Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

Part travel blog, part philosophical musings. All tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.


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Keeping Austin Weird

This past weekend, I did something I swore I would never do again – I visited Texas.

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How I knew I’d arrived: the cab driver dropped me off, then asked if I wanted a shot. “But don’t worry, I haven’t been drinking! It’s bad business to drink the tequila myself, so I save it for the customers.”

I will caveat this with the standard “I know my experience isn’t indicative of anyone else’s, maybe things have changed and I should give Texas another chance, etc.” That being said, the six months I spent living in San Antonio back in 2005-2006 were among the worst of my life. It just wasn’t a friendly place for someone of half-Italian, half-Asian/Pacific Islander descent, because many people saw my darker skin and became very vocal about how they didn’t like “immigrants” (never mind that I’m American) and being from Seattle, it was the first time I’d had to deal with this. Once I’d finished up my military training at Randolph AFB, I left and swore I would never, ever set foot in this state again. I had even told Chuck that if the Navy ever tried to station him there, he would be going as a geo-bachelor.

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But of course I’d be happy to send a postcard once in a while

So what brought me back? A conference – but trust me, I didn’t go willingly. If it wasn’t for the fact that I need a post-graduation job, and that the conference was held in progressive (and weird) Austin, I would have declined the offer.

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Image credit: Punch Bowl Social

The conference was fine, though I’m not sure it was the right place for me. Although it was advertised as being for all female MBAs, it was actually for a certain subset within that group: specifically, female MBAs between the ages of, say, 22 to 26 with little-to-no real world experience. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of lovely people there and it made my feminist heart glad to see so many messages of empowerment and cooperation. Yet I felt completely out of place; whenever I tried to share my experiences to the other ladies, I would get blank stares usually followed by a comment about how they personally never had to deal with that, and that their male bosses were always respectful so everyone else must be exaggerating.

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Just saying. Expanding your worldview beyond your own experience never hurt anyone.

Throughout the weekend, we were asked to use a word to describe ourselves. This is where the difference between my background and theirs became most apparent – I consider myself courageous because of what I’d accomplished: I flew for the Navy and helped save lives while putting my own in danger. I consider myself resilient because I overcame MST and the subsequent shaming from my military commanders. I consider myself to be inspirational because I’ve been told that I am, by other assault survivors and by other women from lower-income households who hope to also rise out of near-poverty. To be lumped into the same category as someone who says she’s courageous because “the boys were mean and made me get them coffee” at her undergrad internship… okay, look. I get that courage is relative and that everyone’s experience is personal; I really do understand that. But at the same time, maybe you should wait until you’ve actually encountered a hardship before you start bragging about how brave you are. 23-year-old me would have gotten shut down (and rightfully so) if I’d brought my petty complaints to one of my female senior officers, or a mother with children, or a woman who’d been in the corporate world for a while and dealt with workplace discrimination.

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In the meantime…

Moving on. The nice thing was that after the conference I did get a chance to walk around Austin, which is a cute little city that reminds me of the West Coast despite being in the heart of Texas. Yes, it was weird, but still a good place to spend a weekend.
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We visited the famous Baylor Wall, where you can unleash your inner graffiti artist. This was actually really cool – there was a group that had cleared off a section of the wall to promote awareness of LGBT suicides. Anyone was invited to paint, so we participated by adding our own messages.

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“You are strong enough.” More information at Texas Suicide Prevention

It was really inspiring to see so many people come out in support of such an important cause, especially after what happened in Orlando. To see this taking place in an area of the country that traditionally isn’t supportive of alternative lifestyles gives me hope.

 

Anyway, besides the Baylor Wall, Austin is known for many things – hosting music festivals, its fantastic nightlife, and a bridge full of bats.

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From About Travel. No, this is not my picture, because the bats didn’t come out for us.

Thing is, these bats apparently have a sense of humor. When we tried to see them, we ended up waiting until well after the sun had set, and they never showed up! I pictured them having a good laugh at our expense: “Hey guys! Let’s leave the bridge early before the stupid tourists get here! They’ll be waiting all night for nothing! Hahaha!” Our bat-excursion was unsuccessful, so we gave up and went to 6th Street for a beer.
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So, the verdict? Austin is indeed a little weird, but endearingly so. It’s a little like DC in that there’s not much to do during the day that doesn’t involve eating or drinking, but what it lacks in daytime activities it makes up for with the bar scene.  I still would never want to live in Texas ever again, but this town is definitely a nice place to visit. I’m glad I came here, although next time I need to either skip the conference or develop more patience for dealing with the young and naïve.

