new starts and salads

Holy crap, it’s 2016. And how neglectful I’ve been with this blog! Tsk tsk.

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I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, but I suppose the ol’ standby is to eat healthier, which is always a task given my sweet tooth, fairly abysmal cooking skills, and dislike of anything green and leafy. That said, I’m fine with vegetables if they’re just an accompaniment or side dish, and I’ll cook/eat vegetarian/vegan due to some of my friends, but I’m generally not a ‘salad as a meal’ person. So this here is a rare meal for me indeed. It’s a salad. Woot.

Iceberg lettuce, cha shao (barbecued) pork, hard-boiled egg, Gouda cheese, avocado, sweet peppers, tomatoes, apples, and soon-to-be-added Thousand Island dressing. With a side of buttered toast. Healthy? Oh yes. Granted it could be healthier, but … baby steps, people! Score one for the new year.

beauty product overload

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I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to beauty stuff, but lately I’ve become somewhat more involved. Now that I’m in my ‘late 20s’ (oh gracious goodness, I’ve moved up a box on surveys!), things are definitely not as they were when I was a bright-eyed coed. I don’t have as much tolerance for alcohol, I can’t pull all-nighters with the same ease, when I’m sick it takes longer to bounce back, I have unexplained aches in my knee and back, and (probably as a result of all the alcohol, coffee, all-nighters, and sun) my skin isn’t as great.

Since I live in Asia, land of way too many beauty products, I’ve taken up face masks, serum, and some other stuff. I’m still not a big makeup or product devotee like some of my friends here and the only thing I really subscribe to is daily lotion with SPF for my face – after all, I grew up under the Texas sun.

Do you want the whole run-down? This might seem involved to some, but really it’s pretty basic.

  • paper facial mask – once a week
  • clay mask – once a month if my skin isn’t too dry
  • serum – overnight, once or twice a week
  • face scrub – two or three times a week
  • nose pore strips – once a week
  • paper eye mask – once a week

There are so many beauty products available, and everything is supposedly formulated for Asian skin. I had always used general American products so I had a bit of a learning curve when it came to brands and products. Are things really that different? Yes and no. There are cultural differences (lots of lotions have whitening properties), physiological differences (Asian skin tends to be of a more olive tone and get more oily), and climactic differences (products that adhere and breathe well are good for the humid summers here), so Asian beauty products target a much smaller niche than American ones.

It’s not that big a deal, but here I don’t have to do as much searching, just more reading about what the heck all these products are and how I’m supposed to use them. Oh, and I must say that Innisfree is great. Those Koreans do their beauty stuff right … even though I think they go overboard with their 10-step daily routines.

yellow tail … gotta love screw top wines!

Alors, I’ve been a not-very-frequently-posting blogger lately, but I have a somewhat decent explanation for it. A large part of it has to do with me being busy, but another large part of it has to do with why I love Yellow Tail wine. First of all because it’s darn good (it’s always been my go-to brand). And it’s decently cheap by China standards (over twice what I used to pay in the States but still within reasonable limits). But also because it has screw top … which makes it easy to open if you’ve taken to wearing a splint on your left wrist … which I have.

Yay for carpal tunnel syndrome? Le sigh. I guess I type too much? Yay for the screw top!

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I’m actually supposed to wear splints on both wrists. Yeah, take a moment to consider how much suck-age that is. But since it’s insanely hard to hold a pen or do anything with my right (dominant) hand while wearing the splint, I just … kinda … don’t wear it. (Don’t tell my doctor, he’d make a frowny face.)

Oh, and if you’ve dissected the above picture, then yes, I like white wine (Chardonnay this time though I generally prefer Sauvignon blanc) and I drink it out of a normal cup because I don’t own wine glasses and don’t feel like buying any. Is it really necessary to have specialized vessels for different liquids? I never quite understood that.

gin and tonic and a square glass

I’m a fan of gin and tonics. That I will freely admit. I’m not sure when the good ol’ g&t became my go-to drink, but by the time I got to New York and met roomie J who always had a ready stock of Hendrick’s, I had pretty much completely transitioned from beer (back in my Texas undergrad days) to wine or gin and tonics. This is to say that I have experience with gin and tonics.

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I don’t mind if you play with it a bit, like Logan Punch’s pretty darn amazing rosemary gin and tonic (servied in a mason jar mug!), but what really gets my goat is when someone takes a perfectly good drink and does something super weird to it … like putting it in an annoying square glass. This was at a local bar somewhere in the French Concession and the drink was mediocre but the glass made me sad. I know it seems persnickety and square galsses do look cool, but they aren’t easy to drink out of! Who wants to drink from a corner? Awkward. Please people, stop it.

way behind the holiday schedule

Seriously, what holiday season is it now? Apparently I completely missed out on St. Patrick’s Day yesterday. Easter is coming up on April 5th, so ostensibly it should be Easter season, but that’s not celebrated in China and the next Chinese holiday, Qingming Jie (Tomb-Sweeping Day) is more of an observance than celebration.

