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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Hope to visit you again, Cuba

It has been a week since I returned from a wonderful trip to Cuba with Road Scholar. We started from Camagüey and visited several cities across the country by bus, all the way to Havana.

Cuba Map

I think about those precious 10 days often, and I felt really sad when I learned of the new ban a few days ago. To me, Cuba is no longer just a ‘communist country on an island not far from Florida’; it is all the people I met during this trip – artists, dancers, musicians, professors, farmers, doctors, business owners, pedicab drivers, street vendors, and children. They are talented, hard-working, friendly, optimistic; they try to make the best of their lives no matter how dire the situation is, and I was both touched and inspired by them.

Our trip was not a superficial one where people just hang out at tourist sites and ride a classic car in Havana. We used toilets where there was no seat or paper or flushing water; we visited local markets and a ‘ration’ store; we stayed in a small town where we lost power three times; our bus shared roads with horse carts and tractors avoiding water-filled pot holes. We experienced more of the ‘real’ Cuba, even though our food and accommodation were still far better than what most local people could afford.

We greatly enjoyed the many people-to-people interactions, when we talked to various artists, danced with professional dancers, asked business owners questions, learned to play dominoes, discussed with kids about environment protection, etc. We drank a few mojitos every day, made in different ways. I cherished the fun time spent with our group leaders and intelligent, curious, caring fellow travelers. The memories will stay with me forever.

 

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There are so many photos to share and so much to write about. It is a great pity that Americans could no longer visit Cuba to experience its rich culture and art. And Cuba people could not benefit from the gifts we bring in – school supplies, art supplies, powdered and canned food, hygiene products – daily things that we take for granted. I heard it mentioned more than once during this trip, that relationships and policies built on love will endure. I look forward to the day when I could visit Cuba again.

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.

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Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

A Good 2018, A Better 2019

books year 2018The year 2019 started a little differently, with my mom and I struggling to get over jet-lag. Now that my sleep is more or less back to normal, I can write my obligated annual “good-better” post. It is quite overdue…

I failed to accomplish most goals I set out at the beginning of 2018, but it was a very good and productive year nonetheless.

  • Read 50 books – at least 5 in Chinese, at most 25 in audio format. Not done. I only finished 48 books but I could argue that with 1,440 pages, Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ should count as three books. 🙂 Only 2 of the 48 books were in Chinese; and 6 were non-audio books. Here are the quarterly book reports: Q1; Q2; Q3; Q4.
  • Visit 5 new countries – Done. And some more. I visited 9 new countries this year! Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore.
  • Swim 50 times; yoga at home everyday. Not done. I met slightly less than half of the swimming goal, and yoga at home even less. I did attend 8 hot yoga classes though, which were much more strenuous than the home practice. 🙂 On average I walked 7,317 steps a day, the highest in recent years. This compensated somewhat for my failed exercise goals.
  • Publish 30 blog posts; write at least 3 full-length travel articles in Chinese. Not done. I only published 16 posts on this blog, and wrote 1.5 Chinese travel articles. 😦 Definitely need to write more in 2019!
  • Learn to cook 3 new dishes. Done. I successfully cooked two new dishes (one pork, one chicken) using my Crock pot. I also learned a dish or two from my mother during the last week of the year (and a few more in the new year. :))
  • Lose 5 pounds. Not done by a wide margin! I actually gained 7 pounds in 2018. I blame it on two wonderful cruises, both times followed by a trip to China. I guess this coming year I should aim to lose 12 pounds…

There is a good reason why I deviated a bit from my goals – 2018 was a year of big change. I started A New Journey, by taking a break from work to travel and spend more time with family and friends. With 88 days away from home, I wasn’t able to carry out read/write/swim/cook routines as usual. At one point I was four books behind schedule, and gaining weight was not surprising at all.

That said, this journey has been very rewarding so far. I did two cruises with Windstar, which gave me the 9 new countries. Plus a 2000-mile road trip in US Northwest from Crater Lake to Glacier National Park via Columbia River Gorge. Awesome trips, great memories.

I also spent quite a lot of time with my family and many friends during two trips back to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong); also with David’s family from three road trips to New England. Starting from Christmas Eve is my mom’s three-month visit in US. I really enjoy and cherish our time together – chatting, walking, exercising, shopping, cooking…

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It is rather difficult to predict what is in store for me in 2019. Besides, it is a little late to think about new year’s resolution. Therefore I am not setting any goals except the usual 50-book challenge on Goodreads. Just let the fun continue, and I will report back on the first day of 2020 what transpired…

Happy New Year!

 

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.

 

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…

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A Good 2017, A Better 2018

Books 2017

The year 2018 had a very cold beginning here in US. Now that I stopped shivering I can write my obligated annual “good-better” summarizing/planning post. My 2017 was good, although I didn’t quite accomplish the goals I set out at the beginning of the year:

  • Read 50 books, 20 of which from shelves at home. Partially Done. I did finish 50 books and here are the book reports: Q1Q2Q3Q4. Amazingly, the average length of this year (2017)’s books is 341 pages, compared to (2016)’s 343, and (2015)’s 342. As a statistician, I can’t help marveling at these numbers. There had to be something significant going on other than coincidence. Only 16 of the 50 books were from shelves at home, so this part of the goal wasn’t reached. I am not going to lose sleep over it though. 🙂
  • Visit 3 new countries. Done. I visited South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Swim 80 times (average 1.5 times a week); yoga at home everyday. Not done. I only swam 37 times, average 0.7 times a week. I didn’t count how many days I did yoga at home, but I suspect it was less than every other day. On average I walked 4,953 steps a day, slightly short of last year’s 5,080 and a lot fewer than the previous year’s 7,000. Seems I missed the marks of my exercise goals quite a bit!
  • Publish 40 blog posts. Not done – only published a shameful 7 posts, not even half of last year’s not-so-good 18.
  • Lose 5 pounds. Not done – my weight throughout the year moved up and down within a six-pound range. At least I weighed one pound less on December 31st than on January 1st, so I consider it losing 1 pound.

All in all, my 2017 wasn’t very productive in reaching goals. However, it was a great year in traveling – I actually was in four continents! 🙂 Here is this year’s travelogue:

  • January. London, United Kingdom (work)
  • May. Seoul, Busan, South Korea; Beijing, China
  • July. Mystic, CT; New England
  • October. Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, Uluru, Australia; Queenstown, New Zealand
  • October. New York City, NY (work)

Australia-New-Zealand-Trip-locationsI haven’t got a chance to write about the 19-day Australia/New Zealand adventure – one of the best trips of my life! It involved 12 flights, 8 hotels, 4 time zones, and temperatures anywhere from 50 to 100 degrees. I ended up being poorer financially but much richer in experiences and memories, not to mention the thousands of photos I brought back with me!

Now here are my goals for 2018:

  • Read 50 books – at least 5 in Chinese, at most 25 in audio format
  • Visit 5 new countries
  • Swim 50 times; yoga at home everyday (except this past week :))
  • Publish 30 blog posts; write at least 3 full-length travel articles in Chinese
  • Learn to cook 3 new dishes
  • Lose 5 pounds

I am looking forward to a better year ahead – more explorations and adventures. I can’t wait to start.