From Zaijian to Aloha and Back Again

I love the idea of having an R&R. It’s brilliant. I work in a stressful job (okay, my job is minimally stressful, on the average day, but my location definitely can bring on the headaches) and as a “reward” for that, I get a plane ticket to either Sydney, Australia or anywhere in the US. Fantastic! (Side note from my previous life: teachers should all get a once-a-year R&R!)

Originally, I thought we’d opt for the koala bear option, but once I discovered how incredibly hard it is to get to hold one of these cuddly little creatures, I was less enamored with the idea.  (Plus, out of KL, we’ll be even closer to the land of the Vegemite sandwich, so we’ll probably make that trek in 2015.And I *will* find a way to hold one. I will.) So, with no need to exclaim, “Crikey, mate!” we set our sights on another land of blue skies and sunshine- the Sandwich islands.

The sunshine I had been dreaming of met us at the airport when we touched down at 8AM, nearly an hour before we took off from Chengdu that morning. (Oh, the magic of international dateline time travel!) I couldn’t wait to see everything the islands had to offer, but within hours my lungs rebelled against the clean air. After flying all night, we checked into the hotel, filled up on a giant plate of IHOP pancakes and then decided to take a nap for a few hours, rejuvenating our batteries after seventeen hours in airports and airplanes. In the space of that two hour nap, I went from healthy and full of energy to having a throat that felt like my pancakes had been made of porcupine. Not a good sign. By the end of the day, I had a full blown cold. I swear it is because my body is so used to a certain level of pollutants that it can no longer function correctly without at least triple PM2.5 digits.

While my cold was bad enough that had I been home, I probably would have called in sick to work for two days in a row, there is no calling in sick on vacation! I had sites to see, stores to hit up and a hair appointment that was not to be broken.

Luckily, we were able to wander around Honolulu for a few days before boarding our cruise ship, so I nursed the worst of the cold on solid ground. (Buying out the clearance rack at Old Navy was some great retail therapy that I am sure boosted the powers of my Target OTC cold medicine.)

Next up: cruise time!

With my purple flower lei draped haphazardly around my shoulders, Thad and I posed for what would be the first in a lovely series of cruise-forced photos. (Each time we got off the ship, there would be someone in a random costume, lining up guests for photos. One day it was a dolphin in a coconut bra, while another day it was a giant, squishy pineapple. These pictures were then developed and for sale on the ship for a mere $12 each. It’s too bad they were so pricey, as Thad and I made ridiculous faces in each and every one. It would have made a fantastic photo album.)

For the next seven days, we cruised the Hawaiian Islands. From snorkeling at Molokini, where I spent an hour following my favorite fish, trading “favorites” each time I found one that was more awesome to watching whales breech and tail slap their way across the bay, our first outing was fantastic.  I have the swimming skills of a house cat, which means I wasn’t able to dive several feet below the surface of the ocean, but Thad said he could hear the songs of the humpback whales that we shared the area with that day.  I did learn that snorkeling with a clinging cold can be a bit, well, gross. Put your entire nasal system inside a tight-fitting plastic mask and then float face down for an hour. Things drain. It just happens. But, I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to float with the fish because of a bit of congestion.  Ick. I know.

The cruise was filled with four-course meals (I had dessert every night!) and nightly shows heavy on the choreography and hits from a handful of decades ago. (Side note: there was a group of deaf vacationers on our cruise who attended these shows each night. I was mesmerized by their interrupter. She rocked out to musical hits through the decades and Polynesian war chants alike.)

Wandering through lava beds at Volcanoes National Park. Kayaking up a river to swim in the pool below a waterfall. Hopping through tide pools to visit sea turtles on Kona. Quietly walking the memorial at Pearl Harbor.

R&R is definitely full of rest and relaxation, but it wouldn’t be a fantastic vacation without days full of activities and adventures. Really, I’m up for just about anything as long it is warm and there is sunshine involved. Blue skies, golden sunshine and a touch of color on my skin- that’s what I needed after an already long winter in Chengdu. (As I write this, our AQI has been over 400 for more than twelve hours. And this is why my lungs didn’t know what to do with fresh air.)

I do have to wonder though, will I want to R&R in Alaska once we move to Malaysia?

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My Chengdu BFF…Blue Air


Gross air goes by many different names. If you are lucky enough to live in a rural area, your gray days are merely filled with fog. It’s not necessarily pretty or convenient, but aside from those who have to commute in its thickness, it’s pretty neutral in terms of health effects.  In big cities, the combination of haze and smoke is smog. And when I was in Hawaii last week, the weird mixture of volcanic smoke and fog created what they have christened “vlog.” In Chengdu, we do get a bit of fog and smog, but definitely no vlog. What we get in spades though is “plog.” (Pollution + fog= plog. I just made it up, but hopefully it will catch on!)

The last few days have been particularly ploggy in Chengdu, with this morning’s AQI hitting 375, just as I was contemplating a lunchtime run to Noodle Alley for fried rice. (Needless to say, said outing was called off by my lungs and I dined on a noodle bowl at my desk instead.) Yesterday, after going to brunch and then visiting a couple of local tourist sites and a new import grocery store (always full of exciting possibilities!), I ended up taking a nap to try to ward off the encroaching headache brought on by hours outside in the haze.

