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

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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

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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.

Summertime spottings

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The thing I’m going to miss most about NoVA is all the different creatures you can find in nature. On just a weekend stroll, we were able to find many animals!

momma duck at edge of pond with half a dozen ducklings

A momma duck with at least 6-7 babies.

green frog camouflaging in leaves by pond

A green frog camouflaging against the leaves.

frog or polliwog in water with head sticking out

A small frog and many polliwogs!

giant polyphemus moth on grass

A giant moth that I think is a polyphemus moth.

I love finding cool new life all around me!!

Pace of travel

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When I travel, I tend to go at a fast pace. People often think I’m crazy for it, but a typical tour averages 1.5 days per city. I like to hit up a region and get a quick sense of each city so when I’m older and find it harder to keep up a pace, I know which places I prefer more and would want to stay at for a longer time.

The first time I did this was 9 years ago, when I had 5 weeks for spring break while studying abroad. Since I was already in the UK and near Europe, I decided to visit as much as possible. I made it through 15 countries and I believe 22 cities in that time. It was a lot of walking, packing, unpacking, and exploring.

That was the most ambitious trip I’ve ever done, though I’ve done shorter versions since, again in Europe and also in Southeast Asia. I’ll probably do a similar thing in Central and South America one day. Plus, cruises offer quick pit stops at multiple cities and I’ve done three of those (Alaska, Caribbean, and Mexico). Otherwise, I think I’ll be taking more time in each place and lengthening stays to a good 3 days per city (or more!).

One day I’ll go the complete opposite route and spend a week or weeks in an area, like I do when I’m home in China. Then I can actually unpack my suitcase completely and live there for awhile.

So what’s your travel style? Has it evolved with you?

Yogi Surprise May 2016 review

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I thought about canceling this box after this one, in advance of my departure to school, but then I saw the neti pot and got excited. I’ll keep it around one more month too see what other cool stuff comes!

Yogi Surprise is just under $36 per box (with code for 20% off your subscription – use my referral links from this post) and comes with yoga gear, skincare, food, and other lifestyle products. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral program that earns you free boxes.

Himalayan Chandra neti pot – I’ve been curious about neti pots for years, so I’m super excited about this. I wonder how effective it would be and if it’s potentially dangerous as I’ve seen before. I’m certainly willing to try it and learn some more. And worst case I’ll just use it for watering plants.

Made in Nature Cuban Mojo ancient grain fusion – I guess I’m supposed to cook this as part of a meal? I can’t quite figure it out. I’ll just have to try it and see!

MitoSynergy MitoActivator Pro & GreenTeaSynergy – This is so curious that I don’t know what to make of it. I’m cool with green tea products, but it’s the other stuff that I’m skeptical about. They’re white pills that you’re supposed to take without other supplements, which might interfere with the effectiveness of the pills. Errr… Not sure I’m comfortable trying something I don’t understand.

MyChelle Refining Sugar Cleanser – I recently got this in a Yuzen box and it’s a lot of fun to use. First you scrub the sugar granules on your face, which then melt away to a foamy texture for cleansing your skin. I enjoy using it a lot and this little travel size is great for portability.

Acure Lip Lush lip gloss in No Strings – Haha! I also got this in a Yuzen box and it’s one of the lip glosses I’m currently using. It has a nice sweetness to it and isn’t too sticky.

bayberry naturals Rosehip & Hibiscus Moisturizer – This is a cute little moisturizer that I’ll add to my travel stash. It’s always handy having small bottles to bring on a flight. I don’t want to open it up to try until then.

Yogi Surprise Connecting with Opening Your Heart yoga sequence series card – This series is all about heart-opening poses. Probably something related to Mother’s Day and love. Check out the instruction page to download this sequence.

Energy Muse Chakra Healing healing stones – Back in 2010, I interviewed for this company! Crazy. They make jewelry based on the different energies that stones have. It’s a bit of mythological thinking mixed with ancient traditions. In this case, the chakra stones each correspond to a chakra and help channel that energy, I guess.

Sola Bar Jalapeno Wholesome Savory Meal – Whoa, I’ve never seen a bar like this one. Jalapeno flavored? Random. Since it’s very nutty, I don’t think I’d like it but I’ll give it a try and if I don’t, then Panda can have it.

The neti pot sealed the deal for me with this box. Sure, I could have gotten one myself, but it’s so much more exciting this way. What do you think about the products in this box?

