All posts by jqharris13

Life Update: Still in America… as a graduate student. Oh, and I went to Dubai during Ramadan!

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. 🤷‍♀️


Does packing light have to = looking basic? 10 days in Europe: a backpack & tote bag

You know what I hate about a lot of these travel blogs? They appeal to people that think flats & tanks tops are appropriate “dressy” clothes for going out. The 2-shoe rule for carry-on bags I see regurgitated over and over drives me nuts. Any trip, even with just one carry-on, I always have (1) pair of running shoes, (2) pair of loafers and (3) a pair of high heels.

This trip was 8 days of exploring & 2 days of transit, broken down into:

Days 1 & 2: En route — extended layover in the UK

Day 3: Amsterdam pt 1

Day 4: Prague

Days 5 – 6: Paris

Days 7-10: Amsterdam pt 2: tulip festival & more!

My packing List:

Quick Summary: 2 pants, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 7 tops AND… OMG, 3 pairs of shoes! Flats, Sneakers & Heels.

*If you’re not fancy, the number of tops can be cut down to 4. Two worn on plane, Two packed.

In Detail:


Front pocket: liquids bag, foldable tote bag, mini flat iron, travel antibacterial wipes

2nd pocket: 2 pairs of men’s socks, water bag/ plastic bag flask

IMG_4159 2

3rd pocket: 1 pair of chinos (Rolled & Banded with rubber bands), 1 thin skirt (R&B), 1 LittleBlackDress (R&B), tiny travel towel

Main compartment: heels & flats


Laptop space in main compartment: compression bag of 3 lgslv shirts, 1 turtleneck & 2 sweaters  [each day 1 sweater/turtleneck with lgslv shirt underneath]

Update:  Wanted more flexibility in storage arrangement, so i R&Bd the tops & ditched the compression bag [both methods work equally]


On top of  shoes & space saver bag: Lingerie Bag

Mini Mesh zip pocket: tampons, bar soap, face scrub brush, shower cap

2 small side pockets: 1 specialty shirt, 1 gator tank for running

—2 large binder clips, clipped anywhere — can be used to hang scarf as privacy in hostel & hold up cords

Tote Bag:

*All items packed in my Tote can fit in a much smaller bag for extra-light travel. Also, I’m bringing a large plastic Target  bag to wrap my purse in when I leave them w/hostel front desk for the day & will tie plastic bag to my backpack ( I carry a small clutch & foldable grocery bag through the day) — my purse is Coach so I don’t want to attract any potential thieves.

  • 1 light running jacket (R&B)
  • ziploc sandwich bag: eyebrow kit, liquid eyeliner, blending sponge, eyeshadow mini palette & brushes, powder foundation & brush
  • ziploc bag: mints, antacid, aspirin, gum, bobby pins, emery board
  • passport, USB (with backup info), 1 packet of premixed instant coffee
  • hairbrush/comb
  • ziploc bag: necklaces/extra watch
  • ziploc bag: cords & batteries
  • snacks & extra ziploc bags
  • Champagne large & lightweight scarf(wide & long enough to be wrapped around your body like a towel / worn as a skirt)
  • **a MacBook Air can fit in purse but was not brought on this trip

-smartphone tripod (carry bag hooked onto outside of purse or placed inside)

Wear On Plane:

Liquids bag (front pocket of backpack) – basically all hair products #naturalhairproblems: 


  • .3 ml bottle of hair serum (cut & taped label from original bottle)
  • 3fl oz bottle of conditioner
  • .3 ml bottle of lotion (I refilled one from a hotel with cocoa butter)
  • travel-sized hair spray
  • mini squeeze bottle of hair oil / (can be used for sustain oil or dry shimmer body oil)
  • Heat Protectant (for blowdrying/flat ironing)
  • 25ml spray bottle for liquid foundation (yes, it works like a pump bottle) [pink] & mouthwash [green]
  • .3 ml plastic balm jar/container for solid, whipped shea butter [to carry around in my day clutch as a lotion substitute]
  • .3ml plastic balm jar of toothpaste
  • Mini Shampoo
  • “poo” cover-up spray
  • 25ml spray bottle for liquid makeup primer
  • travel hand sanitizer spray stick
  • travel sized hair gel OR other hair styling product of choice

