calligraphy suzhou

Calligraphy in Suzhou & Trip Giveaway to Suzhou, China!

Garden of Cultivation Suzhou I only returned from exploring Suzhou, China two weeks ago and still am reeling from such an eye-opening, visually stimulating and immersive trip!

Suzhou is just what you expect traditional China to be.

Though there are high-rises and busy modern center, the old town is basically in a time warp. As you walk the cobbled street or cruise down the canals on a wooden boat helmed by a singing local, you will truly feel that you are 2500 years in the past.

I was exploring Suzhou to shoot a series on the ancient arts and traditions. My cameraman, translator, guide and other team members joined me in what would be a jam-packed 4 days of Suzhou culture. Each episode in our series included working with a local artisan or master craftsman.

These are my favorite types of stories to tell–the real stories of the local people.

Through meeting these masters, learning their skills and understanding their stories, I was able to understand what is Suzhou today by understanding its history.

You will be seeing 4 Master Class videos from this culture series: Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk. These four elements are woven in the fabric of daily life yet have been important in Suzhou’s culture for centuries.

My first episode is released today (!) and it is focused on Calligraphy. We went visited the Garden of Cultivation, an ornate garden with rock formations, caves and a lovely central pond with lily pads. There was also a popular teahouse in this garden and we had a private room inside to conduct our calligraphy lesson. Our master, Fanwu Zheng, didn’t speak any English so he and I used a translator to communicate. But quickly, we were able to understand each other through laughs, gestures and brushstrokes.

Calligraphy in Suzhou

Suzhou was one of the premier places for calligraphy, being home to the Wu School of professional artists and some of the country’s most skilled calligraphers. Calligraphy was considered one of the highest forms of visual art, along with poetry and painting. It is much more than just writing, it is the creation of moving pieces of artwork.

The best way to understand Suzhou, our experience and the significance of calligraphy is through our first episode. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Now the travel giveaway! 

The contest is on Twitter only.

Prize:

  • Roundtrip airfare from the US or Canada to Suzhou, China (You fly into Shanghai then transfer)
  • 4 Nights Accommdations in Suzhou (hotels are nice!)
  • All meals included (YUM!)
  • The 4 Cultural Opportunities that I experienced with Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk!

How to Enter:

  1. Follow @VisitSuzhou on Twitter.
  2. Retweet: All you have to do to enter is to Retweet my video launch tweet here OR Retweet the launch tweet from @VisitSuzhou.
  3. Enter by October 4th!

My tweet:


One lucky winner will be selected from there. I cannot wait to see who wins because this trip was so special to me and I want others to share it! GOOD LUCK!

US Japan Seminar Japan Embassy Tohoku

SPEAKER: Japan – U.S. Tourism Seminar on Tōhoku

Japan has always fascinated for its mix ancient history and cutting-edge modernism. It has such a defined unique culture and sense of tradition.  I was very fortunate to be able to travel to the Tōhoku region of Japan in April of 2016 for an assignment. This was my first trip to Japan and I was hired by CNN Asia to host a video that focused on some of the main highlights of this Northeast region of Japan. (Check out my CNN Video of Japan here!) 

This June, I was able to relive this dream trip and share it with all the attendees at the Japan-U.S. Tourism Seminar. I flew to D.C. for this event, which was sponsored by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The evening was focused on bringing awareness about the state of tourism in Japan and to share more of this dynamic country with an audience of 300 US journalists. When I first arrived, I was in awe of the tranquil yet grand residence of the Japanese Ambassador, the setting for this wonderful night of celebrating Japan.

I was asked to speak on my experience in Tōhoku; detailing where I visited, what we covered on our shoot and my impressions of the region. Since I spent 6 days, from before dawn to way after dusk, I managed to see a lot in almost all of the 6 prefectures of the region.

After our host, H.E. Kenichiro Sasae, the Ambassador of Japan to the US, welcomed us all into his home, the guests mingled and interacted with the Japanese food, drink and travel products that were on display.

