China Trip – Part 1

In the beginning our tentative plan was to fly nonstop from San Francisco to Hong Kong on United using Bill’s benefits. The passes weren’t free, but they were significantly less than paying for a full fare. Bill watched online as the flight gradually filled up. At one point, the economy cabin was oversold but there were still a bunch of seats open in business class. By Sunday, that flight was no longer an option for us and we were looking at flying to Tokyo-Narita and then onto Hong Kong. This significantly extended our travel time, but funny enough, Bill and I were both a little excited to get to visit Tokyo-Narita Airport. 
On Monday, flying from SFO was no longer an option. On a suggestion from my cousin Chris (in town from Thailand), Bill looked at the flights from Seattle and found that United and Delta both had flights that had plenty of seats. 


Tuesday morning marked the beginning of our travel adventure as we were up a little early to hit up my parents’ house and do a quick suitcase swap. The large suitcase we borrowed from them had a broken zipper. 

We flew on Southwest from Oakland to Seattle, picked up our bags and made our way to the United ticket counter where we had a bit of a hiccup. Because we changed our plans to fly to Tokyo-Narita from Seattle instead of San Francisco kind of last-minute, the paper tickets we were issued in Salt Lake City didn’t work. This was something we didn’t know about when we flew to Seattle and the only way to fix them would be to get new ones issued in Salt Lake City. United and jetBlue need to work out a way for us to fly on e-tickets like many other airlines do. C’mon guys! 

Last minute changes were made and we were able to book e-tickets on Delta and get our United passes refunded. 

A short while later we boarded an Airbus A330 and flew to Tokyo-Narita Airport. There were plenty of open seats on the flight and the four of us all got to sit in the middle row together. We got to Japan around 4:30 in the afternoon, Tokyo time.

Tommy was amazing on the 10+ hour flight. He fell asleep within the first hour (it was nap time) and slept for about three hours while the rest of us just chilled and enjoyed the inflight entertainment and inflight meal. I watched two movies and had a hard time resisting the urge to sing along when I watched Rock of Ages. 

Tommy’s nap time nest.

Bill and Laikwan opted for the Asian beef with noodles.

Tommy and I had the chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. Both came with a green salad and some shrimp cocktail.

Both were pretty tasty but I wasn’t quite sure what part of the chicken my piece came from… perhaps the mechanically-separated part?

Right around the time Tommy was starting to fall asleep again, the flight attendants came around with the mid-flight snack; an ice cream sandwich. He was a happy boy.

A second nap never really happened even though his internal clock was well past its bedtime. He watched some of The Lorax and part of Cars 2. and we were happy we thought to pick up a set of headphones for him ahead of time. 

We landed in Narita to rainy weather and me with a headache. I didn’t get any sleep on the plane, but I wasn’t really trying to either. When we landed in Narita, it was about midnight in California. 

Hello Japan!

Moments later we met up with Chris as he was spending his layover in Narita on his way home to Bangkok. He had passes to get us all into the United Club where we were able to relax and have some complimentary snacks: edamame, sushi, cake, fruit, bread and a variety of beverages, including alcohol.

Bill and I were both able to take a shower too. Having that time to relax really helped me feel normal again and get rid of my fatigue/eye strain headache… and the shower was glorious.

Feeling wonderfully refreshed, we all made our way to our flights. We knew our connecting flight to Hong Kong was full, but we gave it a try anyway. It turned out there were only three open seats. Doh! So we sent Laikwan on to Hong Kong where she could spend the night with her sister. 

Then Bill, Tommy and I went through immigration into Japan and spent the night at a hotel near the airport. We found one that was only 8000 yen for the night (about $100) and came with a free breakfast.  

When we got onto the hotel shuttle at 8:00pm and Tommy crashed within minutes. The hotel was nice even though the mattresses and pillows were hard as a rock. Is that a common thing in Japanese hotels? 

Tommy passed out on me in the hotel lobby.

I was able to get Tommy changed and into bed and he didn’t even open his eyes. Bill and I were asleep by 9:30. I’m pretty sure us not wanting to pay for the hotel wifi contributed to the early bedtime. 


At 4am, Tommy was up and ready for the day. Oddly enough, Bill and I were too. We chilled in the hotel room watching Japanese infomercials on TV and trying our best to keep Tommy from waking up the neighbors. The vacuum cleaner they were selling looked pretty fantastic. 

By 6:30 we were all showered and heading to the free breakfast. We walked around a bit outside and had to snap a few photos of the extremely odd hotel that was across the street. We hit up the gas station convenience store that was next door and picked up some snacky foods too.

What the…?

Breakfast was an odd mix of Japanese and American-ish food with pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon that looked closer to Canadian bacon, sausage that looked like hot dogs and cereal and milk. There were also lots of pickled vegetables, grilled fish, fish cake, and some really delicious miso soup. Tommy thoroughly enjoyed his mix of scrambled eggs, grilled fish and steamed rice. 

There was a little tiny frog hanging out outside the window next to our table.

After breakfast we headed to the airport for our flight to Hong Kong. Still adjusting to the time change, Tommy passed out on the shuttle bus. The other passengers thought it was pretty funny.

