was going to a restaurant where we got to cook raw meat! I liked doing that because when I go to a restaurant they always make the meat too tough, too raw or too cooked. When we went I got to cook my own meat it was so cool and for the first time I got to cook the best steak I ever had. Also, I liked going to the samurai museum with the Janigas, it was so cool. We got to learn all sorts of stuff, totally baller. Then we got to put on costumes and hold real swords (but they were dull 😔). In Kyoto, we went to a place with 10,000 gates (Fushimi Inari Shrine), it was so cool! We went on a big hike up Inari Mountain to see all the shrines. After about an hour, we got to a point where we had to stop because Alyssa and Archer wanted to go back down.  Ayla, Grayson and I, along with Jen and Tim, decided that we wanted to go to the top. It was so hot 😥😥 I was sweating so hard, but we finally got to the top. It was so funny, a bottle of water at the top was 120 yuan ($17) -way more than it was at the bottom of the mountain. All of us were sweating as we went back down and went back to the hotel…… the FOUR SEASONS ohhh yes. Then we went in the pool. This picture is of me and Ayla at the top of Mount Inari!

Archer on Japan

I liked Japan. Our friends Ayla and Alyssa were with us. Ayla is the tall one in this picture of us on the subway in Tokyo. She is 12 years old. We took the subway a lot in Tokyo.

This is me petting an owl we saw on the street in Tokyo. We asked our mom if we could go into the Owl Cafe. She said yes, but she did not go inside with us. My dad went with us and we took pictures of the owls.

This is one of the owls that was inside. There was a Great Horned Owl and there were ducks, hamsters, and a parrott. It was fun because we got to pet lots of animals.


This was my favorite meal in Japan. They gave us raw meat and we got to cook it! It taught me how to cook steak and chicken. It was really fun because we saw the waiter take a huge steak and put it on the fire and cook it. Then they cut it into pieces with scissors and put the pieces on a plate. It was delicious.


This is an awesome helmet from the Samurai Museum. I like the museum, we got to hold real swords and dress up like a Samurai. We also got to use a real spear too!


This is me with my mom and my brother. We were in the gardens of a temple called Tenryu-ji in Kyoto. My mom says it was a buddhist temple first built is 1339. We saw lots of temples in Kyoto. We had to take our shoes off to go inside the temples. We even had to take our shoes off to go in some restaurants!

Japan was really awesome.

Samurais and Shibuya

Our third day in Tokyo was a huge winner. We took the kids to the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku.  Shinjuku itself is a crazy area and fun to explore. We were there during the (rainy) day, but at night I am sure it is a neon paradise.

The Samurai Museum was amazing. It was a guided tour- which was great for the kids. Our guide provided interesting historical info while the kids gawked at the legit Samurai armor and swords. The detail on these things were insane, from the knuckles on the gloves to the silk and metal shoulder guards.

Can you imagine going into battle balancing those horn-like things on your helmet? The guide told us these the average height of Japanese men at the time was about 5 feet tall, so helmets like these helped to intimidate enemies. They are actually made of a light weight wood, not metal. But still…..

The museum was really hands on. Such a rare experience and one the kids just ate up. They could touch and try on helmets, face guards and swords. Archer was in HEAVEN.  Probably the first time he has held a REAL SWORD. Literally, I did not think he was going to give it back. Sadly that joy was not photo documented, but you can see the envy on his face below when Lincoln had the sword.

At the end of the museum tour, the kids were able to dress up in Samurai gear and pose with “real” weapons. I think they could have messed around with this for hours. We have about 500 pictures, so brace yourself for more than enough here:

The Janiga girls got in on the action – super cute:

The kids insisted the parents also dress up. We did, and it was pretty funny. Unfortunately the kids were the ones taking the pictures so we look like ghosts in all of them. You get the idea:

When we left the museum we wandered around Shinjuku making our way back to the station. As luck would have it, we (of course) meandered into Kabukichō, Tokyo’s most notorious red light district and part of Shinjuku. Luckily with the Japanese language barrier – none of the kids noticed a thing. Pretty sure this photo was taken at the cusp of Kabukichō. Oops!


After a little rest and pool time, we ventured out to see Shibuya and the famous Shibuya crossing. It is said to be the busiest intersection in the world and that at peak times 1000 people cross the street at every light change. The intersection is one of those all ways at one time pedestrian crossings. It was as insane as it sounds. It was the only time in Asia so far we were actually in danger of losing one of the children…. (well, except for that time in Tokyo when Archer got on a subway car and the doors closed behind him with the rest of us still on the platform – that was a pretty close call too. I try not to think about it…)


The entire Shibuya area around the crossing is the bustling, jam packed neon jungle you imagine Tokyo to be. The kids had meat on a stick for dinner from a walk up meat-on-a-stick window, and everyone was happy.

