Balinesian Backpacking Babies

Bali; tropical honeymoon destination and island oasis for surfing and yoga retreats.

…or ya know… The bucket list must-do of hiking up an active volcano with a 2 and 22 month old to watch the sunrise! Obviously.

But packing was quite different than what I originally envisioned when I thought of visiting Bali… Obviously making sure we had our passports, flip flops, and sunnies was as expected. But due to delays in life and a healthy dose of Zika floating around SEA (South East Asia), by the time we got around to booking the trip, we swapped out the surf board for trekking poles and the yoga mat for diapers and Peppa Pig pajamas.


And once Nana arrived, it was off to the airport we went for our way-too-fast 48 hr tropical escape from the big city.

Monday was spent lounging at the infinity pool with our much awaited fufu drinks and a few hours exploring the local market. And what a market. Asian markets in general are well worth exploration…. But Let. Me. Tell. You. Nothing says Bali quite like a bouquet of huge wooden……… bottle openers. I’m serious – those things were EVERYWHERE!

After an early bedtime, our day 2 alarm was set for 2am, where we would head off to spend the day with our (highly recommended) private driver and guide for only $150 USD.

We were a bit conflicted as to what to wear for the hike. Because reviews from Singaporeans made you expect something akin to Denali in December, but others did the thing in flip flops??! After doing it ourselves, our attire recommendation is to realise you’re climbing an active volcano for about 3-4km distance and 1000m elevation each way. You’ll slip and fall a lot less with hiking or trail shoes of some kind. As for the temp to workout attire, we were all pretty comfortable in shorts/capris, a short sleeve shirt, and light (read: fall) and wind proof jacket or pullover for at the top. Or when in doubt, a fleece blanket, Crocs and your favourite Peppa jammies will do. (Mom of the Year forgot kid socks though, so her feet also got wrapped in our buffs.)

It was a bit foggy the morning we went up, but still absolutely breathtaking. As was the view from where we had breakfast afterwards (top photo) looking back at the peak. The crater (2 lower photos) is riddled with stray dogs and monkeys ready to dig through your bags or jump on your head during selfies. So we held kids close, smiled quick, and had trekking poles at the ready for batting practice if needed (only once), and let the less informed tourists take their pictures while actually holding or touching the raccoons of Asia. In case no one ever told you…. Macaques are not cute. They’re annoying and disease ridden. 

Total trip was 2:30am – pickup | 4am – start | 6:30am – summit | 7:30am – start decent | 11am – finish! 

Despite having sunlight in our favour, going down was harder and slower than going up. The misty rain made things a bit slippery, had to pause for a few trail side diaper changes, and navigated a detour due to trees down over the original return path. But overall, an excursion well worth it that I’m sure our guide had no expectation of finishing when the 5 of us crawled out of the van that morning.

After breakkie with a view, we made it back to our hotel, found some rendang for lunch, and headed off to the airport for home. Of all the places we’ve visited in three years so far, Bali is up there on the must-do-again-before-we-leave list. What a fun and fast few days. And all the better to spend it with my mom, better half, and two munchkins. 😍

“My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.” ~Aldous Huxley

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46 hrs can make all the difference in the world. Literally. 

Thus begins a 46 hour commute home. PEK – SIN – NRT – ORD – ATW. 

Friday morning. August 1st. 10am. Beijing, China. 

Time to leave the office and head for the airport.

It was actually a pretty nice day; even used my sunglasses as the smog was exceptionally bright that day. 

  

Some wonder how I do it. Here are a few of my secrets…. 

Rule #1: Seats matter.
Most flights these days have a version of Economy Plus. ~$100 in exchange for 5 extra inches of legroom. Pay this. It is worth it! 

I’m only 5’6″ so I can actually fit in regular seats pretty comfortably, but that extra dough usually scares most people away so they end up cramped back in steerage. What this means for me on many flights is all 3 seats to myself. (or atleast that middle one open) And the  extra pillows and blankets pad my 2nd class bed decently enough so it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get some actual lay-down sleep on the long haul. 

Rule #2: Timing of naps and meals.
As soon as you push back from the gate, set your watch to the time of where you’re going. And start living on that time!

This can help you avoid the craptastic and dreaded jet lag for the most part when switching major time zones.

