Tag Archives: shopping

Flying business

20 Sep

As I mentioned before, I have traveled a lot in the last four months.  I’ve been all over – the States three times, South Korea three times, the UK (Britain and Scotland), Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.  All told I was traveling over two thirds of the time from May through the end of August.

Blue skies

Blue skies

With that much travel, I spent a lot of time in airports – on planes, in lounges and in the duty free shops.  I also saw many, many more blue skies than if I had stayed in China.  My status on Delta and its alliance partners has ticked up to the top and I must admit that I’m getting a little spoiled from not standing in line, cutting security queues and having first access to the plane.

In London I got to explore the Virgin Clubhouse lounge which has waiter service, a hair salon, a music studio and a pool table inside.  In San Francisco, Korean Air uses the British Airways lounge where I was the only person in the highest lounge for nearly an hour with a full buffet to myself.  In Shanghai I now know which lounges let you access the plane directly and avoid the scramble around the gate above.  Sydney’s lounges have a full barista set up where I could get a fresh cup of chai and homemade scone.

A buffet for one

A buffet for one

I bought English breakfast tea and Winston Churchill’s caramels in London, kangaroo jerky in Sydney and my ultimate foot lotion socks in Seoul, plus lots of candy and other small gifts as I made my way through the airports.  I completed a survey on the Seoul airport and got a free toothbrush.

The best way to pamper your feet - only found in Korea.  Single use lotion socks that are incredible!

The best way to pamper your feet – only found in Korea. Single use lotion socks that are incredible!

I spent a weekend exploring the area near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I ate traditional Korean food in Seoul and caught up with old friends in Singapore.  My boss bravely tried haggis in Scotland where I marveled that there was whisky on the breakfast buffet.  I met up with a former colleague for a weekend in San Francisco where we had sourdough bread and met people I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years at an actuarial conference.

My visit to Jakarta was punctuated with a breakfast with one of my first friends from Shanghai who was in my Chinese class way back when I was teaching English.  She’s Indonesian and had moved back with her husband a couple of years ago.  One visit to the States I had a rental car and enjoyed driving again with the windows down.

Of course I also met with clients and colleagues and had conference calls at odd hours.  I struggled through jet lag and time differences and not remembering which room was mine at the hotel because I had three different room numbers in a week and none of them stuck in my head.

Will my carry-on fit?  Of course... I am flying business!

Will my carry-on fit? Of course… I am flying business!

It was fun and invigorating and exhausting.

In short, it was business travel.

I’m ready for a break.

Have you ever traveled a lot for business?  What are your favorite memories?


Guest post – I’m ready to move to China* – part 2

14 Jan

*except for that whole “speaking Mandarin” thing

I am pleased to announce that I’m starting the year off with something new on the blog.  My good friend and cousin, Matt came to visit me mid-October and before he left I gave him the idea of doing a guest post.  This is the second segment of the three.  To read segment one with his observations, click here.

Apparently the Chinese Internet Censors are asleep at the switch, because I’m back in the blogosphere! You didn’t think I’d spend over a week in China and only have seven recordable observations, did you? Much thanks to my hostess for allowing me continue my rambling, incoherent jumble of thoughts that I insist is a narrative!

Without further ado, here are some more of my Chinese observations:

