Monday, December 11, 2017

China: Travel nice to knows

With any international trip, one thing you need to know and plan for is logisitics. The other things that might be helpful is what should I plan for beyond the itinerary. Since I just got back from China and jet lag is still keeping me wide awake. What better way to use the time to document a few nice to knows before you travel to China

 For China, check with the consulate for their latest on visa requirements for your country and status. But they are very efficient and very organised, so it was a quick 5 day for us to secure our visas!

Ensure you have at least 6 months validity on your passports, I had to renew 50% of my family passports prior to the trip

We used phison pro for VPN and WeChat and translate downloaded on our phones! I highly recommend WeChat for this trip, it translates any conversation with the tour guides. Other thing that helped us was downloading English Maps for the cities, having DiDi (Uber in China). Getting a local SIM is advisable, I pretty much hogged my brothers phone for any calls. Please carry battery packs!!

Food: We were 7 vegetarians and 7 non vegetarians in this trip. I will of course write this from a vegetarian point of view.
Please carry food, ready to eat packages, oat meals, cereal bars, biscuits, snacks. Yes you will get vegetarian food, but will be really tough to ensure it is perfect. For us, when in doubt, we didn't eat.
Having said that, our tour company had pre-arranged some meals and having warm rice with boiled vegetables and some flavor was a life saver.
All our hotels had breakfast and it was lavish. We pretty much spend an hour hour daily to ensure we were well fed for the day. For most of our trips, we like a heavy breakfast, since then we can be out and about more.
You will find Pizza Hut, Sub ways in bigger cities and trust me, the Pizza Hut in China was AMAZING.....
Plus fruits, oh man the fruits! You will find all the fruits including dragon fruit and rambutan!
As a vegetarian I say, China is not about a culinary experience but more about ensuring you have food and energy in your system!

Clothes: We traveled in end of November, so was fairly cold. However we got really lucky with the weather. But as any cold trip, jackets, layering, definitely hats and gloves. The winter here was very dry, so we moisturized heavily and chapped our lips consistently!

Shopping: If you go to any of the local markets like Silk Market in Beijing or the AP market in Pudong, be prepared to haggle, walk out and definitely be prepared for very aggressive sales staff. We were accosted, told off and also pressured! It probably deserves its own blog with the stories, however its fun as well. I mean its China, they really have mastered the mass production and the quality!

Transportation: Due to the tour, we were very connected from cities to cities with the bus, however we did explore on our own in Beijing and Shanghai.
Beijing and Shanghai: The city is well connected with trains and very easy to maneuver. And yes, the trains do get crowded. The cabs are pretty affordable, but please based on recommendations of millions traveled before me, dont take the unmarked cabs! My brother and Sumit took a few local trains (at 300 km/h) and were amazed at the country's infrastructure
The food in local flights is well nothing to write home about!

Kids: We traveled with a lot of kids with us. People are really kind and polite, we were given seats on crowded trains. Strangers stopped by to entertain a crying kid, they played with them and above all they were really amazed at us 'foreigners' so they kept asking to take pictures with the kids. The kids loved the attention and happily obliged. Any tourist attraction is crowded so needless to say, please be attentive. Miss V made a lot of fun of me, since every now and then I'd panic and she would be right behind me to 'scare me'. Not cool!

Language: Yes, this is definitely a big one. It is hard to find English speaking locals. But hey you are travelling to experience this. So please dont be an ass. When you call someone, first say:"English Please" and they will try to get someone to help out! People are very polite and will really try to help out, or use translate to help! I was ordering a fresh noodle salad at one local store and I had 10 shoppers (none spoke English) who stopped by and really helped to ensure my food was vegetarian as the salad lady mixed ingredient only after making me sniff it

Water & Tea: Nope, you are not going to iced water easily here. Most of the places served warm water like the pizza hut even. We loved it and saw locals carrying their tea in hot cups and just refilling with hot water wherever they went. The tea culture was really interesting and it really explains their clear skin!
Hope you travel to China sometime!!! Sometime soon!

Friday, December 8, 2017

China... an experience

4 families.... 8 adults, 6 kids ranging from 20 months to almost 10 years of age making a 12 day trip to China. What did you expect?

We expected, fun, frolic and lots of memories and man.... it was all that and more!

Let me first get the following out of the way: This was a first one of the 'organised tours' we did and boy was that an experience. It was definitely very well organised, very hectic also very touristy at the same time. We covered a lot in the places in China but at the same time did waste some time at those 'sell ups of Jade market and Pearl Factories'. But not planning the minutiae details ourselves, travelling with such a large group and above all getting brilliant time together was perfect!!!

Now back to trip itself.
Our itinerary
Day 1- Day 3.5: Beijing
Day 3.5 - Day 5: Wuxi
Day 6: Suzhou
Day 7: Hangzhou
Day 8-10: Shanghai
Day 11-12: Shanghai- Disney

As you can see, lots of places visited and lots and lots of pictures and above all, memories to last a while, a long while!