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Going “natural” and eschewing social media

I recently came back from a three-week long trip to Asia: an R&R visit to Cambodia followed by a consulting project in China for my grad school program. The China project involved a photo contest between my group and the four other groups from my class who were in similar projects around the world. The rules were simple: we posted our best business and tourist photos on Instagram and Facebook, and the group with the most collective “likes” won.

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Oh, Kim. You really are what America is all about now, aren’t you?

Now, I’m a bit older than most of my classmates, and as a result social media isn’t as integrated into my life as it is for them. But on this trip, I found myself striving to keep up with them, which would have been tolerable if it had been just about taking pictures of vistas or ancient buildings. See, I like doing that anyway.

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Aren’t flowers and temples nice?

But for the younger women in particular, it became a contest about who could post the best photos of themselves, and what was supposed to be a silly, fun event somehow turned into a beauty contest. Suddenly I was worried about lighting, my posing, how I looked, if my smile was just right or if I looked thin enough. I was more stressed out about the photo contest than I was about my actual school project!

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Yeah baby, you’re a TIGER!! Work that giant castle door!

And the funny thing was, I used to admire the pictures of these girls that I would see on Facebook. They were really good at the whole self-branding strategy, I remember thinking, and that I should ask them for pointers as I embarked on my new career in business. But seeing that strategy in action – watching them wander off from our tour group to take seductive pictures on the Great Wall, or wake up at 6am to take photos by the hotel pool while I was waking up to go to the gym, well… it was kind of ridiculous. Is that really how the kids go on vacation these days? How can you enjoy yourself when all you’re focused on is how you look in that next Instagram post?

It’s silly, and I found myself starting to emulate them. I was posting so many pictures of myself online in an effort to keep up, more than I think I’ve ever posted for any one trip. And the worst part was that it depressed me to realize that I wasn’t getting nearly as many likes on my photos (presumably because I don’t have as many connections on social media, but it made me wonder if there was something wrong with me.)

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Nope, nothing wrong with preferring “goofy” photos over “sexy.” Giant lobsters need love, too!

So after I got back to DC, I decided to take a break from social media, deleting the Facebook app from my phone for a little bit. In a way, I’m going back to being natural (as per today’s Daily Prompt theme) and focusing on what’s important to me: my friends, my work, my writing. In other words, everything but how skinny I do or don’t look in some silly social media selfies.


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Palau: an adventurer’s romantic getaway

It’s so humid and gross in DC during the summer, and I’ve been thinking a lot about a beach getaway recently. A real beach, not what passes for a beach here in the DMV (sorry, Virginia Beach enthusiasts.)

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It’s just not the same

I’m actually not even a big beachgoer, at least not when it comes to sitting in my reclining lawn chair and working on my tan while reading the latest off the New York Times bestseller list, or whatever it is that my mom does when she goes the beach. To me, the beach has been a place to dry off and relax with a tropical drink before jumping back into the water for the next round of your water sport of choice. I came to loathe my time in Hawaii (see: any of my posts before August 2014) but the one thing I do miss is the ocean and all that it has to offer.

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The ocean awaits

If I were to be specific, I would have to say that I miss the underwater activities most of all. It’s ironic to say that, since Hawaii actually has pretty sub-par snorkeling and diving compared to many of the other places I’ve been. I remember working on my scuba certification off the coast of Honolulu, and thinking “wait, this is the best you have? Some nasty half-dead coral on a pipeline? I’ve seen better coral reefs in Guam. Guam, people!” But I digress.

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Meh. I guess it’s alright if you like fighting the crowds at Hanauma Bay just to see a bunch of rocks.

My favorite beach & ocean vacation ever was the tropical paradise of Palau, an island nation in the western Pacific known its limestone rock islands and some of the most amazing scuba diving in the world.

