Shanghai

Ni hao from rainy Shanghai.

We arrived around 11pm on Sunday night and crashed immediately. Kenny has an extremely full work schedule this week, with virtually every hour planned out. I have just the opposite – five completely free days to explore the city.

We are staying in a fancy international hotel in the French Concession that Kenny’s co-workers recommended, complete with ridiculous breakfast buffet, fabulous gym facility, tennis courts, and a bowling alley.

Given the wet, gloomy conditions I decided that my first day would be a museum day. Our hotel is only a few Metro stops from People’s Square, so I intended to check out the Shanghai Museum. For some reason the Time Out Shanghai guide  warns that the Shanghai Metro can be difficult to navigate and that foreigners should stick to taxis. I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about – from my experience yesterday, it works just like any other Metro system, and the English signage is abundant. And my few experiences with Shanghai traffic have taught me to avoid taxis if at all possible.

I made my way over to the museum, and before entering started talking with two young women from Hangzhou who stopped me to ask for a photograph. I ended up joining them for tea at a tea room nearby before the museum. They taught me some basic Mandarin and gave me some in-depth explanations about Chinese tea culture and etiquette.

The museum itself was massive, containing extensive collections of Chinese crafts dating back to 6000 BC, including bronze ware, coins, paintings, jade sculpture, and ceramics. I spent a few hours exploring, and took some photos for Kenny, since he’ll be in the office all week and needs to see the city vicariously through me. Here are a few, there are more in my Shanghai set:

Buddha Another Buddha
Jade face used on funeral cloth, placed over a corpse's face Inside the museum

After Kenny got home from work, we enjoyed a delicious Cantonese dinner at the Heng Shan Cafe, just a block from our hotel. Kenny will write a review, of course.

Everything left on my sightseeing agenda for Shanghai involves walking around outside, so I’m taking it easy indoors today to wait out the rain: doing some research on yoga/meditation retreats in Nepal, finishing a few things for work that didn’t get done last week, catching up on my photo backlog. In theory the weather will get better starting tomorrow, and I plan to do a few self-guided walking tours in the Old City, along the Bund, and around the French Concession.

Thoughts from 35,000 ft

We are currently about 3 hours away from our layover in Seoul, above the Sea of Okhotsk according to the little TV screen on the back of the seat in front of me. Kenny is asleep (of course), but I’m not so good at sleeping on planes. So instead, some random observations from me:

  • Asiana is definitely a no-frills airline, but the flight has been fine so far, and the staff are friendly.
  • The guy next to me sounds like he is going to hack up a lung. I am terrified that I’m going to catch whatever he has and then get quarantined for suspected swine flu when we arrive in Shanghai.
  • Our new laptop rocks. I’ve been using it for about 3 hours so far on this flight, and the battery still has over 6 hours remaining.
  • For some reason I get super impatient on short flights (e.g. SEA->LAX) but can mentally prepare myself to sit still for longer hauls, even if I don’t sleep at all. Ten hours from Seattle to Seoul? No problem.

Packing for the Fall

Our goal is to pack as little as possible, but of course we need (and want) a lot of stuff:

  • Documentation: passports, flight confirmations, immunization records
  • Drugs, vitamins, first aid: antibiotics, anti-malarial, anti-virus, ibuprofen, Imodium, Neosporin, Band-Aids, bug repellent, sunscreen, supplements, etc., etc.
  • Toiletries: In some cases (i.e. things we can’t buy in Asia), we need enough to last through December. Which takes up a lot of space.
  • Minimal clothing: a few shirts, two pairs of pants, a skirt, a bathing suit, etc. A hat and a light jacket. We’re expecting to buy clothes along the way (I am especially excited to buy a saree in India).
  • Cameras: Nikon DSLR + 2 lenses (18-200mm zoom and 35mm fixed, good thing I don’t own a wide-angle or I’d bring a third); Canon point and shoot; chargers and extra batteries for both cameras
  • Computer: Laptop, power adapter, external hard drive. I’m busy installing essential software (Office, Lightroom, Live Writer, AcrossLite, Live Mesh) on the new laptop.
  • Entertainment: Zune and cable, Kindle and cable, travel Scrabble, travel guides, old New Yorkers and Atlantics to read and ditch along the way
  • Footwear: I had planned to bring two pairs of shoes, but I’m now at three – running shoes, everyday “walking around” shoes, and flip-flops. My justification is that my shoes don’t take up much space. Kenny is disciplined and has kept it at two pairs for himself.
  • The gift of sight: glasses, contacts, solution, sunglasses
  • Can’t live without: headlamps, sporks, ear plugs, eye shades, toilet paper, luggage lock, hostel sheet, compass
  • Recreation: Kenny found some really neat water weights called “AquaBells.” I’m leaving my yoga mat at home because it’s bulky. I hope I don’t regret this, but I’m assuming I can get one in India (if yogis in India even use mats?)