We opted to take the morning flight to Hong Kong on Cathay-Pacific rather than wait until evening for the one flight that Delta has. If the weather had been decent, we probably would have stayed to explore the small city of Narita and take the evening flight. But doing that in the rain didn’t appeal to either Bill or me. Tommy thought it was a great idea.

The Cathay-Pacific flight to Hong Kong was wide open, so we got our seat assignments when we checked in. We boarded and taxied for what felt like an hour before taking off for our 4+ hour flight. Tommy was asleep within the hour and napped for about two hours. 

We hit some turbulence, right in the middle of the meal service, so it was suspended for about an hour. When the air is bumpy like that, I can’t really eat anything. Tommy blissfully slept through it and I think even Bill slept through it. 

Playing on the flight.

Once Tommy was awake he ate most of my inflight meal: fried rice, seafood curry and some sort of udon noodle dish. Because of the turbulence, my stomach wasn’t in the mood for curry, but the fried rice and the noodles were delicious. 


The flight attendants were super friendly and came by to thank us multiple times for the box of See’s Candy we had brought them. They invited us to spend the last 30 minutes or so of the flight up front in business class so we could get off the plane quickly. It sure would have been nice to be up there for the whole flight, but I’m pretty sure having a 3-year-old with us, no one will ever bump us up to business class and risk pissing off the customers who paid a lot for their ticket. 

We arrived in Hong Kong and took our time exploring a bit and letting Tommy run around to get his wiggles out. We purchased tickets for the ferry to Macau. They have it set up so you can go straight through to Macau without going through immigration in Hong Kong first. The ferry people even bring your luggage over for you. It was very convenient!

The ferry ride was uneventful, but it was nice that the water was pretty smooth. We didn’t get a window seat, but the weather was very hazy and not really worth taking a lot of photos as we left Hong Kong Harbor. The ride is about one hour.

  He figured out this memory game all by himself!

Bill’s aunt and uncle were waiting for us as we exited the ferry terminal. Bill’s aunt is the 4th child on Bill’s dad’s side of the family, so she’s called Say-Goo-Ma. In Cantonese say is the number four, and the rest refers to her being a sibling on Bill’s dad’s side of the family. By the way, this is my phonetic spelling. Bill’s uncle is called Say-Goo-Jurng. If I talk about any of Bill’s aunts and uncles, their “names” will be like this; a number and then either aunt or uncle. It’s considered disrespectful to refer to someone in an older generation by their given name. Bill doesn’t even know the first names of most of his aunts and uncles. Yes, it’s that confusing. The names are different for Laikwan’s side of the family too.

Tired and excited we made our way to Say-Goo-Ma’s apartment in Taipa. Macau is referred to as an island or a group of three islands, but it’s technically one island and one peninsula. The “island” of Macau is actually a peninsula. Bill’s family live on a real island that is referred to as two separate islands, Taipa and Coloane. Confused yet? It’s just easier for me to think of them as separate cities. 

Macau is full of large hotels and casinos, toting itself as the Las Vegas of the East. It was also a Portuguese colony until the late 1980s with officially sovereignty transfered to the Chinese government in 1999. So all of the street signs and business are in both Chinese and Portuguese. It made figuring out what many of the businesses are easier for me because I could read some of the Portuguese and find similar words to Spanish. Macau is considered an SAR like Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region), so many of the laws are different than on mainland China, including us not needing a visa to enter.

Thursday evening we met up with Say-Goo-Ma’s son Anthony and his youngest daughter Levanna at a restaurant walking distance from the apartment. Anthony and his family live right across the street from Say-Goo-Ma, so it was convenient. 

Anthony is a few years older than Bill and attended high school and college in California. So he was around Bill a lot when they were younger. I think he moved back to China the year before Bill and I started dating. Even though it had been sixteen years since they’d seen each other, it was like seeing old friends together again. I could tell they had really missed each other. Anthony and his family are planning to move to Calgary sometime in the near future, so I expect we will see them more often.

Dinner was really delicious, with a few dishes I had never seen before. We were both still very tired, so we didn’t even think to take some photos. Sorry!

A fresh fish was steamed, mostly for Tommy since it’s one of his favorite things to eat. We had the “pissing shrimp” that are famous in this region. They don’t actually piss, but the Cantonese call them that because they often shoot a stream of water at whomever is picking them up. They’re technically called mantis shrimp and they are really big, often as long as twelve inches long. The dish we had, they were deep fried and coated in a salty and really spicy seasoning. My lips were numb for a little while after eating, but they were delicious! Too spicy for Tommy, but he was happy to eat his steamed fish. 

Steamed fish with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and scallions. I promise, it was delicious!

Levanna and Tommy became instant friends when she started watching The Fresh Beat Band on her dad’s iPad. 

During dinner, Tommy got whiny and asked if he could “po Mommy.” Po kind of means hug in Cantonese. It’s the term we use when referring to holding Tommy or picking him up. Within minutes, he was asleep. 

I think Levanna was kind of confused since minutes earlier he was happily playing with her.

He doesn’t fall asleep on me like this very often anymore, so I cherish it whenever I can.

After dinner we all crashed for the night. All of the travel and adjustment with the time change took its toll on Tommy, he had a rough first night waking up with night terrors. We survived though.

More to come…!

About wobetxela

Artist, mom, traveler, hiker, babywearer (for as long as they'll let me) and hobbyist photographer.
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