heading home (tbt)

I’ve been back in the United States for about six months now, and although I find myself reminiscing about China, I have no regrets about leaving. Sure I’ll complain about how expensive things are in New York and how I’m much busier with work here, but it is so nice to feel like you’re at home.

For me, being back in the US means feeling like I belong, like I’m not an outsider. Not having to alter my speech into that dreaded Chinglish or hide my accent so people could understand me easier. It also means having access to great healthcare, and not worrying so much about food safety, or product safety, or water safety. It means being able to establish a routine, and not having to continually make friends. In Shanghai it was actually much easier to make friends, but only because people were constantly coming and going, so everyone was more open to meeting new people. But it got tedious. No one really lasts in Shanghai. Heck the city itself is in a state of constant flux/evolution.

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I was recounting to a friend how I love flying, because I generally just fall asleep, so long hauls usually aren’t a big deal. But remember that one time I flew to Shanghai and got sick? I think that was mostly because of nerves. Because I was so terrified that I had just made a huge mistake by moving to China, and since I was already on the plane headed to China, it was too late and I was screwing myself over. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a good thing I ended up going to China. I learned a lot about myself, and I feel like I grew up a lot as well. I gained valuable work experience, made great friends, traveled to amazing places, and learned what I really wanted out of life. So even though I was pretty much convinced that moving to China was the wrong decision, I don’t regret any of it.

On my flight back to the US (or rather to Vancouver first, then the US), I slept like a baby. Well, I slept like a baby after the turbulence died down and they moved me from a squished window seat to a free row, but I probably would’ve slept like a baby regardless. No nerves or mini freak-outs whatsoever. Moving back to the US? Definitely the right decision. No questions about it.

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if the little mermaid was a man in qingdao (tbt)

Did you just have a nightmare from that post title? As I briefly mentioned previously a really, really long time ago, I went to Qingdao for a few days of sorta-R&R back in August. And … all in all, I was underwhelmed, but I’ll expand more on that later. Right now, I would like to direct your attention to the glorious photo below that inspired the post title:

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When you see a person on a rock in the middle of the water, you think of the Little Mermaid, right? This guy was fairly far out just chilling there for a while and I found it hilarious, mostly because I kept imagining the guy dressed up and posing as the Little Mermaid.

Anyhow, Qingdao is known for two things: European architecture (because it was a German concession) and its beaches. I really hope I don’t come across as incredibly elitist saying this, but I’ve seen better architecture elsewhere, I found the trash-covered beaches appalling, and I’ve gotten used to Shanghai-style China. Everything was just kinda eh. A lot of the people I encountered were mainland tourists, so to them, Qingdao is probably pretty fun, but I couldn’t get over how dirty it was and how rude people were (spitting, littering, pushing). I guess I expected more from a tourist town like Qingdao, because while the behavior wouldn’t phase me in the countryside, it’s downright low-class by Shanghai standards.

Here are some of the highlights from my trip:

But people don’t really go to Qingdao to see the sites or shop. It’s all about the beaches! When I went, the weather was super nice and the beaches were crowded. I was a bit iffy about getting into the water because of all the floating trash and algae, but I did end up wading in knee-deep and walked along three or four beaches, which was super tiring and gave me some pretty serious tan lines.

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Takeaway: Qingdao is good for a max. two-day trip (or as part of a larger trip as it was for me), just don’t expect too much and be prepared for a mass of tourists. Everything was fairly inexpensive and it’s a good place to get away from the city, walk along a beach, eat fresh seafood, and enjoy blue skies, but not much else. Qingdao was never on my must-see list of places to go, and although I doubt I’ll go again, I am glad I went.

i climbed a mountain – go me! (tbt)

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I’m not much of an outdoorsy person, but growing up in Texas, going camping, and taking weekend trips to state parks made me really appreciate fresh air and nature. Plus, sometimes I just need to get out because otherwise it’s too depressing to have carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists at my age from typing too much like the sad indoor grunt that I am. Now I’m in a city among cities, but last year, before leaving China and Shanghai (another city among cities), I climbed a mountain!

