Monday, April 30, 2018

Communication Failure

Bank of China Tower,
designed by I.M. Pei
Yesterday I went to listen to an internationally-known speaker and author talk about leadership at a local church in Hong Kong. He spoke in English, but in an accent different from mine. He'd done a presentation the day before, which my youngest son and husband attended, and they came home singing his praises. I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say. But what he had to say, and I what I heard, were two different things.

During the hour-long talk, he kept saying a word which sounded very much like the F-word. He might have been saying "back up," "buck up," or perhaps "muck up," but the F-word, as I understand the definition, would not have been out of place contextually. He was talking about messing up, making mistakes. But considering the location where the event was being held, a place of worship, it would not have been appropriate.

Instead of learning about how to be a better leader, I spent the whole time blushing and distracted and wondering what word he was actually using. I even interrupted my husband's note taking to ask him if he was hearing the same thing. He came to the same conclusion, that it sounded like the F-word but was probably one of the other words above.

I guess I don't really need to tell you that my takeaway from the experience was different from what the speaker was hoping his point would be. What I learned was that although I can speak (or write) what I think are clear, succinct (or more typically- long-winded), easy to understand concepts or directions or ideas, the thing which matters is less what comes out of my mouth, and more what is processed in someone else's brain. Communication is complicated.

I know my last post was meant for laughs, and for a specific audience of people who speak and read English, likely American English. And I love to laugh, more than anything. There are challenges to living in a country where I don't speak the language, and my tool box for survival definitely contains a good-sized sense of humor (sometimes if you don't laugh, you end up crying). I have a few stories from Shanghai I still can't write about (frankly I can barely speak about them) because I can't find the humor yet. And when writing about cultural differences, I always attempt to make myself the butt of any joke, rather than the people whose culture I am a guest in. If I can't do that, then what seems like a funny story can end up coming across as mocking or bullying. After seven years of living in Asia, my sense of what's funny has definitely changed.

The legendary I.M. Pei
(pronounced PAY)
Example: My favorite architect is I. M. Pei, who created several notable buildings including the glass pyramid at the opening of the Louvre in Paris, the Bank of China Tower here in Hong Kong, and the Macao Science Center in Macau. This week he turned 101 years old. Last year, when he turned 100, I posted about it on Facebook. A few people commented on his name, making jokes about it, assuming that Pei sounds like Pee rather than Pay. And as the mother of two boys, I've heard my share of bodily fluid jokes, so I get that "I am pee" is funny. But because I know how to pronounce Pei, the jokes about his name didn't make me laugh (plus I deeply respect the man, his life story, and his amazing eyeglasses). However, they likely would have given me the giggles before I moved to Asia and flunked out of language school, just after learning the rules of pronunciation but not getting to any actual vocabulary.

And just to position myself squarely as the butt of a language joke, I will tell you that in Mandarin, the word for sugar and the word for soup are both tang. And if you have an American accent and don't know Mandarin, you would likely pronounce that TAY-ng, like the orange drink astronauts used to sip in space, the TA sounding like Taylor. But it actually sounds more like tong, what you'd use to get an ice cube if you're fancy. And to further complicate things, sugar is táng (where the vowel sound sort of sweeps up) and soup is tāng (where the vowel sound stays flat), and regardless of how much I practice or try to say it exactly as my native Mandarin-speaking friends say it, no matter how many times I asked for sugar in a restaurant for my steaming hot coffee, I was consistently served a bowl of soup, many minutes later when my coffee was then lukewarm and sadly unsweetened.


Now that's some sugar!
And just like me, scratching my head yesterday over why a man would drop F-bombs in a church building (when my rational, intelligent brain surely knew he couldn't possibly actually be saying the F-word), I'm sure there are several waitresses in Shanghai who tell the story of the crazy red-haired laowai who asked for soup with her coffee (when surely their rational, intelligent brains knew that Western foreigners like sweet things and that I probably wanted sugar but because whatever came out of my mouth was received as soup, that's what they brought me).

My workaround for the sugar-in-my-coffee situation was to keep a photo of the word sugar in Chinese on my phone to flash the server so I could drink my caffeine sufficiently sweetened. But what's the workaround for a life spent communicating to other humans when the possibilities for being misunderstood are so great? We can drink coffee without sugar and survive (barely!), but can relationships survive when we unknowingly insult someone because we don't yet possess all the facts, or even the right words?

Let me be completely honest right now: there are times when I'm absolutely paralyzed by the idea that I may insult someone through my ignorance. There are times, even as recently as last week, where I have to force myself to interact with people while truly petrified that when I open my mouth, I could be offending someone. Or worse, legitimately hurting their feelings. I know it's happened before. One time I said something very stupid from a place of deep ignorance about a particular faith to someone I love. Though it happened nearly a decade ago, I still cringe at the hurt I caused (I've been forgiven by the person, but find it hard to forgive myself). But I take comfort, and guidance, from a quote by the great American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. She said, "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

And my experience tells me the only way I can know better, is to get out there and talk or write or simply interact with my fellow human beings, and to make huge mistakes and learn from them so I can indeed take that knowledge and do better.

