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

CastAway

Once upon a time…. In a forest, in the middle of the woods…. Wait wrong story. That’s every campfire I ever sat at as a kid.

This story starts in 2006. When I went through a relatively major life event in the form of a break up. One of those “well, crap… Now what?!?” kind of new career, new country, what-in-the-heck-do-I-want-to-do self-discovery phases. Where people talk about windows and doors. And they’re opening and closing…….. Or something like that. Yet all you see is a crapsammich.

And in going through that hot mess, I got some of the best advice of my life. From my dad.

“Watch CastAway. And pay attention to what Tom Hanks says after he’s rescued.”

wtf does Tom Hanks have anything to do with this, dad????

Turns out; everything.

I couldn’t see it then, you rarely ever do, but hind sight really is 20/20!

And that one bit of advice snowballed into a mentality that has stuck with me ever since. It was the open window.

The ability to keep breathing, even when you have no pressing reason to do so or idea why, has been a life changer. It’s made me happier. Reduced stress immensely. And has helped me deal with the unexpected, new, and (many times) shitty parts of life like I never thought possible. Because I’ve learned to embrace the fact that it’ll all make sense later.

And today, because I devoured that crapsammich, the most unplanned and gloriously perfect part of my life just arrived in Singapore (after 48 days apart) to celebrate 6 years since we met randomly at Britt’s Pub in Minneapolis.

So try not to lose sleep over the crappy parts. Try and see the open windows. But even if you can’t, just keep breathing.

It’s *so* worth it once you get there.

20140704-071715-26235064.jpg

“I know what I have to do. Just keep breathing. Tomorrow the sun will rise and you never know what the tide will bring in.” ~ Tom Hanks

Superhuman

bionic [bī än′ik]
adjective

1. Of or relating to bionics.
2. Having anatomical structures or physiological processes that are replaced or enhanced by electronic or mechanical components.
3. Having extraordinary strength, powers, or capabilities; superhuman.

First of all. And I repeat: superhuman.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, we can officially celebrate the exactly 2 month anniversary of turning this pull up fall:

20140626-164130-60090426.jpg

Into my new superhuman arm!

20140626-164202-60122676.jpg

Yes, today is 2 months post foreign country surgery. And while it’s all cool be bionic and I’ve gotten over my relatively suicidal looking scar, it’s even cooler to realize how much different today would be had I opted for the 8 wk, we’ll hope it heals correctly, cast method originally suggested.

Little tidbit: Never be afraid to your own health care. Ask questions. Get 2nd opinions. Do your own research.

Surgical care in Singapore was a great choice. And it was a brilliant solution and collaboration of science and nature.

And I now confirm that choice as the right one in a few ways:
1. I was immobile (catered to by a wonderful woman – MH!) for only a few days; even traveling to Taiwan for work 6 days after surgery.
2. I was given nothing but an oversized bandaid and some antibiotics/painkillers to wait for the stitches to heal. Amazing.
3. No cast = No shrink wrapped arm to shower. FTW!
4. I got to work with a surgeon, physio, acupuncturist, chiropractor, and masseuse to collectively heal. And no one gawked at my using the others. As it should be.
5. I have 57% of my flexibility back. And graduated to 1 PT session/wk.

And most awesome is that I’m already back to 6 mi runs, 40# power cleans, double-unders, and even ring pulls working my way back to full on pull-ups!!!

Piece of advice: when given 2 options… You will rarely regret the “take action” option.

I don’t for a second.

The cure of the part should not be attempted without the cure of the whole. ~Plato

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. 

20140704-230742-83262668.jpg  

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

20140704-231212-83532085.jpg
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!

20140625-194033-70833019.jpg

“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…

20140625-195033-71433374.jpg

In the rain…

20140625-195034-71434971.jpg

To the Jing’an Temple…

20140625-195036-71436016.jpg

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

20140625-195037-71437008.jpg

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!

20140626-095710-35830673.jpg

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?

20140626-055737-21457750.jpg

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:

20140626-055931-21571884.jpg

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!

20140626-060101-21661663.jpg

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

20140626-094951-35391213.jpg

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.

20140617-155132-57092091.jpg

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.

20140613-172418-62658011.jpg
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!

20140613-170925-61765542.jpg

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

In case of emergency, break glass.

Everyone has had *that* day.

Why is he yelling?
What is that smell?
How on Earth do the three of you think were all going to fit through this A330 aisle together?!?

While for most people that won’t have anything to do with your average business meeting or the sweet sweet aroma of durian, some of us might call that day: a random Tuesday.

And sometimes the only thing that will fix *that* day is *that* place. I thank my parents for mine. I was raised on ‘The Water’…

After a long day at the office, a glass of Malbec & 52nd floor view of Indonesia tends to do the trick.

20140531-155545-57345756.jpg

And following a week in China, Brisbane feels like Heaven.

20140531-155800-57480733.jpg

So after you’ve figured out what can cure an emergency, I highly encourage breaking the glass the next time *that* days shows up – even for 5 selfishly worth it minutes. Because a 6am Monday morning meeting with a latte and the sunrise makes for one hell of a week!!!

20140531-155037-57037240.jpg

“The cure for everything is salt water; tears, sweat, or the sea.” ~Isak Dinesen

Where to now?

If I’ve learned anything in the last 31 years, it’s that making plans is both crucial… and futile. And I don’t mean that in an Eeyore don’t-bother kind of way. I just mean that in a you-better-not-freak-out-when-life-doesn’t-go-as-planned kind of way.

Because it usually turns out so much better!

15 years ago, I thought MI was a far away and exotic place to move to. I’ve since lived in 7 cities in 4 countries, and am on the verge of needing more passport pages. Life turned out so much better than I planned.

8 years ago I graduated with both engineering and business degrees. And am now working on strategic development for a new insurance market for all of Austrailasia for a Fortune 50 company. Hadn’t planned on that one either.

1 year ago we celebrated purchasing our first home in TN. This week I’m finally getting unpacked and moved into a new 52nd floor condo in Singapore!

There’s a lot in those years that took some planning… like travel logistics to make sure you don’t get lost in some foreign new country or saving time to study and get a degree in between pitchers of long islands. (sorry mom!)
But all of the exciting parts came from embracing the unexpected and new and different and saying ‘shit… sure! why not?’ 🙂

This blog, the one that I’d planned on starting 4 months ago when I first moved, is for those parts. The new and exciting ones.

And it starts today.

Maybe because that whole better late than never rule applies, but maybe also because I leave for a work trip to Macau and Brisbane/Gold Coast in the morning!

Dear self – make time for something new and awesome this week! Thanks.