Our world revolves around food

laelene Posted in general blog
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My entire visit to my grandfather was predicated on food. First, food for the kids. My mom put together goodie bags of all sorts of crackers, cookies, etc. for my cousin’s children.

Then, breakfast at the hotel before heading over.

Once there, we sat and conversed until lunch was served.

In the afternoon, we went back to rest and then returned again for dinner.

As we left, we were given an assortment of food to bring along, including zongzi (sticky rice and meat or dates wrapped in leaves) and fujiu (a family fav of fermented rice).

The next day, it was breakfast at the hotel again and we were off to the next destination.

My slang gives me away

laelene Posted in general blog
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Whenever I speak to a Chinese person, they very quickly figure out I’m from the Northeast. For years, I couldn’t figure it out. I spoke perfectly standard Mandarin! Right?

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I learned certain phrases gave me away. Most of my conversational Chinese I learned from my mom and maternal grandmother. That side of the family is from the Northeast of China. While accent-wise we generally sound like the folks you’d find on TV or teaching you Chinese pronunciation in a language learning course, we’ve got our own slang phrases.

Our local “dialect” isn’t like many other dialects where it’s completely unintelligible compared to the national language of Mandarin. It’s basically like a Californian who uses “like” a lot, refers to freeways with “the” and that sort of thing. Growing up, that’s all I knew, since so much of what I retained was learned from Northeastern sources. I even went to school there for a year. It never occurred to me that our vocabulary would be different.

I used to be very conscious of this fact (ok, if I’m completely honest I still am) and sometimes carefully chose words and phrases to try to mask it. I also do so attempting to ensure I sound like a local and not a strange person who didn’t learn enough in school and speaks using strange phrases. But really, what am I so worried about? So what if they can tell I’m Northeastern and didn’t grow up in the motherland? At least I speak the language fluently unlike so many others who grew up stateside.

It’s strange how I embrace being different, yet whatever mode I’m in I want to be flawless. The Chinese role becomes ever harder as I get older – at once more understanding is expected of me yet I’m more disconnected with cultural norms. I’m trying to learn to embrace what I do know and can say without being too harsh on my skills. I’ve got to keep practicing!

Communal parenting

laelene Posted in general blog, relationships
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In China, personal lives are a family affair. I’ve seen this playing out day after day in my family, even in my relatively short visit. Everyone spends time worrying about others’ situations. Is that nephew struggling to find a job? Can that granddaughter get into preschool? Does that niece have a significant other yet? Is a cousin’s marriage in the rocks? Does that uncle have financial troubles?

These all seem to be each other’s business. It even extends to the in-laws’ families, so it can get quite complicated. One person may be helping pull strings to get so-and-so into a good school, at any age. In fact, the younger children have a harder time just to get into a program. At least when they’re older, their grades play a factor.

Meanwhile other family members are discussing how best to interfere in a relationship that has gone sour. One aunt might go talk to the wife and another aunt or uncle would approach the husband. Of course the parents and in-laws have been heavily involved all along, often in the middle of the conflict.
Then there are those dealing with some crazy complex financial situation regarding property ownership or some business venture. Who lays claim to what? Should they engage in a lawsuit? How much money should each family give? It’s a big muddled mess.

These aren’t exactly what’s happening in my family per se, but you get the gist. I don’t think Western cultures put as much emphasis on meddling in each other’s affairs. It’s completely normal and expected in Chinese families though. Sometimes I wonder about my own sense of obligation to participate in family affairs in the future. In a way, I’m shielded from this because I’m so far and there’s little contact between me and my relatives outside of my occasional visits to China.

Yet, I can choose to engage. As a connection to the Western world, I can help those who want to send their kids to school in the US. Some of my cousins have expressed interest in this when their toddlers get closer to that age. We’ll see what happens when the time comes. Having Eastern and Western influences growing up, but slightly more from the West gives me some freedom of choice which way I want to lean. My heart has always been on the helping side!

What was your upbringing? How much involvement would you think is normal for an extended family?

My 5 Chinese favs

laelene Posted in general blog
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These are some of the things about China that I’ve been reminded I enjoy:

Hot drinks

You can get hot water all over the place and trains even have an area for you to top up your jar. People tend to bring their own reusable drink containers, whether actual jars that used to hold something else or actual thermos type cups. Even juice drinks come out warm (typically some sort of orange-esque drink). It’s like a warm cup of Tang, which may sound gross but I love it.

In the US, I’m constantly asking for water with no ice or straight up hot water. In China, I don’t have to worry about it. I know I can get it by default. My stomach can’t really handle cold things, which may be due to my cultural heritage.

Salted duck eggs

These are brined eggs with a very salty egg white and an oily yolk. I absolutely love these and is the only time I actually seek out eating yolk. Usually I avoid yolks, but these are sooooo tasty. I can find these at the Asian market in the US, but I don’t really eat them there for whatever reason.

