So on the night that my Florida Gators lost to the Georgia Bulldogs, I was reminiscing about my years at undergrad and how much the school has changed. Then it hit me, wow, I’m old AF (as fudge/fish/Freud). As many of you know, I started this blog while living Beijing, China in the mid 2010s, however, I ended up working about 6-7 days a week doing freelance work for my company (cha-ching!), so I didn’t have much time to keep up with this blog.
Since then, I’ve moved back to the States to give my hair a break from Beijing’s pollution, find a husband and get a PhD. Of that trifecta, only one aim has worked out — I’m now a blonde with amazing curls. Go figure. With that said, I’m currently enrolled in a graduate public administration problem (side focus in cybersecurity), and my research focus so far has been the spatial mismatch between low-income housing and affordable transportation. But maybe you don’t care. You don’t have to, I suppose.
Moving on, I found I missed writing about my experiences simply for the sake of doing so, even if no one reads. I wouldn’t be surprised as I have no idea how to use WordPress so my page setup could be more streamlined (on my Winter Break to-do list). Anyway, since coming back, I’ve still been traveling and musing about my last trip being Dubai during Ramadan… and my next trip to Guatemala upcoming. Unfortunately, I slept though Dubai (shoutout to the JW Marriott Marquis hotel for being awesome — highly recommend!),but Guatemala (and Belize) will be the first trip on this page revival. And I’ll have a real camera. See you then! Feel free to follow my IG: @jaycreatesalpha
Dubai was hot as fish grease. Still trying to figure out why I went in July.
“At the Top Hostel” – Great prices. Basic breakfast. Acceptable landscape views. TERRIBLE wi-fi. Okay location. Prepping for the trip, I was wondering if my pants would be too tight but I was fine the whole trip. No weird looks. 😉
Mall of Emirates – GREAT wifi. One of the few places you can buy food in the daytime (note the privacy walls erected so the view of us heathens eating food during Ramadan is obstructed):
Day trip to Abu Dhabi to visit the Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque (one of the few mosques open to the public). They provide abayas and head scarves, but I wore a man’s scarf bc I knew it was clean since i’d just bought it. 🤷♀️
Shijiazhuang (石家庄) is the capital of Hebei province, a province neighboring Beijing city & a large contributer to the influx of migrants into the city. A second – tier city, at present there isn’t a whole lot to do which would attract a foreign visitor to stay for a week, however if you’re in Beijing, this is a nice offering for a day trip of hiking in one of the Buddhist holy mountains.
Cangyan Mountain 苍岩山
This 1039.6 meter mountain, takes about 2 hours to ascend and has been featured in director Lee Ann’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (WoHu CanLong 卧虎藏龙), and the Karate Kid. If not able to climb, a lift is available but the beginning point of the lift is about 20 minutes further up the road from where the tour bus will drop you off. Hiking is recommended. It’s not a very steep mountain and you will miss most of the sites if you take the lift up.
Known for its three Buddhist temples, with the most famous being Fortune Celebration Temple (福庆寺) because it’s situated in the direct center of the mountain, this is definitely a place worth taking a day for.
How to get there:
Tour bus leaves from Shijiazhuang XiWang Bus Station (石家庄 西王 客运站 shijiazhuang xiwang keyun zhan)
The bus station is quite far from the Shijiazhuang West Station (the station coming from Beijing), so my friend and I took Bus 1 then transferred to bus 314 (can also take 9). Get off at XiWang Zhan (西王站)。Cross the street and locate the red sign of bus station, next to ICBC.
At the station, you can purchase both a Round-trip bus ticket for 48 元, and a cangyan mountain entrance ticket for an additional 65 元, saving you 5 元 off the gate’s on-site purchase entry fee.
At this point, you can board the bus (Departures: starting from 8:40am every 30 minutes until 5:30pm. Returns: last bus leaves at 7pm – check with bus attendant. Times are also dependent on number of passengers ). Check your ticket and match it to the bus number. About a 2 hour ride.
The bus attendant will ask you for a phone number for contact, and will also inform you of your assigned departure time. If you have a chinese phone number, be aware that China Unicom does not have good reception in the mountains.
