Barefoot

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I hate wearing socks and I generally try to avoid wearing shoes as well. This doesn’t seem to be commonly done though, since I often get comments from people when they see me not wearing socks. Is it such an unusual thing to do?

bare feet crossed at ankles sitting atop blanketFor a long time, it wasn’t anything that came up since for the most part of the past decade I’ve been living in climates that don’t get very cold. With flip flops and flats as the common footwear, it’s normal to not see people wearing socks. But now that I’m back in a place with a true winter (and quite a snowy one at that!), people seem to really notice when I take off my uggs and have no socks on. They also seem to notice that I walk around barefoot indoors, which I guess is not something you do in the winter? I’m surprised people have actually commented on it, which I presume means it’s something odd enough for them to say something rather than notice it and wonder to themselves. Well, all you wonderers, I do indeed leave the socks at home and off my feet unless absolutely needed.

In fact, the only time I do wear socks is with sneakers. What about you?

On meanness

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Dear Universe:

Why must there be unkindness in the world? Why are there those people out there who are so selfish and self-absorbed they see nothing else beyond themselves? Why are there those people out there who seem to revel in the suffering of others? Why are there those people out there who put others beneath them?

I’ve had the misfortune of knowing some unsavory people. Kind of like those “mean girls” you hear about. They’re cliquey and make everyone outside of their group feel unwanted and undesirable. They’ll only be nice to you to get something from you (or trick you into thinking they’d changed, only to pull the rug out from under you). They take pleasure out of making fun of people, or at least that seems to be the only type of humor that actually makes them crack a smile.

Or, alternatively, why is there a bit of a mean streak in so many of us? There have been a couple of guys (and a gal or two) I’ve known throughout my life who have been viewed as a bit of an outcast. People would snicker behind their backs about their awkwardness or their strange choice of dress or whatever. They’d giggle to each other about some joke that he (or she) was the butt of. Few people were true friends to these unfortunate souls who didn’t quite fit in. I’d usually be nice enough to them, but I can’t say I embraced them as friends.

I generally try to be kind to people, but I’ve certainly fallen victim to this trap of ego (or whatever it is). There are people I’ve judged, probably unfairly, based on some trait of theirs that may not have defined them the way I let it. But to be consistently that way? To exclude people at every turn? I just don’t understand people like that. It makes me sad that anyone would find pleasure in feeling superior to so many around them. I try to just ignore it, but it’s hard to when I care so much.

I wish we could all be nicer creatures. Life already provides so many ups and downs; what purpose does making it harder for others serve? Oh right, to boost those people’s self-esteem. Selfish. There are those who would say to let it go, let karma take its course. But you know what? Karma doesn’t always get its timing right. Some people never get that kick in the butt they deserve in their lifetime. Life just isn’t fair.

But I sure wish it could be more so.

So hey, if you’re in a good mood, why don’t you make some more stars align and bring out more harmony? Our species could certainly use it.

Sincerely,

~Mary

Grocery shopping

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dozens of inko's tea bottles in small whole foods two-tiered shopping cartThis morning I had a massage scheduled at Massage Envy and when I was done, I decided to swing by Whole Foods to see if any of my drinks were on sale. There are a couple of brands of bottled drinks that I like to get there, but only when they’re on sale so I can combine that with the store’s case discount (buy one case, get 10% off). I was happy to find my favorite bottled tea brand, Inko’s, on sale. I immediately grabbed a dozen each of my go-to flavors: blueberry and white peach. Then, as I was checking the price, wondering what the original price was, I noticed the tags said clearance price. Now per my understanding, when something goes on clearance it’s not coming back. Sooo I tracked down someone who worked there to check and was heartbroken to learn that they are discontinuing this brand from their store.

variety of bottled teas on shelf at store, with large gap where inko's tea flavors are

I emptied quite a bit of the shelf.

Apparently they’d been trying to reorder it but couldn’t seem to get them from the company? Well, whatever the case, I was told that what was on the shelves was all they had and there’d be no more. Upon hearing this, I immediately went to get another dozen drinks, clearing them out of the rest of the blueberry and white peach and also getting some honeydew and original to try. The shelf was about half empty by the time I was done. As I pushed my cart out, the bottles jingled and jangled against each other and I was glad that I checked today.

two pints of ben & jerry's ice cream and two pints of giant brand ice creamThen after dinner tonight, I had a craving for ice cream. Panda mentioned a deal Giant is having where you can get a free pint of Giant’s own brand of ice cream when you buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s their way of having you compare their brand to the brand name (and hopefully adopt their ice cream as your new fav). When we got there, we found that Ben & Jerry’s was on sale, so we decided to both choose our own flavors. We ended up getting 4 pints of ice cream for just $7.18 with tax! Now that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Petit Vour March 2014 review

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My very first Petit Vour box arrived! I like what I see and will keep them around for awhile.