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Like you read about. (Photo credit: Regal Dive UK)

The downside is that it’s not cheap or easy to get there, at least not from the States. Most flight itineraries go through Hawaii and Guam, since there are regular flights between Guam and Palau a few times a week. It’s far easier to get there from Asia; when Chuck and I went in 2011, we’d both been stationed in Japan at the time, so fortunately hopping on a flight south wasn’t too hard.

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Photo credit: Palau Dive Adventures

However, if you have the extra time and cash, and want a unique island getaway experience? You won’t be sorry, trust me.

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None of the next photos have filters, just in case you need more motivation to visit

We landed in Koror, the capital city, to spend the first of our four nights there. “City” is a rather generous term; if you’re expecting a hopping nightlife, you’ll be disappointed. But no one goes to Palau to go clubbing anyway.

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You do, however, have a chance to take a silly photo montage with the ever-changing carpets in the Palasia Hotel elevator.

For the next three days, we set off for the Carp Island resort, which is on one of the smaller islands. There are several cabins, but at the time we went (mid-August) it was practically deserted. If you ever wanted to hang out on your own private island with that special someone, this is your chance!

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On our way! Now THAT is some clear water.

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Landing at the Carp Island Resort

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The view from our cabana

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The resort had kayaks we could borrow, so we went off in search of coral reefs

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I’ve never seen the tides shift so much. These two pictures were taken a mere four hours apart!

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The islands were a battleground during WWII, and you can still see some old artillery sites

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Walking around the island

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Standing on one of the “stone money”rocks that were used as currency back in the day. At least it was pretty easy to figure out who robbed you.

I should point out that I wasn’t scuba certified at the time we went, so when Chuck went diving I stayed near the surface and snorkeled. To tell the truth, I didn’t feel like I was missing out at all. The water is so beautiful and clear, the coral reefs are amazing, and there’s plenty of sea life to see even if you’re not diving. Don’t feel like you have to be able to scuba in order to take advantage of the undersea adventures that Palau has to offer!

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Yes, you too can swim with sharks! (This one was just a baby)

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Beautiful coral

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Coral reefs

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It was amazing being surrounded by so much sea life

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Turtles coming out to play with the snorkelers

After our few days on the private island, we headed back to Koror. On our way back, our boat driver was kind enough to stop by several of the island’s most well-known sites, such as the famous Jellyfish Lake.

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It’s a bit of a hike to get to the lake

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But the walk was worth it! It was like being in another world, surrounded by all these stingless jellyfish.

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Jellyfish pong

We also stopped for more snorkeling.

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The aptly-named Clam City

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So many fish!

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We saw all sorts of wildlife, like sea snakes

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We took a dip in the Milky Way, a natural bath filled with limestone mud which gives the water an eerie turquoise glow.

We had a free day at the end of our trip, so we decided to go deep sea fishing. I was excited since I had never been before, and had visions of catching giant marlin on the high seas like they do on TV. I conveniently forgot about the “high seas” part, and discovered for the first time that being on a small boat way out in the middle of the ocean may not be the best thing for me or my poor stomach. (A lesson that I would learn many times, several years later whenever Chuck dragged me on one of his longer sailing trips.)

Too bad I was so sick, because we caught plenty of fish. (No marlin, though.)

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Channeling my inner fisherwoman (in between heaving my guts out from the seasickness)

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Even though we didn’t get any big fish, there were plenty of tasty smaller ones!

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Sashimi doesn’t get much fresher than this

Looking at these pictures is almost physically painful, especially since I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back in the water, let alone go all the way to Palau. And I haven’t even covered the diving sites such as the wrecks of Peleliu that I would love to see someday. I’ll just have to live vicariously through those of you who are out diving and snorkeling. In the meantime, there are swimming pools in DC.

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But really, where are you going to find a swimming pool like this?


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Social media apps + boredom = you don’t want to know

Oh the life of an intern.
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I hadn’t had to do an internship as an undergrad since I was in ROTC, so this is the first time I’ve had to live the life of the inexperienced intern. It hasn’t been bad so far. Because this is also my first civilian job since the retail jobs I’d worked in high school and college, it’s definitely been an eye-opening experience.

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In addition to learning about the world of tech consulting, I’ve also gotten good at making coffee and crawling in the ceiling to install phone cables.