  • G and I got foot massages together. I don’t get massages often (or, um, really ever) but I gather that the concept of Chinese massage is sort of a test of endurance. I spent my time straddling the line between relaxation and bearable pain. She taught me “ching e dian” (轻一点lighter) and “jong e dian” (重一点harder). I said “harder” once, held on as long as I could, and then asked for “softer.” Upon leaving, I felt like I had survived, rather than relaxed.  That said, I would definitely go back again (and did, near the end of my visit).
  • Massage sidebar: both of our masseuses agreed that my size 15 feet were the largest they’d ever seen.  My feet barely fit in the pre-massage hot water bucket.  I do like to leave an impression on people!
  • The Shanghai subway system is very easy to learn. Having English signs is a boon, of course, but what really helps are the large arrows on the floor showing where to go to reach your desired train line. I also marvel at the temporary blockades they put up to better control the flow of foot traffic during rush hour. One complaint: you need to know which exit gate to go through, because there’s no second chance. More than once I left through the wrong set of gates, and ended up being forced to go back to street-level from an exit across the street from where I wanted to be.
  • Whether you’re in the shops around Yu Yuan Gardens, or Tiantong Rd., or just off Xizang Rd near Zizhong Rd, or the famed Night Market in Hangzhou, one observation holds true: you’re gonna see a lot of stalls selling the same stuff.  There’ll be differences in types of merchandise from location to location, but within any particular center you’ll find three or four shops selling the same items.  I guess if you’ve got time and can haggle respectably, that means there are deals to be had. If you’re me, it means making a purchase at one shop, then finding a vendor four stalls down offering you the same item for 20 RMB less as a starting offer.  Hmph.
Many stalls around Yu Yuan

Many stalls around Yu Yuan

  • During our first afternoon in Hangzhou, Greta and I ambled down to the West Lake waterfront. Coincidentally we arrived near the water’s edge roughly a minute before a water fountain show was to begin! Some people had arrived early to get available seating for the “Music Fountain,” but we were able to walk up to the first row of “standing room.” The actual show was impressive: a line of rotatable water spouts (plus a circle of spouts to each side) that “danced” in tune with the music being played over loudspeakers. There were three or four songs in total, and the whole spectacle lasted about 15 minutes.
The fountain at work

The fountain at work

I repeatedly came back to two thoughts: what kind of effort went into programming all of those nozzles to perform such elaborate routines, and how much mechanical upkeep is necessary to keep the show running in top condition year round? (Remember, I AM an engineer!) That second thought came from watching one poor spigot without enough water pressure flailing helplessly at the lake’s surface between its functioning brothers.

Hazy view of the fountain

Hazy view of the fountain

  • One of my better accomplishments in China was during our second night in Hangzhou. After parting ways, I wandered back down to the Night Market and successfully pantomimed my way into ordering a delicious grilled squid from one of the many sidewalk food vendors.  The key moments were pointing at the squid, holding up one finger, and mumbling “yi ge.” Baby steps, people!
  • The smaller the diameter of tapioca ball in your milk tea, the longer it takes to finish that tea.
Lingyin Temple

Lingyin Temple

  • The Lingyin temple compound is quite impressive, but it probably spoiled me. Later in the week I visited the Longhua Temple, and found it to be interesting, but underwhelming by comparison. If I was better versed in Buddhism, perhaps I would be able to pick up on the nuances of each temple (and each chamber within the temple). Alas, at this time I can only appreciate them from an artistic (and sometimes architectural) perspective.
Rear of Lingyin Temple

Rear of Lingyin Temple

  • When we got back from Hangzhou, we showed Li our videos of the “Music Fountain.” We wanted to know if he recognized the song being used. Li did not recognize it; he surmised it was some generic composition that Americans tourists would think “sounded Chinese.” He’s probably right.
  • English translations on Chinese restaurant menus can be head-scratchingly hilarious. G and I ate at Yun Se Restaurant in Shanghai, where she spent a lot of time comparing the accuracy of the Chinese names to their English equivalents. Mind you, the food she DID order was delicious, but here are some other options (as seen on the menu): Pepper beer, Basin of hypodermal, Burn the pig feet, Hairtail, The non general perch, and of course, Donald Duck. Bon appetit!

We’ve reached the end of another guest segment. Make sure you stay tuned next week for the final segment. Thank you again for allowing me to write! And thanks to you, the viewer, for boosting both the page views and my own ego. Until next time!

Any engineers out there who want to comment on the pressure in the fountain?  What types of details do you pay attention to when traveling?  Share your thoughts!

