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.

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Mom’s visit to the US

I just returned from Beijing after accompanying my mother back home, concluding her successful 2.5-month visit to the US.

She arrived at Christmas Eve 2018, and departed on March 10th, 2019. She celebrated Christmas and New Year with us while still jet-lagged. We visited my aunt (her younger sister) twice in Pennsylvania and had a wonderful Chinese New Year together. Then I had a very special birthday celebration with her, which I hadn’t done for more than two decades!

My mom wasn’t the adventurous type, but she adapted to the new and completely different environment pretty well. She was creative in setting up her room, and strengthened considerably from being intimidated by the steep stairs in the house to racing up and down without a problem. Every morning, she came downstairs to the living room with her thermos, and a handbag that holds her Sudoku pages, pens and pencils, notebook, phone and charger, glasses, needles and threads, etc., then carried these back upstairs at bedtime. I joked that she was commuting for work from 9am to 9pm.

She cooked often and had a specialty in vegetable dishes, some of which David and I never tried before. I learned a few tips from her, and could prepare decent meals at times. David also successfully tried out new recipes. All three of us were determined to lose weight, so our food was healthy in general. One day both my mom and David had the same comment about that day’s dinner, in different languages, that it was like feeding rabbits. Eating out was a bit fattening but we did once in a while so she could try different cuisines – Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, American, etc. Visiting my aunt was similar – a nice mixture of eastern and western food, home-made and dining out.

I don’t go shopping much on my own, but I did quite a lot with my mom. She was curious about everything in the stores – from fabric and craft supplies to kitchen utensils. Of course, she was happy to find clothes, shoes, and handbags that fit her well. As a result, she came here with one big suitcase, and returned with two.

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We also walked a lot, even though the weather wasn’t really cooperating (arctic vortex, snow, rain, wind). We went to the library where she could read Chinese newspapers and magazines. We strolled on university campus among all those young people. My mom played ping-pong with my aunt during her visit, and also learned to play piano. She spent sometime everyday to watch shows on YouTube and talk to her friends on WeChat. And she chatted with me all the time.

Even with all these activities and the quality time we enjoyed, she decided to go back to China early. Lack of autonomy was her main issue. She couldn’t drive and doesn’t speak English, so she couldn’t go anywhere or buy anything on her own anytime she wants. Also, there were too few people around compared to the lively crowds she saw in Beijing every day. Mostly she missed her friends and the group exercises and the freedom. I totally understand. I am just grateful that we had a chance to be together, with my taking a break from work and her being healthy and energetic to experience new things. I will cherish these memories forever and hope to do it again in the future.

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.

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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 –

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Luray Caverns and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia –

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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. 🙂

 

Much Needed R&R

I don’t have any major event today, so I eat, play, chat, sleep, watch TV, eat, read, walk, sleep… It is also a perfect time to reflect and summarize the past month and my whirlwind activities.

  • Week of June 18th. Projects summary and transition; Farewell at the team meeting; David’s birthday celebration; Wrapping up and organizing files; Last visit of the Tyson’s office; Shopping; Meetup with a few old friends.
  • June 25th. After a few conference calls at work in the morning, boarded a plane to start my vacation.
  • June 26th. Arrived at Copenhagen, Denmark in the morning. Took train to Roskilde for a nice short visit.
  • June 27th. Checked out the aquarium Den Blå Planet; Boarded Star Breeze in the afternoon and our ‘Baltic Delight’ cruise began! (I will only list the various ports for now so that this post would not get too long. Stay tuned for more detailed posts on these wonderful places around the Baltic Sea.)
  • June 28th. Bornholm, Denmark
  • June 29th. Gdańsk, Poland
  • June 30th. Klaipeda, Lithuania
  • July 1st. At Sea
  • July 2nd. Tallin, Estonia
  • July 3rd. St. Petersburg, Russia
  • July 4th. St. Petersburg. Russia
  • July 5th. Helsinki, Finland
  • July 6th. Aland, Finland
  • July 7th. Arrived at Stockholm, Sweden; All day traveling back to US
  • July 8th. Picked up documents from a friend’s home; Did chores around the house
  • July 9th. My last day with EY; Returned firm assets and checked out at the DC office
  • July 10th. Noon-time flight to Beijing – further messed up my jet lag from Europe
  • July 11th. Arrived at Beijing, dinner out with my mom and sister’s family
  • July 12th. Picked up train tickets; Activated a cell phone – can’t survive without one since they use it for everything here – pay at stores and restaurants, take Metro, rent bicycle, order take-out, get a taxi etc. I feel so out-dated but I am catching up!
  • July 13th. 4.5 hours on a high-speed train to Shanghai; 48 hours of college reunion craziness began
  • July 14th. Ate too much, drank too much, talked too loud, laughed too hard, slept too little. Enjoyed every minute with my friends from decades ago
  • July 15th. Reunion ended in total exhaustion. Met Charles Yang for dinner, who once interned in our New York office for 8 months. He also brought me to visit the largest Starbucks in the world.
  • July 16th. Train back to Beijing, in time for my sister’s birthday celebration.
  • July 17th. Accompanied my mother to the US embassy for her visa interview. Big crowd, long line, and heavy rain! Can’t say I enjoyed it but the result was good!

So you see, I just got a chance today for my much needed rest and relaxation. I exchanged messages with a few friends, went to grocery shopping with my mother, and also visited the nearby community library. It is a good break before the hustle and bustle starts again tomorrow.

 

Toddler Years in Changchun – Overview

After making a trip to Beijing and spending some time in Siping (a traveler from the very beginning), I settled in Changchun for the time being, and celebrated my first birthday. There I spent the next few years with my grandparents and uncle, with my parents visiting once in a while. Life presented many challenges, but I grew from a baby to a toddler to a kid, intellectually stimulated and surrounded by unconditional love.

Even though my not-yet-five-year-old life was quite simple, there was much to write about. In order to keep these posts reasonably short, I decided to do four separate pieces.

  • Neighborhood
  • Grandparents
  • Uncle
  • Work and Study (mine)

This chapter of my life ended when my uncle’s illness got worse. My grandparents were not able to take care of me anymore, and they didn’t want to expose me to suffering at such a tender age. So my parents brought me to Siping for the second time. Thinking back, I can’t imagine how heart-broken my uncle must have been, knowing that he would never see me again, and how much my grandparents had missed me.

A year later, my parents’ quota application was approved, and the three of us were able to move back to Changchun to live with my grandparents. I thought I would never set feet in Siping again, little did I know that 15 years later I went there for my sister’s wedding – Siping is my brother-in-law’s hometown. Therefore, my sister, who happily grew up in Beijing, far away from all the hardships I lived through, now visits Siping once in a few years to see her in-laws. My mom often mused that our family’s tie with Siping was so strong that my sister had to find a husband there to make up for all those time she missed as a child.

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