Petit Vour is $15 per box (or as much as $30 for international subscribers) and comes with vegan beauty, skincare, and other personal care products. Boxes are sent monthly with no option to skip. They offer a referral program that earns you points towards free boxes (email contact@petitvour.com to say I referred you if you sign up!).

contents of petit vour march 2014 box with laface lotion, lotus wei serum, icon oil, ncla nail wraps and nail file, and california naturel skincare set

Laface Hydrating & Firming Body Lotion – This applies pretty well, but I’m not really into the scent. My skin does feel really good after applying it and it’s noticably softer and more hydrated. I’d have to use it more to see if there are any firming effects.

Lotus Wei Balancing Serum – Sweet! I’ve had other Lotus Wei products, but not the serum yet and I love serums. This scent is very calming and it’s supposed to promote inner peace. It applies a bit greasy, but very little goes a long way and I just kept rubbing it in. There’s a slightly cooling sensation on more delicate skin.

I.C.O.N. India Oil – Oh wow, this smells nice. There’s something very cultural feeling about it and I enjoyed getting the dryness out of my hair. I’ll have to make more use of this during the rest of these dry months. Feels great!

NCLA Nail Wraps & nail file – Well, these are… bold. I’ve never tried nail wraps before, so I sure hope I can apply them ok. I definitely appreciate getting the nail file too, since I don’t usually use them and would not have access to one. I think I’ll have fun with these even if they’re totally not my style. I never knew you’re supposed to apply clear nail polish first! Good thing I read the instructions.

California Naturel Skincare Set – The packaging on this is super cool, but then it opens to three little samples. Still pretty cool, but I thought it might be more exciting. There’s a cleansing gel, balancing complex, and nourishing cream. The gel is for all skin types and cleansed pretty well. Didn’t notice anything particularly different about it. The complex is for combination to oily skin and it immediately helped with my oily face. It’s quite watery but I love it! Finally, the cream is for dry to normal skin and I wasn’t a huge fan of the scent. Pretty good at moisturizing though.

What do you think of this box?

[This post mentions a referral program. Signing up and emailing contact@petitvour.com to say I referred you 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!]

Ridiculous things he does

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Upon approaching a tight right turn: “Is this the turn?” *slows down slightly, but nowhere near enough to clear the turn*

“Oh, missed it.” *keeps going* (this happened multiple times, same turn)

 

Upon reaching the doors of a restaurant, tries to open the left door. It’s locked and I open the right side door. The next time, he does it again. The third time… I warn him, but upon exiting, he tries to use that door again!

 

Upon seeing an ambulance approaching behind his car, he drives on the right lane until it’s getting close and then gets into the left lane. The ambulance is like 75 feet behind us as I get him to quickly return to the right lane and slow down/pull over a bit.

 

red emergency lights outside fire stationUpon driving down a road where a blinking yellow light became solid, it doesn’t phase him. As it turns red, I comment on stopping. He stops just in time, as an ambulance and firetruck rush out of the fire station. He didn’t even know the emergency light was a legitimate signal.

Every time, these things make me roll my eyes and go “ai yah” to myself. Hehe.

Flight fear

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The past two days have been a bit of insanity, sometimes even bordering harrowing. My travels started Tuesday around 3 am EST (3 pm in China). I got to the Beijing Airport for my flight at 5:30 and arrived in Chicago about 13 hours later. Along the way, I experienced possibly the worst bout of turbulence that I’ve ever been through. The shaking of it made me run through scenarios: the plane wing breaking off (could the pilot still keep us somewhat upright?), falling from the sky (how should I brace for impact?), surviving the crash and attempting to stay warm and alive on the ground (how many layers of clothes could I put on?)… yeah, I’m a little freaked out from the Malaysia missing aircraft mystery and thinking of all kinds of awful possibilities.

view over arctic landscape from plane window

Somewhere over the arctic regions we got hit by some major turbulence.

In Chicago, I waited three hours to board the plane to Dulles and made it back slightly nauseous, but ok. We went home for a brief break and I slept three hours before crawling up just before 5 am to go back to IAD. This time I took a flight back to O’Hare to transfer to Louisville. We landed in some pretty fresh snow powder and then I watched as my 9:30 CST flight got delayed to 10:45, then 12, then 12:15, then 12:30, then 12:45…

plane landing on snow from Mary Qin on Vimeo.