All of this is just part of the gig, and we knew it coming in, so I’ve got no complaints about Foreign Service-living in Chengdu because of it, but, the plog has created a deep and abiding love between myself and my air purifiers. Without my trusty machines, whirling on medium twenty-four hours a day,(high creates a bit of a cyclone, which requires me to weigh everything in the house down with books, so we stick with a more manageable setting) I’d be a hacking, coughing mess for several months out of each year. And, since I’d really like both of my lungs to join me in Kuala Lumpur this summer, hugging my air purifier is not an uncommon occurrence. Because my apartment air purifiers give so much to me, I thought it would only be right if I returned the favor, as they are my Chengdu-BFFs.

After pondering the best way to show my love to these wonderful, whirling machines, I opted to go with the world I knew so intimately for a decade- middle school affection. (Okay, that sentence could be interrupted in a super creepy way. It’s not. I promise!) With this in mind, ol’ Blue Air and I spent some quality time together this weekend, enjoying an array of bonding activities, including:

-playing MASH together

-playing dress-up


-dreaming of clean air vacations

-predicting our futures together with the help of simple origami


While polar vortexes aren’t making their way through western China, bringing the same freezing air that seems to be plaguing much of the US this winter, we’ve got our own winter maladies to grumble about- mainly the air pollution that hits so hard in January and February. But, I’ve got my handy-dandy BFFs to keep me company through the long, cold (okay, not so cold), gray days of winter.

If only I could get one of those BFF heart-shaped bracelets to forever cement our one-ness…


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Discovering a New Edge of the World (and Hopefully a Bit of Sunshine)

As I get ready to take a few weeks off from blogging and go visit a new edge of the world (Hawaii, this time), I’ll leave you with just a few words from the ever-brilliant Mr. Silverstein, as well as a meme that perfectly describes my upcoming vacation.
Once I’ve peered over this new ledge, I’ll be back, nursing a sunburn and hopefully full of great tales to tell. (Notice I assume the sunburn is happening. It just is. Its’ fine. I’ve come to terms with it.)
The Edge of the World 
by Shel Silverstein
Columbus said the world is round? Don’t you believe a word of that.
For I’ve been down to the edge of the world,
Sat on the edge where the wild wind whirled,
Peeked over the ledge where the blue smoke curls,
And I can tell you, boys and girls, 
The world is FLAT!

all the skin

Drinking the New Year’s Resolution Kool-Aid

Fireworks exploded over Sydney Harbor. The ball dropped in New York City.  My motherland dropped a giant potato as the clock struck midnight. And I went to bed at 10PM with a good book.  Yup, 2014 is officially upon us. I know that I have previously stated that I abstain from New Year’s resolutions, as I have the willpower and focus of a 5 year old (eating habits too!), but then I realized with such a big year looming ahead of me, maybe I should give in and go jump into the resolution lake with both feet.

If I don’t make (and break!) some stereotypical goals for the next 365 days, who will?

Not wanting to overload myself (all the self-help sites say I should take it easy on the goal-setting), I’ll stick with three of the most commonly set resolutions at the start of a new year. So, in no particular order, here are my official resolutions for 2014:

1)      Lose 10 (or 200) pounds- Who doesn’t want to lose a bit of weight? This is especially true for a Foreign Service family facing pack out.  As I look around my apartment, I realize that there is going to be some super serious spring cleaning going on starting in about April. (Who am I kidding? I am a freak about organizing and packing, so it will probably start in February, but then it is winter cleaning, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it. So, for the sake of this blog, and Thad’s sanity, I’ll say April. After that, I can’t be responsible for my actions.) Between clothes that I haven’t worn in two years and those that aren’t going to be necessary on the equator, my floor cleaning woman is going to hit the jackpot. There will also be some paring down of unnecessary odds and ends that have collected over the last two years, as well as the giving away of whatever random items remain from our consumables shipment. (I plead innocent on that one! It was my first time doing consumables. It will be done differently next time.)  I’ll definitely be hitting the ten pound mark and probably coming closer to 200 when it is all said and done, although sadly, none of it will change my jeans’ size.

2)      Stop smoking- You’d think for someone who has never lit a cigarette this wouldn’t need to be on the list, but after two years in Chengdu, I definitely have smokers’ lung! When I cough, I sound like an old woman with emphysema and chest colds cling as if I had a multiple-pack-a-day habit.  Getting out of Chengdu for a bit will definitely delay my need for a portable oxygen cart!

3)      Make more time for “me”- Considering I’m going to be out of a job in less than five months, I should be able to find a bit of time to pursue my hobbies.  Come July, my faithful readers will either be seeing a blog post a day, as I have all the time in the world to ponder and write, or they’ll never hear from me again as I sink into depression, never changing out of my sweatpants and forgetting to brush my teeth, all from a lack of schedule/motivation.

While they are definitely the stereotypical goals as the last page of the calendar turns, they are certainly not traditional! So, along with Pink and a bit of my much-loved pop music,  I will raise my glass since I am wrong, in all the right ways, and welcome 2014 knowing that I am too school for cool and always happy to party on my own.

Here’s to another year of searching for the ends of sidewalk and the adventures that I stumble into along the way.

Happy 2014!

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