We're in the countdown to our oldest child's last year with us before he'll head off to university (or who knows, he might live with us forever). It's the last year I'm willing to pay for 100% of his travel expenses when we visit other places as a family around the globe. We're making a list of destinations we want to travel with him, and to my great surprise, he has been putting up a big fight. He wants to just stay home. What's the point of travel? Can't we just stay in Hong Kong? Haven't we already seen enough stuff? Basic physics: objects - and boys - at rest, will stay at rest.

Last night I went round and round with my son. I pulled out the big guns... Travel is a masterclass in learning about other cultures, but also about ourselves! I never want to stay where I am today! I want to grow beyond this current me, even if I like this current me, because even though I don't know everything, I recognize there are things I don't yet know, and it's up to me to learn them! I want him to grow beyond his current him! To see that there is more to learn! To love learning what the great big classroom of this world has to teach!

The conversation ended with us not speaking at all... him in a huff, and me wondering where I've gone so wrong as a parent. But hours later, when I thought all hope was lost, he came back and said, "I see your point. Okay. We can talk about it some more."

Here's my hope: that despite the communication failures that will happen, we can still cover each other with love and grace. That I can even cover myself with that love and grace when I mess up.


In Chinese: Portal
In English: Stop Mouth
Comedy or wisdom?
Love and grace, and lots of laughter. So long as the joke is either on me or Google Translate.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Laughter For Better Living

"Dont sell me a dog
drugstore cowboy"
Courtesy of my friend Dara.
Living in Asia provides so many great lost-in-translation moments. Most of the time I find humor in them, but there's potential for mild horror as well.

Case in point: A few years ago in Macau, one of my sons was quite ill with gastroenteritis. The not-quite-fluent-in-English but very competent doctor asked us when the last time "he made a sheeting" was. I went round and round, echoing his words, trying to figure out what a sheeting was, and how exactly one went around making one. My poor son was moaning and clutching a bag to vomit in, and my mind was spinning trying to think if he'd thrown up anything that looked like a sheet. A sheet of paper? A bed sheet? "A SHEETING," he shouted, thinking that saying it louder would help me understand. And when I finally realized what he meant, I blushed twelve shades of purple and asked if he meant a bowel movement. "Yes," he said, frustrated at my dim ability to understand English. "Aren't you from America? Isn't that where you say make a sheet?" Ai ya!

The funniest moments are when we see a blend of Chinese and English, a made up dialect many call Chinglish. We often wonder if tee-shirt designers simply open a dictionary, point at seven random words, and toss them onto the screen printer, or if they just liked the particular aesthetic of those letters, in that order. 

Shanghai hosted the World Expo in 2010, and the heftily named Municipal Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision decided to crack down on the Chinglish, asking representatives from twelve different industries to do a better job with translations, so as not to create embarrassment while the world's spotlight was aimed at China. 
"Rules are made
Monopoly"
Courtesy of my friend Dara.

I can gleefully report that even in 2018 there are plenty of examples of Chinglish in China to be had, we're in no risk of losing endless opportunities to giggle over inappropriate, random, or bad translations found everywhere from clothing to store names to food on a menu. But in Hong Kong... well, there's less of it. 

Hong Kong was a British Colony for 156 years, up until 1997. The current Basic Law here states both English and Chinese are official languages. (Fun fact: English was the only official language up until 1974.) But having English as an official language doesn't mean it's the most commonly used one. The 2011 Census found the Cantonese dialect of Chinese to be the primary spoken language in 87.5% of the homes in Hong Kong. With an influx of migrants coming from Mainland China and Taiwan, the use of the Mandarin dialect of Chinese is also increasing. (Side note: my sons speak Mandarin, and are very grateful that its use is increasing here so they can continue to study and speak it!). 

Despite the large use of Chinese, I think Hong Kong probably has better copywriters, making sure less troublesome translations get out in front of the public. But despite a dearth of Chinglish, I'm still finding fun things which make me giggle. I love to laugh more than anything, so I'm grateful for any opportunity for a good chuckle! Wanna laugh with me? Come along for a walk through Hong Kong this past week!

Are you hungry? How about some Bone-in Chicken Sausages! 


I found this at a quick service restaurant in the Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island. It's a port of entry/exit for people coming from Macau and across the border in Mainland China, so many of the things on offer are meant to appeal to a wide variety of guests. The second line of language in the image is Japanese, which makes me wonder where this particular delicacy comes from, or who they are trying to fool with a hot dog that's been stuffed with a burnt chicken bone... 

Surely after that great meal, you've worked up some thirst? Why not sample Starbucks' latest Spring offering, the Iced Butterfly Pea Lemonade Coffee! 