And as I waited, nearly all the flights turned to delayed or cancelled. I got in touch with the partners I was going to visit and then sat back, hoping I’d still make it out in time. I finally got to Louisville at 3:30, checked out my rental car, and made it to the office at 4. I had booked a flight out at 5, but when I arrived I saw it’d been delayed until 6, so that gave me some time. I met with a few people before hightailing it back at 5. I returned the car and asked about my flight, which was going to Cleveland (now at 6:20). The delay would cause me to miss my connection, but luckily for me, an afternoon flight straight to Dulles was delayed by 4 hours and scheduled to leave at 7. I went to wait for that flight and made it back to Northern Virginia by 9:30.

fluffy cloud coverage with pastel colors in sky

Getting up in the sky, things were beautiful.

vibrant colors of fading sunset over cloud coverage

The sun set and we continued in the darkness.

Our approach to the runway turned out to be one of the most nerve-wracking 25 minutes of my life. We made a giant loop around the airport as we slowly came down, tilting left and right, shaking a bit, and making me feel like I’d developed motion sickness. I actually had to grip the hand rest to steady myself a bit and feel more secure in my seat. Once again, I thought about ways to survive falling out of the sky. I even imagined crash landing on the freeway or breaking our fall in a forest. I did not feel well! It was quite the series of flights giving me plenty of scares. I usually feel really secure on a plane, but this time around I was nervous leg after leg. I’m ready to stay grounded for awhile.

fractured light on scratched up window of plane

Finally on the ground, the sparkles of lights got fractured by the scratches on the window. Rather pretty.

The one I didn’t know

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It came as quite a shock to me.

My grandmother had given me a stack of photos to share with my mom and as I flipped through the oldest ones, I found myself staring face to face with a joyous man. Earlier pictures had shown him as a young man in black and white, but this picture… it was thirty years later, just months after I was born. And suddenly it struck me that this was my grandfather, the grandfather I had one vague (possibly fake) memory of. The one who saw me off when I was three and a half, headed to a great new world to join my parents in Pennsylvania, and never saw me again.

grandmother holding granddaughter and grandfather holding on to grandson

Hi gramps. That’s grandma holding me and grandpa holding onto my cousin.

I sat there absorbing the shock as I realized… I never really knew what he looked like. Here I am 28 years old; how did I get to this age without ever knowing his face? Of course I must have known him briefly when I was a baby, but I have no memories of that. The one fleeting memory I think I have was when I was leaving. He sent down a basket from the second floor, I think with something we had forgotten. He was alive when I was born and still alive when I left China for America as a toddler. Maybe I could have known him then. Now that I think of it, was the reason that my grandmother was the only one who came to visit us at Penn State because he had already died? I had no impression of time back then. I vaguely remember watching my parents receiving the news when I was around 5 or 6. Phone calls to and from China were a rare commodity. We couldn’t afford long distance, so it was a pretty big deal. The news wasn’t good – a heart attack. And just like that, any hope of knowing grandpa was gone.

What happened after that? It’s all a blur to me. All I know is that when I was almost too young to remember, my grandfather passed away and I never got a chance to really build memories with him. It was about four years later that I first returned to China again, long after he was gone. In my family, we don’t really talk about the past, so I never asked about him. I didn’t even know who to talk to and I figured I’d learn more over time. Many years ago, my mother took me to his grave. I remember taking a bus far away from the city, to a neat cemetery lined with headstones. I don’t know how my mom made her way to his headstone through the long rows, but I think she had a map. Since then, I haven’t been back. Next time I’m taking notes so I can find it again (though I think that year I actually wrote down some notes in my journal, if I can dig it up).

black and white photograph of young chinese couple

My maternal grandparents in 1956, probably soon after they got married.

Now that I actually think of it, it’s so very sad that I let all this time go by without trying to know him. I had no idea there were any pictures of him. We don’t have many pictures from the 80′s and earlier, so I thought I’d seen them all. But now that these have surfaced, I’m realizing that I could have known his face all this time. This smiling man who looks so kind, so amicable. I wish I knew what his personality was like, what he sounded like. I know that he was an excellent student and accomplished professional, but what about home life? Was he a good cook? Did he enjoy playing chess? Did he love animals too? I wonder if I got my smile from him, and perhaps my penchant for reading as a child. Now that I have a face to put with this fuzzy idea of my grandfather, his death seems so much more real. I’ll have to figure out when the 30th anniversary of his death is, so I can make it out to see him.