[Disclaimer: speaking as an American citizen legally employed in Mainland China. Amounts of money allowed to convert/send overseas may vary by citizenship.]
5 + 1 ways of getting your money out of Mainland China. I’ve tried them all except #5, but many associates of mine have used that method.
OVERSEAS WIRE BANK TRANSFER – IN BANK
Costs: 150 RMB – 230 RMB total [varies by bank, I use ICBC]
Add’l costs: Wire Receipt Fee from home bank. [Bank of America charges $15 USD]
Materials: Wire Transfer Form, Passport, Local Bank Card
Full name, local address (I just put my district & Beijing city), passport info
Amount in USD that you want to send,
Overseas receiving bank name & SWIFT code (some banks, such as local credit unions do not have SWIFT codes)
Overseas receiving bank’s address (choose any address in your home state)
Your account number at overseas bank
Go to bank, and tell them you want to send a transfer outside the country.
Fill out form (they have an example form at the counter)
You are the Sender & the Recipient
Wait in line. 30 minutes to 3 hours. Chinese banks are EXTREMELY, GLACIALLY slow. They fill out, and you sign, A LOT of papers.
Wait 24 hours.
Additional, but important notes:
Although you can send up to $10,000 USD at one time… you can only CONVERT $500 USD per day. Which means you can…
Go to the bank many times – something I do often bc I’m lazy.
Go to the local tax office to ascertain a certificate proving you pay taxes through your company/place of employment. Also have some proof of current employment. At this point, you can convert as much as you want at one time
OVERSEAS WIRE TRANSFER – ONLINE BANKING
Costs: Less than 100 RMB [Varies by bank]
Add’l costs: Wire Receipt Fee from home bank
Info needed: Same as step 1
First have already converted money inside your bank account’s Forex. Because you are a foreigner, you must physically go to the brick-and-mortar bank building to convert money. Ridiculous, I know.
Plug online banking USB into your computer (needs a one-time setup process).
Log into online banking.
Go to “transfers”. Then “transfers to overseas bank”.
Fill out the information as prompted. Your “reason” for conversion can be any of the options – doesn’t matter.
Confirm, then double-confirm on your USB. Wait 24 working hours.
Additional, but important notes:
Saves money. ICBC online transfers only cost 40 RMB plus the receiving fee your overseas bank charges.
PAYPAL TO PAYPAL
Costs: varies by amount
Materials: Same as steps 1-2, except SWIFT code
Info Needed: Same as all info before
Create a Chinese PayPal account on Paypal.cn.
As far as I know it’s mostly in Chinese, but perhaps I just failed to find the English option.
Link your Chinese bank account to it.
Using a VPN set to a server in your home country, create an overseas PayPal (for me, an USA PayPal account).
Log off VPN, so you’re back on Chinese server, log into Chinese PayPal, withdraw from your bank at a service fee of about 4-6%. If you choose USD, it will convert for you.
Send to your home PayPal address just as a person sending to another person.
Additional, but important notes:
Total costs are nearly equivalent to an at-the-counter bank wire but a little more convenient.
Not sure on limits; I’ve only tried $500 – 1000 at a time.
Might need to be able to read Chinese characters.
Costs: can vary, but usually about 100 – 230 RMB
Add’l costs: Your time finding a bank that definitely offers WU [the signs sometimes lie]. And time is money.
Also need to pay $15 USD in cash to send.
Materials: Passport, Cash, Info (especially ID info for extra safety) of receiver
Fill out form.
Wait in line. This is a Chinese bank.
Make sure to double-check your info.
Also be sure to have them circle, highlight, etc. the number your recipient needs in order to pick up your money
Common places: China Post Office or China Agricultural Bank
SAME ACCOUNT, TWO DEBIT CARDS. [ONE IN CHINA, ONE OVERSEAS]
Costs: 5-15 RMB for a duplicate Chinese bank debit card. Postage to mail your debit card. Or ticket for a flight home to give it to a trusted friend/family member.
Materials: Passport and original Chinese bank debit card.
Go to the bank.
Request a duplicate. Tell them just because you want one (they’re so nosy).