*Used a $20 DYMO label maker to keep everything labeled

*The Dollar Tree & The Container Store are some of the best places for bottles – TCS is really good for special sizes that you don’t want to buy in bulk online

Lingerie Bag:

Underwear, 2 camisoles (R&B), 1 pair of compression pants (R&B), leggings (for bed) & pantyhose

Compression bag: 3 long slv (black, gray & olive), 2 short SLV/tank (Gator shirt, Maroon sleeveless faux mock neck)


  • Stick to neutral colors & fabrics —> simple & chic
  • Hand wash some light items; do laundry 1x — I’ll do mine Paris since it’s the midpoint
  • Items in packing bag were laid flat & folded once.
  • Items in other pockets/nooks/crannies, rolled & wrapped with a rubber band (R&B).
  • I tried a balm jar before w/liquid foundation but too much foundation ran out and made the jar hard to open, so now I only use spray bottles.
  • In hostels, I dry with mini-towel, but wrap scarf around body if not able to dress immediately. Scarf is also used as a coverup for religious sites & the beach.
  • For colder climates, if a coat is necessary, wear it on the plane. If not, just layer multiple shirts & sweaters — saves space by avoiding bulky items.

Will update with photos of my outfits after the trip! Happy packing. 🙂

Hassle-free $$$ in & out of China

Everyone knows going inside a Chinese bank means a wait of 30 minutes to 4 hours for your turn at the counter on any given day. Although, we are able to wire money via online banking, we are required to physically come to a bank to convert CNY inside our accounts. In addition, there is a 500 USD daily conversion limit without tax certificates on hand.

That’s wayyy too much. So what to do?



Simply put, all you need is to sign up for a Chinese PayPal ( and your home country’s PayPal. Link your Chinese bankcard to the PayPal.CN account, and then link your home bank account to the PayPal.COM account.


Note: All PayPal transactions are done in USD. If you have CNY in your account, a third-party service will automatically convert your money for a 1.2% fee. So it’s all still slightly cheaper than a wire transfer.


Here, I’ll take you through the steps of signing up, linking your card, and then sending your money (the easy way) to your home country’s PayPal account:

First: Signing Up

  • Go to (will take you to China’s PayPal)
  • On the homepage, choose the blue ” 注册/register” button


  • Select Account Type


  • Register your information (on this page you can change to English language)


  • Follow normal registration steps


Second: Linking Chinese Bank Card (not bank account)

  • Go to Wallet, Choose “Link a card”


  • Enter information in English

enter infodone

  • Complete text message verification


Now your card is ready for use!


Last: Sending the Money

  • Go to “Send & Request”
  • Choose “Pay for goods or service”
  • Enter your USA (or home country’s) PayPal account’s email or mobile phone, Enter Amount

send money done

  • Review transaction & send – voila! And this is how you get your money out! You’re welcome.


Find me on Instagram @jaycreatesalpha

Wechat: shandianxia28

Extension – Wire Transfers TO China:

Now for those who actually want to wire USD into your account, this is when you’ll link your Chinese bank account (not bankcard).


Go to your wallet, “add bank account”, fill out following form:

wire infodone

Notes: SWIFT codes can easily be online by searching “bank name swift code city name” i.e., “ICBC SWIFT Beijing” –> Result: ICBKCNBJBJM







Hiking in Hebei – Cangyan Mount 苍岩山

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

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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.



Find me on Instagram @jaycreatesalpha

How to get your money outta China!

[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.


Costs: 150 RMB – 230 RMB total [varies by bank, I use ICBC]

  1. Add’l costs: Wire Receipt Fee from home bank. [Bank of America charges $15 USD]

Materials: Wire Transfer Form, Passport, Local Bank Card

Info needed:

  1. Full name, local address (I just put my district & Beijing city), passport info
  2. 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)
  1. Overseas receiving bank’s address (choose any address in your home state)
  2. Your account number at overseas bank


  1. Go to bank, and tell them you want to send a transfer outside the country.
  2. Fill out form (they have an example form at the counter)
    1. You are the Sender & the Recipient
  3. Wait in line. 30 minutes to 3 hours. Chinese banks are EXTREMELY, GLACIALLY slow. They fill out, and you sign, A LOT of papers.
  4. Wait 24 hours.

