Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

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

Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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!