 

Bargaining at Silk Street Market

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Visitors to Beijing will probably all be familiar with the Silk and Pearl Market known as the Silk Street Market. It has six floors of shopping, grouped into types. Towards the very top you’ll find the nice fancy jewelers with precious stones and metals. There’s the electronics floor, filled with phone and tablet accessories, headphones, etc. Then are the softer goods, like blankets, cloth, and clothing. Continuing on down you’ll find purses, wallets, and shoes. Somewhere along the way you’ll encounter luggage stalls too. And of course there are plenty of fun little Chinese trinkets and gift items.

stalls of vendors at silk street market in beijing with glass wallsBargaining at the Silk Street Market is pretty much expected (except for food you eat while there). I went there today with the goal of getting Panda a new wallet (or two) and checking out anything I might want for myself. You can get to the market from subway line number 1 (the red line). Go to exit A and up the escalators to find yourself in one corner of the building that houses the market. I like to start at the top and work my way down, so I strolled through some nicer stalls first. Eventually I made my way down to my real goal on level B1: the purses and wallets. The majority were for women, but I found a stall with mostly men’s leather goods and got to work.

My style of bargaining starts with first seeing how much I actually like what they have. After all, it’s no use to bargain for something I don’t really want and won’t be pleased with. So the stall attendant stares at me while I browse through a ton of their items. If I’m not seeing what I like, I’ll ask them if they have it. In this case, none of the wallets I was looking at had a little pouch for coins, so I asked and one of the ladies went to the back to find me some. She came back with four designs, of which two were to my liking. I asked how they were sold and was told ¥460 for one. Err, what?! That’s about $75!! I mean, I can go to Marshall’s or TJ Maxx and get a nice wallet for less than a third of that price.

men's leather wallets in brown and black from silk street marketThese attendants like to ask you what your price is. I like to go lower than I’d actually want it for to leave some room, and also remain as vague as possible at first. I said I came out only expecting to spend in the 10′s (as in not going into triple-digit territory). I kept looking and when I found blemishes, the attendant cleaned them off. There was one corner that was missing a piece, so she went to get a replacement one, but I didn’t like it as much (no more identical ones left). At these places you can usually get an item for less than 20-25% of the original asking price (often as low as 8-10%). So I figured, maybe I can get both for less than ¥100. I started by saying I only wanted to spend ¥50. She lowered the price into the 200′s. Still not good enough – I thought a bit, looked a bit, and decided I’d go with ¥80 (though I was considering saying ¥60). As she protested, I told her nevermind and walked away. As I walked off, she hollered at me to come back to talk and eventually (about two stalls away), I heard her say ok. I promptly turned around and I got my two wallets for ¥80 total – just $13!! If my mom was there, she could probably get both for ¥50, but alas, I’m still happy with my purchase.

Did I get the best deal? Probably not, but I certainly did pretty well. I think part of it might have been because the attendant could tell I’m a “??” (overseas Chinese). I never actually confirmed with her (once again, remaining vague with these people is usually a good strategy), but she could tell from my mannerisms, presence, and/or skin. She said she had a feeling and that my skin was different (presumably not white enough, since mainland Chinese women like to lighten their skin tone). I’m still amazed at how they know, but those people at the Silk Street Market… they always know. After all that interaction with people, I’m sure they’re excellent at reading us all.

cup of chinese frozen yogurt with fruit toppingsI then continued on to another stall, where I saw another men’s wallet, a women’s wallet clutch, and a toiletry bag I liked. When I tried to get all three for ¥100, the attendant started to put everything back in its place. That’s when I knew I was too low for them to even bother with me. No biggie, I didn’t want or need any of those three items anyway. So I kept going and eventually made my way to another floor to explore. When I came across a frozen yogurt stand, I couldn’t resist. I was thirsty anyway and wanted something refreshing. I got chocolate chips, watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, and peach jam drizzle on it. I like the Chinese version of frozen yogurt, which is more tart and dense. Some of the American ones are too sweet and soft for my taste.

silk market and pearl market plastic bagAs I carried my food, I continued on and went through a couple more purse/wallet stalls. In one of the larger ones, I saw some that I liked. They were a material resembling patent leather and had a fun, bold Asian-inspired logo on them. Unfortunately the attendant bargaining with me lost interest after I said ¥50 and she came down to ¥200. I guess I was too low again, so I walked away, hoping to find the design in another stall. I didn’t see it anywhere else and my back had started to hurt, so I decided to come home. I did get the one thing I absolutely wanted from there, but I’m considering asking my mom to go back before she leaves Beijing to get that wallet for me.

Oh, and according to the bag, apparently the three things to do in Beijing are: 1. Climb the Great Wall, 2. Eat Peking duck, and 3. Do shopping at Silk Market. I’ve done them all, so I must be properly acquainted with the city then!

