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.

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

laelene Posted in general blog
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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

laelene Posted in general blog
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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.

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