My presentation came at the middle of the event, and it was such a pleasure to explain what it was like to experience Japan for the first time through the Tōhoku region. I spoke about 5 key themes that we covered throughout the visit: Landscape, Arts, Traditions and Pastimes and Cuisine. I told the stories of meeting the locals and experiencing each of these as not only an American, but as a female traveler as well as a travel blogger. I had some funny stories to relate regarding the competitive eating of Wanco-Soba or trying to paint a Kokeshi doll with a master craftswoman. I also detailed the experience on the stunning Sanriku Coast and at Ginzan-onsen, a hot spring town.

Curious? Check out my full presentation here (don’t worry, it is mostly photos and bullet points!)

We also heard from the esteemed individuals such as Mr. Ryoichi Matsuyama, the president of the Japan National Tourist Office, as well as Mr. Hiromi Tagawa, the chairman of the JATA and Mr. Keith Kirkham, the Incoming Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the US Embassy Japan.

Overall, I met wonderful representatives of Japan and talented journalists in the DC travel community. We later visited a party at the National Geographic headquarters, which rounded out this impactful 2 days in DC. It still is such an honor to be an “ambassador” of sorts for this incredible country and the stunning region of Tōhoku.

Have you been to Tōhoku? If so, leave me a note!

xo Kelley
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Behind the Scenes: On set with CNN in Tohoku, Japan

CNN

Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Japan, a country that has been on my bucket list ever since I could remember. I worked with CNN crew in Japan where we filmed a 60 second travel feature on an incredible region of Japan: Tohoku. Tohoku is located in the Northern part of Japan and consists of 6 prefectures: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi & Yamagata.

We spent one week exploring the rugged landscape, tasting the traditional foods, admiring the local samurai culture at Kakunodate, and marveling at the cherry blossoms. We even had the chance to meet talented artisans perpetuating traditional Tohoku crafts such as Japanese ironware (Nanbu-Tekki) and Kokeshi Dolls.

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This one minute video captures the spirit of the place, but know that it just touches the surface of all the beauty, history and culture in this “treasure land” of a region. I can’t wait to go back. Watch it now. 

Thanks to Japan National Tourist Organization and the CNN crew for such an incredible shoot & video!

Tohoku Japan Ginzan Onsen

The Five Places You Need to See in Tohoku

Before coming to Japan I hadn’t heard of the Tohoku Region and now I’ve been completely charmed by this pastoral, natural part of northern Japan. This is the antithesis of the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and that’s what makes it special. Many retreat up North to enjoy farm fresh foods, breathtaking natural beauty and to take step back into Japan’s traditional roots.

1. Spend a morning at Hirosaki Castle

Though not quite a castle in the “fairytale” sense of the word, the Hirosaki Castle is a lovely Japanese style building, with ornate roof details and impressive silhouette. However, the real reason you visit is for the vast park that surrounds it. We happened to be fortunate enough to be visiting in the spring, when the cherry blossoms were at the height of their bloom. It felt like walking through a sea of pink, every different hue, with delicate petals floating in the breeze. The cherry blossoms created avenues of flowers, and I meandered over bridges that crossed the series of pleasant canals.  Everywhere I turned was worthy of a photo–especially when I got to the viewpoint of the majestic snow capped mountain in the distance.

My Recommendation: Go there early (like 7am) if you want more flowers than people in your photos. Also, next time I go, I am bringing a picnic so I can waste an afternoon under one of the swaying sakura trees.

2. Eat Wanko-Soba

Wanco Soba

Tohoku is famous for its buckwheat noodle, soba. I tasted it in tea, in ice cream and in many variations of the noodle form. However, the best soba experience that I had was Wanko-Soba in Morioka. Here, diners are encouraged not only to eat soba but to eat as much as they can and as fast as they can. An average lunch can turn competitive as the waitresses serve you soba in small “mouthful” sized dishes. The waitresses tower over you, shouting encouragement as you slurp, refilling as fast as you can eat. Of course the other options were delicious as well–I really enjoyed their tuna sashimi and pickled vegetables. But if you plan to nab the record, don’t waste stomach space. You are going to need it since you’ll need to eat over one hundred bowls! Slurp!

My Recommendation: Bring a competitive friend and have a soba eating contest!

3. Stroll through a Samurai Village

Kakunodate

Kakunodate

Tohoku is known for it’s storied Samurai culture and to get as close as you can to it today, visit Kakunodate, a well preserved Samurai town. There is one completely original house dating back 200 years and it’s still in the ownership of its original Samurai family line. There’s another home that also has a museum, just a few steps down. The museum has an impressive display of Samurai gear, with intimidating swords and helmets. Even just wandering down the streets, stopping for an ice cream  and to admire this organized village, makes for a picturesque visit.

