Back Home Again in Asia

I didn’t realize how much I missed the Asian culture until I landed in Taipei last night.  The sounds, the smells, the friendly people!  Waking up to a cloudy view of the mountains and the local neighborhood after a 20+ hour journey to get here from Boise to Seattle to Tokyo to Taipei, I couldn’t wait to get out on the streets and explore!


Hat courtesy of caution cone/vest?  Staying safe on the crowded streets of Taipei!


This is a business trip, hopping to a new city every 2-3 days for meetings, so hubby Thom is not along for the adventure.  I’m on my own and, after lengthy conversations with the Westin staff and maps in hand, I started to just wander.  Of course, the hotel team tried to talk me out of walking around “too far!” but I like to walk and they aren’t used to visitors wanting to do that.  I get it and just smile and keep on walking.

Originally, I had planned to book straight to the National Palace Museum via the subway but a combination of uncertainty and self awareness that I get lost easily plus a desire to absorb the local culture vs. art, I decided instead to try and find a temple nearby.

First, though, I noticed a Alice in Wonderland theme in the Westin lobby bar and checked out the adjacent gardens where it looked like a wedding might be taking place today with decorations everywhere.  How fun!  Wonder if the bride had an “Alice” dress to walk down the aisle?  She will definitely need a parasol as it is quite wet here today.

Instead of a temple, I found a delightful street market where I was the only Laowai, aka foreigner, in sight.  Fish, fruit, meat, pigs feet, dry goods and handmade noodles in stalls lining the narrow alleyway-it was packed with shoppers and very reminiscent of my old neighborhood where we lived in Shanghai.  I thought of my friend Patti when I saw the cherry tomatoes merchandised in the fruit stalls next to the apples and oranges.  Yes, Patti, tomatoes are considered fruit.

As I reviewed my map, still hopeful I could find the temple, a 20-something young man walked by me, stopped and considered, and then came back to offer his assistance.  How kind and friendly he was to help me plus he spoke English!  Even with his guidance though, after a few more blocks, I gave up and just enjoyed the journey.  Glad I did too or I wouldn’t have seen the quiet neighborhoods or the lovely lady in the “cautionary” hat displaying her lovely fruit or the antique noodle maker cranking out the sheets of pasta.


Making noodles


Ahh, to be back again in Asia is indeed a beautiful thing.  After a few business meetings, I’m off to Hong Kong (TurboJet to Macau at night for fun!), Shenzhen, Shanghai (home!) and Beijing.  Two weeks of work and fun!

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a scooter!


Our China adventure published. A dream realized.

Cross that off the bucket list-publish book.  When we moved to Shanghai in 2013, I started a blog to stay in touch with family and record our adventures.  It grew into a daily rhythm to capture the craziness that was our daily life in China.  Soon, people from around the world started reaching out to me for advice:  Where can I get dog food?  Should I bring my own mattress or buy one there? Where should I live if I have kids?  Is the pollution really bad?  Why yes, it is.  Now you know.  The lungs don’t lie.  Buy a mask and wear it.

When my transfer details were finally worked out and I accepted the offer, I immediately went online and looked for blogs or books to get a feel for what our new normal would feel like.  I would be a female executive navigating through the Chinese business world while Thom adjusted to being a trailing spouse.  I was disappointed to only find guide books primarily aimed at tourists.  I was going to become a local expat and needed a source of truth to turn to that would help guide me through all the unexpected challenges from walking down the street without getting run over (truly a challenge daily!) to opening a bank account and being surprised they still used an abacus to conduct transactions.  WTF.

We relied on our Chinese tutor, Fiona, to guide us through many obstacles and just explored through fearless curiosity daily in our quest to not live in the typical expat bubble and instead venture out into the real China.  Daily we learned and as our confidence grew, Thom took off on a bike to explore and take beautiful photos and I jumped on the bullet train to commute to Beijing and Nanjing for work on a regular basis.