My one complaint is that I do wish I were in a different city. As the theme of the blog would suggest, I’m not altogether happy in DC, and it’s even worse now that many of my classmates are out of town. I’m a bit bored during the week, which has the potential to lead me into trouble.

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This is what happens when you search “bored on the internet” on Google Images

I mentioned before that I had downloaded WeChat while I was in China. I had done it only because we were told to by our professor, and I had initially only planned to use it during our trip and then delete if afterward. However, since it was the only way to keep in touch with the university students I had met, I decided to leave the app on my phone.

It’s actually pretty cool – China’s government blocks almost all of the social media apps that the rest of the world uses, so WeChat has evolved to take the place of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and in certain countries can be used to make financial transactions. People in China use it more than text messaging, and during our consulting project with the nanotechnology company we learned that the sales associates conduct all of their business on WeChat. Plus, the chat feature enables you to download these silly animated characters that Chuck and I used to great effect.

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On one of those nights when I was feeling my age (i.e. “I’m so glad I no longer act like a perpetual teenager.”)

That black cat (“LuoXiaoHei”) is totally how I feel on the inside.

One evening when I was bored (after work, don’t worry) I decided to check out some of WeChat’s more social features. There’s a “Message in a Bottle” game where you can write anything you want, stick it in a virtual bottle, and throw it into the virtual ocean for someone to pick up. You can also go looking for bottles that other people have thrown, and either respond to their message or throw it back. The idea of meeting strangers on the web has always made me nervous, so I like this feature since it lets you read what others have written without actually having to talk to them (unless you want to; I usually don’t so I always throw the bottles back.) Plus, it amuses me to have my silly haikus floating around in cyberspace for anyone to pick up and ask “Um, WTF is this person on?!”
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I also tried out the “Shake” feature, which connects you to people around the world by shaking your phone. The app will look for others who are shaking at the same time, and give you the option to message them. Again, I never interacted with anyone because I was only doing this out of curiosity, but it was interesting to see where other users are located. (Mostly Turkey, Italy, and the Middle East. I had no idea that this app was so widespread outside of China.) Also, I don’t know if it’s because it has a smaller user base or if the users are more mature in general, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I got almost no raunchy messages. It was nice to not have to root through a bunch of garbage.

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Aint nobody got time for this. (Photo credit: Buzzfeed)

My big mistake came when I clicked on “People Nearby,” and unbeknownst to me it sent out my location, allowing anyone within a certain radius to see me and message me. And boy, did I get messages.

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So many bros, so little time.

I know I’ve lamented getting old a few times, but this is an instance where I’m happy about it. I am so, so grateful that my dating years were done before Tinder and other apps became the norm, because I’ve heard enough online dating horror stories from my friends that make me so glad that I never had to go through that. For one, the idea of taking multiple bathroom selfies to find the perfect profile picture annoys me, so I don’t think I would have inspired people to swipe right. For another, having to weed through the troves of dudebros who are trying to send you naked pictures and what-not would just get on my nerves.

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No thanks, I’ll just stick with my cats.

Anyway, before I realized what I had done, I had basically broadcast to every guy in the DC metro area my profile picture (that isn’t a bathroom selfie, thank you) and was suddenly inundated with requests to connect from allll the bros. Gross. And while most gave up after an ignored message or three, there were a couple that just didn’t get it.

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Dense like a ton of bricks

Let me say this again – I am so glad that I never tried to use an app to find a date. Younger millennials, I feel for you.


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The Beijing tourist package

You know what was the best thing about being in Asia for three weeks? Getting to forget all about the clown show that is the U.S. presidential election.

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If only this were true, Random Guy on Whisper. If only…

Oh well, that’s what pictures and memories are for. I wanted to wrap up my trip to China by talking about the most fun (and admittedly touristy) part – Beijing!

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The Chairman says hey

Fresh off our final client presentations, we were now free to board an airplane to the nation’s capital and forget all about nanotechnology for the time being. We had worked hard over the last few months; now it was time to relax. I knew we would be hitting all the typical tourist sites that I think everyone sees when they visit Beijing: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, and so on. Normally I’m averse to the canned tour group experience and prefer to go on my own program, but after spending so much time off the beaten path in Changsha (and probably sick from the experience, as I mentioned in my last post) I was happy to sit back and be led around for a while.