I’ll leave you with this gem. It’s probably the best photo we’ve taken in Asia. I mean, seriously??? (he was VERY serious about this, did not crack a smile for even a second. Samurais don’t smile apparently…nothing is funny when you’re a warrior.)

じゃあね (jaa ne)

こんにちは (Kon’nichiwa)

We loved Japan!! Our first stop was Tokyo. Such a beautiful city! Our friends the Janigas met us there, making us a party of 10!  I think we lucked out with all the touring/meals working out so well despite our large party. There are a lot of ways a group of 10 people can go bad quickly…

The above pic was taken at the Hozomon near the Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple. We took a boat ride there- which was fun and a nice change from the subway – better scenery! (pic below taken from boat)

On the temple grounds, a kind Japanese man helped the kids with the fortunes. A metal cylinder is filled with numbered wooden sticks. You shake the cylinder until a stick falls out. The number on the stick indicates which drawer you open to find your fortune.

Lincoln got ‘Best Fortune”, the Japanese man was very excited and said it was very rare. Sadly Grayson got a “Bad Fortune”. You keep the good fortunes, but tie the bad ones to the wires to leave the bad luck at the temple. 

Surrounding the temple was an adorable little area that is said to be reminiscent of the Edo Period in Japan. The Edo Period was 265 years (1603-1868) of peace under the rule of the Tokugowa shogunites. I assume they mean the buildings are reminiscent because they have not been knocked down and replaced with high rises. The below pic is a street filled with charming shops and restaurants. This type of thing is right up my alley. The boys, not so much…. thus, our visit was brief! Check out the women in the kimono, there are two in the picture. There were women all over Japan in kimonos. Many are tourists that rent them for the day and wear them around to the tourist attractions. It is elaborate, their hair is done and they even sport the socks with Japanese sandals. There were also older women wearing kimonos, and I have to believe they were not playing dress up….. but you never know.


The second day in Tokyo we visited the Imperial Palace Grounds. You can’t actually access the Imperial Palace. It is still the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. However, there is a lot of wide open lawn on the Palace Grounds that you are actually allowed to walk on! My kids, who have been in some of the largest cities in the world for the last 8 weeks, were in heaven. You would think they had never seen a lawn before.  Archer was leaping around out of sheer joy before they all got down to a serious game of tag.

The highlight of the second day was definitely the late lunch Japanese BBQ. Mike found the place wandering around the alley’s near our hotel. We had this whole cave-like room to ourselves, one end was open to outside and the other end was a mirror.

The kids LOVED cooking their own meat on the grills in the middle of the tables. They were obsessed. The food was really good, but the kids loved it even more because they cooked it. No one got burned – miracle.

One of Linc’s friends from his soccer team happened to be in Tokyo the same time we were! We met them for dinner at a small pizza joint in Roppongi that served gluten free pizzas (more miracles!). Roppongi is a fun area to cruise around, super lively at night.

While not terribly Japanese, the pizza place was a fun night. So fun that Archer fell asleep. Hahaha- shocker!

More about our time in Japan tomorrow!

じゃあね (jaa ne)


Recently in Asia…



We have not been the greatest at blogging lately. It’s been a crazy busy few weeks! The week we returned from Beijing, Mike had a few business trips so it was just me and the boys. Then Auntie T came to visit on 17th! This is the boys waiting for her on the street corner….they were obviously a little excited. We could have waited in the air conditioned lobby or apartment, but apparently that was not good enough. LOL


We dragged her to all our favorite spots – rain or shine (mostly rain).


The Yu Yuan Gardens are always awesome. Walking the gardens in the rain was worth it because it dramatically reduces the number of tourists in the gardens. We got great shots like this with no random people in the background!!


Another from the Yu Yuan Gardens.


Rooftop bar fun on The Bund!


Mike had a business  day trip to Nanjing on Friday, so we all tagged along. We took the train out there. Mike went to his meetings and we had a guide meet us at the station. Bless his heart, but this poor guy knew nothing. Most questions were answered with “I don’t know”. If he did know, it was because he walked over and read the Chinese Tourist Signs and just translated what it said. He could not even help us order at the Chinese restaurant he took us to for lunch! However, it was nice to have a car and driver to take us around, so it was not a total bust. We saw some beautiful and interesting things, like this Buddhist statue rising out of the lake.


We learned about the life of Confucius at the Confucius Temple, but the highlight was banging the drum of course! 

The trip to Nanjing was a funny experience overall, including the miserable moments.  T got to experience the frustration that can be living in China- inability to communicate an order in a restaurant, trying to get train tickets, the heat and humidity, and a general lack of understanding of what is going on around you.