As a result, our blog posts and photos chronicled a journey that few folks get to take.  Those that are lucky enough to live in China can use our lessons learned to adjust quickly and with less pain than we went through at times.  Not that we didn’t love living there because we did.  We would walk down the Bund, climb the Great Wall (4x) and pinch ourselves.  “We live in China!”  It never got old and we miss our life and the people there.  The pollution, not so much.

Pulling these stories all together after we returned home to Seattle was Thom’s year-long journey.  Who knew it was so hard to edit a book?  I swear every time we thought we had all the spacing, spelling and template formatting just the way we wanted it, we found more opportunities to improve and had to change it.  FINALLY, we hit the button and made my frustrated inner writer very, very happy when Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again:  Our Year as Expats in China became a reality.

Will anyone read it?  Maybe.  My mom will.  The aunt of a guy I met at a friend’s party who just moved to Shanghai to work for Intel will.  Who knows, maybe other people?  Making money and world publishing dominance was never the impetus for writing this book.  Sharing our adventures, recounting our tales so our granddaughter, Mia, will know that her GiGi and NaiNai were crazy world travelers while she was just being born as well as helping other expats adjust to life in China were the main objectives so we are happy.  Back in Seattle, we are always looking for the next adventure.  A vacation to Ireland is coming up soon and then possible work travel to India and Europe.  Would we move abroad again?  You never know.  Life is short.


Our Ayi, Pink, and our Chinese tutor, Fiona


Excercise in the Park-2
My new friend and I exercising in the park.
Sweet Potato-7071
Sweet Potato Lady

Seattle to Shanghai and Back Again: Our Year as Expats in China”  is available here-looks best in color versions vs. Kindle b/w due to photos:

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Fortune Telling at Temple Street Night Market

Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon is known for fake everything and fortune tellers.  Since I have already got all the fake stuff I could ever want from the excellent markets in Beijing and Shanghai, we wandered through the stalls very quickly.  The “Don’t Fart In the Room” and other tacky crap held no appeal for any of us so we just kept on walking.  Crossing over into the dark backstreets behind the market, the fortune tellers were lined up touting their services.  English speaker?  No problem.

Fortune Tellers lined up in Kowloon
Fortune Tellers lined up in Kowloon

There had to be 20 or so fortune tellers lined up with outdoor singing booths across the aisle providing boisterous ambience.  We walked by the gents and ladies initially with Thom scoffing at their trade but I decided to do the “when in Rome” thing and picked the gal who looked the most professional.  After settling on a 150HK$ palm reading, I literally put myself in her hands, squatted on my plastic stool and let her have a go at it.

Fearless and Lucky I am according to my FT
Fearless and Lucky I am according to my FT

The left hand, she told me, represents my life under age 30 and the right hand over 30.  Immediately she showed me my health line which is the arcing prominent line nearest my thumb.  Very healthy indeed!  Check and check!  She knew that I am a great adventurer (probably because I’m sitting in a dark alley in Kowloon!) and will  fearlessly try anything.  I have a good human nature but can tell the bad guys from the good guys, which is always a valuable trait. No fooling this lady!  My lucky line was strong for both hands.  Maybe I can fit in a quick gambling trip to Macau after all??

She continued seriously with very wise advice that could apply to all males–my man is not perfect so ease up on him.  Really?  Also, he doesn’t have a clue what to buy me for presents so just tell him and everyone will be happier.  Hallelujah, sister!  She kept repeating that there had only been two significant men in my life, which would be Thom, of course, and my first husband who died at 23.  My FT (fortune teller) was impressed with my long life line–they do live long in my family but saw some troubling smaller lines indicating that I need to let things go and be happy more.  Ain’t that the truth!  That must have been the Perfectionist, People Pleaser and Overachiever lines etched deeply into my palms.  She could tell I was very successful in all that I do (I wish!) but helped other people be successful too.  I try!  Final parting advice-she warned me not to lend money to others because I would never get it back.  Duh!  Bank of Melinda is now closed.