Minimal meat

There are plenty of delicious dishes with little to no meat, which might be why I don’t really crave meat. I never got used to eating it like Americans tend I’mgo and  perfectly happy with vegetarian options and lots of fruit.

Chinese cucumbers

They just don’t grow’em in the states like they do here. I’m guessing it’s a different variety, but I haven’t seen cucumbers quite like Chinese ones in the US. They’re bumpy on the outside, have a yellow flower on the end, and are so very tasty. American ones are all watery and rather tasteless. They make for great pickles though. Still, I prefer the Chinese ones that are sweet and have smaller seeds.

Wear whatever, do whatever

I can look however I want and act however as long as I’m not disruptive. I don’t feel the need to suppress a burp or worry about how big my belly is. Folks here don’t care and I don’t care what they think anyway. I’m free to try out different looks without running into someone. It’s not like I’m doing anything crazy, but it’s amazing how something as simple as wearing lipstick changes how people see me. With family and strangers, it doesn’t matter and my image is not affected like it could be at work.

Transcontinental, transpacific travel

laelene Posted in general blog
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Used my lounge pass, which expires at the end of June. I never got a chance to use the other one, so I gave it to the attendant to let someone else in. I hope he actually did that.

This lady in line had quite a unique sock look.

Breakfast at the airport! I arrived around 11, met up with my mom, and we got in to the terminal sometime after 5.

Landing in Vancouver.

They’ve got a cool aquarium!

Flying by Alaska!!

I thought those white things where ships at first, but they’re actually little icebergs.
I spy glaciers!
Another glacier!
More glaciers!
Check out the little icebergs breaking off from the glacier.
You can even see some of the thick layering.
Amidst all the snow is a thin bit of blue that I thought was a surfboard of sorts. 😛
Here’s a more visible patch of blue ice on a windblown iceberg.
Headed to the ocean.
Getting close to Beijing and there’s some smogginess in the mountains.
Is that heart shape naturally-occurring?

And in Beijing the morning is a bit muggy.

Stressful relaxation

laelene Posted in general blog
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You know the eye of the storm? You’ve just been through a boatload of craziness and you get that break before the next bit hits – * bam! *

I feel like I’m there now. After everything I worked on to finish work and hand off everything, it’s a welcome break to have a vacation. Yet, I know the madness yet to come, so it’s hard to relax and not feel stressed about starting school, especially with all the prep work.

I’ve taken two diagnostic exams, signed up for a pre-course, read some material, entered the lottery for parking, paid my first rent installment to my roomie, and planned out all the other things I need to do. The list only gets longer, it seems.

Yet here I am in China with limited resources to get things done, plenty of family to see, and weeks stretching out ahead of me. I hope by the end of my trip I’ll feel well-rested and refreshed. I’m starting to learn to let go and sleep if I’m tired or sit without reading. It feels so odd to shut off and chill when there’s so much to do.

I hope there’s enough time to catch up once I’m stateside again and the pace really picks up. Until then, meditation practice and deep breaths are in order.

Blocked sites in China

laelene Posted in general blog
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It’s been two years since I last visited China and I can’t quite remember what my technology needs were at that time. I think I just needed to blog and private message Panda and that was pretty much it. This time around I’m trying to use Instagram and Snapchat, which I have just learned are blocked. I should have known just about any American social media would be inaccessible.

I wasn’t even aware that Google is now banned and this whole time I thought my internet connection was just that slow and I couldn’t even load that page. But it turns out it just can’t be accessed without VPN. Thankfully, I have that set up to use as needed.

If you’re even planning a trip to China, I recommend preparing with VPN and doing a quick search of which sites are still banned at that time, so you’ll know why something isn’t loading.

Airplane windows

laelene Posted in general blog
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I’ve been on 15 planes in the past two months or so and I’ve really noticed the window situation. Why do they make them so low that we need to hunch to look out? It’s rather uncomfortable and doesn’t make much sense.

It feels like they designed the exterior of the plane, framed out windows, then threw in seats that don’t align. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have larger windows, one per row of seats that extend higher than most people’s heads? More folks would be able to enjoy the view outside regardless of where they sit.

I suppose part of the issue is how they constantly change the spacing between seats in the ever-changing musical chairs of legroom. Still, the Herat and general size of the window could be extended to benefit more of us all, don’t you think?

How to get a 10-year visa to China

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,
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Well, it’s been over 2 years since I last got a visa to China and mine expired 4 months ago, so I had to go back again. Luckily, since that time, there is a new agreement in place that allows me to apply for a 10 year visa! Thank goodness I will only have to deal with this process once a decade. Here are some lessons from this time, building from my previous experience.