I’m sure we’re forgetting something. But supposedly you can get just about anything in Shanghai.

Interesting idea for securing valuables

I was pointed to a list of useful travel gadgets, which is primarily interesting for the comment stream. In particular, I thought this was an inventive way of storing some extra cash or passports:

It’s not exactly a gadget, but whenever I trek-travel, I wear a low-profile sports kneepad: cut a slit at the top, remove the foam insert, and what’s left is a pouch that’s just the right size to hold my passport, immunization docs, a list of emergency contacts and emergency cash. Check out the Tachikara TK-2000 Volleyball Knee Pads ($17.99) or the Wilson Flex Senior ($12.99), both avail on Amazon

How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas

Of all the books I read (or in many cases scanned due to vacuous content), the one worthwhile title was How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas. Rather than just a dump of organizations, it has some deeper thoughts on philosophy and different alternatives to giving back. Also downloadable to the Kindle!

Rough Fall Itinerary: China, Nepal, and India

We are still working out the details, but here are our current ideas for the fall:

  • 1 week in Shanghai – this is a work trip for Kenny. He’ll be in the office during business hours, and we think we’ll have social engagements with his co-workers in the evenings. I’m just going along for the ride. I’ll probably do some sightseeing on my own, and may spend some of my free time trying to flesh out some details for the fall (like finding places to stay).
  • ~2 weeks in Nepal (with a 3-day layover in Delhi) – this is our “vacation” – since we haven’t taken one since December, and we’re both currently wound up like tops, we thought it would be nice to take some time without any responsibilities to do some trekking and unwinding. And we’ve heard that Nepal is a really beautiful place to do this.
  • ~2 months in India – we expect to spend most of this time volunteering (probably in Bangalore with our friend Sean, but this isn’t set in stone yet). On the weekends, we may make some short trips to other cities in the south – we definitely want to visit my former boss Vivek in Hyderabad. We’ll probably spend the final week or two touring in the north.
  • ~2 weeks in the US – we’ll be back in the US late December-early January, starting in Seattle, then a few days in Los Angeles followed by a few days in Miami.

After that, we’ll head out to the next destination. We think this will be somewhere in Africa, and we have various feelers out for NGO work in a few different countries. Some of those feelers may actually materialize as volunteer opportunities in Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, even back in India), so we’re keeping open minds.

Planning Progress

I haven’t written here in quite some time because our lives have been crazy and completely disorganized as we try to sell our condo and figure out where the heck we’re going this year. But we’ve made quite a few developments:

  1. We’ve officially arranged for time off with our employer. Kenny is “out” to everyone at work, but I’ve only started telling my co-workers.
  2. We have dates worked out – our last day in the office is September 18.
  3. We have plane tickets for the first leg of our journey – which is actually a work trip for Kenny – a week in Shanghai, flying out on September 19.
  4. We have some rough ideas of what we might do this fall – more about this later, but we’ll most likely be in Nepal for a couple of weeks followed by India for a couple of months.
  5. We are contacting NGOs and filling out applications for opportunities in Africa starting in January. We have nothing solid worked out at this point.

The Give-Back Solution

Kenny and I checked out a few books from the library about overseas volunteering opportunities. I just finished skimming The Give-Back Solution. While I found the book mostly useless, I did grab some links that might be helpful:

An Adventure

Ever since Kenny and I had any inkling that we might spend a significant portion of our lives together, we’ve been talking about spending some of that time in a foreign country. We both love to travel, but our yearly or biyearly two-week vacations offer only glimpses of the countries that we visit. We’d like to experience a place as more than just tourists.

We originally planned to find jobs overseas, and we did some research on tech opportunities in London and Paris. But a fateful slideshow-viewing of our friend Aaron’s trip around the world inspired us to think outside the box: we started to consider leaving our jobs for a year and embarking on a completely different kind of adventure. The plan has evolved into a year-long “sabbatical,” during which we will visit a few countries for extended stays, to do volunteer work and some sightseeing on the side. We don’t know where we’re going yet, but our current research is focused around south Asia and east Africa.

While we’re away, we’ll use this blog to post photos and stories of our adventures. And for now, we’ll use it to document some of our research and planning, which should be useful to anyone planning a similar kind of adventure, and may even be generally interesting. ;)