This trip has been a trip. We've seen a lot of places I've already seen and done a lot of stuff I've already done, but it never gets old. Seeing it with a new set of eyes has been both enlightening and entertaining, amazing and amusing.
Justin had to do some acclimating in Dalian. He loved my favorite zoo, and the fresh seafood has no equal, but he did have some difficulty with people watching him shower.
He had no problem soaking in the Dalian's newly-built medicinal hot springs, though. The tiny swim trunks worn by all Chinese men were cute, and he swims the way he drinks...like a fish.
The best thing about Dalian was seeing him bond with my uncle. No common language, but men will be men. I’ve never seen my uncle so excited about any family member, and whether they were silently eating or wordless playing the same guitar, they seemed to understand each other just fine.
Hanging with my aunt and uncle was like the double date you never wanted, only to realize it's what you've always wanted. it was like they saw us as adults for the first time, and suddenly we were just two couples, hanging out. I love them because they don't patronize, and they don't try to spout any wisdom despite having plenty to share. They just want us to have a good time while they're along for the ride, but they still do the parent thing and buy us keychains to commemorate this park with gorgeous cliffs that look a lot like Palos Verdes.
Jinzhou is a lot more suffocating, but my mother is determined to show us a good time. We go see all the attractions, even Bie Jia Mountain, which sits far on the Jinzhou outskirts. Literally named for the penholder it resembles, the mountain is hardly a trek for avid hikers. But the sea walk to get there is probably worth the entire trip; The ocean parts at low tide to reveal a rocky path straight to the mountain. Any other time, you pay a motor boat to ferry you back and forth.
They say this is where Pangu created the world, and the Taoist temples are worth the well-paved climb.
Off the mountain and into the cave, the Thousand-Buddha Cave to be exact, a new attraction for me. Situated within the cliffs of Huludao, they are a mere 20 minutes outside my original hometown for Yixian, but somehow we never ventured quite that far. The caves are beautiful, the preservation incredible. Some of the caves are modern-made, but the originals are worth the hot, dusty trip.
At every temple, there's a bell you can ring for luck. Justin can ring my bell any day.
My favorite is still Fengguo Temple in Yixian, probably because I used to live in the front yard. That one-room hut with the straw roof and dirt floor are long gone, but the seven Buddhas still persist. They're breathtaking in their preservation, majestic in their proportions. Legend has it that a bomb was dropped on the main hall. It crashed through the roof and lodged in the rafters, refusing to detonate, leaving the Buddhas untouched. There is an undeniable, spiritual tranquility here, and it's so far off the beaten path, the roads aren't even paved.
Justin never hesitates to remind me, "Most people don't grow up in a straw hut in rural China to become a doctor in Redondo Beach". I am better because of where I came from, and my ambition, my constant willingness to claw my way up stems from wanting something more than a straw roof that leaked in the rain. I'll never forget where I came from, but I'm grateful to have advanced so far. I hope Justin had a good time this trip, and I hope that he now understands me a little bit more, but next time, we'll be soul searching under the Hong Kong city lights.