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October 21 – October 27: New City, New Rules

Well, I’ve left Japan, BUT not without a little drama.

Turns out Osaka has more than one airport (take note!). So, waking up at 5 am (four hours before your flight) and following the subway signs to “Osaka Airport” is NOT a sure-fire way to end up at the right place. Which, is what happened to me.

At 7am (2 hours before my 9am flight), I discover that Osaka has two airports and I am at the wrong one. Oops. Also, I learn that, while there is a bus that drives between the airports, the ride takes about an hour. Double Oops. Oh! And guess who has just run out of all her yen and if she goes to exchange for more will miss the bus that has just pulled out in front of wrong-airport and will have to wait 30 minutes for the next one? Yeah ….

And this is where my faith in humanity is restored! Not only did a very nice attendant at ITM make sure I found the right bus, but, upon learning I had no money to pay for my ticket, a very nice couple comped me the few dollars I needed.

I arrive at the right airport this time one hour before my flight takes off. I find the Air China counter and, guess what? My flight has been MOVED UP 15 minutes. Great. Oh, and it is final boarding call.

And once more, humanity rocks! The woman at the Air China counter grabs me, takes me through the crew security line, runs me to the right tram, and I board the flight just before the gate closes!

Whew — what a way to leave Japan!

So now I am in Shanghai. After one week here, my thoughts are as follows:

The Good

  • OMG the food! Street food all day, everywhere! And it is awesome (and SO cheap — like <$1). See this guide that roughly describes what I am eating every day: LINK HERE
  • The history is incredible. There are tons of museums here, but so far the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square is my favorite. The museum is filled with different forms of Chinese art (pottery, porcelain, jade, statues, seals, calligraphy, etc.). Many of the items on display are literally thousands of years old. The museum is massive and incredible. A must-see!
  • Mass transit is awesome here. The subway systems are vast and inexpensive (albeit a bit crowded). Shanghai is huge, but the city is very accessible
  • Fitness is actually really huge in the city (not something I experienced while in Japan). I am doing Crossfit on an outdoor track (see next list for why on a track) and there are constantly people around playing soccer or ultimate frisbee, dancing to traditional Chinese songs (in impressive unison), performing tai-chi, ballroom dancing, etc. There are so many parks and places to exercise that it is pretty much a constant no matter where I’ve been. I love seeing so much activity!

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The “Could-Be-Better”

  • As you’ve probably heard, much of the internet is blocked here. I am talking Google (and Google products such as Gmail and Google Maps), Facebook, most blogging websites, etc. Bring your VPN (/ more than one VPN option). The Chinese government is not relenting on blocking these sites and is constantly updating its firewall. My normal VPN could not break through. As of today, ExpressVPN works — go crazy!
  • The Chinese government really is king here. My crossfit gym found a notice on its front door 2 weeks ago saying that the government wanted their land for a new construction project and they had one week to move. Ouch. Par for the course I hear. BUT, before you start raging on how totally unfair this is, I do hear the government generously compensates owners when land is seized (hey! have you ever heard of eminent domain in the US?). It just sucks if you are a renter and don’t get a ton of notice (the government moves FAST on these projects).
  • Drivers are INSANE here. I have never seen such poor adherence to traffic lights, signals, signs, etc. Oh, and I include pedestrians in that. Everyone pretty much just does what they want. The green lights even have countdowns to yellow on them and I’ve still yet to see a red light actually stop traffic. Be careful out there!
  • You really stick out as a white foreigner here. I actually think I saw fewer white people in my time in Japan, but I think the Japanese are more exposed to Western culture and english than the Chinese are (or at least it is painted more favorably). Those I have met here in Shanghai who are expats or have spent any time outside of China are totally friendly to me, but from those who appear never to have left the country, I don’t feel as welcomed. Now I have only been here a week and haven’t wandered into every non-touristy / less-commercial neighborhood in this very large city, but the places I have wandered, I will say that the stares weren’t exceptionally friendly.