Example: NRT – ORD departs at 4pm Japan time. Which is actually 2am in Chicago. We should be sleeping; not being served “the chicken or the steak”!
So while the flight attendants seem to think everyone needs to eat immediately, insider tip…. You can go ask for your meal later (say around 7-9am) when it makes more sense for your body to eat. They have warmers too that you can ask to use if it’s not hot anymore. I once had someone tell me that ‘but it won’t be as good when it’s not fresh!’  Uhhhhh…. It’s airplane food. It’s not good to begin with. Get over it or pack your own lunch. 

Rule #3: Noise canceling headphones and an eye mask.
This is how you block out the beverage cart and cabin lights at “3am”. Any questions?
I like my Bose QC15s (and they have a new model QC20; also good and more compact); comfy enough to lay on, batteries last forever and worth every penny. 

Rule #4: “Larger items should be placed in the overhead bin, and small items under the seat in front of you”

The overhead bag should be for the things you need at the airport but maybe not on the flight; like souvenirs or a change of undies for example. Bird bathing is so much easier in the airport bathroom so if you don’t really need it at 30k ft there’s no need to be “that guy” rummaging around in the overhead bins. 

Change into your compressions socks before boarding. Read: make sure you bring compression socks; they help with circulation for when you’re immobile for such a long time. 

The small bag under your seat (I have an awesome pack and love it)

Should be for the things your use on the long flight; computer, books, water bottle, headphones, light jacket, healthy snacks and neck pillow. Some favorite TSA allowed snacks include: oranges, grapes, cut up celery or carrots, chocolate dusted almonds, Snack bars of some kind (I like Attain, Simply Fit or Lara Bars), and water enhancers with electrolytes (I like Sustain) or Vitamin C (Again, my preference is Activate). 

P.S. Never a bad idea to down extra vitamin C when navigating the giant petri dish that is a public airport. 

P.P.S. I don’t recommend ever bringing a full jar of peanut butter through Hong Kong. They’re not a fan. story for another time…..

Rule #5: Plane choice matters. Maybe this should be rule one, since you should note it when booking, but in case you missed this step, be prepared. 

Airlines upgrade their fleet just like any other industry. So what kind of plane you get makes a difference. Watch out for the transpacific 747. Some are upgraded to personal entertainment; some still make everyone share that 1 screen up top. Yes, I know….. 1st world problem. But it’s annoying to constantly miss the first 10 minutes of whatever movie they’re playing. If your flight is one of the screen sharing type, be sure to load up on extra batteries for your entertainment device(s).

Rule #6: Plane clothes matter. Wear something comfortable. These pants are my favorite and are absolutely worth it.

I will never understand how or why business men do the suit thing on long flights. The flight attendants don’t care how fancy you look and *how* can that be comfortable to sleep in?!? 

Rule #7: Layover timing. Sometimes the 6+ hour layover can be better than the 1 hour one. 

1) You don’t chance missing your flight and never have to do the mad dash to your next gate. 

2) You can get out of the airport and stretch your legs! Sometimes even see friends in the area. 

3) After a week of Chinese food, Chipotle never tasted so good. 

  

And then 46 intentionally planned hours later…

Saturday evening. August 2nd. 7pm. Home Sweet Home, USA!

  

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.  ~Susan Heller

Planes, trains, and automobiles. But mostly trains.

Being American, I’m very familiar with the modern vehicle. Being a traveling rep, I’ve also become a self-proclaimed expert of air travel. And now, living in Asia, it’s time for the trifecta – trains! 

Most days, this is my commute to work…

52 floor elevator ride.
Catch the 7am sunrise over the MBS before heading underground to the MRT. 

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Buy latte.
Jump on the green line.
Wait to drink latte because there’s this…

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Alight at Boon Lay Station.  Finally drink latte.
Catch company bus last few km to work.

Takes about 45 minutes door to door. And most Singaporeans think I’m nuts for living so far from work!

But I don’t mind it at all.

I spend time skyping family, working on my part time gig, or catching up on podcasts and blog posts. 🙂  Plus it gives me a quick nap or few minutes to decompress before getting home. 

But 2 weeks ago I was in China and got to experience some way cooler trains than they have here in Singapore!!

The best part about train travel, is that I’ve yet to end up 10 kinds of lost since it’s relatively the same no matter where on the globe you are. 

Started my day on the bullet train for the 15 minute/50km trek between the city of Kunshan and the Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. And even though I have no idea what most signage means, it’s still easy enough to match the time of departure to the gate I need to be at. 

