Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

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

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Study abroad, week 1: School, food, Cubs

What a way to start off the day! I declined to watch the World Series final since it started at 2am here in Israel, and had hoped to wake up to news that the Chicago Cubs had prevailed. However, when my alarm went off at 6:00 this morning, I discovered that the game was still going on with a 10th inning and a rain delay! Needless to say, I postponed my morning run to watch the stunning conclusion.


Obviously it was destiny!

I’m not even a baseball fan. I guess you could say that I get to be a Cubs fan by marriage since Chuck had spent several years in Chicago and loves his team, but even that’s a stretch. However, everyone loves a good story, and who out there was not rooting for the Cubs to win it all? (Other than Cleveland, of course.) Congratulations to the team and to their fans, this truly was a game for the ages!


Today, Bill Murray is all of us.

Anyway, classes started this week and I have to say, any reservations I had about studying abroad have gone out the window. The quality of instructors here at TAU is quite high, and the classes are interesting. Plus, this school seems to be strong in areas where my home university is a little bit lacking, so I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to fill in some of the gaps in my education.

Plus, we get to do cool things like open the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.


“All I see is signs, all I see is dollar signs…”

Many of my international classmates didn’t think this was a big deal, but I’d seen plenty of famous figures, celebrities, and sports stars open the NYSE in past years. You’d better believe that I elbowed my way to the front of the group so that I could have my hand on the button!

Last weekend, I also got to experience a bit of culture in the form of my first Shabbat dinner with a local family. One of my roommate’s parents had a work colleague living in Tel Aviv, and they were kind enough to invite us over for a traditional Jewish dinner last Friday night.



This was such a cool experience, and not just because this was my first time being exposed to Jewish culture. Despite our Catholic upbringing my own family is skimpy on traditions, and the family get-together is unfortunately becoming more sparse in a lot of American households. Truthfully, the only real formal dinner we ever have is on Thanksgiving (and even then, it’s hard to get all the adult children under one roof) so it’s wonderful that these families manage to do this at least once a week!


Where I come from, family gatherings are little less relaxing.

I do have a tiny confession, though – before the meal, when the challah bread was dipped in the salt (which I learned is a tradition of its own) my initial thought was, “oh good, now I have guest right and I don’t have to worry about being killed tonight.” Clearly I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones.


No Red Weddings here!

In all seriousness, the dinner was wonderful, and the family who hosted us was so kind and generous. The hospitality of the Israelis I’ve met so far has been unparalleled. It’s only been two weeks! I can’t wait to see what else is in store.


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Keeping Austin Weird

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Baylor Wall 2

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.

Baylor Wall 3

“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.


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.
6th street austin

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.


Post-vacation blues

…And just like that, it’s over.

vacation is over

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.

spoiler alert

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.


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.


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…

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Charming Changsha

The second part of our trip to China involved a visit to the capital of the Hunan province, Changsha – a city I had never heard of before starting on this project.


That one time I got photobombed by the Chairman. This is Mao’s hometown, as everyone here will inform you.

Our client’s headquarters is located here, so we would be spending six days in the city visiting various companies and attending seminars at local universities in addition to working with our company. Although we were very busy, we still found time to see some of the local sights.


We also got our first taste of Chinese opera: “Eeeeeeeiiiiieeeee….”

I was surprised at how much I liked Changsha! We were only told that it was a “second-tier city,” which means something entirely different in China given that Changsha’s population is around 7 million! We were also warned about the unusual Hunan cuisine, characterized by the fact that it’s extremely spicy.


This food court, just downstairs from the Crowne Plaza where we were staying, was full of all sorts of delicious (and extra spicy) food


…as well as some more unusual cuisine. Yes, those are turtles. No, I wasn’t brave enough to eat one.

This city has a completely different feel from Shanghai, which as one of my classmates put it, “felt like visiting Epcot.” Changsha, being a bit off the beaten path, just felt more authentic. It was the first time since arriving in China that I really felt like I was back in Asia.


Case in point: a giant lobster mascot outside of a karaoke bar

Additionally, the people are extremely friendly. The city has a reputation for being one of the happiest in Asia, and we were greeted with such hospitality everywhere we went that it was hard to leave.


Talk about random: for a “second-tier city,” Changsha’s nightlife has got it going on! The club we went to was like something you’d find in Vegas.

This region is famous for its embroidery, so on our list was the Hunan Embroidery Museum. At first we weren’t that excited – I mean, it’s fancy sewing. But we were astonished at what we saw when we entered.


At first glance, the works look like paintings (such as this depiction of the Zhangjiajie mountains, which served as the backdrop for the film Avatar.


But on closer inspection, they’re not paintings at all, but embroidery that takes months or even years to complete!


This artist has been working on this embroidery for the past three years, and will require another two to finish!

We also visited Yuelu Academy, a 1000-year-old school that’s still being used today as a university. It’s up in the mountains, which added to the ancient-feeling ambiance.


This school was first established during the days of the Song Dynasty


An edict laying a curse on the descendants of all prospective cheaters.

After days of hard work and preparation, we gave our final presentation on our last morning there. The president of the company seemed to really like it, and the board was pretty happy with our findings! It felt good to have this victory, especially since on our practice run before we left DC, my team had gotten raked over the coals. We learned from our mistakes, however, and after some reorganizing we were able to put together a presentation we were not only proud of, but one that made our client happy. And at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.


One of our judges, Professor Shun from Hunan University and a fellow UW alum. Go Huskies around the world!

I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with such a great team; they really made my job as project leader quite rewarding and educational. The nice thing about our schedule for this China trip was that since our final presentation happened about halfway through, that left almost an entire week to relax and enjoy the rest of our trip stress-free. So almost immediately after we were finished and said our final good-byes, we hopped on a plane to Beijing for some well-deserved leisure time!