And that’s it for my first week! Will check in soon with more adventures!

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Shoot muffins! I had thought I had published the above a while back, but looks like I merely saved the draft and moved on with my life. Whoops. So this will be a bit of a double post!

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October 28 – November 10: China Rage

China continues to prove itself a wild and challenging place. Fortunately I have a friend who lives here in Shanghai who I’ve had a chance to hang out with. Ganesh and his girlfriend, Gabby, have invited me to join them for a bit more upscale Shanghai dining. Spending time with them has given me a chance to see more of Shanghai at night, explore the Bund, and eat some amazing food. They’ve also explained to me that my frustrations (what they dub “China Rage”) are normal feelings foreigners have when they spend any significant time living in places throughout China. Apparently discomfort with the chaotic lifestyle of the locals is normal, whew!

I’ve also been able to take a few day trips outside the city. Not as easy as day trips around Japan, but possible. Hangzhou and Suzhou are great (water towns! — think: Chinese Venice).

And I have found a new box in the city that has really tough (read: awesome) crossfit classes.

Maybe my most exciting update is re: my book (tentative title: Sandwatcher). I will probably finish my first draft THIS WEEK (I’ve said “tomorrow” for the last few days, so I’ll refrain from saying that again here, but I do really think tomorrow is the day!). I have a ton of revisions I’ll need to make to get a second draft ready for review by others. But, I’m feeling good about the core of the work and am excited to keep plowing ahead!

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Now I am off to Singapore (!!!) for a few days for a b-school interview. Looking forward to warm weather, western-ish food, and more english speakers ūüėČ Ramen at Bugis anyone?

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I’ve landed in Bali!

But, as anyone who has traveled across the world probably knows, the actual getting to the destination is never completely uneventful.

This is the story of a girl and her airports ….

It all began in Orlando. I said goodbye to my family (extended and immediate) and kissed my love goodbye (pictured below):

Syd & Keno
(she’s definitely frowning because she is going to miss me …. definitely)

Then I finished my last packing touches (spoiler alert: which I would later learn almost immediately upon touching down in Bali were for the most part a small portion of the much larger category of items entitled: “things I overpacked”):

suitcase

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Anyway, first airport: Orlando (airport code MCO)
Subtitle: Disney World: Remember your moneybag

Who would have thought the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend would be a busy flying day? Aha! It would be for those that don’t celebrate Memorial Day — aka our world travelers! Orlando is not a city unfamiliar with the visitor from abroad; as you might guess, Disney and Universal (among other park families) draw tourists from everywhere. And today I saw a bunch of them. For me the most surprising takeaway was that, like many Americans who travel abroad, these foreigners are just as concerned about getting their passport and monies stolen; there was almost a 100% hit rate of secret money patches being removed by folks as they walked through security. Weirdly enough, this actually made me, more than perhaps any other element of my 2 day journey to Bali, feel connected to all my fellow men. Everyone is concerned of getting their things stolen abroad: We are the world, We are the children.

Anyway, another important finding I realized early on into my travels (that would only get reinforced throughout the journey) is: if you have the miles (award points) to upgrade to business class for international travel, just do it.

I had been pretty sick leading up to my departure date. My mother, concerned and aware of how many leftover miles from consulting I had, encouraged me to use 40,000 of my 80,000 remaining miles to upgrade. I fought her for a few days, but then my illness (proving how resilient a cold can be) decided to hang around a bit longer than invited and I caved, purchasing the upgrade. What they don’t tell you is that, for international flights, these upgrades also buy you access to the business class lounges at many of the airports across the world. Think: warm meal, hot shower, free wifi (#clutch).

Here’s me on my Lufthansa flight from Orlando to Frankfurt:

Lufthansa

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Second airport: Frankfurt (airport code FRA)
Subtitle: You can’t just walk into any shower you want

What fun to land at a European airport midday! For some reason, I always end up in airports abroad at too early or too late of times to have any interesting (at least in a painless way) interactions. Really: ask my sister or me about the time we ended up in the Beijing airport at 2a with no visa at the front of the only customs line where the agent spoke no english.