T and I  managed to sneak away on her last day here. Our planned walk was derailed by my poor navigation and then heavy rains. Luckily, we found a cute cafe in which to wait out the downpour, with wine of course!

It was a great week with Auntie T!

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was located just east of Tiananmen Square. And believe it or not the square it can fit 1, 000, 000 people.  When we had first arrived at the Tiananmen Square we had seen the first gate to the the forbidden city which looked like everything else we would see in Beijing, but the paint looked cool and colorful.

It was a longer walk than I had anticipated because I had no idea what the other gates looked like. But I was told what the first visible one looked like (besides the one behind me) As we walked across the square I noticed that all these buildings were a symbol of power. I remembered that Beijing had been the capital of China, so i assumed that the president’s current palace was there. With our tour guide we had stopped AND TO THE RIGHT I SAW THE Beijing Museum.

And on the left there was a building that somewhat resembled the White House. Just after I noted the the two enormous buildings, our tour guide, Jessie, told us that the building on the left was the Chinese version of the white house. And did you know that the first foreign president/ruler/person in charge was Richard Nixon.

When we resting and socializing about the buildings we made a slow, but progressive walk to the second gate of the Forbidden city. We noticed that there was a painting of  man on the front gate. We were told by Jessie that his name was Chairman Mao, and he was the first non-dictator ruler who was fair. He made one of his first speeches on the top of the second gate.

Once we were “officially” inside the Forbidden City we first arrived in a patio. My little brothers started to get tired so I sat down and looked around, and I could not help but to notice all the people rubbing the golden knobs on the big red doors. Apparently JJ had noticed the same thing, and as usual took no hesitation to ask Jessie what they were doing. We found out they were rubbing the knobs for good luck… guess what… we started to do that too.

It was a long walk through the crowded gate number three. It should’ve taken shorter if it hadn’t been for all the people visiting pushing and shoving. Once we got outside the gate we regrouped and saw the most amount of gold in our lives. I was shocked by all of the symbolic power. Then we started going up the stairs to get atop of the marvelous bridge three. That is where I got the beautiful view of the gold.

When we got to the top there was an unexpected exhibit, of the silk-road. there was all sorts of stuff from the west. I guess it was for the chinese to see what things from the west looked like. Though I even hadn’t looked at any of this stuff. It still looked beautiful. Funny how most of this stuff is made of gold, or things painted gold.

When we were done with the Silk Road exhibit we went to our designated destination (which was the top of the third gate) we got a great view of gate 2, and other cool buildings.

When we all took our pictures we were satisfied with our photos we headed to the other set of stairs, but before we reached them we saw another unexpected exhibit. it was a jewelry exhibit, most of it was obviously not from China.

After we were done all the unexpected detours, we got to the main patio where we crossed over to the side corridor. it was a long walk and a painful one because my pupils kept dilating because of all the glints and glares from the reflective gold paint on the roofs and the uneven shade. I really enjoyed the little sacred animals and the small sculptures. I wish I could have bought one at any sort of store. Another thing I really am starting to like is the jade items. I really like the look of it, and the thing I really like is the combination of bright green jade and black obsidian.

Once we got past the gate I was disappointed because it looked like the exact same as the patio of the gate I had just been in… except for a few bridges in the middle, at first I was dumbfounded. Then I remembered that in ancient times people believed in all sorts absurd superstitions. I asked Jessie if we could walk over the bridge and she said yes. It turns out that the bridge was over water.

This was the view of the last gate from the bridge.

The best thing about the fourth gate patio was the fact it was the second to last before the actual palace. Again we decided to detour to the side corridors. We walked along the corridor again and then we took a left and went up the stairs. Along the stairs there were stone dragons that spat out water.

After the fifth gate we took another break and we were told how to tell how important the building is by how many little figures there are on the corners of the roof. The front and the back do not count. For example you can tell it is rated 5. The most I’ve seen is 10.

Now I get to talk about the two major buildings, The throne room, and the emperor’s room. Both rooms were pretty spacious and beautiful.

 Throne Room.

 Emperor’s Room.

The throne room was really nice, because the ruler could have anything he wanted, with no questions asked. Also back then gold was a symbol of power, and if you were not a high ranking official or the emperor and you were wearing gold you would be killed. Another amazing thing is that most of the room were made of wood.

The bedroom was really simple layout, but the sides of the wall and the wall designs were flawless and complex. Also tapestries looked really cool. I could say the exact things about the bedroom as the throne room, in fact I could switch out the furniture in both rooms without anyone noticing the difference. (besides the locations of the buildings).