A new travel bag

19 Feb

I travel quite a bit – some for work and some for pleasure.  One of the items that I consider key to a successful trip is the bag that I use as my purse.

For work, I need to be slightly more dressy, but for the last several years for personal travel I have had a bright red nylon travel purse which has been able to meet my many needs in multiple countries.  It is over the shoulder so my hands are free, it has many interior and exterior pockets and places to slide my passport and spending money and subway cards.  It sheds rain and has a big back pocket where I can slide a book, a map or an umbrella and most importantly it is light.

My bag at this point has been on multiple continents, over half a dozen different countries and many more cities.  It is an old friend.

Here's my original purse earlier this year when we were climbing Mt. Tai

Here’s my original purse last year when we were climbing Mt. Tai

Unfortunately I have now been using the same bag for at least seven years and at this point, the wear and tear has gotten the better of it.  The last time I used the bag I noticed that the metal clasp had rusted and the bottom of the bag has changed colors.  It was time to look for a replacement.

On my walk to work I go by a couple of luggage stores and there had been a bag in the window that was calling my name.  Finally, I broke down and went in and bought a replacement.  It is a slightly different shape and size, but still light, goes over my shoulder and is waterproof.  Instead of red it’s a shade of dark pink so in the same color family.  I’m actually trying it out right now!

I wonder where it will go?

I wonder where it will go?

What travel supplies do you pay attention to when you’re on the road?

Globalization via my medicine cabinet

13 Jan

Before I moved to China I asked everyone I knew who had been there before what I should pack.  I got all kinds of advice – in fact that was my very first blog post on my former blog (The Shanghai Chronicle).  I took the advice seriously and pretty much packed it all (and lots more).  In my two suitcases I crammed all matter of things that were used for my first 9 months in China.

Five years on, some of that advice no longer holds.  The number of international stores in Shanghai has blossomed – from a Marks and Spencer where I can buy puff pastry and dresses that actually fit to the chain Watsons (a drugstore) which carries Cetaphil (my face wash).  More and more of what I deem to be “normal” is appearing in the shops – and I’m guessing is also purchased by Chinese customers.

One thing that I remember specifically being warned to pack was dental floss.  I was warned that Chinese people don’t care much about oral hygiene and since it was small, I should tuck it into my bag.  Each time I have gone back to the US, I have continued to purchase a roll or two because it was something just not worth researching.  Unfortunately, this time when I was back in the States, I forgot.  My dental floss ran out only a couple days after I got back.

If I asked someone to mail it to me it would probably cost more in postage than the floss itself so I started looking for alternatives.  My supermarket had some “dental floss picks” – which I bought, but was not very impressed.  I had almost given up when I was in a 7-11 by my office and saw that they had dental floss.  In a convenience store!

I bought a roll and took it home, examining the packaging and opened it up.  It was regular dental floss.  Turning the roll over, I realized that it had been made in Ireland.

The global dental floss

The global dental floss

That is a story of globalization.  Dental floss purchased by an American woman at a convenience store in Shanghai that had been made in Ireland.  It boggles the mind.

So now, I need to hope that American-style deoderant can make that same long trip!

Have you ever marveled at where the most basic of commodities comes from?

Travel theme – On Display

18 Oct

After a several week hiatus from Ailsa’s travel themes, when I saw the latest theme I knew that I would participate.  The theme is – On Display.  The concept is that when you travel you often buy goods or spend time browsing looking for the perfect souvenir to take home.  The stores or displays themselves can turn into a representation of that trip.

My favorite souvenirs are magnets – my refrigerator is currently covered with magnets that remind me of my travels all over the world, but that wasn’t the first image that came to my head.  Instead I thought of my family’s trip to China over four years ago and some of the amazing things that were available for purchase.