So many lines, so many details of life in the hands
So many lines, so many details of life in the hands

Overall, my under 30 hand lines are much less pronounced than my over 30 hand.  This confirms what I already knew–that I am seizing the day with my over 30 life and enjoying great adventures with Thom while we can!  So today we are off to the Big Buddha to pray for contentment and lucky lottery numbers so that we can continue to keep experiencing these awesome travel moments.  Big Buddha, brace yourself!  The Georges are Coming!

Sea Kayaking off Cheung Chau Island

KEEP AWAY FROM SHARK PREVENTION NET.  Okay, so if I had seen this beach sign BEFORE I ventured into the China Sea, OUTSIDE the shark prevention net guarding the beachgoers, to kayak off the island of Cheung Chua, I may have offered to stay behind to guard the backpacks and drink cold beverages.  Instead, embracing the “you only live once” motto, I jumped in and off we went with Thom paddling my ass around the rocky shoreline of this charming little fishing island.  Okay, I paddled a little but he did most of the work,  True love, folks!

Taking off from Cheung Chua Island to Hong Kong via the Fast Ferry
Taking off from Cheung Chua Island to Hong Kong via the Fast Ferry

We took the slow ferry (vs. the fast ferry that was the other option) from Hong Kong to Cheung Chua with hundreds of other locals.  After paying our $3US for the ride, we took some seats on the upper deck, always the best position for a quick exit strategy in case of ship accidents which have been happening frequently over here, and, after locating the traditional hammer on the window to be used in case of emergencies, off we went.  The many families on board were playing cards, eating ramen and enjoying themselves immensely.  It’s Beach Day!

On the way over, we saw the Fast Boat quickly pass us as well as a fancy hydrofoil that looked too cool.  We found out later that it goes to Macau–not going to make it there this trip but maybe next time.  I hear Macau is very fancy and intense–gambling there is a business, though, and not fun like Vegas.

Cheung Chua, famous for their Annual Bun Festival, is quite small and totally devoid of cars, with bikes as the main transportation though you can walk around the island in a few hours.  There are motorized carts for business purposes and we did see an ambulance screaming through the narrow streets.  Other than that it was blissfully silent of traffic.  The mature ladies even had training wheels on their bikes to keep them steady.  How cute! The beach is a quick walk across the island from the harbor.  Of course, we didn’t quite know where we were going, as usual, but we kept on walking and found a deserted beach with a shack renting kayaks. Bingo! No silly safety instructions or liability paperwork needed here.  A quick and painless, if unsafe, process.

At least they had life jackets-no safety lecture or liability paperwork though!
At least they had life jackets-no safety lecture or liability paperwork though!

We paid our $80HK/$150HK for our single/double kayaks and started paddling.  After seeing a rather large jelly fish float by, I concentrated harder on staying in the sit atop style kayak, praying I would not somehow tip us over.  Could I out swim the ocean creatures that could sting, eat or maim me?  Well, maybe but I could definitely out swim Thom so all was good. Just kidding!

Sunburnt and hot as Hell, we caught the Fast Boat home and took naps.  We’re off to Kowloon tonight to the night markets, taking yet another ferry across the harbor.  You know I love dodging boats in a busy harbor at night with no lights, right???  Where’s the hammer and the exit???  You only live once and there are more adventures to be had in Hong Kong.  Off we go!

Hong Kong Sunday

Drinking wine, cooking somehow in plastic bags large pots of delicious smelling food, these women were obviously celebrating something.  The lovely ladies were wearing ceremonial brightly colored costumes and enjoying themselves thoroughly. What’s going on in Hong Kong today?