I really enjoyed my time in Beijing, but I loved the Forbidden City and the Great Wall more than other experiences. I will include some excruciating detail about my favorite lunch there. Don’t read if you are faint hearted. We ordered in for dinner, and I had the same breakfast every morning

When we first arrived at the lunch place I knew it was a traditional chinese food place. From the first few minutes there we knew that Jessie was a regular there. The menu was partly in English, and of course all the food we ordered was drenched in soy sauce. All we could eat was fried rice and sugar snap peas. We all were still super hungry so Jessie asked about any meat without soy sauce, and then they just left… and minutes they returned with fried chicken. It looked normal for a few minutes. Then Jessie and Archer asked,”Do you want some chicken brain?” And I replied……… YES. I got a bit of the little front lobe. IT WAS AMAZING!!! With my primordial spirit awakening as I ask if I can eat the eye, and it was edible. With a flurry of  assorted bites and chomps, I leave no trace of of the socket just a gaping hole. I feel my mouth start to foam and i see the neck, weirdly solid and putrid in some places and in others beautifully crispy in others. Then we had to leave, so I said,”I need to eat some rice.” and that Rice was never seen again.

Now for the brief editorial: None of my primordial senses were awakened or any of my body parts foaming.

Thank you

Day 1 Beijing

The boys settling in for the 5 hour high speed train ride to Tianjin, our less than 24 hour pit stop on the way to Beijing. Mike had some meetings here. It was a lovely city, but the boys and I did not leave the hotel. We hung out at the indoor pool all morning and were back on the train to Beijing in the afternoon.

Friday was our first day in Beijing and we had a great day of sightseeing. Beijing is so different than Shanghai. Shanghai is all high rises, more like New York. Beijing has almost as many people (22 million), but because city center is considered to be so historical, tall buildings are not allowed. Only in the CBD (Central Business District) are high rises allowed. You can sort of see behind the goofballs the low skyline of the city…

Mike spent the day in meetings and we toured The Forbidden City:

Tiananmen Square:

Beijing hutongs:

And The Temple of Heaven:  At the Temple of Heaven, the boys stood on the spot that the emperors prayed on as it was believed to be a direct line of communication to the god. Not sure these kids were talking to any god, but more than one Chinese visitor snapped photos of them on that stone. Some bold ones even hopped in and took a photo with the boys…. 


Knowing better than to try to navigate Beijing myself with 4 boys- we hired a tour guide for the two days. Jessie came highly recommended and it was the best money ever spent! The boys had a lot of fun with her. 

We would never have been able to cover so much in one day without Jessie. A driver picked us up at the hotel and shuttled us around to all the sights. She knew where to go, where to start, how to get tickets. More importantly, she knew what to skip and guided us toward things that would be interesting to the kids. She shared interesting facts and the history of things so the kids knew what they were looking at. It was also interesting, and good for them, to hear a Chinese person speak about China. It provided a sense of how they see their country and their place in the world. How their history has shaped their feelings on their government and even a little peek at how the Chinese are taught about their country’s history.

Some unexpected highlights were :

  1. How excited the kids were over a jewelry exhibit in one of the gates of The Forbidden City. I could not drag them out of there! Very unexpected. Here is one of a thousand pictures they took, Archer actually took this one. I’ll let them post more…

  1. Lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. We could have NEVER navigated this without Jessie. There is literally not one Chinese dish made without soy sauce (aka gluten). Jessie managed to get the kitchen to cook us some dishes that were gluten free. The boys had fun with the deep fried whole chicken, and I mean WHOLE CHICKEN. I’ll let the boys go into detail…

Below is the very humble mausoleum where Chairman Mao is preserved. Not buried or entombed, but preserved and on display in a crystal case.  It was closed while we were in Beijing. After 40 years, they have to do some work on his body. Apparently the skin needs some refreshing. Perhaps it was for the best we missed it?!?

The boys taking a break in the shade:

It was over 100 degrees and sunny in Beijing that day. They were troopers, it was HOT. Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden are huge expanses of hardscape with no trees and little shade. By mid afternoon we were desperate enough to walk around with umbrellas! While perhaps a little unlucky with the heat, we were so lucky with the air quality. The AQI was under 100. In a city that has been known to reach AQI 800 – that is amazing. No masks needed!

In true O’Brien fashion, the day ended at a restaurant with Archer passed out.

The Great Wall of CHINA

We went to the Great Wall Of China with our guide Jessie. It was so cool having a guide. It was way helpful because we not only actually knew where we were going, we actually learned a thing or two. When we walked there was a temple or a base for the soldiers. The Wall was built to keep the Mongolians away from stealing from China. The stairs were also really cool because the steps were staggered different heights so if any intruder got in the building they would be slower or potentially look down and not see any one coming. When we were done walking we didn’t want to take the lift down so we got to toboggan down, it was so cool. Except Grayson kept crashing into me. It was really cool and at the end of the day I got a stuffed animal panda aka Bobo.

JJ with Jessie