I am not sure writing about every minutia detail of the trip would do justice, so i will stick to highlights!

For me, my biggest highlight was meeting my brother, SIL and my nephew. They flew in to do the trip together and though we were always touring and going from one place to the next, just having them sitting in the bus behind me and taking silly pictures of my SIL sleeping was just the best.
Dearest friends from Chicago decided to do this trip together and the giggle at the silliest of stories is perfect. I think travelling with friends and family is special, you can be yourself even if that means huddling the group to be on time!
Sumit and I rang in our dozen years together! Yep, we celebrated our anniversary on this trip. And it was amazing, since we fought a little, we enjoyed a little and as always fell in love a little bit more!

We scaled the Great Wall, wandered in the halls of the Forbidden City, lazed around at tea plantations, got massages, experienced jaw dropping Olympic Ceremony, rode the fastest train on the planet, cruised through canals and Shanghai skyline views and of course said Hello to Mickey in the Shanghai Disney!

All with a group of "my peeps"

More details to follow, but for now I have to leave you with this... the kids we traveled with are champions and troopers. We were all jet lagged, but they were super excited, barely any tantrums and above all they were more excited at learning and experiencing China and being respectful of knowing the world is larger than them!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Oxford defines it as "the date on which an event took place in a previous year"

I define it as "the date that on which we celebrated the best decision with friends and family"

Don't ask me which how many years... I know its in double digits and its more than 10  years and less than 15 years.

For the rest of years, "Let's celebrate the day you gave up on finding anyone better than me" (Accompanied with counting our blessings)

Happy an·ni·ver·sa·ry Honey

You are my rock, my support, my confidante and above all my partner in crime.
You get my lack of sense of humor, you get my craziness and you sort of put up with my pulling the blanket!

It's been a ride filled with adventures, bumpy roads, smooth sailing and of course
lots of laughter (mainly your jokes and my laughter)
lots of food (mainly my cooking and your appreciation)
lots of travel (mainly my idea(s) and your perfect execution)
lots of drama (mainly my drama and your tolerance)
lots of kids (yes, 2 is lots!!)
lots of memories - all together honey!

 Happy Double Digits Anniversary!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

An evening of drama..... touchwood

Let me set the stage:
I get a call from school saying that Miss V is not well, Sumit rushes to pick her up and is home with her all evening. I had a work thing that evening, so Sumit assures me "I got this"

I pick up Little Lady and get home by 7 pm to find out the following: Miss V has thrown up 3 times and Sumit has everything under control, clothes in laundry, dinner is ready, floors have been mopped up.
I am in awe of him and I sit with Miss V and we chat about how she is feeling etc. etc. I am also feeling guilty of not being home, but at the same time, thanking my partner in crime for having my back!

Around 9 pm Sumit goes to put Little Lady to sleep in her room.
Sumit is in the guest room
Miss V and I are in my bed.

At 3 am, Little Lady walks in my room, I spring up, knowing something is not right and she throws up, right there. I rush her to the rest room, calm her, change her, hug her. Sumit rushes in with Miss V asking: Papa come here, papa come here!
This was Throw Up 1:

Throw up 2: 15 minutes later, Little Lady throws up again. Yep, rinse repeat! Miss V is lying on my bed, concerned and groggy from her own sickness!

Miss V is tired and recovering from her sickness. I ask Miss V to go in the guest room, she also needs some rest. And Sumit and I hug little lady and calm her down.

Throw Up 3: 15 minutes later, little lady throws up again and you get the idea, Sumit and I have this routine of cleaning up under way. Poor little lady is in a lot of pain.

Throw up 4: 15 minutes later, yep, she throws up again. Oh man!!!

Amongst all the tears, the panic, the clean up and the hurling, here is the chronological conversation with Little Lady

Before Throw up 2:
Sumit: Honey, if you feel like throwing up, just tell me, or dont worry, throw up on me!
Little Lady: No papa, if I throw up on you, you will fall sick also. We will run to bathroom

Before Throw up 3:
Little Lady: Papa, you should go sleep with didi (Miss V) in the guest room
Sumit: No honey, you are not well, i will stay here
Little Lady: Papa, didi is not well also and she is alone, you go there. Mummy is here with me.

After Throw up 4:
Little Lady: I think I am feeling better now, I will sleep mummy, you hug me and sleep right here. You must be tired.

I sit there in the middle of the night, massaging the little lady's tummy and my eyes are brimming with tears. My almost 5 year old, Little Lady was not well, she was in tears, shaken up and really tired, but all her conversations were to make sure the rest of the family was ok.

Little Lady has a heart of gold and has kindness oozing out of her. Amongst all her antics, drama and theatrics, her sweet and kind voice makes me count my blessings, hug her tight and really be thankful for what we have (yes, even the middle of the night throw up).