Honestly, I have no idea who the target market is for this. It's a blend of a type of iced tea made from the Butterfly Pea Plant, native to Thailand and Malaysia, plus lemonade and coffee. To me, it looks vaguely poisonous, not at all appealing. When I questioned my local barista, she said she hadn't yet sold any, and doesn't personally drink iced coffee of any flavor. This beverage is currently also available in Taiwan, and my friend there said he thought it was okay... a blend of sweet tea, tart lemon, and bitter coffee. Considering Starbucks in Hong Kong is more expensive than Starbucks in America, I saved my eight bucks to spend on my usual only-sweet, never tart or bitter, Caramel Frappucino. Yeah, boring I know. But if you want to hop a flight to Hong Kong this week, I will treat you to one if you promise to drink it all... 

Next stop after a meal and beverage is generally the bathroom. 

I confess the use of toilet in the sign above is less funny to me than the borrow part. The term for 'place where one goes to relieve oneself' varies widely around the world, but we've used the term 'toilet' for about seven years thanks to the influence of British English vs American English in this part of the world. If you ask where the bathroom or restroom is while in a fancy shopping mall, you may get a blank stare. However, when I'm in America and I ask where the toilet is, I generally get the cheeky answer of 'in the restroom, of course.' So I'm guessing the sign above means there is no public facility to use on the premises, that it's for staff or private use only. But when I snapped a photo and sent it to our extended (American) family group chat, we all had a pretty big laugh. I mean, I don't want to keep the toilet, just borrow it for a day or two...

This one I cannot explain. 

And it's not from some random clothing stand on the corner. This is from Hong Kong Disneyland. Power Pants? Power Shorts? Pow-Pants-Er? Power Bum? Even the Cast Member in the store could not assist me in providing a meaning behind the graphic... What do you think it means? And more importantly: would you wear it?

 Avengers: Infinity War opened on Wednesday in Hong Kong, and we're seeing crazy amounts of advertising all over town. And of course different elements and characters from the Avengers are appearing at Hong Kong Disneyland, including Cosmo, the telepathic Soviet Spacedog. He's behind glass and he moves and blinks and makes noise. I took this photo and then started laughing like crazy, which made the guests standing around me stare.

Let me show you another angle... Do you see the blue and green spiky balls by his side? Do you know what they are?


Did you guess Dryer Balls? They are meant to be used in a big American clothes dryer. Which is neither widely available, nor popular here (there's no space and they use a lot of energy!). Most people do not have machine dryers at all, preferring to hang everything to dry. I have a combination machine which first washes a (tiny) load of laundry, and then heats up and spins very rapidly to dry it, sucking out the water. One load of about 4-5 pieces of clothing can take five hours to wash and dry, and because it goes straight from washing into rapid spin drying, a Dryer Ball isn't at all useful. 

I do miss having a big, gentle, tumble dryer, which left our clothes feeling soft and fluffy instead of the heating, spinning machine which leaves everything stiff and wrinkled and in need of ironing. Dryer Balls were great at cutting down drying time and keeping our towels lofty. I wonder how these managed to find their way into Cosmo's cage? I'm sure they look fun and exotic to most everyone here who sees them, but I can't stop laughing about them!

That's it for right now. I'll leave you with this final photo of an awesome granny I saw strolling around Hong Kong Disneyland. It's not exactly funny (unless you think the big lips mean saying yes to kissing adventures), but it's a great reminder in this new season of life in Hong Kong! 

Say yes to new adventures!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Where My Mind Wandered (this week)


I was in America the first week of April, visiting my parents in and around Mississippi. I've only been here in winter before, and while it's always green thanks to all the rain and humidity, there's one new addition that I've not seen previously: springtime babies! The field next to my parents' home is filled with baby cows and I loved watching them frolic and play (while staying very close to their mamas). So sweet!

I didn't have much downtime for that trip (I was there to get lots of work done), but my brain worked overtime while my body was in motion. Here's more links to things that caught my attention!

1. I have a bunch of blogs in my reader that very rarely post anything. But there is one I always wish would post more often, and I get quite excited about when there's a new entry. I have no idea how I found it, but it's been in my reader for a couple of years and I'm so glad! Loitering Dog is a collection of short stories from the author's life. Are they true? Author Dale Wickum says, "The truth shouldn't get in the way of a good story." All I know is they always make me laugh. Check it out here.

2. Having raised our kids primarily abroad, they've missed out on certain American traditions because we're either a) too lazy, b) can't get the right items to continue a tradition, or c) focusing our energy on traditions or celebrations or festivals important to the local population in the country we live in. Listen Easter, I'm talking about you. We've never colored eggs or hid eggs or had the Easter bunny find our home to leave baskets or candy or whatever the Easter bunny leaves behind. My sons have been able to participate in some Easter activities a few times due to enthusiastic American friends abroad, and I'm hoping that maybe they'll marry into families who care deeply about things my kids didn't get from their childhood. But I came across this post about how to dominate an Easter egg hunt which is really an excellent life lesson for all of us on how to dominate anything.