20140704-230109-82869057.jpg   Upon arrival, I transfer to the Shanghai Subway – line 2 – inclusive of a rainy pitstop at the Jing An Temple. 



And finally the Maglev. This was the shortcut from the Longyang Rd subway stop to the airport. You basically trade 11 slow and steady subway stops for 0-301km/hr in under 2 minutes!

And unfortunately, after much googling, I’ve realized that I can’t post the videos of the Bullet train or Maglev (as I apparently am only using the cheapy-cheap blog option), so you’ll have to settle for this instead:

20140629-184603-67563226.jpg   Very awesome. 

The US really needs to figure out this public transportation thing. It’s pretty great when it works this flawlessly and inexpensively. Bravo, Asia!

The only way of catching a train I ever discovered is to miss the train before.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Chinese lessons

Hello. Thank you.
Hola. Gracias.
Bonjour. Merci.
Guten tag. Danke.
Selamat … Terima Kasih.
G’day. How ya goin’? Cheers mate.

2 of the first, and sometimes the only, words/phrases I try to learn when in a new country because the least I could do is greet and appreciate you in your own language!

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“Ni hao” and “xie xie” are how you spell them in Mandarin. But pronunciation is proving to be an entirely different and new hurdle. As I’ve yet to use them with a stranger without that few second delay until the realization of what I’m actually trying to say.

I have to think it’s our version of deciphering “15” vs “50” or “sank you!” in the right accent in ‘Merican. Or worse – someone using the wrong version of their/there/they’re… gasp! Right?

So on top my language lessons in China, I also get to learn new customs. Just basic nuances you never notice in daily life until they’re different. The biggest unexpected ones this week include:

1. They honk. A lot. Which is good, because 2 particularly vigilant cab driver horns saved us from clueless bus and truck drivers.

2. Bentley is to China like ambulance is to the US. You in a hurry and need a path through traffic? Get a driver that knows how to be a Bentley chaser!

3. ‘Quite’ is used QUITE a lot here. Actually in Asia in general.

(4 is unlucky. It’s our “unlucky” 13)

5. Asians don’t like to wait for the elevator to close and are just in an inexplicable hurry in general. And eye contact during a 33 floor ride is not standard.

6. Asians chew with their mouths open. A lot. Full on professional business dinner while I hold back childish jokes about see-food! 🙂 But to be fair, they think it’s really weird that I eat boiled eggs with my hands for breakfast. ‘Wow! So much protein!’

7. Just because someone nods and says yes, does not indicate that they agree nor understand you.

1 yes = I heard words
2 yups = I heard all of the words
3 uh-huhs = I understood the words
4 affirmatives= I agree with the words

Or at least that’s what I’ve deduced with some help from my brother.

And last but absolutely not least….

There is a ridiculously beautiful amount of old gorgeous temple meets brand new, biggest city in China, 24 million people culture.

And I did manage to find my way…

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In the rain…

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To the Jing’an Temple…

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With gorgeous Buddhas!! (ok, this might not actually be Buddha, I don’t know, but it was pretty!)

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Needless to say … I’ve got a lot of practice in my future. And many more visits to make. But did get the thumbs up today that Chinese lessons are slated to begin this year!!

讀萬卷書不如行萬裡路
Dú wàn juǎn shū bùrú xíng wànlǐ lù.

“Reading ten thousand books is not as useful as traveling ten thousand miles.”

– Chinese Proverb

What’s for dinner??

After 5 months in Singapore, I’ve gotten better at identifying chicken vs fish when it comes to the cafeteria at work. The food is always pretty good, I’m just glad I don’t have to be the silly foreign girl asking – what is that? – to everything. It’s progress and I’m pretty proud of that.

But to put it on a spectrum… Singapore is “Asia-lite” and China is full on “Asia”. Food is no exception.

My favorite meal over here is steamboat or hot pot. Pick your broth/soup and then boil your favorite spattering of meat and veggies in it til they’re done. Yummo!

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Hungry yet?

But not all meals are created equal. And it’s no surprise that I reverted back to my what is that? trick for lunch today.

Would you dig in?

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The long skinny plate on the left is pig ear
The boiling pot in back is bull frog
The plate to the right with the spattering of greenery with it is cow tendon
Surrounded by other assortments of leafy or otherwise greens and seshuan mushrooms….

I tried them all (I will never think of stretching my tendons after a run the same ever again) but mainly filled up on the shrimp, spicy veggies and these:

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It’s some dish they swore was really good pork. And it was served with this yummy sweet bread, so I stuffed my face with what I convinced myself were bacon sandwiches.