My friend &C had gotten involved in one of Shanghai’s many hiking/meetup groups, so I joined her on a group trip to Anhui Province’s Tiejiang Mountain and Wuyue Ancient Path. It was a Golden Week holiday, I had nothing planned, and I was itching to get out of the city. The description said “easy hiking,” but golly gosh if that’s what you’d call easy, then I’d say you’re reading from the wrong dictionary. On the first day I just about died – from exhaustion, my legs giving out, slipping on wet rocks, and half-falling into a river. But I survived (obviously), albeit with a waterlogged camera and legs absolutely covered in bruises, and had a great time!

On the last day before heading back to Shanghai, we took a break by a lake and despite all the trash, it was just so great. All those endorphins, ya know? And ya know what? I had climbed a mountain! I was pretty darn proud of myself for doing all of that. Now I’m back to spending the majority of my day sitting at a white desk, staring at a computer screen. And my go-to footwear are black pointy-toed flats that are merely marginally comfortable. Eh, it ain’t fresh air and it may seem stuffy, but I still like it. When the weather warms up I really need to visit Central Park and Calvary Cemetery though.

chicago o’hare: my most hated airport

With the crazy weather out East, I’m thankful as heck to be way over in Nevada! Although I’ll actually be going out East next week, so hopefully things are better by then. A few weeks back I spent a few days in New York (no snow at the time), and on the way back had a layover at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport … reaffirming ORD as my most hated airport. Then again, they do have this amazing tunnel, which is by far the coolest thing at O’Hare!

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The tunnel connects United’s B and C concourses, has a mirrored ceiling and neon lighting installation by Michael Hayden (Sky’s the Limit, 1987), backlit colored panels on the wall, and was just wow. It almost made up for a delayed flight, horrendously long trek across the airport, and lackluster chicken quesadilla I wolfed down. Rainbow colors, mirrors, and neon lighting? It’s like I was back in China! It was also a complete surprise to me because even though I’ve been to ORD many times before, I normally don’t fly United and had never had the pleasure of seeing the tunnel before.

So why, might you ask, do I so dislike Chicago O’Hare? Three reasons: A) I always seem to have a delayed flight (either to or from there), B) It’s such a crazy large airport that it takes forever to get anywhere, and C) I’ve only ever been to ORD on layovers, and layovers inherently suck. It’s not the airport’s fault that it’s a major hub, it’s incredibly busy, and Chicago weather causes a lot of delays, but I still prefer to change flights elsewhere … especially in winter.

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My flight into Chicago was delayed an hour because it had just started snowing in Chicago and ORD was backed up, but thankfully my layover was long enough that the connection was ‘a bit tight’ rather than ‘run like you’ve never run before’. My flight out boarded on time, but was delayed due to the de-icing process, which was actually pretty cool to watch from my window seat on the wing (my favorite seat). Basically a giant mechanical arm with a bright light and sprayer head on a pivot just went back and forth spraying the wing down.

In the end, my flight landed on time due to favorable winds, so all in all the experience wasn’t that bad. But I still just do not like Chicago O’Hare. Because as much as I bemoan the pretty-much-given delays and borderline-incompetent staff at some Chinese airports (oh PVG, will you ever get your act together?), I always feel like Chicago should be better. But alas, one change the weather.

Safe travels to all you out there!

let the non-relaxing vacation begin!

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I often say I’m busy, which is true, but it’s not entirely accurate. You see, I do have stuff to do, but it’s not really so much in terms of quantity, but its timing really, really sucks, so I am stressed out beyond belief. Today is the start of my vacation to Qingdao, I’m sitting here in the airport sleep-deprived and a bit nauseous, and the only thing I can think of is: I really should have brought my laptop with me, I’ve got work to do!

Oy. Here’s hoping the hostel has good wifi. Things were busy but manageable last week, they just kinda snowballed in the last few days. I probably should stay at home and be a good little worker bee, but here I am at good ol’ PVG anyhow because I need a vacation. I did pack a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to connect to my phone, which should make finishing work a bit easier, but … oh who am I kidding? This is going to majorly suck. What a depressing way to start a vacation.