During that trip there were two stops – one in Beijing and one in Xi’an that I still remember today.  The first was a stop at a cloisonne factory where they showed us the process to make the intricately painted porcelain vases that are a stereotype of China.   When you see how long it takes to do, it makes the prices seem more affordable.

Putting on the metal design into the cloisonne

Adding the color

Surrounded by samples, finishing the color adding

Removing the vases from the furnace

A very large example of a cloisonne vase. Probably not for resale, but in China, you never know.

The showroom – finished products on display

The second stop was a factory/showroom where they reproduced terra cotta warriors in Xi’an.  They showed us the small figures and also the life sized ones.  My parents purchased several of them to take home.

Miniature molds

Dad with a reconstructed head

Two additional soldiers “on display” at the sales office.

I may do another post on this topic in the future as I think I have other shots that also would work, but for the time being – these displays are what I have to share.  To see how others decided to display their choices, please click the link at the beginning of the post.

What has been your favorite souvenir?  What do you like to see on display?

Buying a jade bangle

5 Aug

Ever since my parents and sister visited China in 2008 and purchased my sister a jade bracelet, I have been getting asked when I am going to purchase one myself.  I’ve put it off – most of the jewelry I wear has been a gift, but my mom kept up the constant pressure and I eventually felt myself that it would be a worthwhile purchase.  Jade bangles traditionally signify protection and are linked to your physical health.

Earlier this year when I visited Tengchong with my colleagues we saw lots and lots of jade bangles, but I wasn’t quite ready to buy, plus making a major purchase when you’re with a tour group seemed complicated.  I asked lots of questions, trying to understand the different qualities of jade and my options, but didn’t buy anything.  This past weekend though on a beautiful Hong Kong Saturday, I finally took the plunge.

I spent the day with a colleague who had previously lived in Hong Kong and had family who had lived there as well.  We headed to the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong where there are lots of small shops, many of which focus on jewelry.  My colleague wasn’t an expert in jewelry, but she offered to help me bargain and translate – even though most shops have Mandarin speakers, having a Cantonese speaker on my side made me feel more comfortable.  Before we headed out we discussed my price range and how much we would try to bargain but I still wasn’t sure if it would be a successful trip or not.

We started by doing a little window shopping to see what the stores in that area were offering.  That alone was intimidating because the bracelets shown in the window tended to be over $100,000 HKD which is over $12,000 USD – definitely over my price range.    Eventually we went into a store and asked them if they had lower price bangles.  They gave us tea and then pulled out some in $10,000 to $20,000 HKD range ($1200 to $2400 USD) which still was too expensive.  At that point I was getting a little discouraged, but we kept trying different shops.

At the third or fourth they finally pulled out some bracelets in my range, but when they opened the boxes the bracelets weren’t the traditional green jade I was expecting and instead was a dull gray color.  It seemed like finding a green jade bracelet in my range was going to be tough – the green and the translucence increased as the price went up.  I think if I had been on my own I likely would have stopped, but as I had already involved my colleague, we kept going.

The final shop we went into also said they had some bracelets in my price range but they needed to bring them out of storage.  While we were waiting, we looking at the very expensive bracelets in the display case – including one that was $1.6 million HKD.  The bracelet was beautiful – a balanced green and purple color and I’m guessing incredibly rare but in the US you can buy a house for the equivalent. The wait was worth it though because they had one bracelet that I really liked and after bargaining it was right in the range I wanted to pay.  I think it suits my wrist well.

This store let me try on the bracelet, but they insisted on rubbing my hand and arm in baby oil before sliding it on.  It slid on pretty easily and they told me that if I wanted  I could look at a smaller size, but I decided that I didn’t want to.  They also told me that lots of people sleep in their bracelets because it is too much trouble to remove them each day.  That evening when I tried to take off the bracelet I understood why.  I initially tried to slide it off and wound up bruising my hand before I grabbed the soap and managed to slide it off.

Note the bruise on my hand!

The bracelet matches my top. This may be part of the reason why I chose this one.

