Four Books Behind Schedule

Three days ago, Goodreads showed that I was four books behind reaching my goal of reading 50 books this year. This is a bit unexpected – I thought that I would have more time to read after I stopped working. On the other hand, it is not surprising at all. In the past two months I traveled a lot and spent much time with family and friends. Obviously I wasn’t reading books when I was eating, drinking, chatting, singing, shopping, sightseeing, hiking, and driving.

First of all, I had a wonderful time in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. It was a great opportunity to catch up with many old friends and enjoy being with family. So much delicious food, so much laughter, so many unforgettable memories. Consequently, I only finished one book in a whole month.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After I returned to US and got over the jet lag, David and I drove up to spend time with his parents in Massachusetts, visit his brother and sister-in-law in Maine, then picked up his son to visit us in Virginia. It was a completely different world and experience from China in terms of culture, language, environment, food, activities, etc., but I equally cherished every moment we shared with family.

Winter Harbor and Acadia National Park in Maine –


Luray Caverns and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia –


Well, I am happy to report that I finished two books these past few days, so I am actually only two books behind schedule as of today. Achieving the goal is still promising even though I have a few more trips planned before the year-end. Stay tuned. 🙂



Scan QR Codes Everyday

It has been a week since I returned to US, and I am itching to scan some QR codes. You see, I did it almost everyday while I was in China.

There, most payments are done with phones through Ali Pay or WeChat Pay. Believe it or not, the latter is actively used by some 600 million users every month. People can either set up a ‘payment code’ on their phones to be scanned at supermarket’s check out, or they use their phones to scan vendors’ QR codes to pay them.

For example, in stores, you usually see pieces of paper with QR codes at the cashier, outside the door, on the shelves, or sometimes buried under a pile of clothes. Once you finish bargaining and are ready to pay, you just scan these with your phone and put in the agreed price. Once you see the confirmation on your phone, you can go.


Similar with paying for taxi – at the end of the ride, the driver holds up his phone with a QR code on the screen for the passenger to scan and pay. No cash exchanging hands, no card swiping and signing. Quick and easy.

What I find most convenient is its usage in restaurants. Of course, you can scan and pay at the end of a meal like you do in stores, but in some restaurants, you actually scan QR codes to begin. Here is how it works: you find a table to sit down, then scan the code at the corner of that table. A menu shows up on your phone and you order. Once you finalize the food items, you submit and pay through your phone. In a few minutes, a waiter will come over and attach a printout to your table. Then your dishes start to arrive and be checked off from the printout. You take your time enjoying the food, and leave whenever you are done. No asking for bills or waiting for credit card to be processed. Again, quick and easy. I can imagine that in the near future (likely already) it will be robots who bring food to your table.

I heard that this ‘mobile payment’ phenomenon happened very quickly. Almost overnight, QR codes appeared everywhere and people switched to this new way of transferring money without hesitation. There is a saying that even beggars own QR codes now to make it easy to receive donations.

This new convenience is not for everyone though. For example, it is rather difficult for foreign tourists to set up the WeChat wallet, as it generally requires ID or phone number for verification, and a bank card (credit card doesn’t work) to source the money. Also, elderly people tend to find it challenging to do things on a smart phone, and there is potential for hacks and scams. That said, I was still very impressed and went ahead scanning codes wherever I could!

Twenty Years in US

IMG_7296On this day twenty years ago, I came to the United States. My point of entry was Anchorage, Alaska. I still remember stepping off the plane, exhausted after an eight-hour flight from Shanghai (and a short flight from Beijing before that), yet excited from seeing the gorgeous snow mountains from the air, and the rows of private jets on the ground. As I stood in line at passport control, it suddenly struck me: I am in a different country and I will be on my own. My family and friends and everything I am familiar with are now thousands of miles away…

There was not much time to be sentimental. I boarded another plane and flew six more hours to JFK. As it approached, I watched the beautiful night view of New York City with all those bright lights and elegant bridges, and felt like I was in a dream. When the wheels touched the ground and passengers applauded, tears rolled down my face. At that moment, so many feelings went through my mind that it felt blank. A new chapter began.