But whatevs, it’s been almost four months since Christmas, three and a half months since the New Year, a month since the Chinese New Year, and two weeks since the end of the Chinese New Year (Lantern Festival). And you know what? All my Christmas, New Year, and Chinese New Year decorations are still up. Why? Because I’ve been busy. Can I just get that phrase made into a stamp already?

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Oh well. Maybe I should just turn the tree into a year-round holiday tree because I have nowhere to store it anyhow. And the little ram is pretty adorable, so he can stay too!

fire in shanghai

Apparently this evening my building was on fire. One person, an elderly man, died. Details are scarce at this point.

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I usually make the trek home on autopilot, so I didn’t notice anything was amiss until I was turning into my complex and ran into police tape. And that’s when I noticed all the policemen, firemen, a firetruck, and a crowd of people milling around my complex entrance. The fire was out, but they were still cleaning up. The policemen lifted the tape because I said I lived there, and then I had to cross a shallow sea of foam, water, and glass shards to get to my building. Huh. More police stationed at the building entrance. I go in after they mention something about how I should have used the back entrance, and in the lobby (which connects two buildings), I turn towards my elevator bay and am confronted by another crowd of people, some in pajamas, some in uniform. Crap. It was my building that was on fire.

The main security guard recognized me, so I was let through after he wrote down my floor number. And then … water. So much water. Only about a centimeter or two deep, but it was just everywhere. No elevator too, so I had to climb A LOT of stairs. And the stairwell was covered in water. Splosh. Splosh. Splosh.

Apparently the fire was on the top floor of the building. My floor and apartment were fine with no damage whatsoever. Electricity works, but a policeman just stopped by to inform me that there is no gas (id est, no hot shower), though it should be restored in the morning. No word on when the elevators will be online again. I saw some pictures of the fire and it’s crazy to think that just a few hours ago that was my building, my home. That someone died not too far above me. And yet I’m here in my apartment watching TV, typing on my laptop, eating leftover pizza, and curled up in a blanket like any other night.

A few years ago there was another apartment fire, also in this neighborhood. That fire was far, far bigger, destroying the entire building and leaving 58 dead, but still. Put simply, fire safety (or the lack of) and the shoddy construction of buildings in this country terrifies me.

red maos make china go ’round

October 1st was National Day, for which we got a one-week holiday as one of China’s two Golden Weeks. But that’s over and done with, and now it’s work work work. So here’s a picture of money. It’s Mao! Because this is why all of China basically shut down for a week and why we’re all back to toiling away.

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Red Maos are the 100 RMB banknote in China, and even though they’re the highest-denomination note, they’re worth less than 20 USD. Credit cards are becoming more widely used, but cash is still more widely used, especially among older people. Which is super annoying because you end up carrying a fair number of bills and it just feels oh so sketchy. Or worse, you end up stuck at the bank waiting behind a line of old ladies with stacks and stacks of bills that need to go through the counting machine. And as opposed to when I was in China three/four years ago, I have yet to encounter a fake bill! Progress!

And in related news: I’m going to be working in Shanghai for at least one more year!

adventures in a missed flight

Today I had an exciting new experience: I missed a flight. Oh my gracious goodness. First time for everything, right? And I’m normally so responsible! So here’s a photo essay to document the experience. Because I have lots of time to kill before my rescheduled flight.

My flight was scheduled for 8:25 AM, and lately I’ve been too busy to prepare, so I decided to stay up to pack and grab a taxi at 5ish. I closed my eyes for a second and the next thing I know, it’s 7 AM. Whups. Threw stuff in my suitcase, ran out the door, and hailed a taxi. It’s about an hour’s drive, so it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it, but in case there was another morning flight, I thought getting to the airport ASAP was priority.

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In the cab I called the travel agent, and when I was told there were no flights until the afternoon, I had the taxi stop at Twosome Coffee instead, because coffee makes everything better. Newly opened on Taixing Road, between West Nanjing Road and Wujiang Road, it’s located in a great location next door to Cachet Boutique, which is a nice boutique hotel I’ve been working with. The coffee was pretty good, I had an Americano … because I’m patriotic like that.

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Was waiting for the agent to call back with availability, and decided to once again head to the airport, this time taking the Line 2 metro, which is slower than a cab but cheaper. On the train they called and I booked a new ticket leaving at 3 PM.

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I was already way far out in Pudong at that point, so it would’ve ridiculous to go home to wait just to come back an hour later. I arrived at the Pudong International Airport at about 10:30 AM.

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Check in wouldn’t start until 12:30, so I chilled. Wandered around the few snack shops and bookstores.

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Ended up at Burger King even though I had BK for dinner last night … not many options for food outside security. Tried their chili cheese fries, aka Cheese and Spicy Beef Sauce French Fries. There wasn’t enough sauce for the amount of fries and the sauce was too sweet, but they were decent enough and today’s a day for new experiences.

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The check-in process was easy enough, but since I only have a carry-on with me, I much would’ve preferred to use a kiosk, but alas, China Southern Airlines isn’t that technologically advanced.