A beautiful bracelet and a bruise.  I think the bracelet will be with me a lot longer.

Have you made any interesting purchases lately?

Shopping behind the temple

13 May

A few weekends ago Li was traveling and I was on my own on a Sunday afternoon.  I had exercised in the morning with my trainer, gone to the grocery store and had been about as productive as possible during the day.  After debating with myself whether I would stay in and watch TV or get out of the house, I eventually went for a nice long walk.

It was a windy day, but not too cold and oddly clear weather for Shanghai’s spring.  My apartment is close to Wen Miao which is a small temple but quite historic.  I decided to head that way – I thought it was likely the temple had already closed for the day, but it’s a lively area with lots to see and eat.  As I wandered I snapped a few photographs to try to remember the day and the place.

Because there are two schools – elementary and a high school nearby there are lots of things that would appeal to kids. Many of the stores have stationery and school products and this time I also noticed an awful lot of Japanese stickers and Hello Kitty merchandise. The snacks are cheap and fast and you could see young couples and friends sharing food and browsing in the small stores. Even though I was by myself I felt very comfortable just observing.

I like the way that this temple is part of the community – a backdrop to daily life.  I’m glad I got out of the house.

Where do you go when you need to get out of the house?  What’s your favorite secret shopping spot?

Duty free shopping

10 Apr

One of the benefits of flying so much internationally is the ability to purchase goods in the airport that are either not available regularly in China, or at much reduced prices from what I can get here.  In an overarching generalization, Chinese citizens are firm believers in buying as much as possible from duty free shops – to the point that most folks have at least one if not two bags that they will carry onto the plane.  Alcohol is of course popular, as are cigarettes, make-up, perfume, designer handbags and my favorite – chocolate.

Unfortunately I’ve also gotten a bit snobbish – US duty free stores – at least the ones in Chicago – are not up to par with the stores in Asia or even in Europe when I went to Paris a couple of years ago.  But, because I fly at least once a quarter to parts elsewhere, I have ample opportunities to browse and/or select things at the stores.  I’ve purchased the occasional Christmas gift there and looked at new technology and even considered (but didn’t purchase) buying some new luggage.

During my last business trip, I was feeling a bit peckish when in the airport ready to fly off and so passed the time browsing – knowing that soon I would be in the same seat for 5 and a half hours.  I didn’t want sweet, but I was looking for something salty and I wasn’t in the mood for typical Chinese snack food.  The only thing that I could find in that flavor profile was a bag of Combos.  Combos are a pretzel with some type of flavor in the middle – cheese, pepperoni, garlic, pizza – all very processed and not typically something I would choose.  I haven’t eaten Combos since high school, but after deciding that yes, I really did want salt, I purchased a bag – which was industrial sized – from the duty free store.  During the remainder of that trip I munched the combos – Pizza Flavor – until the point when I landed in Singapore and felt rather ill.

I actually snapped a picture when on the plane as I could tell this was not going to end well!

The remains of the bag went into the trash.  Uggh.

Be careful when duty free shopping.

Devil Nut(s)?

8 Mar

Over the last month or so I have run into stores in three different shopping malls that are called – Devil Nut.  It’s such a strange name with such strange figurines that it made me take notice.  I snapped a picture at the first one I saw as you can see – the strange creatures with three eyeballs seem to be following me.  After the third one, I finally went into the store and found a selection of skateboarder gear – something I’d saw probably appropriate for high school students- tight graphic t-shirts, baggy pants and wild colors.  I have to give this company credit for such a media blitz of advertising, but I don’t really think I’m their target customer.

Would you buy something from a store called “Devil Nut”?  Is it in the US now or is this just a China phenomenon?  Please share!

Quick note – I wish all of my reader’s happy woman’s day!  March 8th is the day to recognize women and their successes and achievements across the globe.  In my office we’re arranging for sweets and hopefully to go home an hour or two early.  Do you have any plans?

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