Give it to your friend/family member back home.
They can withdraw the money in your home currency for a small fee.
Additional, but important info:
Your country must take Union Pay at their ATMs. I know that America, Australia, S. Korea and Malaysia do.
Fee varies by ATM, but it seems to be significantly cheaper than bank wires.
Mailing your card has a high risk of it being stolen. This is China.
HUIPIAO 汇票 [TEMPORARILY/INDEFINITELY SUSPENDED
I’ll post more details if this comes back, but essentially they would write a physical check. You could then use your banking app, such as the Bank of America app to take a photo & thereby deposit the check. It was only 15 RMB. So mad it’s gone!!!! cries a river
It was so cold… I couldn’t be bothered to sing my personal rendition of Vanilla Ice’s hit, “Ice Ice Baby”. It’d have been so appropriate.
Harbin in one night & one day.
Beginning of the night… Central Street中央大街
[Russian shops, glazed fruit sticks & harbin sausage 红肠 are good things to find here]
Middle of the night…Ice & Snow World国际冰雪节
[290 RMB entry]
The low temperatures will kill your phone battery after about 2 minutes, so either bring a real camera or take advantage of the photographers that will hassle you for a 30 minute photo shoot. [We bargained our photos down to 50rmb for 10 — they’re print copies, btw]
There are actually 3 parks for the festival:
Ice & Snow World – see at night
Ice Lantern Park – see at night
Sun Island – see in day
Late night… Russian disco club俄罗斯酒吧
Dance-off against the students I met at HeiLong University 黑龙大学. Pretty much the spot for foreigners to dance at — good variety of music — hiphop starts around 1am
Outside – 外面
Inside – 里面
Early morning… Saint Sophia Cathedral 生索菲亞教堂
[20 RMB entry]
All of the writings inside the cathedral are written in Chinese, so unless you can read Chinese, you’re better off taking photos in the main area & admiring beneath the “Last Supper” painting.
Afternoon… Siberian Tiger Park 东北虎林园🐯
The African lions were in snow. And yes, I know it snows in North Africa, but I feel like these particular lions weren’t from that part. They looked kinda cold. Maybe it was just me. 😦
And then… Bye bye Harbin! Off to Guilin in Yunan Province, China — mountain climbing — beautiful scenery!
Hey! Just a quick update: For those of us with ever-changing visa service needs (i.e., regularly applying for new Tourist visas… while living in China for years), we could simply take a train down South & hop on a ferry to Hong Kong (or simply fly), have an agent process a new visa for us, and within days, we’re back to whatever we’re doing in mainland China.
As of recent months, you can no longer legally get a new visa in Hong Kong. In most cases, you need to go home, and then come back. 🙂
I’ve just gotten back from -18 degrees-Celsius-below-death weather in Harbin for the Harbin International Snow & Ice World Festival — photos & info soon!
Budget Flight: $1000 USD [Beijing, CN → Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia(15 hr daytime layover = mini-vaca) → Sydney, AUS; Melbourne, AUS → Beijing, CN] *Our flights cost a little more since we flew during China’s National Holiday week Hotels: $300 USD Hotels shared with friends, but for solo travel, backpacker hostels will be the best option. Daily Activities & Food: $600 [100/day]
Most meals will run about $10 – 40 per at average restaurants.
Must-see: Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, The Rocks District and
Hotel recommendations (low – high): Central Station YHA Hostel, Central Station Hotel & Sir Stamford at Circular Quay.
Capital of New South Wales.
Sydney Siders, as they’re called, will exalt the stunning beauty of this city, but simultaneously lament about the early evening closings of many city businesses outside of the tourist areas such as The Rocks District.Not exactly a city for the elderly, but certainly not exactly Australia’s “Big Apple”. As relaxing as the atmosphere is, 3 days in Sydney was a little stressful because there are a lot more landmarks to try to visit in such limited time. Of these, the Sydney Opera House, is the number-one attraction to see. Unfortunately, October is the end of winter in Australia, so it wasn’t yet opera season. Fortunately, the House offers a smorgasbord of events, tours and shows year round, as well as a discount for being under 30, so we opted for a romantic comedy, George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and The Man.