Frankfurt security does mean business though. Apparently toothpaste counts as a liquid (but the agents were nice and let me keep the only toothpaste and hygiene supplements I was bringing with me abroad).

The Lufthansa lounge was luckily super close to my gate, so I was able to camp out for a couple hours in a pretty nice location with very little stress about making it onto my next flight:

Lufthansa Lounge

Things I learned from the Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt:

      + Giant grapes probably have seeds in them

 

      + Good internet does not always play nicely with VPN services

 

      + You should ask to use a shower (“you can’t just walk in there”)

 

      + If you start a sentence with “this might sound racist but” it 1) is probably racist 2) is not something you should be yelling at your colleague in a very packed lounge with a lot of people sitting around who don’t know you

 

    + Try not to look lost while choosing what snack to take back to your seat, friendly Europeans will try to “help you”

Off to Bangkok:

Thai Airways

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Third airport: Bangkok (airport code BKK)
Subtitle: Thai Airways is the winner

Thai Airways. You. Are. Amazing. Yes, an 11 hour flight is no joke. And, true, your movie choices weren’t fantastic. BUT, best sleep I ever got on a plane (you could really lie completely flat!) and your service was exceptional. Also, and to be fair, I am only 60% sure y’all planned this for me, but I sat next to the cutest baby (and how often do you hear someone compliment a BABY after an 11 hour flight).

We landed in Bangkok early (just before 6a). Not my first time at the BKK rodeo, but I have to admit, this go-around I was a bit grouchy. I de-boarded with a pretty bad headache and the airport felt 1000 degrees (I may be exaggerating). Thank goodness the Thai Airways lounge was right outside of security.

Royal Silk Lounge

I have never been to a lounge with so much good looking free food. We’re talking pork buns, we’re talking orange cake, we’re talking hot dog soup (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it), fresh papaya, creme tarts, a help-yourself-bar with pretty much anything you could want! Sadly, I did not eat much (maybe only time I’ll ever say this: but thank goodness for a tight layover). Showered quickly and grabbed what I could carry. Next stop Bali:

Thai Airways 2

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Fourth airport: Denpasar (airport code DPS)
Subtitle: Order the fishballs /¬†What do you mean by “clubbing”?

NOTE: I will always have a special place in my heart for Denpasar’s airport. DPS is the sickest airport code; as someone who always plays a melee DPS in video games, I (probably like an idiot) nerded out a bit too much over this, but I yam what I yam.

I also should mention, if you are ever on a Thai Airways flight and a food option is “fishballs,” just say yes. Amazing! Also, crazy that we got a hot meal on a 4 hour flight! American airlines, take note.

Pretty easy flight. Admittedly I passed out when we were landing so no cool pictures from the plane … next time? Customs was a breeze (the visas we got ahead of time worked! <— not not worth celebrating if you knew the pain it took to get these).

Koming, the owner of the homestay we are staying at while looking for a more permanent housing solution, was late to pickup. Good news though: I got to experience first hand how friendly (/ aggressively friendly) the Balinese people are! Not only did a complete stranger let me use his phone to call my ride, but another cab driver (just chilling in the airport) sat and talked with me for the hour I waited.

Mana (sp?), my new friend, told me all about Kuta and Denpasar. He thought we’d be bored in Ubud (central Bali), but I also quickly learned he thought I was here to paaaartaaay. Hey, at least now I have a friend in the Denpasar area. Even though, I was a little concerned about his comment that, “We could go clubbing together and you can meet my family” (his family including his 10 year old and 5 year old) — chalk this one up to “clubbing” being a lost in translation word.

Map of Bali
(Source: Baliguide.com)

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Well that’s it for my travels. Stay tuned for an update on my first few days in Bali soon!