[This post contains affiliate links. Signing up through them helps support my subscription and I’d be ever so grateful. :) All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review. I just purchased this box and wanted to share what I got!]

Things I’ve learned in Poland

laelene Posted in general blog
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  • Stick your arm out for the bus or it won’t stop.
  • No need to stick your arm out for the light rail/tram. It will stop.
  • You never know where you’ll be able to purchase transit tickets. Not all buses, trams, and stops have a ticket machine.
  • Ticket validation means getting a timestamp on your ticket telling you when out expires.
  • Learn some Polish terms. Many locals don’t speak more than two words of English, one of which is usually “no.”
  • Pierogis are delicious. I’d only heard of them before, but never tried them.
  • The Warsaw symbol is a mermaid called Syrenka.
  • Milk bars (bar mleczny) are cafeterias from the communist era. Very cheap and tasty.
  • Kiss and ride is a drop-off area. It took a poster of a couple kissing and driving off for me to finally understand that term. Nobody ever explained it to me!
  • The days seem to start out nice and then a bout of rain comes along. After that, it gets really cold and dark for the rest of the night.
  • Many animals in the parks are used to people and will come up to you if you have food to share. Bring bread for the birds and raw walnuts for the squirrels!!

A layover in Munich

laelene Posted in general blog
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Who says a 6-hour layover isn’t enough time to do a little exploring? We sometimes like to schedule moderately long layovers like that so we can go check out a city and get more bang for our travel buck.
Here’s what we were able to enjoy on our layover:

When landing, I hadn’t noticed the yellow patches in the picture, but once on the ground they’re hard to miss!

They’re these massive fields of bright yellow flowers! I wonder what plant they are?

We made our way to Isartor so we could find a nearby design book store my friend wanted to see.

The store, soda, turned out to be super deep and filled with interesting stuff! Calavera was happy. :)

We noticed fun bikes like these that we should try sometime.

Ooo, these round “meeting” bikes would be so hilarious!

Outside Schrannenhalle (looked like a grocer’s) were these amazing seats that wobbled. Delightful! And there were cool giant clothespin seats too.

The farmer’s market had gorgeous flowers.

I totally would have wanted these if I could take them home.

In the center of the market was this mysterious pole. I couldn’t figure out the significance.

For lunch, we stopped at Zwickl and ended up ordering identical meals: house meatballs with potato salad and ginger lemonade. Who knew the drinks would be so massive?!

Yum, these are pork and beef meatballs and a very pretty potato salad.

They have us plenty of condiments to go with the meal. We tried all the sauces and had different favs.

Walking back to the metro, we saw this dazzling light shop.

If we were staying longer we could get some fresh fruit. Looks great!

Back in the airport, we saw an amazing store of paper goods, called Fabriano. Even their lighting used paper, lol.

Woo hoo!! Free hot drinks at the airport before boarding!

And then it was off to the other leg of our flight. A day well-spent. :)

It felt very leisurely and somewhat touristy, but we got a lot done and saw some cool things. I call that a win.

The digital world hates vertical media

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , ,
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I’ve recently re-learned what a nightmare it is to try to deal with vertical (portrait-oriented) media, whether pictures or videos. Why is it so hard to get them to work?

I mean, I know that all our screens are wide and so is much of how we view the world, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that a vertical orientation isn’t useful (if not better altogether). It’s so frustrating that when I do have portrait images, they don’t always render properly and for vertical videos, it becomes difficult to edit them.

food from rollplay vietnamese restaurantFor example, the past couple of months I’ve dealt with an annoyance using WordPress. When I upload a picture that is vertical, the image doesn’t show up (this might be happening to you with the one first image). This seemed to have happened with the update that had occurred around that time. Suddenly, every vertical photo uploaded would come out blank in my blog posts. It took a lot of research and testing to figure out that if re-uploaded the image, it would then work.

More recently, I came across the added issue that if I uploaded the original file from my phone, it doesn’t have the correct orientation and instead shows horizontally, as seen below. So now I have to open the image in Paint*, save it, then it will recognize it as a vertical image (shown on the left, if you can see it). What a nightmare! Strangely enough, if you are on an iPhone, you’d see the below image the proper way, but on a laptop browser and on an Android device it’s horizontal. Yet even odder, on an iPad, it tries to show vertically, but the image is stretched out to fit horizontal dimensions.

sample of broken vertical image that does not rotate properly

So to ensure images show proper orientation across devices means I need to edit the photo before re-uploading to WP, using an image editing program like Paint or Photoshop*. It doesn’t seem to help if I rotate the image first, I usually still need to do the replace media option. And literally all I’m doing in Paint is saving it so that whatever EXIF metadata WP needs gets translated through properly and allows images to show up vertically, as they should. I guess however Apple encodes that data is incompatible with the way WordPress reads/handles the info. For now it’s working, but if things act up again I’ll look into plugins like the iOS images fixer or the Image Rotation Fixer, both of which look like promising solutions.