3. I love traveling. Clearly. Now that my boys are getting older, I'm looking forward to more trips with just my hubby and I (we're doing a quick night away next week). Though I'm not opposed to solo travel either. Part of my favorite thing about traveling is the planning. I'm not a super detailed planner, because I know the best parts of most of our trips have been when we left space for the inevitable awe and wonder which presents itself while far away from home, but I do like to get the framework built. Country, city, hotels, transportation options, possible things to do, people to see... it makes me so excited! A friend of mine told me about this American-based travel company called Pack Up + Go and it immediately made my skin crawl. You basically give them a budget and a few other details and they plan a surprise trip where you learn the destination only after you've arrived at the train station or airport, bags packed, ready to go. Of course, I couldn't get this idea out of my head (thus it had to go in this weekly round up of where my mind wandered). At first I thought, "How lazy do people have to get to not even pick a destination for their hard earned vacation time?" But then I realized not everyone is like me. Maybe planning is something you dread. Maybe letting someone else make all the decisions is your dream come true. Maybe I need to be in the business of planning surprise international trips? Kidding! Clearly what's exciting to me isn't exciting to others, as this company proves! Please tell me in the comments though, is this something you would love or avoid? Do you (or your partner) love the planning stage of holidays and vacations? I need to know!

4. Speaking of travel, I came across this quote by fashion designer Marc Jacobs: I envy anyone who gets to go to Paris for the first time because there’s nothing like the first time. We went to Paris as part of our Year of the Mouse in 2013, and I was expecting to just check it off my list of places to visit which happen to host Disney theme parks. I was not going to be that stereotypical American girl, falling in love with Paris. No way. The world is big and there is lots to see! And yet... as our Eurostar train left France to return to London, giant pathetic tears streamed down my cheeks and I realized I had, in just four short days, completely fallen in love with Paris. Some days I end up thinking about this a lot. As someone who grew up in California, a State only 167 years old, I'm naturally attracted to any place with a longer history. But I've also found my European friends don't adore Paris the way my American friends do. In fact, I had one friend from Belgium tell me Paris is the worst place on earth, going there is taking my life in my hands because it's so dirty and violent, filled with rude people! I'm a little afraid to go back... not because of violence, but because I experienced only clean, delightful moments and humans during our stay. What if a second visit lacks the charm and wonder of the first? Argh! When looking up the quote above, I came across this excellent piece on Thought Catalog, "Why Americans Romanticize Paris."

5. I'm really loving my life right now. Things are going great, I have so much joy, and I'm working hard for good things that are on their way. I'm always looking ahead to the future with great anticipation of life to come. But this week I came across an old blog post of my own from almost exactly three years ago and it gave me quite a jolt to read about a time when I was truly miserable and in all sorts of pain. It was a time when the future looked dark and cloudy and impossible. You know how when you're struggling and people say things like hang in there, it gets better and such? Three years ago I didn't think it ever would. I cried a lot and had a hard time even getting out of bed. I felt like I couldn't trust anyone, not even myself and my own feelings. Yet here I am, looking back for a bit and feeling so grateful that we pulled through that dark valley. We stuck it out, opened Shanghai Disneyland, and moved to Hong Kong where we live on a beach and are healthy and well and happy. Check out the old post with the spoiler alert that the prayer my soul cried out the night I wrote it was answered beyond anything I could have imagined (it included an entire family of redheads when all I wanted was a single true friend), and enjoy a musical interlude by Jason Mraz (if they ever make a film of my life, it better be a musical!).

That's it for this week! What new and interesting thing did you learn this week? Let me know in the comments (along with your feelings about number 3 up there).

Monday, April 23, 2018

When things don't go as planned

Sometimes I'm filled with an excessive abundance of enthusiasm and drive. It's so strong, I feel I could sit down in front of my computer screen and complete the first draft of a 500 page novel in one session. I've learned to ride that sweet wave of productivity when it graces me with it's presence (generally in the latter half of a sleepless night) and let everything else slip to the side for a bit.

Let's be honest though, the times when that wave of near-manic productivity visit me are actually few and far between. And if I just sit and wait for them, the things I want to accomplish will never happen. I have to force my own two tired legs to walk into my office, sit in my chair, put my hands on my keyboard and create -- whether I feel like it or not. My word for the year is Discipline, and oh boy could I fill a book just with lessons I'm learning in that area (the more I learn, the less I know. It's humbling.)

I got back from America a week ago today, late in the evening. While I was gone, we'd opened our home to someone who needed a place to stay a couple of weeks while working out a visa issue. Our guest had been with two other people in Hong Kong before coming our way, and we'd told the guest they were welcome to use the spare room while I was gone, but needed to be moving along by the time I returned, as the "spare room" is only really spare when I'm not here to work in it.

While in the States, I journaled excessively. I filled my senses with a lot of things all new to me, so I jotted notes and ideas down practically every hour of the two weeks I was away. When I got home I was so ready to turn on my computer and turn those notes and journal entries into carefully crafted stories. My enthusiasm was off the charts. Tuesday morning I rose before dawn filled with drive and readiness to write, only to find someone sleeping where I work. Our guest hadn't yet found a place to go. In fact, it would take all the way until Thursday evening before our guest found another host as they wait for the elusive visa that will allow them to depart Hong Kong.