First of all, if you are applying for a visa in the DMV (DC metro area), make sure you’re going to the visa office on Wisconsin. The visa office is not in the embassy! I recommend parking over on 35th or Whitehaven – if you go down beyond the first block you’ll get past metered parking and find free 2-hour spots. Be sure to go in the morning or you might find yourself wasting an extra hour waiting for them to get back from lunch and/or not even getting serviced once they run out of time in the afternoon. They shut the doors at 2:30 so no new people come in, but from what I hear they keep on working through the line that has built up until 4 or later.

metal seats in waiting area at dc's chinese visa officeThis time I am going during tourist season, so oh my gosh it was waaaaaaay worse than last time. 20-40 minutes in line?! Please. Think more like 3-4 hours! In light of that, bring a snack. I nearly fainted the first time I was there since I was there until nearly 2 without any food all day. They do have a remodeled area that was under construction last time I was there. There are a lot of seats, but even more people and typically most of them are taken.

By the way, yes, you need to give them your passport. Your original, physical passport. It’ll come back with a giant sticker on one page containing your visa! Even though they have your passport at hand, you still need to provide a printed copy of your passport photo page and most recent visa (if you ever had one before). I think a lot people don’t realize that.

I was super paranoid this time because last time was not easy, so I actually came over-prepared. I had copies of my passport, visa, driver’s license (front and back), email with travel details, invitation letter from my dad, his passport, his visa (proof he lives and works in China), and the application form. I ended up only needing my passport copy, visa copy, and 2 pages of the flight confirmation email (which was like 10 pages long), in addition to the application.

I read online that they only accept typed forms, so thank goodness I didn’t try to fill it out by hand. I actually prepared two versions – one for the L visa, for general tourists, and one for the Q2 visa, for visiting relatives. I ended up going with the L visa application and all they needed was the part of my itinerary showing my name, which matches my passport, and my departure dates.

While I had been worried that I had a Chinese address instead of a hotel for the place I’d be staying, that didn’t end up being an issue. That’s why I also had my dad’s info, to prove that he knew I was coming and had “invited” me to join him. Luckily, they didn’t seem to need any proof that I could stay at the Beijing address I gave.

Last Friday, we had a morning All Hands that ended around 10 and I headed out to apply for my visa. I arrived at 10:59 and got a ticket for the B numbers, which are for non-Chinese passport holders applying for a visa. A is for Chinese passport holders who are renewing their passport or processing other needs. C is for diplomats and other special folks, I believe. D is for those picking up something and gets you to the payment window. Windows are distributed by function too. Window 1 seems to be for travel agents and others with special scenarios. Window 2 is often vacant. Window 3-7 are for visa processing, with Window 5 being for diplomats. Window 8 & 9 are for Chinese citizens. Window 10 is for payment, and Window 11 is for pickup.

I sat for nearly 3 hours before getting called and for all that… my time at the window was around 2 minutes. I had managed to take a nap, do a lot of staring, and go move my car in that time. They seriously need to streamline this process. Add on the hour to get there and hour back and that was 5 hours just to submit my application. Thankfully, I was prepared and had everything I needed. There were no hiccups this time, no getting sent upstairs and having to spend money to fill out a form at a travel agency, no rejections at the window after a long wait. I was told I could come back on Wednesday to pick up my visa.

This past Friday, I was able to return. This time I came earlier, arriving before 10:30. As it was approaching 12:30, I started to get really nervous that I would not get in before the lunch break. The payment window closes 12:30-1:30 for lunch and it’s the only place you can pay before reclaiming your passport with your new visa. I was so relieved when I got called at 12:20, with time to spare! It was about a minute to pay (I wonder what all the other people did and why they were much slower) and then a brief wait for the person at the next window to come back and find my passport. Within 2 hours, I was happily on my way  back to the car!

I’m glad this won’t have to happen again for a long, long time.

Why you should give feedback to companies

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,
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Are you the type of person who will write to a company or call them when you have a comment? Or are you like most and dismiss it as not worth your time and effort?

While mostly I’m thinking of standing up for yourself when something goes wrong, this can also apply to positive feedback. Companies won’t ever know if you don’t tell them explicitly. It’s amazing how many people never bother to share when something went awry. If that’s the case, the issue will likely persist.

On a personal level, you can benefit from reaching out to companies. For example, on our recent Europe trip, both Panda and Calavera’s suitcases were damaged (by different airlines). Panda wrote an email to them, was able to dig up an old receipt for a luggage purchase, and is being reimbursed $100. If Calavera doesn’t do the same, she won’t be compensated.

This works in all sorts of realms. When service was not good, I reach out to restaurants or airlines and they usually offer a free meal or airlines miles, as appropriate.

On the positive side, I once reached out to Yuzen because I was so in love with their service. Now I get to be a brand ambassador and receive boxes for free! Or another time, my excitement and eagerness in reaching out got me a free area rug.

Today I came home to find a box for Panda. It turned out to be a bunch of free jerky! Again, we never would have gotten it had he not reached out when we got a less than optimal product. See the opportunities that are out there? And this is not even factoring in how companies can take this feedback and learn from it. I sure hope they’re doing that!!

five assorted bags of epic jerky

Free snacks!!

five assorted bags of epic jerky and trail mix

Smokey wanted a piece too.

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