Reminiscent of Beijing’s own markets, Paddy’s Mart (open Wednesday – Saturday), provides a shopping opportunity for low-priced souvenirs and quirky personal effects probably brought directly from China. I was able to purchase very nice key chains, magnets, boomerangs, etc for about $1-2 AUD each. Mainstream shopping at the malls was comparably more expensive. In a shoe store of extremely low quality, think “Traffic” in America, most shoes were about 30 – 80 AUD. Shoes that you’d buy at Traffic for 10 – 40 USD. Aside from Uggs, Australia isn’t known for clothing or shoe brands, so the prices of these items were much higher than you’d find in America, but comparable to foreign brands in China.
5 free things to do in Sydney:
1. Have a picnic in Royal Botanical Gardens, where you can also get picturesque view of the Sydney Opera House at “Mrs. Macquarie’s chair”.
2. Make music with the Aborigines [between Quay Station & Cahill Walk]
3. Visit the Customs House & its library on the 2nd floor \
4. Take photos in Hyde park
5. Museum of Contemporary Art (featuring mostly Australian artists)
Public transport: Train: Can buy a ticket for each individual ride at kiosks, no card needed. Train to airpot is 17 AUD. Free CBD shuttle: Route 555, every 10 minutes Ferry: Hop-on-hop-off passes are available for purchase, but in my experience seemed to be a waste unless you plan to spend a whole week in Sydney and dedicate a full day to stopping at each wharf’s attractions. We only needed the ferry two times: (a) see the Sydney Opera House & Darling Harbor Bridge from the waterside (b) go to the Taronga Zoo
Melbourne, Days 4-6
Must-see: Immigration Museum, Eureka Tower, Flinders Street Station, National Gallery of Victoria in South Bank, Chinatown, 1000 steps & Federation Square. [If you have an extra full day, book a tour to see the Great Ocean Road, located about 2 hours out of Melbourne] Hotel recommendations (low – high): Melbourne Central YHA & Melbourne Parkview Hotel.
Capital of Victoria.
Melbournites, however, are definitely more lively in the day & night. On my way to take a photo at the Eureka 88 skydeck, I accidentally knocked over a local businessman outside of the Southbank Exit stairs. Conversation ensued, and I was invited to crash a local social group’s gathering honoring Oktoberfest 2015. Following the event, some of us segued to an underground lounge/art gallery. The artists featured aren’t featured in mainstream galleries, so part of the establishment’s proceeds are donated to the artists whose art is posted on the lounge’s walls. Kabobs are the equivalent to pizza as a subsidence for late-night munchies, and post-lounge, I had to participate in tradition at a Pakistani Kabob joint near Flinders Street train station. Nightlife in downtown Melbourne is whimsical, and certainly caters to anyone from their teens to the more seasoned. Wine is affordable, and water costs about a third, so a balancing act for the night is wallet-friendly.
Referred to as the “international city” of Australia, Melbourne is certainly a capital you cannot afford to skip. The comparison between Sydney and Melbourne is akin to Beijing versus Shanghai, with the latter being more hip and culturally diverse. Australia reminded me of America in terms of immigration patterns, but on the surface, Australia’s general population is more mixed whereas America has different pockets in which each ethnic group prefers to exist. As an “African American” I was viewed as a more positive presence than “Africans”, as graciously hinted by security guards at the National Gallery of Victoria. Despite this, the Africans I spoke to, mostly South Sudanese, said it’s a great place to live and raise families. Out of curiosity, I decided to travel to Footscray, aka Footscrazy, which is a heavily Arab-African-Asian, working-class neighborhood known for a slightly elevated crime rate. During my time there, I found a litany of delicious Ethiopian restaurants, intriguing graffiti, and a few brushes with light violence. Unlike America, guns aren’t so much an issue outside of mobs, so I felt quite safe traveling alone.
Since this was a first trip since moving to China, I’ve reposted this entry from my former blog site, chopsticksandcurls.