My Recommendation: Earlier is better to avoid the crowds!

4. Commune with Nature

Sanriku Fukkuo

The rugged coastline of Tohoku blew me away. It looked like the Mediterranean coast or even New Zealand–but it certainly did not look like Japan. The Sanriku Fukko National Park stretches along a pristine part of the coast, with three steep trails that allow you to walk through old forests and view the majestic cliffs. There are three lookouts with views, number 2 being the best.
My Recommendation: If you want a good workout, hike all the way down to the beach to get up close with the bright blue waters.

5. Visit Teapot Workshop Iwachu Nambu Tekki

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I hadn’t paid much attention to teapots until now. Tea is an extremely important part of Japanese culture and here at the factory, you can witness how some of the finest traditional teapots are made by hand. You can step inside the workshop, watching the craftsman painstaking create the signature dots that cover these iron pots. Each teapot takes about 2 weeks to create so it’s no wonder that they aren’t cheap. I toured the museum but was most taken by the gallery where their finest work is on display. Neon colors and even Hello Kitty tastefully grace some of the newer models of this old brand.

My Recommendation: Visit the workshop first to understand the intense labor and dedication needed to create each teapot. Then go to the shop and buy one for yourself!

BONUS TIP: GINZAN ONSEN

Ginzan

Ginzan-Onsen is a hot spring town, built lining a central spring. Stay at one of the handful of traditional style hotels, from boutique to more contemporary, each with their own onsen experience. The postcard worthy town has charming pedestrian bridges, boutique shops and several eateries. But the real reason to come here is to soak in the geo-thermal waters. I didn’t realize how therapeutic it could be until I tried it for myself. After a few minutes in the healing waters, I felt renewed from the inside out.

My Recommendation: Check out Ginzanso if you want large tatami style rooms with your own private onsen on your deck.  

For more recommendations, leave me a comment! Be sure to tune in to CNN on May 18th to watch the full video of my Tohoku experience!

Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Hotel Snob: Four Seasons Chiang Mai

I have stayed at some of the world’s best properties. Here’s my review of the Four Seasons Chiang Mai in Thailand. I profile the rooms, pool villa, spa, activities, dining and overall experience so you can assess.

Millennials Share the Modern Side of China

Just as China is so ancient, it is also so futuristic and advanced. In Shanghai, Xi’an & Beijing, the three cities that I visited on my experience with Wendy Wu Tours, I met up with many young locals and learned a lot about what it was like to live in modern China. From head sprouts, children laws to street dancing–I was able to get a real look at the country today through these honest, Chinese millennials.

My Bucket List for China

China has certainly always been on my bucket list and I was thrilled to get to experience the country with Wendy Wu Tours. I toured 3 cities and found each to be filled with world wonders and bucket list sites. Check out my favorite spots in China—including the Great Wall!

Exploring Ancient China: Beijing, Xi’an & Shanghai

I recently explored China and I was blown away by how China’s rich history is still very much alive and in full focus today. Bejing & Xi’an both had neighborhoods where I felt like I was stepping back in time. Take a trip through history with me in this episode where we see the terracotta warriors, the hutongs of Beijing and the Great Wall!

The Food of China

On our journey with Wendy Wu Tours, we ate some of the best of the best of China’s exciting foods. From a variety of types of noodles (my favorite being “biang biang”) to soups, dumplings, hot pot and all sorts of street snacks, eating in China was an adventure. We toured the markets and saw the food come from the source. What was my best meal? Peking duck of course!

China Travel Guide: Beijing, Xi’an & Shanghai

What to do, see, eat and experience in these vibrant Chinese cities.

I had a whirlwind week in China with Wendy Wu Tours and I experienced so much in this exciting, ancient and modern country. From the skyscrapers of Shanghai to biking the old wall of Xi’an, to seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors up close and exploring the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall—China was full of life changing moments. Here’s a glimpse into what we did on our tour through this amazing country.

Live like a Local in China with Kelley Ferro: USTOA Travel Together Series featuring Wendy Wu Tours & Visit China Now