“So! What did they like the most about the U.S.?” My sister asked enthusiastically over the phone.

I had just returned home from our two week tour of the Western US, and after a long and restful sleep in my own bed, my mind was still groggy from the road trip.

I flipped through the scenes from the past two weeks in my head, and this image had topped the list.

Clear blue sky

“Our blue sky.” I answered her.

“What?!” my sister sounded as if she heard me wrong.

“Our big blue sky. Our fresh air too.” I replied firmly.

“What….Isn’t their sky blue too?” my sister sounded disappointed. Clearly, she felt deprived of a proper answer.

“No. The cities in China are badly polluted. Their skies are usually brown there.” me, remembering my trip to China two summers ago.

The Brown Sky of Xian

“Really? Brown sky?” my sister.

“Yes, their city skies are usually in shades of light brown. But they can sometimes see a faint blue in the sky, especially right after a rain storm.” I tried to make the images of China a little less dreadful to her.

Sure, our beautiful cities, gorgeous coastline, quaint Wine country, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, etc. easily impressed and won them over, but it was the things that I have taken for granted that made their trip an impressionable one for me.

“Jenny. How come I don’t hear any ZhiNiao here?” Benny, my cousin’s best friend asked me on their second day in America.

Ah.. the ZhiNiao….my mind traveled back to Hangzhou, China.

Westlake, HangZhou

We had just flown into Hangzhou from Taipei. That afternoon, we went for a walk around their famous West Lake. We heard this constant sound coming from the trees.

Having just arrived, we were easily fascinated by everything. The four of us took great trouble to isolate one of the sounds, and traced it onto a tree, and found the bug responsible for the noise. We pointed it out to the kids, filmed it, and snapped pictures of it.

A ZhiNiao looks like a giant fly. It is black, a little bigger than a thumb. It even has thin, see-through wings, like a fly. However, I formed an suspicion that it cannot fly. It seemed to just stay in one spot motionless, to fulfill its sole purpose in life, which is to scream loudly all together, all day, all summer long.

Our initial fascination with it very quickly faded, yielding to annoyance. By the following day, we felt a certain hatred toward the ZhiNiao.

“There are no ZhiNiao here.” I answered with relief.

“You don’t seem to have mosquitoes here either.” Benny.

“Right, we don’t have mosquitoes here.” me.

“Do you have cockroaches and mice in your house?” Benny.

“No. Not in my house.” me.

“I think your God, Jesus, must personally live here in America!” proclaimed Benny. “All the good things are here. All those bad things are with us in China!”

We had a good laugh.

I considered the 9-hour drive to Vegas, then the 8-hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Southern California, torturous. But my guests loved it.

“Why?” My sister had asked.

Fast Freeway

“Our roads are wide and straight. There was no traffic. They have never driven so fast before. Slower moving trucks always moved out of our way to let us pass. And our highways are free.” me. Taking a breath, I continued, “Even 5 or 6 hours into the middle of nowhere, our roads are still smooth and wide, with clear and constant highway signs to keep you from being lost, and to warn you to slow down for any upcoming curves.”

“Oh, and they loved the roadside scenery.” me.

“What roadside scenery?” my sister. We are all familiar with the boring dry hills that line the highway to inland destinations.

“Seriously. They thought the scenery on our road trips very beautiful.” me.

It was a few hours into our drive from the Bay Area to Las Vegas. Hubby was driving. The kids were in the back seats playing on their iPhone and iPod. I was trying not to doze off.

“It is so beautiful here!” our walkie talkie sounded off in Chinese. The minivan my cousin was driving was right behind us.

“This is beautiful?” My baby looked up from her iPod, sounding disbelieving, then went back to playing on it.

“What’s beautiful?” I asked over the walkie talkie.

“Just look how open the space is! And those enormous golden mountains in the distance. Very beautiful!” came the answer. So, they were not being sarcastic.

A couple of more hours of driving, we came upon more vast open valleys, and another set of imposing golden brown mountains looming large in the distance. At the edge of the valley, these golden mountains also took on a hue of purple and blue.

Majestic roadside landscape

“Can we pull over for a quick stop?” my cousin’s voice sounded off from the walkie talkie.

“Why? Something wrong?” I channeled over.

“The scenery here is too beautiful. We want to stop and take pictures.” walkie talkie.

“No! We are on the freeway! You can’t just stop here and take pictures.” me.

In the days that followed, they registered several complaints to me about missing those photo opportunities.

On day 8, we were driving under an all-powerful sun from the Grand Canyon to Huntington Beach, California. We made a potty stop at a random restroom. I was standing under a tree waiting for everyone to come out of the restrooms.

“Holy Cow! You have hot water running in the faucet too.” My cousin came out looking all amazed.

We were traveling somewhere in close proximity to the Death Valley. The temperature was well over 100 degrees. Hot water was hardly a treat there. It was a punishment.

Unimpressed. I just stared back at him.

“And this place is so deserted. How does the restroom stay clean, and WHO put all that toilet paper in there?!” cousin.

I chuckled. In China, people have to carry toilet paper packs with them everywhere.

On our grand Vegas casino tour day, we were licking gelato at The Venetian’s indoor St Mark’s Square, and watching other tourists on their Venetian canal boat rides.

“They do a pretty good job giving you that Venice feel here.” I said to Nancy, my cousin’s wife.

“Maybe even better than the real Venice…this St. Mark’s square is spotlessly clean, and has A/C. Plus the real canal water at the real Venice can be smelly.” I added half jokingly.

“Why do you guys still bother to travel overseas? You have everything here. And your country is so beautiful.” Nancy said to me in all seriousness.

Before this trip, I often thought that America has little to offer to its tourists. Being such a young country, US has little history, and no ancient sites to rival the likes of The Colosseum and the Great Wall of China.

After spending 2 weeks with my cousins and their friends, I got to see America for the first time through their eyes. I came to the realization that I thought wrong! America is a fascinating country for its visitors.

In the two weeks just in the West Coast alone, we went from the beautiful city of San Francisco, to the rocky coastal waters of the Monterey Bay, to the sun drenched valley of the Napa Wine Country, to the great casinos in Vegas, to the breath-taking Grand Canyon, and finally the world-class amusement theme parks of Southern California. Every day awarded a complete different experience to my guests. Each day was so distinctive that it made the previous days seem so distant and remote.

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Valley of Wine


Grand Canyon

The Simpsons 3D Ride

Giant Redwoods Forest

As far as travel goes, I have often trumpeted that every time we return home from foreign destinations, even if it’s a wonderful trip, I always find myself appreciating America a little bit more.

It is interesting to note, that after seeing America through the eyes of my foreign tourists, the experience deepened my appreciation for this great country once again.

Our Flag

God bless America.

Related previous post:
Two-Week-Long Tour of America with Cousins Visiting from China-Part I

Two-Week-Long Tour of America with Cousins Visiting from China-Part II

We Bought Air for 100 Yuan in China

A Forsaken Old Farmhouse

How to spend 12 hours on a lake?

Preparing the kids for China

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