So that was the first trip by air in my life. And it lasted over 20 hours. I was a rookie traveler then and thought even the churning baggage carousel was impressive. Today, I am quite experienced. I have been to 33 countries and 64 airports around the world. Still, that same excitement when the plane touches down in a brand new place never left me.

IMG_7298Many things have changed in twenty years. For example, I came here holding a Chinese passport with a US visa. Today, I have a US passport with a Chinese visa. Between the two countries, no matter which direction I fly now, I consider it ‘going home’.

BTW, here is a post that I published around the 18th anniversary. 🙂 Can’t believe it has been two years since then! Time flies. I wonder what I will be writing about five years from now, or ten, or another twenty…


I have been thinking about buying a bicycle this past week, both for exercise and transportation purposes. It might take a while for an idea to become reality, but I am determined to make it happen this summer.

Bicycle was the main form of transportation in China as I grew up in the 70s and 80s. There were hardly any private cars on the road back then. We relied on bus/tram/bicycles/feet to move about in the city. I remember a few popular bicycle brands – Phoenix, Forever, and Flying Pigeon. Most households owned one or two for adults to go to and from work, to buy groceries, and to carry children around. They were simple one-gear bicycles with baskets and/or child seats attached. Fancy racing and mountain bikes didn’t appear until much later.

When the traffic lights turned green on a major street, the massive flow of bicycles were a great scene to see. People were very skillful and managed not to bump into each other. Snow and ice didn’t stop us in the winter. The longest trip I ever did on my bike was an impromptu ride with a few college friends from Changchun to Gongzhuling (about 65 km) and it took us about 5 hours, half of which on pitch dark hilly country roads. Thinking back, we were quite adventurous!

During my recent trip to Scandinavia, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many bicycles on the road, particularly in Copenhagen. I was specially delighted to see plain city bikes similar to what I grew up with:


And here is the parking lot near one of the train or metro stations:


I couldn’t help thinking, China probably would be better off switching back to the era when most people were on bikes – when there were hardly any air quality or traffic jam or obesity issues. And how I am longing to see this picture in cities of the United States. One thing I need to do before getting my bicycle is to scope out the routes around my house to make sure there are sufficient sidewalks/trails for safe bike rides. I am hoping…

Travelogue (I)

In the spring of 1974, I was born in Changchun, a city in northeastern China, thus began my journey on earth. I have no recollection of my first trip since I was no more than 1 year old. My mom brought me to Beijing to see my grandparents (or rather, to let them see me). For the first 19 years of my life, Beijing was the only other place I had been to (several times) besides my hometown. Somehow I decided to make ‘traveling around the world’ as a life goal.

During my years in graduate school (1993-1996), I visited Haerbin, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao in several separate short trips. I saw ocean for the first time in 1994, and it was a hilarious experience. The Great Wall was crossed off my list in early 1997. Needless to say, I was very excited to finally stand/walk on this famous wall. Unfortunately the film in the camera was accidentally exposed thus there was no photo proof that I had been there.

In the summer of 1997, I came to the United States – the other side of the earth. The first US city I set my feet on was Anchorage, Alaska. I was awed by the marvelous snow mountain view (seen from above). Many hours later, the bright night sky of New York City welcomed me. My first travel by air was pleasant enough, although very long: 20+ hours, I think.

I am glad to report that I haven’t wasted my time ever since. Not a year went by that I didn’t travel somewhere. Some trips were for work/conferences, most trips were for fun; some trips were short weekend get-aways, while others were fairly long road trips. I enjoy both natural beauty and city culture, and I love watching people. Will definitely keep traveling as long as I am able to.

I plan to do a series of ‘Travelogues’ to briefly list the places I visited, with each post covering a few years. Also perhaps write up stories for selected points of interest. Stay tuned and check back often. 🙂