What A Year!

One year anniversary celebration golden vintage logotype. FirstMy last day with EY was July 9th, 2018. Therefore today marks a full year since I officially started my “work break”. Reflecting on what I accomplished during this time, I can say without hesitation that the experience has been very fulfilling. I am grateful to have this opportunity to devote much time and energy to what is important in my life.

My new journey actually started on June 25th, 2018, when I shared my plans on this blog before boarded a flight to Europe. A whirlwind of activities followed, as documented in Much needed R&R. Things didn’t get as crazy since then but I have been quite busy nonetheless. I can’t believe how fast time flies.

I set out three priorities during my time off – 1) travel; 2) spend time with family and friends; 3) read, write, exercise, and relax. I did pretty well in all three areas. My post at the beginning of 2019 included the first half of this one-year adventure, and below is a brief overall report (all numbers are for the time period 06/25/2018 to 07/10/2019).

Travel – I visited 14 countries, 11 of which were new to me.

  1. Denmark (Copenhagen, Bornholm)
  2. Poland (Gdańsk)
  3. Lithuania (Klaipeda)
  4. Estonia (Tallin)
  5. Russia (St. Petersburg)
  6. Finland (Helsinki, Aland)
  7. Sweden (Stockholm)
  8. China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong)
  9. Philippines (Hundred Islands, Manila, Boracay, Coron, Palawan)
  10. Malaysia (Kota Kinabalu, Kuching)
  11. Brunei
  12. Singapore
  13. Costa Rica (San José, Fortuna, Guanacaste, Manuel Antonio)
  14. Cuba (Camagüey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Remedios, Havana)

Additionally, David and I did a 2000-mile road trip in US Northwest from Crater Lake to Glacier National Park via Columbia River Gorge. We fully immersed ourselves in the beautiful nature. We also drove down to Charleston, SC and spent a few wonderful days exploring its rich history and culture.

Spend time with family and friends – Believe it or not, I flew back to China four times this past year for various reasons. With 53 days there, I got a chance to catch up with many old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for decades. I spent three precious months with my mother during her recent visit, including three trips to Pennsylvania to see my aunt. I was also on four long road trips to New England to visit David’s family, a total of 19 days. Throughout the year there were numerous get-togethers with friends and ex-colleagues as well. I greatly cherished all these wonderful personal interactions.

Read, write, exercise, and relax – I ended up more or less on track with my reading schedule, even though I was four books behind at times. I still wasn’t able to finish the books piled on my floor, nor the many classic Chinese books that I was hoping to re-read. At my friend’s prompt, I wrote 7 Chinese articles on travel (about 20,000 Chinese characters). I didn’t write as many English blog posts as I should though. In terms of exercise, I swam less than before but walked a lot more, averaging 8,209 steps a day. I also attended 12 hot yoga classes and played tennis 5 times. Not sure how much I relaxed this year, given all the hectic activities, travel stresses, and family events, but I feel quite refreshed at the moment so I guess I relaxed more than I remembered. 🙂

All in all, it has been a very rewarding year with many unforgettable memories. I am so glad I made the big decision and carried it out. Now I am getting ready for the next chapter of my life, and I expect great things to come in the near future.


Why We Travel

For people who are not passionate about exploring different places, we travelers are crazy. Why spend so much money and time, go through all sorts of challenges and stresses, to see a scenery that they can easily see on postcards, travel channels, YouTube, Google Earth, with all the comfort of home? Well, here are my reasons, and I am sure other travelers could add to the list.

  • The ‘wow’ moments – I look forward to those moments, when something magnificent suddenly appear in front of me, that I cannot help exclaiming ‘wow’ or ‘my God’! My eyes widen, my heart beats faster, and I feel like crying. As they say, “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” There have been many such moments in my life, and I want more.
  • Scale – no matter how good the photos and videos are, they can’t really show the scale of many things. You have to be close to truly appreciate their splendor. Sometimes this is the cause of the ‘wow’ moments. A few examples: Grand Canyon, Uluru, Perito Moreno Glacier, giant sequoias, Terracotta army.
  • Nature – different sunrises and sunsets, stars from both hemispheres, creek or lake water that you can drink directly from, waterfalls’ crashing sound and mist, glacier’s groaning, smells of the air, monkeys’ howling, birds’ chirping, absolute silence. You have to be there in person to experience for yourself.
  • People – Interactions with people and interesting travel stories stay the longest in memories. Fellow travelers on the same cruise, outstanding tour guides, and local people we happen to meet and chat with. Remember that interesting Japanese guy on the train? Or that old couple relaxing in front of their big RV? Observe people at different places – Scandinavians in suits ride bicycles to work; Londoners with big umbrellas; Japanese in beautiful kimonos.
  • Food and Drinks – Needless to say, tasting the authentic signature food and drinks from different places is another benefit of travel that you can’t really get at home. I could never forget the huge pig knuckle in Germany, the kangaroo and emu pizza in Australia, the beignets in New Orleans, the rakija in Serbia, and the mate tea in Argentina.