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Then there was customs, which I breezed through like a boss. I’m so glad they’ve gotten over the whole taking off your shoes part of the screening process! I’m by no means a frequent flier, but I’ve flown enough to know how to get through without getting stopped, having anything confiscated, or beeping in metal detectors – lessons that were hard learned (ah, my favorite embroidery scissors … I’m sorry I had to abandon you in Xi’an!).

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After the security check I still had over an hour, so I browsed the duty free shops.

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And the other duty free shops.

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And the others too. Might as well, right?

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And wandered up and down the terminal. What did I find? More gates – yawn.

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Finally I sat down at my assigned gate, took a deep breath, and opened my suitcase. Wow that was a mess. When I say I threw things in this morning, I wasn’t kidding. And yep, I forgot my toiletries bag. Sigh.

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A gate change brought me to the lower level … which is the same area I waited in on my way to Hong Kong and to Tokyo. Huh.

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Boarding! Ciao! And only six and a half hours behind schedule. It’s been fun (not really)!

my annoyances of the week

It’s been a bad week. Here goes:

  1. Design Shanghai 2014 was running from February 27th through today, March 2nd, but I wasn’t allowed in because I didn’t have a ticket. Can I buy a ticket? No. You must already have a ticket. What?! It’s the last day of the event and the first day I’ve had off. Argh. I was really interested in seeing it, but now I’m just annoyed.
  2. Old Navy has come to Shanghai, but there was a crush of people and I couldn’t find normal spaghetti-strap tank tops. At Old Navy. Aren’t plain t-shirts and tank tops the core of their business?
  3. Wagas delivery goes off-line when it rains, because a bit of rain is simply insurmountable. Oh sure, they’ll still deliver – if you pay CAB FARE for the delivery guy. I’m sorry, but I’m already paying your extravagant prices for a sandwich … and it’s just rain.
  4. On the weekend I occasionally tutor a woman in oral English. Usually we meet for two hours, but today she only wanted to meet for one hour. As it is I’m tutoring her for peanuts (way below my normal hourly rate) and it takes me 40 minutes round-trip, which makes that ‘tutoring session’ a complete waste of time.
  5. My fridge is basically empty. The grocery store nearest to my apartment closes at 9 PM and I normally get home around 8 PM, but Wednesday I got home at 9 and Thursday at 11. This week I’ve had McDonald’s twice, KFC once, and ramen noodles twice. Ugh.

But you know what makes everything better? Flowers. Mental health flowers. In front of my apartment building there is a flower lady with a little cart of flowers that I’ve passed by many times before, but this afternoon I stopped and bought some. 25 kuai (about 4 USD) for two small bundles; I didn’t bother haggling. Ah, best investment ever. They make me smile.

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don’t even care that the photo is out of focus. Well, maybe just a little.

reminiscing: why i’m an architect

About this time five years ago, I was sitting in the courtyard of Goldsmith Hall on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas. It is there that I sat on a worn wooden bench taking photos of the petal-filled space. It was so quiet, I remember there being a slight chill in the air, and I was all alone. I loved that courtyard. I still love it. The space has an innate sense of calm that’s not shut off from the frenzy on the other side of the windows, but has the ability to recontextualize it and add some measure of beauty to the madness.

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Was I taking a break from a studio project? Ah no, that was my first semester without studio. Having finished the majority of my architecture degree requirements at that point, my schedule was filled with English and humanities classes. Perhaps that’s why I found myself back in the arms of good ol’ Goldsmith, visiting an old friend, a place I felt so comfortable in. This is a photo that has come to define me, and in many ways still does. It’s been my avatar on so many sites for so long, I don’t know if I’ll ever change it. Granted it’s not the best photo, not the best composed, and not the greatest quality, but I cherish it because it’s a moment from that time – that four years of time when I became an architect.

I was recently browsing one of my favorite blogs, Life of an Architect, and started thinking about that title. The life of an architect. The architect behind it, Bob Borson, is referring to his specific life as an architect, but moreso about the life of architects in general. He’s a University of Texas alum and practicing architect in Dallas, and I always find it interesting to read about and from architects, because it’s the life I could’ve had if I had stuck with practicing. But the truth is, I will always consider myself an architect. And my life will always be that of an architect. The truth is, I never wanted to be an architect and ended up in the major purely by accident (a result of some extreme procrastination that ended up being the best mistake ever). The truth is, as much as I am infatuated with art and as crap I am at architectural design, my perspective of the world will always be that of an architect. And the truth is that I will always consume way too much coffee, stay up all night all too often for no apparent reason, write with the black Precise V5s I buy in bulk because yes I have a favorite pen, obsess about details no one else cares about, and absolutely whole-heartedly love architecture.

I may not be able to legally call myself an architect, and practicing architects may frown on my choice to stay out of the field (trust me, I was crap at practicing), but that alone doesn’t make one an architect. So yeah, that’s why I’m an architect.