Paying respects

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In modern China, you’ll find an eclectic mix of old traditions and new lifestyles. Even as they build skyscraper after skyscraper, tucked in between those giant buildings are tiny little ones from ancient times. And even as buildings get built and land gets cleared, you might notice many large bumps of dirt scattered around. Those are the graves of our ancestors, preserved through time as the world around it changes.

It’s been 10 years since my paternal grandmother died, so our family arranged a get-together to honor her and pay our respects at her grave site. An assortment of cousins, aunts, and uncles came. Most are my grandma and grandpa’s nieces and nephews (my dad’s cousins) and their families. Our extended family branches out in ways I don’t even know and can hardly keep track of, but all that matters is that everyone who came is family.

paying respects burning chinese paper money at ancestor's dirt mound grave siteThe day started off by meeting up at my grandpa’s. Around 10:30, the male lineage of the family (my grandpa’s sons and families plus his brother’s families) went over to my great-grandparents’ grave. Through the winding streets of the city, down an alleyway, and into a small area next to homes rising around it… there you’ll find a little locked door that leads to a walled-off area just big enough for the large dirt mound that covers my dad’s grandparents. A loud burst of firecrackers set things off to announce our arrival. My uncle set up the fire and we put in stack after stack of yellow paper representing money. Ashes rose up from the flames, gently carried away by the breeze as he spoke to our ancestors, telling them who was there and that we would be visiting my grandmother afterwards. We even offered them some (fake) US dollars, burning them to send them up to the heavens for my great-grandparents to use. My uncle kow towed on behalf of all of us and we let the fire die. This was my first time visiting this grave site and I’m glad it’s been preserved despite the growth around us.

long trail of people making way through crop fields to visit grave siteWe then went out to my grandmother’s grave and the rest of the family met us there. We had 12 cars in total, carrying around 50 people. For each who could make it, there were many more who couldn’t, but it was a really good showing. My grandma is buried out in the middle of wheat fields, in a spot chosen for good feng shui. I’m not sure exactly how they know that that particular mound is hers, but the family knows.

rows of fresh green wheat crops in winter

This is what wheat looks like in winter? I never knew.

setting up dirt mound grave with flowers, picture, and offerings

Upon arrival, we got to work setting up the site with flowers, a picture, and food offerings.

preparing paper money for burning at grave

Some of us working on getting the paper money offerings ready so they’d burn easier.

extended family gathering at grave site for memorial

As the fire got started, we all gathered around.

setting off fireworks at grave site to announce arrival

A massive round of fireworks crackled in the air and set off the proceedings.

offering stacks of paper money to fire at grave

Some of the money was folded into fun shapes.

fire burning fierce with new shiny paper money offerings

The foil money really fueled the fire!

giant pile of paper money burning in front of dirt mound grave site

The fire burning at my grandma’s grave, letting her know we were there and sending up offerings.

stoking large pile of burning paper at grave site

People took turns stoking the fire and making sure everything got burnt.

kow towing at grave site with smouldering ashes of burning paper

After an uncle read my grandpa’s letter to grandma, we all took turns kow towing and talking to her.

Switching sides

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Nearly five years ago, I was working in Singapore when one day I decided that I should use my left thumb to type on the space bar. After all, it wasn’t getting much use and there was a spot on the right half of my space bar that was getting worn out and shiny from all the use. Might as well even it out a bit, right? I started to train myself to use my left thumb for the next couple of weeks. At first, it really slowed me down – not only did I have to think about putting my left thumb down, I had to think about stopping my right one from coming down. All of this thinking took time, especially if I went at my normal pace typing, since my right thumb would come pounding down before my left even had a chance to react.

hands on keyboard typing with left thumb as primary on space barIt took about two weeks for it to become a pretty normal adjustment for my body. I was a lot faster and pretty much typed like I had before again. By one month in, it was complete second nature to me and I didn’t even think of it. Five years down the line, I sometimes remember that I started off typing with my right thumb, but it’s pretty much a distant memory to me. I’m trying it now and I find that it slows me down and I have to stop quite a bit more. I also create more typos the moment I try to speed up. Perhaps my next challenge should be to use both thumbs, either at the same time or alternating. I like to force my brain to rewire some habits every now and then, to keep it from automating the same habits. Recently I’ve been trying to brush my teeth with my opposite (in my case, right) hand and it’s been challenging. I just don’t hold the toothbrush as well with my non-dominant hand! Still, switching over could be nice to balance out my sides, so I’ll try it.

Have you ever attempted to switch sides on a habit? You should give it a shot!

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