Finally, I drag my exhausted body and satisfied soul onto flights and into cars for the return journey. Lying on my own bed once again, I sigh out loud: ahhh, I enjoy traveling, and I love coming home.

adventure-earphones-earth-1079034 (2)

Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

Write, Write, Write

It has been nine months since I decided to take a break from work and begin a new journey. I am happy to report that I have accomplished most plans I set out – unforgettable trips to new countries; time well spent with family and friends especially my mother during her visit to US; lots of reading and exercising.

However, there was one thing that I fell short of, and that was “write about my trips and family stories”. I did write a few posts here and there, but not the paragraphs and chapters that I intend to organize into a book (or books) later on.

Today my good friend Jun called me and we talked for about an hour. She is a very accomplished author and she encouraged me once again to write. I ended up promising her that I would write 25,000 characters before May 20th, which is about 1,000 per day. Note that these are Chinese characters, not quite the same as English words count. For example, ‘Italy’ is one word in English, but its Chinese equivalent has three characters. But in many cases one English word does equal to one Chinese character. On average, I estimate 25,000 Chinese characters would translate into about 15,000 English words. Achievable in a month, right?

I will write about my various trips, and this would give me a chance to organize my photos. While I am at it, I will also catch up on English writing for this blog. My current plan is to set aside three hours a day for writing. As David mentioned in his post, “developing a writing routine is essential”!

I will start a routine immediately after I return from a trip in five days…

camera-contemporary-desk-905877(Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels)

Games (Part II)

Games (Part I)

Push BoxAnother game I liked a lot was “Push Box”. The goal was simple – figure out how to move the boxes to the target locations by pushing them. Some levels were quite difficult indeed and required lots of brain power. This game was quite revealing of different personalities and styles – some people thought ahead and plotted all the moves in their head first; while others just started pushing and restarted whenever a box reached a dead end.

Computer hardware and software progressed rapidly, and the image and sound quality of games improved accordingly. I tried out many games but none held my interest for long. I vaguely remember capsules and virtual cops and missiles and sim cities. Every time I went back to China, my niece also introduced new games for us to play. I really enjoyed those precious moments when we laughed and screamed together.

I had a Palm Pilot for a while, the early primitive black-and-white version. Sometimes during my long commute, I played sub-hunt. It was a simple and boring game. Thinking back, I really should have read books instead. Then came Xbox with awesome games. Their effects and sceneries were comparable to movies. Fortunately, I didn’t indulge too much on them due to my neck/shoulder problems. Wii became available after that. At least Wii games involved physical exercises, be it tennis or golf or bowling or yoga or other body-moving fun activities. I really enjoyed it for quite a while, until my interest waned. I am considering picking it up again.

SONY PSPIn 2009, a good friend lent me a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) for about two months, which reminded me of the hand-held Tetris console in the old days, only with much better high-quality games. Again, I kept refreshing my own top scores. I believe various records on that little machine are still mine even today.

So far, I had been playing solo most of the time. If people wanted to play together, they needed to show up at the same location. For example, boxing on Wii. With faster internet and all-time connections, game-playing began to reach a new level. The social aspect of games became more important. I started to play on Facebook by accepting friends’ invitations and challenges – Bejeweled Blitz, World Traveler IQ, Kitchen Scramble, Candy Crush, etc. Competing, helping, and making new friends added a lot more fun to these online games.

Next up, as you might have guessed, were those addictive games on smart phones and tablets. To be continued…

A Legend Left Us

Jin YongThe first thing I learned this morning was that the legendary martial arts (wuxia) novelist Jin Yong passed away in Hong Kong at age 94. Here is an Obituary titled “Jin Yong fused martial arts fantasy, history and romance into must-read novels.”

Must-read they were! My generation more or less grew up with his novels. Everybody was so familiar with the vivid characters and stories that it became a cultural phenomenon. His books spawned many movies, TV dramas, video games over the years. Even here in US, I was once pleasantly surprised when I was chatting with a Vietnamese coworker and found out that she was a big fan as well!

Jin Yong published 15 martial arts titles from 1955 to 1972, then he announced that he would write no more. I ended up reading them all, several of which multiple times. During my forming teenage years, I learned honor, love, loyalty, courage, history, and many other things from these precious books.