We started our Beijing leg with something rather awesome and unexpected.

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Riding in style

A rickshaw tour of one of the old city neighborhoods! I’d been on a rickshaw once before in Japan, but then it was mostly for the novelty of having a guy literally run you around the city. These, however, were driven by bicycles, so I felt a little less guilt. It was a really cool way to see the less-traveled parts of the city, and a lot of fun being in a caravan with a bunch of friends.

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Not even the rickshaws are exempt from the Beijing traffic!

There are families in the old neighborhood that open up their homes to visiting groups, partly to help offset the extreme cost of owning such a home. Mrs. Yuan was gracious enough to invite us in and talk to us a little bit about the culture while showing us around her house. She informed us that her house had been in her family for five generations, and that the home is worth about $30,000 per square meter. Insane!

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I know the inside courtyard is nice and all, but come on.

We did have to do one last business school thing, which was make a visit to the Beijing International Studies University. This school, we learned, has one of the top tourism & hospitality programs in the world, and it attracts many students from China and other parts of the world. I loved having the chance to meet them and learn their stories, especially since many of them come from countries that aren’t represented very well in DC, if at all. For instance, I’d never met anyone from Kazakhstan before, and after that day I knew three! Another student was from Myanmar, and was telling me about how he wants to help spearhead the effort to bring tourism there now that it’s becoming safer to travel. All in all, a really great experience, and they were kind enough to take us to a nightclub later (with VIP access and free drinks the whole night. Talk about hospitality!)

Over the next couple of days we visited several famous sites, as advertised.

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Many cities have a giant clock to announce the time; Beijing has the Drum Tower

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The Kung Fu show was awesome!

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I’m sure this didn’t help my food issues

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My favorite activity of the entire China trip – conquering the Great Wall! Here I am, catching my breath and trying to look elegant while doing so (but really, I was clinging onto the stones for dear life.)

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The Summer Palace, where the ancient 1% liked to chill and complain about those pesky peasants

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Inside the Forbidden City. So many people, so many square feet of concrete.

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It’s good luck to touch nine of the doorknobs when entering the Forbidden City (but only nine; if you only touch eight, it brings disaster upon your house, and if you touch ten you’ll be doomed to a life of neglect and unemployment.)

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The City was really cool, but I have to admit that after a while all of the 999 buildings started to look the same. I started to wonder if our tour guide was making up stories to keep us interested: “This is where the Emperor’s prostitutes used to stay. And over here was housed the Imperial Ping Pong team…”

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“…And here, a carving depicting the end of the world, when snakes creep out of the mountains and devour all the air pollution…” (Actually, considering Beijing’s air quality, that doesn’t sound so bad.)

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“…And down this ancient corridor lies the path to long life and the ability to devour mass quantities of animal parts that you normally wouldn’t ever consider eating…”

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“…And here are the Imperial Gardens, full of old rocks that symbolize the everlasting powers of ancient mud…”

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“…And in case you didn’t get a good enough view of the Royal Rock Garden, here is a close-up.”

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On our way to the Temple of Heaven, we walked through a park where some were practicing their ballroom dancing. Many of these people belonged to the generation affected by the Cultural Revolution, and are now out to reclaim their lost youth.

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Roses in bloom at the Temple of Heaven, with the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the background. This building is remarkable for being completely built out of wood, and no nails or hardware.

My one real complaint – and this is a total “first world problems” moment, is that it’s demoralizing being part Asian and traveling with a bunch of westerners in China. They were treated like celebrities, and everywhere we went people would stop to take pictures with them. The girls in my group were called “the most beautiful” and the guys were treated like celebrities. Okay, no big deal and it was amusing to watch, except they would then turn to me and treat me like a third-class citizen! I don’t know how many times I was denied the same discounts and free handouts that they’d gotten, or told to get out of a group picture. It was a strange and unsettling experience; I’d traveled in Asia many times with other westerners while I was still in the military, and I don’t ever remember encountering this. Then again, I had never before been to China, and this country was definitely different from Thailand and the others I’d been to. Oh well. Not the worst thing in the world, but it did make me come back and immediately want to book a trip to England or southern Europe where the locals were friendly to me no matter who I was traveling with.

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“I want someone to call me pretty and take my picture too!”