Additionally, I ran into issues when I was trying to edit a vertical video. Any program I opened it up in would put those awful black bars on the sides so that it ultimately took up the space of a horizontal video. I wanted a final output that would keep the vertical orientation, making it a skinny little thing. All the searching in the world only seemed to lead me to tutorials on how to change the black bars to some background, but none actually addressed my issue.

In iMovie on my mobile devices, it would crop my video to a square. I’d shrink it down so the whole thing showed, but those black bars would come to haunt me. I tried rotating it so it fit the horizontal perfectly, make my edits, save it, then try rotating it, but again: ugly black bars inserted. So ultimately I gave up on such an endeavor, but these experiences leave me wanting so much more when it comes to media editing and rendering.

You’d think in this day and age of technology that they would have figured this out by now. Why is it still such a troublesome issue?

 

*Thanks to a comment on this thread for helping me figure out that solution.

I’ve found the only way to consistently see images with proper orientation on all devices is to edit the photo before uploading to WP in an image editing program like Photoshop. – Cindy Otty

On My Mind, episode 11: summer plans

laelene Posted in general blog, on my mind,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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I don’t do a lot of journal entry type posts here, but there are some things going on that I just wanted to share. Sometimes there is no specific topic; it’s just about life in general.

This weekend, I was very excited to get a shipment notification from Baubax, which I backed on Kickstarter back in September. I had hoped to get it in time for Thanksgiving. So much for that! They originally anticipated being able to get them completed by November, but their campaign exploded way beyond they ever expected. The product is a travel jacket, which they designed 4 of. I chose the red bomber jacket because it seemed like a nice balance between dressy and casual. I hope it fits me well!!

Panda and I have been looking for someone to rent a room in our home. His organization has interns that will be coming next month and they always need a place to stay. There are a few students we’ve considered and I look forward to finalizing details. We’re happy to earn some extra money to help fund my MBA. I’ll be leaving halfway through their stay to get ready for my program. Things are going to be crazy the next couple of months! Maybe in the future we can consider listing a room on Airbnb.

Panda got the Whole Dang Thang, which included fried fish, scallops, gator, calamari, shrimp and more.

Panda got the Whole Dang Thang, which included fried fish, scallops, gator, calamari, shrimp and more.

About a month ago, Panda and I went out to dinner with Calavera for cajun seafood. As I was cracking away at my crab legs, I didn’t realize I was weakening part of my tooth and on the drive home, I noticed that my tooth had chipped. Prior to that, I had noticed a tiny little indentation along the bottom of the tooth, so it must have fractured along that groove. I needed a teeth cleaning anyway, so I scheduled a dental appointment and was told I should get a crown. Since dental procedures are expensive in the US and I plan on going to China this summer, I decided to wait until I go there to get it done. In the mean while, I look silly sometimes with what looks like a gap in my teeth that then shows itself as a missing chunk. At least a gap would look normal!

Now that I know what program I’ll be attending in the fall, it’s all about getting to know what they have to offer. I received a call from an MBA Ambassador today, but I was working and then wasn’t able to reach her later. I’m compiling questions about the program, life in general, and other things to know before I start school. There are four more people I should reach out to (two friends and two ambassadors, one who interviewed me). I think I’ll learn a lot at Admit Weekend next week and I can’t wait to start meeting people, learning, and thinking about what I’ll do. All this looking to the future has me distracted from what I should focus on, but I’m still making good progress at work. Still, I’m itching to train someone up and start handing things off, though it looks like that won’t happen for another month.

I’ve always been interested in helping uncover resources and make them more readily available, so I created an unofficial employee handbook using Trello. Tomorrow I get to train a new girl on it for the very first time! I can’t wait to see what she thinks, get feedback, and hone it into a lasting legacy that I will leave here. I’ve got quite a few projects that I hope will continue to live on when I’ve moved on. I know that our use of Slack will certainly be one of those.

There are so many things buzzing around in my head these days. With my obsession with Trello, I’ve put together various boards to help me track everything I should be doing. Now I just need to get better at checking them… 😛

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