I don't have a laptop, I work from a desktop computer in the middle of my cozy desk filled with little items which inspire me and keep me on task (and a killer view of the South China Sea). And even if I had a laptop, working in a coffee shop isn't ideal for me... I can barely even read in a coffee shop because all I want to do is people watch! So my options for being productive outside my home are limited. I could feel my burst of enthusiasm draining each day while I waited to get back to work. I sensed my growing disappointment over the wave of productivity slipping away from me.

In the midst of my discontent, I decided to practice a little gratitude. Topping my list: that even though we are living in the smallest (and most expensive) home we've ever had, we do actually have a space where we can host someone in need. Also: I live in a vibrant, amazing city, with more things to do and see than lifetimes to do and see them all. So early Thursday morning I grabbed my AirPods, transit card, and sense of adventure, and left the house (and the still-sleeping houseguest) and decided to wander Hong Kong solo.

Far from feeling any disappointment over what I wasn't creating, I joyfully filled my brain with the sights and sounds (and smells) of neighborhoods all over Hong Kong Island. I actually tried to purposely get lost, taking the MTR train to a random station, walking until I came to a tram and boarding the first one, staying aboard until the final stop. I meandered without goal by foot for close to three miles until I came to a neighborhood filled with little restaurants with not a single word of English on the menus. It was glorious. I felt so alive, living the life I usually write about.

I came home absolutely beaming ear to ear as the sun started dipping over the horizon. I discovered two pieces of good news after walking through my door. First, the houseguest had found another safe place to stay, and second, I'd received some residual income for previous writing work. I walked on air all weekend, just waiting for Monday morning, to get back into my office and get back to work.

That amazing wave of unused productivity I had a week ago is long gone. It would have been nice to ride it, expertly and efficiently. But one lesson already tattooed on my brain, just a few months into this year of discipline, is how capable I am of making my own wave. It is summoned through force of habit, stubbornness, and sheer grit. I'm in this for the long game, not just three frustrating days of lost time at my computer. I mean... not 17-million-years-Grand-Canyon long game, but I'm not ruling it out either! I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, one word after the next, until I get where I want to go.

What about you, Friends? What are you working on this week? Please know I'm cheering you on from my computer desk in Hong Kong! GO MAKE WAVES!

Thank you for this amazing graphic, Dallas Clayton!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Back in Hong Kong...

...and struggling with jet lag!

I’m doing everything right, including not relying on caffeine to keep me awake in the afternoon, spending lots of time outdoors, and trying to get right back into the ideal routine of waking, sleeping, and eating. But I’ll tell you now, this is probably the worst jet lag I’ve had. In a week I travelled across four different time zones, and had no set routine, so my body is very confused. I woke up this morning at 4:00 a.m. with my stomach rumbling with hunger, and all I wanted to eat was a steak with cheesy garlic mashed potatoes. Which is odd, as my regular diet is primarily plant-based! I’m hoping tomorrow is better than today!

Yesterday I went to Hong Kong Disneyland to meet up with a friend who kindly ordered me coffee capsules in Germany and then hand carried them from London to Hong Kong. Our machine was purchased in Shanghai, but the capsules are no longer made anywhere except Germany, and they don’t ship to me! Thankfully I have a few friends who fly regularly from Europe to Asia, so we’ll see how long we can manage this system before we have to figure something else out...

But it was nice to head straight to Hong Kong Disneyland right after I returned as it gave me a chance to catch the newly spruced up Festival of the Lion King show. It’s an opening day attraction, running continuously since September 12, 2005. Now it looks sparkly and new and even has some new cast members. If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it, or if you haven’t caught it yet, now’s the time!


I’ll be sharing more about my trip to America soon! I discovered so much about a part of America I’ve never lived in before, and only travelled briefly to previously, the American South! It made me realize America is a vast and diverse place, something I knew in my head, of course, but have very little experience in seeing with my own eyes.

Do you have any tried and true jet lag remedies? I wonder if it’s something that gets worse as we age? Hmmm... new subject to research!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Where My Mind Wandered (this week)

Back with more links to the things that caught my attention this week! Put your feet up and join me for a little trip, near and far!

1. Forget flying or roadtripping to get across America. How about buying, and then restoring, an antique luxury railcar and then hooking it up to an Amtrack train to see the sights coast to coast via rail? Several people have done exactly that, with stunning results! I suddenly feel the desire to own a beaded gown and a very long string of pearls...

2. Does social media cause loneliness? Or are lonely people more likely to lean into social media for comfort? A new study goes against the stream, saying social media shouldn't be to blame for feeling isolated. What do you think? Social media is the #1 way I keep in touch with my family and friends around the world, so for me personally, it helps me feel more connected.

3. Maybe it won't leave you lonely, but social media can leave you in debt! Read the cautionary tale of one woman who sank $10K into trying to have a lifestyle worthy of gaining Instagram followers. (And if you want to follow me on Instagram find me at @roseknows, where I spend $0 but do post a lot.)