Rather than stay in Beijing for China National Day (more on this holiday later), I decided to book an impromptu vacation with my coworker to Seoul, South Korea. Of course, this decision was made without any knowledge of South Korea aside from textbook history, yet it was an amazing experience!
During my undergraduate years, many people asked, “Why is your major Chinese?”. It actually wasn’t… my real major was “East Asian Languages & Cultures”, with a focus on Chinese language study (this is what my degree says)#GoGators. Within the Western world, when someone says “Asian”, the term is automatically associated with being related to the Chinese or the Japanese. I think many people forget there are other countries in Asia, and furthermore couldn’t even begin to distinguish between any of them besides their geographical locations. Moving to China to refine my oral Mandarin skills was important, but even more so, traveling around East Asia and familiarizing myself with the differences between countries, and the nuances within each of their social infrastructures.
While traveling, I think it is important to delay making comparisons between the social constructs of different countries, but immediately upon arrival it was difficult not to. China versus South Korea, which country is better? I don’t intend to answer that question, but South Korea is definitely more foreigner-friendly which made my experience much less ardurous than when I first moved to Beijing.
Let’s begin. Since I had less than one week, I only traveled within Seoul, and to a small city directly outside of Seoul called Yongin. Seoul being the capital city of South Korea, and the headquarter location for Samsung (yes, the massive smartphone company) seemed to be a whole new world… yet vaguely familiar. While China is still battling the influence of Western influence, South Korea made me feel as if I was back in America except without the larger-sized shoes & dark-colored makeup, of course.
The only word I know in Korean is 감사합니다 [“gamsahabnida”(romanticized as “kamsahamnida”], which means “thank you”, and to my surprise, I didn’t even need to know that. Granted I came during “Welcome to South Korea week” (geared towards tourists, mostly Chinese ones), but it seems that a higher percentage of South Koreans speak a fair amount of English than in China (even in a global city such as Beijing, I struggle to find English-speakers). Most signs, product labels, menus, speaker announcements and maps were in either Korean, Chinese & English, or just Korean & English.
The prevalence of English made navigation super easy, so I spent a lot of time perusing in the underground tunnel markets, and riding the subway all around the city. One thing I noticed was the numbers of women who have undergone plastic surgery in South Korea… and have no intention of hiding it. Every trip I made around the city I could be expected to see at least two or three bandaged, puffy faces from a recent surgery. South Koreans place a lot more emphasis on personal hygiene, appearance & aesthetics than I’ve ever seen in China (although some Chinese women do travel to S. Korea for plastic surgery, the numbers aren’t as high). Rather than making me feel ugly & awkward, the obsession with beauty in S. Korea was really comforting. Coming from South-Central Florida, seeing exquisitely-dressed people smelling of arousing aromas was familiar. Familiar is nice. Very nice. I almost forgot I was halfway around the world.
[Link: Article about plastic surgery in S. Korea http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2610231/Plastic-surgery-South-Korea-good-people-travelling-home-surgery-need-CERTIFICATES-prove-are.html]
I want a Gangnam style face:
Know what I missed most about America? Google. In the wake of China’s crackdown on internet freedom, many websites that I used to use daily are blocked by the Great Firewall of China (including my blog website). Even though VPNs are a way around the firewall, they’re not always reliable, and can be disconnected at anytime (imagine a smartphone that keeps freezing while you’re texting, and you have to constantly restart it just to finish a conversation). I’d almost forgotten that “Google it” is now a colloquial verb-phrase, but South Korea soon brought me back to remembrance. I was only a 1.5 hour flight away from my apartment, but I finally felt like I was once again part of the free world. Being able to freely read the NYTimes, post on Instagram & Twitter was sweeter than a glazed Krispy Kreme donut (Seoul has Krispy Kreme!!).
Note: VPNs cause your internet to run very slowly, hence the significance of this experience. Fast internet… I have missed you so much.
This was one of the most hassle-free vacations I’ve had since moving. Thank you, South Korea.