Additional, but important notes:

  1. Although you can send up to $10,000 USD at one time… you can only CONVERT $500 USD per day. Which means you can…
    1. Go to the bank many times – something I do often bc I’m lazy.
    2. 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



Costs: Less than 100 RMB [Varies by bank]

Add’l costs: Wire Receipt Fee from home bank

Info needed: Same as step 1


  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.
  2. Plug online banking USB into your computer (needs a one-time setup process).
  3. Log into online banking.
  1. Go to “transfers”. Then “transfers to overseas bank”.
  2. Fill out the information as prompted. Your “reason” for conversion can be any of the options – doesn’t matter.
  3. Confirm, then double-confirm on your USB. Wait 24 working hours.

Additional, but important notes:

  1. Saves money. ICBC online transfers only cost 40 RMB plus the receiving fee your overseas bank charges.



Costs: varies by amount

Materials: Same as steps 1-2, except SWIFT code

Info Needed: Same as all info before


  1. Create a Chinese PayPal account on
    1. As far as I know it’s mostly in Chinese, but perhaps I just failed to find the English option.
  2. 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).
  1. 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.
  2. Send to your home PayPal address just as a person sending to another person.

Additional, but important notes:

  1. Total costs are nearly equivalent to an at-the-counter bank wire but a little more convenient.
  2. Not sure on limits; I’ve only tried $500 – 1000 at a time.
  • Might need to be able to read Chinese characters.




  1. Costs: can vary, but usually about 100 – 230 RMB
    1. Add’l costs: Your time finding a bank that definitely offers WU [the signs sometimes lie]. And time is money.
    2. Also need to pay $15 USD in cash to send.
  2. Materials: Passport, Cash, Info (especially ID info for extra safety) of receiver
  3. Steps:
    1. Fill out form.
    2. Wait in line. This is a Chinese bank.
  • Make sure to double-check your info.
  1. Add’l info:
    1. Also be sure to have them circle, highlight, etc. the number your recipient needs in order to pick up your money
    2. Common places: China Post Office or China Agricultural Bank




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.


  1. Go to the bank.
  2. Request a duplicate. Tell them just because you want one (they’re so nosy).
  • Give it to your friend/family member back home.
  1. They can withdraw the money in your home currency for a small fee.

Additional, but important info:

  1. Your country must take Union Pay at their ATMs. I know that America, Australia, S. Korea and Malaysia do.
  2. 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.




  1. 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

Black Life Beijing – Game Night (Group)

**This post is updated regularly with upcoming events**

Two years ago when I accepted my job offer in China, I remember Googling “black people in China”, “chinese black people”, “african americans china”, “africans in china”, and the search results were sadly sparse.

Since then, Tony Reyes, an American Fullbright scholar created the “Black Life China” wechat group as part of his study, which later birthed the “black life beijing” group, “black life shanghai”, “black life guangzhou”, and so forth. Since then, Black Life Beijing remains the most active group, and we’ve got an related “game night” group. Here’s a recap of some of our latest events! The last photo contains the QR code to scan in order to join the group Black Life Beijing.

Disclaimer: Real person identity is personally verified for membership, and then we’ll invite you into the game night group. No trolls/bots allowed. Non-blacks friends are welcome to join our events. 😛


Check the wechat group for updates! Add me, @shandianxia28, to be added into the group!

Update: Another bowling night at East Gate Plaza (北京市 东城区 东环广场 A座 (东直门)) – March 11th 2017


Paintball #KillThenChill Sunday, April 10th, 2016. 3-6pm. BBQ dinner 6-7pm.

  1. Cost: 128 RMB + (700 RMB transportation cost to be split between attendees)
  2. Location: Contact us personally. My WeChat: Shandianxia2



Bowling Night 宝林秋- East Gate Plaza, Tower A (Dongzhimen) 北京市 东城区 东环广场 A座 (东直门)- Saturday, March 5th 周六 5号3月

Tacos, drinks & funnel cakes to end the night!

Find me on wechat微信: shandianxia28

South of Siberia: Harbin’s International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival 哈尔滨国际冰雪节

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]

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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]

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There are actually 3 parks for the festival:

  1. Ice & Snow World – see at night
  2. Ice Lantern Park – see at night
  3. 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


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.

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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. 😦

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And then… Bye bye Harbin! Off to Guilin in Yunan Province, China — mountain climbing — beautiful scenery!




Visa Runs to Hong Kong are… no more!

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!

Travel, flourish & finesse.