Indonesian ladies celebrating in Victoria Park
Indonesian ladies celebrating in Victoria Park

A street vendor who had costumes to try on for picture taking told us that it was Indonesia New Year this week.  I researched this but couldn’t confirm his information.  No matter, there was some partying going on–we’re talking thousands of women giving each other manicures, singing and smiling.  What a joy it is to immerse yourself in a local culture by walking through the local parks.  The few brave men who were jogging through the park were looking around in amusement at their minority status.  Better run fast, gents, these ladies outnumber you 1,000 to 1 and some might need husbands!

Socializing in Victoria Park
Socializing in Victoria Park

After wandering the park, we sought out a/c in the first urban Ikea we had seen in Asia.  Same meatballs, same furniture.  Since we own all Ikea furniture back in the U.S., it was like being at home.  Sure enough, many of the Indonesian ladies had perched themselves in the living room showrooms to socialize in the cool conditions. Smart!  Next stop was the local mall where we checked out the Apple store (empty!) and the Gap, where we bought James some clothes.  He never asks for clothes but the shirt he was wearing today was at least 5 years old so he was due some new duds.  Not overtly appreciative of our shopping on his behalf (he’s 21 after all) he did change into a new outfit when we had returned from the pool portion of our day.

Hopefully, James will be feeling better tonight for a trip to the Peak for some picture taking.  Tomorrow, we visit the Big Buddha and ask for the lucky lottery #’s for Danny, our hotel butler.  He asked us kindly today to bow 3x times and ask for guidance from Buddha.  If we receive “89”, then we are not being respectful enough because the lottery #’s run 1-45.  When we win, Danny informed us that he will become GM of the Grand Hyatt and we can be CEO’s.  Sounds good to me, Danny!  Big Buddha, here we come!

Hong Kong Pool Paradise

Okay, so I’m not the Pool Police but….when you walk by the lifeguard, who promptly gags and sticks out his tongue, face twisted with disgust, you know that perhaps you should NOT EVER wear a Speedo.  Poolside at the lovely Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, we were treated to a sight no one should have to see, especially on vacation.  Ah, the pool is a happy place most of the time but there will be times when averting the eyes quickly is the only way not to go blind.  Other than that spectacle, the palm trees were waving with a gentle breeze, the water was warm and the view of Hong Kong Harbor was spectacular.  The guy in the Speedo, not so much.

Enjoying a “Seize the Day, It’s Great To Be Young” moment, a trio, two gals and a guy with a great British accent, walked by the pool and then proceeded to jump into the pool with the gals fully dressed and the guy, quickly stripping down to his undies.  After proclaiming loudly, “I LOVE MY LIFE”, they swam over to us and asked the “kind gent” to forever capture the moment with their cracked, water logged iPhone.  Thom, of course, accommodated.  Hope they synced to the cloud cause that phone is toast… well, soggy toast.  The lifeguard, happy to finally have something to do, growled at them to get out of the pool.  Of course, there was no way the lifeguard was jumping in to get them–hotel lifeguards wear sweater vests and shorts here in Hong Kong–all very proper.

Unable to leave the gorgeous sunny oasis, I drank my water and observed all the comings and goings in pool paradise.  Unable to secure a chaise lounge early on, we camped out in the lounge/smoking area.  Seems that cigars are big here as there were several guys puffing away.  Yuck.  One poolside business meeting was taking place over a crystal decanter of amber liquid in addition to the stogies.  All very power and manly-like.

Guys ogled the girls in their teeny tiny bikinis as usual, though here, the pool attendants couldn’t help themselves with one pair of gorgeous gals.  They asked to pose with them for pictures.  Ah Instagram!  Hard to imagine what sitting poolside would have been like without smart phones, tablets and Kindles to keep us busy sharing the moment instead of just living in it.  What did we do???  Maybe nap and relax or even talk to our friends and family??  That’s just crazy talk!

Pool Paradise at Grant Hyatt Hong Kong
Thom Enjoying Pool Paradise at Grant Hyatt Hong Kong


Now, I usually just lay by the pool and don’t swim all that much.  Really, swimming in a pool is like taking a bath with strangers who probably pee at will and share all kinds of icky stuff among themselves.  However, on this hotel day, I threw caution and hygiene to the wind and dove right into the Petri dish of human filth.  Felt great!  After a crazy week of work, this is just what I needed.   Of course, I can’t wait to shower off.  Let’s be real.