Jin Yong novels

I forgot when they first became available in mainland China – probably in the mid-1980s. My father bought “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” and a few others and locked them in a cabinet. My sister and I were not allowed to read them because it would take up too much of our study time. One thing my parents didn’t know was that we found out where they hid the keys!

So, when we were home alone during school breaks, we took the keys (after memorizing how each key was laid out), opened the cabinet, noted how the books were laid out, grabbed a book, locked the cabinet, put back the keys as we found them, and read greedily. We were equally careful and meticulous while returning the books shortly before parents were due to come home. This way my sister and I read all the martial arts books in that cabinet without our parents’ detection. To this day my mother still marvels at our ability to accomplish such a feat.

Just two weeks ago I considered re-reading some Chinese books that I read when I was young, including a few novels by Jin Yong. Now I want to do it even more. I am sure I will have whole new feelings and insights after decades of life experience.

Today’s WeChat updates were filled with news and tributes; my friends both in China and US were talking about Jin Yong with sadness. Given that he stopped writing novels in 1972, it was not a sentiment as in “too bad we can’t read any more new novels now that he is gone”. It is quite amazing, really, that we still feel such a deep loss after so many years. I think my sister got it right – we are paying tribute to our own youths.


Games (Part I)

As I was playing games on my iPhone this morning, I reflected on the ancient games I played decades ago, how far and quickly technology has progressed, and what features make an addictive game. I suspect these reflections will result in a few posts.

My electronic game playing had a long history. It started in the 1980s, during the early days when personal computers first came into China. At the time both my parents worked in an electrical engineering technology research institute, therefore I got an early exposure. Even though it was only a very basic number-matching game on a small screen with sharp green letters and symbols, I was hooked. Later came color monitors and I was addicted to more sophisticated games like load runner, decathlon, bartender, and one involved a bird jumping up and down piled blocks. These were still in the DOS environment, long before the GUI days.

Of course, the time spent on playing games on a computer was very limited. Back in those days, we still played mostly with real people in real life – group activities outdoors and chess or cards indoors. Not to mention playing time was far less than studying time.

Tetris-Brick-HandheldAt some point a good friend gave me a hand-held Tetris game console and I was on it day and night. I was very motivated to beat my own top scores (I still am today). I played until most buttons broke off. That was the end of it and my parents had a sigh of relief.

Then came the revolutionary Windows! I immediately indulged in Minesweeper and Freecell. I don’t want to boast but my Minesweeper scores were second to none. And I had a spreadsheet to keep track of the Freecell games I completed, with a goal to finish all 32,000 of them. I went at it for years and crossed out at least 22,000, before the original 32,000 were lost among the updates and new versions that rendered my tracking meaningless.

RichAt about the same time, in 1993 I believe, I, along with my parents and friends, enjoyed playing the first versions of Rich (大富翁). It was still under DOS so the images were rugged, but we had so much fun! Talking about lands and buildings and cash and stocks as if they were real. I remember staying up all night for it. An added benefit of playing this game was that I learned about all the locations in Taiwan and Hong Kong and their real estate values.

2657265402My all-time favorite game is 仙剑奇侠传. It is a beautiful story about love, sacrifice, trust, courage, magic, finding the way, fighting the evils, and achieving the ultimate good. I played it at least five times from start to finish. Even though I already knew how the story would progress and end, I still enjoyed the process accompanied by the awesome images and music. This game was made into a movie years later.

To be continued…


A New Journey

Life, like a book, proceeds in chapters. Now I am about to start a new one.

I decided to take a one-year break from work to explore new places and experiences. It was a hard decision to depart from a prestigious firm, an awesome team, and wonderful colleagues. But I believe now is a good time to do it – to minimize the potential future regrets.

The next month or two will be quite exhausting yet exhilarating at the same time. I will start by cruising around the Baltic Sea, immediately followed by a college reunion in Shanghai and then family visit in Beijing. I will also squeeze in a trip to Hong Kong before returning to US. Then a road trip to New England to visit my boyfriend’s family, and another road trip starting at Crater Lake National Park and ending at Glacier National Park.

In December we will go to explore Southeast Asia – Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. Also in the consideration is a trip to South America and Antarctica in Jan/Feb, but that requires much research and planning still.

Taking time off also enables me to spend more time with family and friends. This upcoming trip back to China is longer than usual and provides good opportunities to do so. My mom is planning to visit me in US in the fall and it would be great to spend quality time together.

When I am not traveling or travel-planning, I want to read all the books piled up on my shelves and floors, and write about my trips and family stories. I need to organize the tens of thousands of photos in my computer. I will develop a routine for exercising, meditating, learning, volunteering, etc.

I wish I had time now to write more about the decision process, the sad and heart-warming farewells, and the exciting plans. But I need to depart soon. More to come…