1. View from our hotel (Acacia Hotel–located between Myeong-dong & Dongdaeum cultural park):
I’ve missed hygiene standards–this sign on our hotel toilet nearly made me weep tears of joy:
2. Visit to Deoksugung Palace (one of the smaller palaces):
Pond outside palace:
Musical procession when changing guards at 3pm
Gwangmyeongmun Gate (once the south gate of Deoksugung Palace) [Buddhist Bell & Borugak Jagyeongnu Water Clock]:
Seokjojeon Area (same site as the palace):
1. Map 2. National Museum of Art (couldn’t take photos inside) 3. Seokjojeon (closed for renovations)
3. Visit to Insadong area:
Found this dessert-making stand. They sing, dance, and wrap your sesame seed, peanut or almond dessert in hair-like sugary strands.
More dessert… you can buy ice cream stuffed into double-sided phallic tubes:
Lot’s of market stands! I definitely bought lots socks because I couldn’t resist the price. Stopping at a street vendor’s table to shop is like going into a Wal Mart or a Dollar Tree. You go in to buy ONE specific thing… walk out with a bag/cart full of odds-and-ends (in my case, a flat screen, once).
Also bought some gifts for my parents from the markets:
4. Seoul/Namsan Tower
Before going to the top of the tower, there is a level of the mountain that has a gate where people buy locks, write messages on them & attach them to the fence:
“I wish you were here”. I didn’t write this one (didn’t have cash for a lock), but the message is still the same.
View of the city at this level of the mountain:
5. Shopping/Eating in the Myeong-dong, area:
This photo chair was located right in front of the Lotte department store:
Street food. Tentacles, anyone?
One of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my life. I would move to S. Korea for this. My friend has been living in S.Korea for a year & never tried it. If you’re in the area, and haven’t tried it… you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Here’s the map to the place we found–it’s a speciality bulgogi restaurant:
Not sure of the English translation, but the Korean name is written on the yellow post-it. The restaurant is located behind about 2 streets behind the “Hello APM” mall. When coming down the road between Goodmorning City center & Hello APM, the restaurant will be on the absolute last street you reach right before the National Medical Center Euljiro-6ga. Street looked a tiny bit sketchy at night (there was a random fence at the end of the road). Once you’ve reached the end of the road, turn right and you’ll find the restaurant a few doors down.
**The star on the map was where we departed from, not the destination.
Crazy icecream shop:
I’ve inherited my father & grandfather’s sweet tooth, so of course I had to try (despite my lactose intolerance). Cup is full of vanilla ice cream, layered with honeycomb chips (not visible), and topped with “storm” cotton candy. Yumm.
6. Itaewon (foreigner’s district):
We didn’t go to HO bar, but the place we did go kept serving us these complimentary fried (and lightly salted) spaghetti sticks. Soooo good!
Shopping in the underground Dongdaeum tunnel markets:
Rain water drainage system/artwork (there’s a frog statue at the end):
If you’re brave enough to slink down an alley with an opening so tight you have to walk sideways through, you may luck up and find a few coffee/juice shops, as well as some odd and wildly inappropriate statues (not posted):
I mentioned that I traveled to Yongin… that was to go to the theme park, Everland! I’d definitely recommend hopping on a city bus early in the morning (think 7:30am), and riding about an hour and a half to this place. Certainly not as fancy as Disney World or Universal Studios, but there was a great selection of rides and STRONG, FREE WiFi everywhere in the park. The only downside is that the food options were very basic, and the day I went had lots of children since it was “tourist week” in Seoul, as well as the fact that many Chinese citizens were vacationing there during the government holiday.
My mantra for theme parks no matter where I go: ride my top 3 rides immediately, no matter how long the lines are. Even if it rains the rest of the day, I still got my top 3 thrills.
Clash of Clans!! (subway tunnel advertisement)
Random pieces of artwork everywhere… this one is in front of an office building (I think a bank):
Hot, black buns. 😉
Riding past the water on the airport shuttle bus:
After returning to China and checking my bank account, I realized just how easy it is to spend $1000 in one week — luckily that included airfare. The South Korea won had about a 1000:1 ratio to USD so pricing purchases in my head was relatively easily, but before I knew it, I’d spent hundreds of dollars. Do I regret it? Not necessarily. I wish I’d planned a little bit more, but the experience I had & the financial lessons learned are both valued.