4. Since moving to Asia over seven years ago, we have hosted more strangers that people we know in our home. Friends of friends have contacted us asking if we had a couch or spare room for them to crash on. We've always said yes unless we were out of the country ourselves. One time we had fourteen people plus our family of four sleeping in our home for a long weekend. Another time we already had my husband's sister staying with us when a friend from Instagram contacted me at nearly midnight saying she and her sister and niece were at the Shanghai Pudong airport, and missed a connecting domestic flight. They needed a place to sleep and hang out for about seven hours. I gave them the code to my front door and left piles of blankets and pillows in the living room and we all went to bed. The next morning when I arose, they'd already come and gone, leaving a nice note thanking us for our hospitality. I often wonder why we are so open to sharing our home. I like to think part of it is because we've been given so much, how could we not turn around and give more in return? Fair warning, this article written by Francis Chan's wife is definitely faith-based, but it does give a peek into why people of faith should consider hospitality as a priority. It definitely gave me a lot to think about, especially as our current home is our smallest yet, and we've had more guests in ten months in Hong Kong than we had in five years in Shanghai.

5. Do you Skimm? While living in Mainland China, many of our new sources were censored (heck, even this blog was censored!). I signed up for this weekday email that gave me a little info about all the current headlines with links to more info. It's funny. It's informing. It's short. It's free. You should sign up too if you're interested in what's going on around the world.

That's it for this week! What crazy new thing did you discover recently? Come on, sharing is caring!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Surviving an International Flight (without kids)


This morning I’m boarding a fourteen hour flight to America.  It's a trip we made twice last year and will probably make at least one other time before we bid adieu to 2018. To me, flying is not something that gets easier with practice. I know life is supposed to be about the journey, not just the destination, but travelling by plane is convenient but challenging. And no, I'm not even talking about how to make a long journey with kids...

When you look up survival tips for long haul flights, it's inevitably advice for how to survive 10+ hours locked in a metal tube with a baby or toddler. My kids are now 17 and nearly 15, and have been flying internationally since they were ten weeks old. I can't really offer travel advice for how we survived it other than to say that like me, one day your kids will be teenagers who actually fly internationally on their own (it's weird the first time) and you'll have (conveniently perhaps) forgotten the anxiety and dread you once carried while boarding a plane with a baby tucked in your arms.

Instead I want to share with you six items I use (and how I use them) to survive the better part of a twenty-four hour period in the air as a young-at-heart-but-not-in-body woman who loves adventure but doesn't love all the rough parts of actually being in the air on a long haul international flight.

1. Cheap slippers/compression socks. A lifetime ago when our kids were babies and toddlers we were on an expat package which would fly us business class if the flight was over six hours. While that hasn't happened in a long time (and I argue it would be most helpful now, when my kids are over 6 feet tall), the thing I loved most about business class after the glorious extra space is that it provided us with a pair of comfy socks and slippers. I always take my shoes off during a flight, but for the inevitable swelling feet and the lack of space to bend over and take shoes off/put shoes on every time I get up for a stroll or to use the washroom, it feels like a stupid thing to do. After all, it is pretty gross to walk around a plane and it's bathrooms in just socks. Have you ever been in a plane bathroom ten hours into a sixteen hour flight? The floor is like a swamp of questionable fluids. I get anxiety just thinking about what I might be standing in. So while I would never stand in there in my socks, standing in there in my shoes feels just as bad (it's also why we don't wear shoes in the house. But that's a story for another day). Cue the business class slipper idea!

Toy Story Hotel slippers: cute but
not sturdy enough for more than
a few wears. Perfect for the plane!
Whenever I stay at a hotel that provides slippers (and this is a 100% given in Asia) I pop them right into my suitcase. It drives my hubby a bit crazy, but less crazy than the bathrooms in coach after a dozen hours. When I fly, I put one pair in my carry on, and one pair in the suitcase. As soon as we board, I take off my shoes and pull out the hotel slippers. Then, if I need to get up, I can just slide my feet into the slippers and keep a protective barrier between me and the creature from the black lagoon. As we begin the descent, I make one last run to the loo and then put my shoes back on. The slippers (and all the gross germies they came into contact with) stay behind, and the extra pair in my luggage gets used for the return flight.

On our last flight from America to Hong Kong we were hanging out in the Chicago airport for six hours. I strolled past one of the many shops and picked up a pair of compression socks on a whim, mostly to use up the few remaining US dollars in my wallet. The older I get, the more my feet and ankles swell while in the air. It generally takes a few painful days for the swelling to go down once I arrive at my destination. I do my best to frequently get up and move (aisle seat is my BFF) and do some in flight exercises to keep from getting too stiff, but the very real threat of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is something I worry about more and more as I age and find myself flying more frequently. I wasn't expecting much from the stockings, but I was impressed with the difference. The sixteen hours of flight time between Chicago and Hong Kong is brutal, but my feet and ankles didn't swell the way they did on the flight there without the stockings. I'll definitely be using them again. I don't have the packaging so can't tell you what brand I own, but here is a pack of three for under $15 USD which comes in two sizes for men or women.