And it is absurdly early. I hate mornings. Bah humbug.

my last meal in hong kong … popeyes!

For my last meal in Hong Kong, I had Popeyes! Yay Popeyes! Although it was actually kinda disappointing and a tad disgusting. My flight left around 10 AM, so I left my hotel in Central around 7 AM, which was too early for most places with decent breakfasts. I grabbed a cab to Hong Kong Station, caught the Airport Express, and searched for food at HKIA (Hong Kong International Airport, aka HKG).

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I ordered one of their breakfast sets. The scrambled eggs were hella watery. The day before, I had breakfast at the hotel (a super fancy breakfast buffet) and the scrambled eggs were watery as well. Is that a thing in Hong Kong? There were also chicken tenders (decent but ho-hum), really squishy nasty sausages (but edible with a helluva lotta ketchup), and a cup of coffee. Yum, coffee. So much coffee these last few days!

No biscuits though. Goodness gracious I miss normal Popeyes. Sometimes I just want some good ol’ fried chicken with mashed potatoes and biscuits. Even for breakfast.

airline food for new year’s eve

Happy New Year’s Eve! Yeah, I know, you thought I died or something, right? Well, I’ve been … busy. And lazy. It’s cold! My apartment has crap insulation and when it’s so cold and I’m all snuggled up in my blanket next to the heater, I want nothing more than to watch Miss Marple and drift off to sleep.

But today I’m out and about! Although I’ve spent the last two hours sitting and waiting for my delayed flight to Korea. I wonder, what is it about waiting for flights to Korea that inspires me to post?

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Anyhow, because the flight was delayed, they handed out meal boxes consisting of rice, tofu, vegetarian chicken (a tofu patty), and lion’s head (pork meatballs). It was on the level of cafeteria food, meaning not good. But hey, it’s more than a US airline would do!

Have a happy 2015, everyone!

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)!

mumbai’s dhobi ghat (tbt)

Ah Mumbai, that was great fun. I was in Mumbai with some classmates last January and one of my classmates who had lived in Mumbai was showing us the sights. And probably one of the coolest things was Dhobi Ghat, a large open-air laundromat. All you could do was overlook and take some pictures, but it was still really neat because … where else do you find a giant open-air laundromat?

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craziest flight of my life

I’ve experienced long delays and heavy turbulence and air sickness before – those are fairly typical annoyances that make me miserable. But my flight from Hong Kong back to Shanghai a few weeks back was downright nuts.

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Everything started off ideally. I got to the airport early (as usual) and had no problem checking in. We even boarded on time! The experience went downhill from there. First of all, before takeoff two girls got into a crazy catfight regarding overhead bin space. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening! I get that tensions run high when traveling, but how does a minor disagreement regarding bin space escalate that fast into a full-on hair-pulling, Mandarin-shouting melee? A couple of flight attendants had to pull them apart and in less than a minute solved the problem by *gasp* moving luggage to a nearby empty bin! Crazy. But hey, we took off on time. And promptly encountered lots of turbulence.

Then came the major this-is-just-whack event, maybe half an hour or so into the flight. I woke up to an announcement asking for a doctor. Huh? You only hear that in the movies! Apparently one of the passengers was unconscious in the back of the plane (later got a text message from the airline saying he had symptoms of pneumonia) and we had to turn back to Hong Kong. The announcements were in Mandarin with very terse English translations, so it was a bit confusing for me (I find it hard to process foreign languages when sleep-deprived). Back in Hong Kong paramedics boarded and took the man off the flight, then police boarded and questioned people near the passenger. We eventually landed in Shanghai without incident around 4 AM.

I’ve heard of these kinds of things happening before, but I’ve flown a fair amount and never had such a ridiculous flight. Still never had a flight canceled or a bad landing or worse, so I’ll count my blessings. I never did hear more about that passenger. I hope he made it okay.