And they were great! I’d chance it again.

But the best part of meals in China is that you can always count on watermelon for dessert!

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And that there will be way too much food for the group to finish.

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Sad part is that no one takes a doggie bag for the mountain of left overs. Oh wait…. I guess I didn’t really want one either.

All the bacon sandwiches were gone.

“My favorite animal is steak.” ~Fran Lebowitz

Complimentary Cabbie

When you arrive at an airport, there will always be a string of gentlemen with varying degrees of professional signs for their passengers. Some get fancy with iPads. Others have a left over 8 1/2 x 11 that they scribbled on the back of. And most of them spell my name wrong.

I did not arrange for one of those guys this trip.

One seemingly helpful enough sign dude realizes I don’t have a ride yet and whisks me over to a desk with a bunch of hotel names above it. But not mine. Within 4 seconds flat, he’s asking if I’m paying cash or credit card and already has my driver and receipt ready to go.

Hmmm…

I’d like to think I’m a rather spontaneous person, but anyone that wants to trade cash for sticking me in a car in a new city where I don’t speak the language gets a second thought.

Side note: ‘Hold on!’ is not a widely recognized phrase while failing to connect to airport wifi to double check logistics.

Off to the information desk I go.

Then, of course, back to the same nameless hotel taxi desk. Where my new helper and my old helper argue and then giggle about something in Chinese. Probably that I was just there and didn’t want to go.

Stupid American girl.

Oh well. New guy charged 100Yuan less (~$16USD) and I’m now in a van on a highway. Presumably heading to my hotel; which I hear is very nice. From them. Damn – I paid too much, didn’t I?

Though good thing I over paid up front as my cabbie might be lost, even though I gave him my sweet coworker provided directions, Beijing Chinese is different from Shanghai Chinese, so you never know. Imagine Louisiana and New York trying to have a conversation. Kinda like that. So he’s on the phone now and keeps saying ‘hotel’ in the form of a question. Let’s hope whomever he’s talking to has a map.

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But he did just tell me ‘yoo ahh berry bu-tiff’ with his much in need of a dentist, teetering between creepy & genuine, old man smile… and then proceeded to hack a spit wad out the window.

So I’ve got that going for me.

Welcome to China!

“It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
~ Ernest Hemingway

48 days

Most of our civilian friends have never had to deal with a relationship gap that crosses state lines for more than a holiday weekend. (Side note: thank you for your service! You know who you are!!)

But with this new job, we made the intentional decision to spend this year focusing on our own jobs, saving as much cash as we can, and planning to see each other about every 4-8 weeks.

Ideal? Absolutely not. Doable? So far! Thanks to the wonderful iWorld of FaceTime. And the part where I’m lucky enough to be dating my best friend.

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I moved to Singapore Jan 26th.
Went back to the States for 2 weeks in March/April.
And he visited here for the first time last month; for the shortest, most gloriously packed week of vacation ever.
We’ve spent 47 whole days together of the 164 so far this year.

And that last trip — for reference — meant 65 hours of travel for only 7 measly jet-lagged yet wonderful days together.

Imagine working for a week and a half straight. But sitting. In coach. On a flying people tube. Being 6’4″.

This can mean only two things; Economy Plus is so worth it and he obviously loves me. 🙂 I win.

So this leg we have to endure just shy of 7 weeks; 48 days.
Roughly the time it takes to drive from New York to Los Angeles.
And back.
14 times.
In a row.
Without rest stops……….

Mom says you can do anything for [insert time period]…. and she’s right. But time passes so much faster when you ignore it and instead focus on the task at hand. [something about a watched pot and boiling… ??]

So we’ve learned to count events, not days. Maybe because it’s a shorter list, maybe because it’s more quantifiable, not sure. But it feels easier. And, frankly, keeps me occupied.

And we’re over half way there………..

So we don’t count the days. We count the things on the to do list. And I have a lot to do before he gets here…
a condo to get moved in to
a 4th (6th) of July party to plan
grocery trips to make
laps to swim
miles to bike & run
…and hit up Macau, Australia & China for work!

But with only three weeks to go, the tickets are booked!!! July 5th, our 6 year anniversary, will be here before we know it!

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I. Can‘t. Wait. Because some people are worth waiting for.

“How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel… extraordinary?” – Marley and Me