Tonight, we’ll seek out the famous Night Markets and I’ll bargain like a mule.  After all, there is a little space in my suitcase for just a few Hong Kong bargains.

Hot Damn….Hong Kong Heaven

I LOVE HONG KONG! Seriously, it is clean, civilized and gorgeous. I was lucky to stay on the outskirts in Cyperport at the Le Meridien Hotel. Infinity pool. CHECK. Crazy bean bag lounge overlooking gorgeous water view. CHECK. Walking distance to mall and park on the water where dogs, really big ones, roam free. CHECK. International grocery that sells bagels and People magazine plus cheap wine. CHECK, CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK. Hot Damn Hong Kong Heaven!  A Westerner’s paradise in Asia, Hong Kong is visually stunning with high rise luxury apartments seemingly everywhere and drivers actually following the rules of the road. What, what…what, what?? That’s crazy talk. No bikes/scooters and the buses are all charming double deckers whizzing around the curvy hilly roads. One safety reminder-they have British heritage so they drive on the wrong (at least to me) side of the road. Remember to look both ways or die when crossing the street.  They actually have painted reminders on the pavement to remind folks like me to look both ways first.  How thoughtful!

View of Victoria Harbor from The Peak
View of Victoria Harbor from The Peak

We took a cab to The Peak for dinner. About 90 Hong Kong $’s which is about $15 US. Our driver would definitely feel at home behind the wheel of a Porsche in a Grand Prix race. He took those steep curves with confidence and precision as we wound our way upward into the clouds. Though there were some guardrails, in general, it was frightening to look over the edge of the mountain as we raced by the steep and stunning vista’s below. Oh well, it did get the blood flowing as my heart pounded and I occasionally had to just shut my eyes in terror. I figure he knew what he was doing and, if he didn’t, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it so I just had to pray, hard, and trust.

Once at The Peak, there is a very western shopping mall with McD’s, Burger King, Starbucks, etc. but we ate at a lovely Thai restaurant with outside deck, enjoying shrimp, salad, spring rolls, etc. I am getting much better with the chopstick control and managed to eat quite well with them without launching food at my fellow diners. We literally were in the clouds and the wispy puffs were on the move with a strong breeze making the hot weather very lovely. The deck on the mall has an outstanding view of the Victoria Harbor. You can take the Tram down the mountain or cab it. The Tram does have a long line so be prepared to wait quite awhile for this scenic ride. At 9 p.m., one of the largest skyscrapers has a light show on the outside of the building. Quite beautiful so time dinner right and you get a show afterward for free.

Bean Bag Lounge at Le Meridien in Hong Kong...easy to get into and harder to get up, especially after a drink or two!
Bean Bag Lounge at Le Meridien in Hong Kong…easy to get into and harder to get up, especially after a drink or two!

Surrounded on one side by lush green mountains and water on the other side, I’ve so enjoyed watching the boats in the busy harbor. I’ve decided to be happy and content, I must live near both water and mountains. When we lived in Seattle, we were right on the water and loved seeing the ferries and cruise ships with mountains in the background. Now, in Shanghai, it’s a different experience watching the coal boats shoot up the Huangpu River but still, while not so scenic, it does provide an interesting and always different view.

So, back to Beijing and then on to Shanghai to enjoy a long Chinese Dragonboat Festival weekend.  I do love all the Chinese holidays.  I’ll be watching for the dragons and boats on local waterways-the ferries should have fun dodging those as they cross the river.  It will be so good to get home and enjoy a respite from living in a Beijing hotel. I’ll be looking forward to another trip to Hong Kong this summer to share it’s excitement with Thom and James and do more exploring of this beautiful city.  Bean Bag Lounge, here I come!