2. Nasal Spray While living in Shanghai, I developed some serious sinus issues. Every time I got even mildly sick, I'd end up with a sinus infection that would. not. quit. In the end, it turns out I have a pretty severe deviated septum and surgery was recommended. Having already had surgery once (unrelated) in China and having watched my husband go through deviated septum repair in China (it was an absolute nightmare), I begged for another option. I promised to be the most compliant patient ever if there was anything I could do to not need surgery.

The ENT doctor recommended this particular nasal spray. It really was a pivot point in my health. I was accustomed to using a saline nasal spray when I fly since airplane environments are so dry and 100% of the time I fly I end up sick, but this one was a life changer. It also contains xylitol, which keeps bacteria from settling in my nasal passages. When I fly, everything in my head swells. My face hurts. My ears hurt. My nose gets completely blocked, leaving me unable to comfortably sleep with my mouth hanging wide open. But with this nasal spray, everything stays calm. I can breathe, drug free. I spray it once in each nostril, wait a moment, gently blow my nose, and then appreciate the gift of a deep breath! I can't say it's the only thing contributing, but since I started using it roughly every hour or two on flights, I've not been sick as a result of flying. Even when I was sitting next to a lady who coughed into her arm on my side the entire flight.

From the Xlear website: "Regular use of xylitol nasal spray can be very beneficial. When the bacteria and contaminants cling to the mucous membrane inside your nasal passages, you are at risk for infectious disease or illness. Since it works as a cleanser and humectant, coating your nasal passages regularly with xylitol reduces the ability for any invaders to get comfortable in your airways. Research has shown that those who regularly use saline nasal spray like Xlear are at a significantly lower risk for respiratory infections."

*Please note, I'm not a doctor and do recommend that you chat with your own ENT or physician about whether this product is good for you. 

3. Foot Hammock. I have two herniated discs in my lower back. The very worst thing I can do for this type of injury is spend hours sitting in a chair with my feet hanging straight down. Even sitting at my computer desk in the comfiest office chair I've ever owned with my feet planted on the floor in front of me isn't great, let alone in an environment where there just isn't space to occasionally lay down flat on the floor and stretch out/relax my spine. At home I have a little step stool/foot rest that is shoved under my desk, allowing me to keep my legs from dangling and my lower back from screaming at me.

A few years ago I wondered if I could find an even smaller one to bring on a plane with me. Instead, a Google search led me to something even better: an adjustable foot hammock that attaches to my tray table which lets me put my feet up or stretch out my legs without putting all the pressure on my back. I order this exact model from Amazon and used it on my next international flight. It was amazing. And unlike a footstool, it takes up no space when the person next to me wants to get up. It's super lightweight and easy to fit in my carry on. And if I want to try and stretch out/curl up sorta-kinda on my side, it provides great support to keep me from sliding out of the seat, and it's soft but not slick, so my feet/legs stay in place instead of sliding through. I will never fly long haul in coach without this! And at under $10 US dollars, it's far less expensive than upgrading to business class!

4. Sleeping Pillow. Oh the drama involved with a sleeping pillow! Of the four members of my family, we have four completely different (strongly held) opinions. My husband hates all of them, and it's painful to watch him try to sleep, head falling forward, and then jerking back up. My youngest likes the plane pillows, which he uses to prop himself up against the plane's wall in the window seat. My oldest (and tallest of all of us) likes to stack a couple plane pillows on the tray table, top them with a horse-shoe shaped pillow, and then bend over with his face in the pile for hours on end. Me? I most often have used the horse-shoe shaped pillow, but with the opening toward my back so I can just rest my chin on it, crossing my arms in front of me, and try to doze. I don't sleep under the best of circumstances (lifelong insomniac here, can't even sleep in my comfy bed half the time) and a plane is never the best of circumstances. Especially when you're a nervous flyer, like I am.

As I strolled through the Chicago airport on my last flight to America, I came across the Cloudz EZ-Inflate Sleeper in one of the shops. Knowing we had sixteen hours in the air made me go ahead and spend the twenty bucks to try it out. Even if it wasn't great for me, surely it would work for someone else in the family. Turns out, it was the best for me! I'm 5'6" tall, and found that it was high enough to rest my face on without making my back uncomfortable. For my oldest son, he felt it was too high for his comfort, even though it's the position he most prefers on a plane. For my youngest, he thought it was okay, but was too busy playing games on his Nintendo Switch to be interested in sleeping (until an hour before we landed and getting him to wake up to de-plane was a nightmare!). My husband was seated across the aisle from me, behind a very large passenger who kept his seat reclined the entire time, tossing and turning and getting up and down frequently. With the seat reclined, it left less space for him to use this, and because the guy in front of him was moving so much, it moved the Sleeper enough to keep my husband wide awake. He also felt it was too high for him to get comfortable.