Update: Whatever it was, passed, the girls are back to being their fiesty selves. Touch wood.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Candy Coated Hell

This is a term I heard on the Radio when the hosts were describing the post Halloween frenzy with kids. And I burst out laughing in the car: " Candy Coated Hell"

It is sorta true if you think about it. Ever since the kids are little we talk about, no sugar for the little one, please. I have seen my own two girls first hand with sugar in their system and their reactions. Yes my friends: 'Sugar High' is an actual term.

I have seen them running in circles after 2-3 chocolates. Friends and I have popped pop corn and laughed uncontrollably!!! Yes, you can mail me the “parent of the year award”!

"Candy Coated Hell"! It is an accurate description of our media filled lives... Its bright, its smiley and its happy, all the time.

The adults version of "Candy coated hell”: is filled with varying degrees of schmooze, perfect profile pictures, that one angle that makes you slim, the one strand coving your face to make it look natural, the one dress that accentuates, the kids trophies that adorns the walls... like I said its bright, its smiley and always happy!

But ask yourselves: Is it true?

Behind every 'angled picture" is years of beating yourself for gaining weight, not loosing enough and the confidence or lack of it that goes with the drama
Behind every 'kids trophy picture' is you hiding your own "not so kind moment" with the kids when they really pushed you over the edge.
Behind every ‘schmooze’ is the contrast of you rather being in bed with un-ending runs of Netflix.

I'd rather be here: 

Recently I got invited to a "Black and White Challenge" on facebook, concept is simple: Upload a black and white image with no humans just as you go on about your life, tag someone and do this for a week.

Capturing these black and white images made me think a little more..... what image can I capture for today that is raw, that is true and that is far away from this candy coated hell that we live in, we thrive in and we enjoy in!

And of course filled with hypocrisy, I upload the image of the day on social media after making it "perfect". You are welcome

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Devil's Hairband

It's Haloween!

Its the day of the year we take kids door to door for them to score lots of candy where the rest of the days, we are yelling at them to not touch candy.

It's the day of the year, where the kids creativity shines and they think about their costume long and hard, the stores have these costumes on display with the tackiest fabric and the overpriced price tag.

It's the day when the kids are excited about scaring other people and completely forget about the monsters below their bed which keeps them awake the rest of the year

It's the day when my little angels finish the breakfast the quickest, get ready the quickest and very patiently sit to get their faces painted to match their costume.

It's the day when even I thoughtfully laid out 'my costume' the night before!!!

Yes, this is my costume of choice (!)

I walked to the cafeteria for my morning coffee run, I  smiled and wished Happy Halloween to the colleagues who applauded my spirit of dressing "up".

Some stared longer than normal and I wondered,  I am wearing the 'Devil Headband' Am I inadvertently pissing someone off for what it symbolizes.  Am I in some HR violation?

Later, I was chatting with someone who wanted to see my kids dressed up pictures and I told them She is an Arabic Princess and we thought her how to say 'Hello' in Arabic! There was silence, the 'someone' cautioned me, "Be careful, people might not like it! " (The Arabic Princess)

At first I didn't get it, and then it struck me.

Have we become that narrow minded that even on Halloween, we have to be 'politically correct' Are people really that "in-tolerant"?

My response: I am still donning my 'Devil's hairband' in office (No violation, I checked) and going to nudge my Arabic Princess to say 'Marhaba' a little louder at "Trick or Treating" this evening.

Let's enjoy the candy, the smiles of the cute faces and definitely 'Marhaba'. It's Halloween

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Match the socks

I am sure it’s true in your household- you do laundry and somehow you will have orphan socks! Socks with no pair! You will collect them over your never ending loads of laundry in a pile and then after a while, one of two things happen

Option 1. You just trash them thinking there is no hope of ever finding the pair.
Option 2. You employ your kids and they play a game of 'match the socks'

So recently, over a lazy weekend, I employed by 9 and 4 year old to play the game 'Match the socks'. I handed them a big bag of mis-matched socks and I came back in an hour and smiled. The socks were sprawled out on the rug and the girls were working it! They lined them up, matched them and then sorted them by owner of the said socks!

They matched over 35 pairs, yes 35 for the 4 of us! Who knew?
Mission Accomplished! We still have some orphan socks which will have to wait until the next lazy weekend!

I pause: We were doing fine just without these 35 pairs of socks. We had clean socks (on most days) and we were doing fine.
I wonder: Without even realizing, do we get trapped in having more than we need or we can consume?

We joke amongst ourselves, a trip of Costco is always a couple of hundred dollars, a sale at the store results often in more t-shirts than we had planned, a grocery trip results in overfilled bags and so on.
Recently we went through a big round of purging, we donated boxes and boxes of things, threw out a tonne of stuff and streamlined living. In retrospect it was very little!

After the game of ‘match the socks’ I requested the kids- let’s give away one stuffed animal per kid from their collection. Surprisingly, they didn’t flinch, each kid chose a stuffed animal, and they kissed the animal good bye. Away it went in the box of donation!
Yes, That easily.

So I am taking inspiration from them, Less is sometimes definitely more.
 I can make simple choices.... use what we have, share what we have and above all, match the socks right away!