All in all, it was a great experience. I don’t know that I’ll have the opportunity to visit China again anytime soon (although I should, considering how much it cost to get that tourist visa, and it’s good for ten years!) but I’m definitely glad I got to go! It was interesting being in a country that’s modernizing but still so disconnected from the rest of the world, if that makes sense. I had the opportunity to make new friends, even though I can only communicate with them through WeChat, one of the only social media apps that’s permitted in China and the primary form of communication there. I crossed another item off my bucket list by climbing the Great Wall. I got to learn a lot about an industry that’s new and interesting to me, and interact with high-level professionals. And I got to go into new territory (for me, and for many of my friends) by visiting Changsha, a place that’s still relatively unknown. It was great being back in that part of the world where I’d spent so many good years.

So… where to next?


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Post-vacation blues

…And just like that, it’s over.

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It’s always such a letdown coming home after a long trip, even if that trip involved a ton of work and not as much leisure time as you would have liked. We’ve been working toward the China trip since the beginning of the year, so now that it’s finally over, I kind of don’t know what to do with myself. Yeah, I still need to write about Beijing (which was a BLAST) but now that the summer break has finally begun I need to finally figure out what I’m doing for the next few months.

On my short list of things to do:

  1. Get an internship
  2. Get caught up on Game of Thrones
  3. Go grocery shopping

Okay, not necessarily in that order. Obviously GOT was first, because everyone and their mom was posting spoilers on social media! I was logging on to Facebook just long enough to post pictures from China (and therefore letting my family know I was still alive without having to actually call home) and trying to close the screen before I could see anyone else’s updates, and I was still able to piece together what had happened to Hodor. Ugh, the internet annoys me sometimes.

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Even in a communist country where the government censors the internet!

On the internship piece, good news! After all my struggles over the semester, I was finally able to secure something right after I returned from China. I was really worried about this, since I had been getting requests for interviews while I was abroad, but thanks to China’s strict government regulation of their internet, my connectivity was intermittent at best. Using a VPN helped (I had fairly good luck with ExpressVPN, utilizing their 30-day free trial period) but it still wasn’t 100% reliable. Therefore, I had lost out on a few opportunities and there was nothing I could do about it.

Thankfully, on my last night in Shanghai, I was able to schedule an interview with a local start-up for after I got back into DC. The interview went well, and the next day I was told I had the job. Oh THANK GOD. Sitting under the cloud of impending unemployment was not a fun experience, especially since they’re always telling MBAs that if you don’t get an internship, your prospects for employment after graduation are next to nothing.

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MBA Class of 2017

So with 2/3 of my short list taken care of (I still need to go grocery shopping, don’t judge me) I can at last focus on the long list:

  1. Find a place to do volunteer work on the weekends
  2. Keep up with the blog. Maybe start a travel-specific blog.
  3. Sign up for a summer class, such as programming or something tech related
  4. Attempt to learn Hebrew in preparation for studying abroad next semester
  5. Consider freelance writing to earn extra cash
  6. Work on writing something for fun, taking one of the many novels I have mulling around in my head and actually putting it on paper
  7. Get my health back on track (it took a serious backseat during the last month of school)

#7 actually needed to be higher on the list, since I’m pretty sure I had an allergic reaction to something in the food in Changsha. I never did figure out what it was, only that my hands and feet swelled up to the point where I couldn’t wear jewelry or some of the shoes that I brought, and my face was the size of a melon. I didn’t realize how bad it was until a friend had posted on Facebook two pictures back-to-back: one was on our first site visit in Shanghai, at the beginning of our trip; the other on our last day in Changsha after we gave our final presentations. In the first picture, I still have cheekbones. In the second, I look like I’d been stung in the face by about 50 bees.

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I went looking for a stock photo of a swollen face after an allergic reaction and now I’m scarred for life. So instead of sharing the pain, here’s a stock photo of a fat kitten.

If I ever figure out what it was, I’ll let you know. There were so many strange things we ate over there that I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to figure it out. Oh well. The only thing I can do now is continue to detox and work toward getting back in fighting shape.

Anyway, it’s no accident that writing is involved in 3 of the 7 items on my list. I’ve been wanting to get back into it – really get back into it – for a long time now. We shall see if I can actually follow though with it this time…