When I took it back from him, I noticed that controlling the inflation level could make it taller or shorter, adding to my comfort. I loved being able to put my arms through the pillow, it made for a comfy, cozy experience and I did indeed fall asleep for several hours quite comfortably. It was also quite comfortable to use while I reclined my own seat, arms through hugging it, with my face against it. Kinda like sleeping with a large teddy bear. It blows up and deflates very quickly, and has a removable, washable cover for where your face goes. If you're looking for a pillow solution for flying internationally in coach, I certainly recommend trying this out. Especially if, like us, you frequently end up on red eye flights and expect to hit the ground running in your destination and really do need to catch some Zzz's while flying the friendly skies!

5. Antibacterial Wipes, Tissues, Plastic Baggies. I've been flying internationally for three decades, and until recently, I'd inevitably always get sick after a long flight. In the last couple of years I made a few simple changes which had big impact. First, I stocked up on antibacterial wipes. I'm partial to Wet Ones because they don't bug my skin and they have a nice texture to scrub with, as well as the best seal on the package (I've tried out lots of brands). I keep them right in my hand with my boarding pass and passport, and as soon as I stow my carry on, I go germ busting on everything within arm's length. I wipe down the seat if it's not cloth, and scrub the armrests, making sure to give the button you press to recline your seat extra attention. I wipe down the back of the seat in front of me, including the underside of the tray, the edge of the seat pocket, the screen, and any buttons. I pull down the tray table and scrub away. I reach up and wipe the air vent, the light button, and the call button. And then I look at the wipe I've been using, and try not to throw up over the fact that it's no longer white, but streaked with grey and brown. I pull out a second wipe (or third if I've used more than one) and clean my hands. Then I toss them both into a little baggy I stash in the seat back or into a flight attendant's care if they happen to be walking past.

You might think that these areas get cleaned between flights, but I know too many people in the airline industry who tell me otherwise, and there's been many a flight that we've watched pull in, see the passengers exit, and then begin boarding within 30 minutes. I often find wrappers and used tissue in the seat pocket. I know there's no way someone is cleaning up after the last person who sat in my seat. And airlines aren't actually "required" to deep clean all that often (no joke, many only deep clean annually!). Don't believe me? Check this out. Or this.

I keep my packet of antibacterial wipes nearby throughout the flight, and also a packet of tissues. If I get up to use to the washroom, I do so with tissue in hand to open the door and lock it behind me. I use another one to flush the toilet, and to unlock and open the door back up. I wash my hands very thoroughly and then use another wipe when I get back to my seat. I promise you I am no germaphobe. I have friends who are. I don't even come close. But we fly internationally between 4-6 times per year, and when you think about how every single flight was ending with me paying for a doctor's visit + medicines (sometimes in countries where I have no health insurance which is a pricey "souvenir") and downtime in bed or just being plain miserable instead of enjoying a vacation or getting back to real life, these small investments (along with using that nasal spray above) paid huge dividends. And the baggies? Perfect for accumulating rubbish and then passing over to a flight attendant. I, for one, have never left a used tissue in the seat pocket! You're welcome.



6. Pain Relief Patches. These make me feel like I'm entering little old lady territory, but they are such a lifesaver! I mentioned that I have a back injury, but I also find that as I age, I have little aches and pains which are exacerbated and amplified when I fly. My shoulders get tense, my neck aches, my lower back cramps up... you get it. None of this helps when you have to sit in a small chair for over ten hours. I could take a pain relief pill, but as a nervous flier, I really don't like to put anything in me that might upset my stomach. It's no fun.

These little patches from Salonpas work for eight hours to bring pain relief exactly where you need it. Right before we board the plane I make a quick trip to the washroom and stick a couple on my lower back where I pretty much always have pain. And then after the first meal I assess where in my body I'm carrying tension, and I'll go stick a couple more on those spots if necessary before the tension becomes pain. It's amazing how well it keeps my muscles from seizing up! The patches contain camphor, menthol, and methyl salicylate, and they provide a nice warm feeling where you put them.

And a bonus tip: If you're on vacation and you're doing a ton of walking and your feet start hurting, sticking one of these to the soles of your feet can make a big difference in keeping you from missing out on any fun!

I do absolutely recommend you try them out a couple of times before you jump on a plane to make sure you don't have a reaction! Hours from an airport in mid-flight is not a great place to have a sudden allergic reaction (I speak from experience when I accidentally ingested just a bite of a shrimp cracker and ended up itching for hours).

*Again, I'm not a doctor! Please read the packaging carefully to make sure this is safe for you to use, and if you have any questions or concerns, check with your medical professional!

Those are my top ways to survive a flight. I'm sure you've heard that you need to hydrate like crazy. Every time they offer water, I'll take it. I also regularly get up and walk back to the galley and ask for more. I drink enough that I have to get up to use the toilet often, which also helps to keep me moving, reducing swelling in my feet and legs and helping to relieve general stiffness!

What is your top tip for surviving a long flight? I want to know!

Please note: a few products I've linked to may be affiliate links, meaning I might earn a small commission at no cost to you if you choose to buy. All the opinions and recommendations are my own, no one is paying me to share them. 

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