July 26, 2009

You're the U to My Q

I wish I could say the words in the title were spoken about me, but they were not. If only... Although Kevin did do something sweet for me - he sent me my yellow immunization card in the mail so I could get it updated (got my last shot on Wednesday). Unfortunately, I forgot that I had asked him to mail something to me, so when I got that in the mail, I thought to myself, "How sweet! Kevin sent me a letter!" and then opened it and was confused by why Kevin sent me a sheet of scrap paper folded around a yellow piece of paper. When I told Kevin this later, he said, "Yeah, I meant to write something on the paper so you wouldn't get excited, like 'This is a piece of scrap paper,' but I was in a hurry." I don't know whether to feel touched that he didn't want to disappoint me or to feel upset that he couldn't take 10 seconds to write on the paper. It's a tough one.

Besides getting that last shot, there hasn't been much travel-related action these past few weeks. The only thing I can think of is that I bought some solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush. This means I can take a lot more tiny sunscreens and tiny toothpastes! I'm thinking of asking Kevin if he can sneak a big thing of sunscreen through the airport in his pocket. Maybe to make up for the whole mail disappointment.

Anyway, that's all the travel-related news for this week. Right now, as I am writing this, Kathleen and her roommate Kate are sitting on the couch next to me cross-stitching and watching "So You Think You Can Dance," on which KATIE HOLMES will be guest-starring. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Katie Holmes dances. For some bizarre reason, I'm more amazed by that than by the fact that she (supposedly) gave birth in complete silence. So if you were here right now, this is what you would see:

Ok fine, so they haven't been sitting like this smiling and showing off their cross-stitches all night, they just did that for the pictures. They were more concentrate-y before this.

[UPDATE: Katie Holmes did not really dance so much as strut. But she has great legs.]

Before this, the three of us had Thai food for dinner. Here is a picture of Kathleen and me repeating the heart theme of the sticky rice. (She wishes me to say that we walked six blocks in the rain before taking this picture and that we are better-looking in real life. I think we look pretty pukingly adorable.)

I never had black sticky rice in the shape of a heart before this. It tasted like regular sticky rice.

Lastly, just for good measure, here is a picture of Kate's cat, Lily.

I can hardly stand the cuteness.

Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

Where Am I? (Name the city.)


Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS

July 19, 2009

Inundated, But Not Constipated

The last few weeks my brain has been inundated with travel-related activity and wedding planning. (More recently though, my brain has been inundated with thoughts about whether or not I can use the word "inundated" in that first sentence. Did you know that word is not recognized by dictionary.com?) So although I know I've been a stickler for strictly sticking to the travel-themed blog posts here, this week will be more of a "I do what I want" post, like Zhou often likes to do.

First, I have to review the new Blackberry Storm, AKA "Lookie here, it's typing 'Reno Nevada' instead of 'Rhino Fertata' or 'Emo Pinata'." My mom recently got a company-issued one, and it works great! Oh wait, she doesn't have that one anymore. It broke. So did the next one, and the next. I think she's on her fourth one now within the past three months.

But what about its functionality? To sum up my frustration, my family and I recently drove aimlessly around Indy looking for a Men's Wearhouse while my brother sat in the back seat and tried to find the closest location on my mom's Storm. We found one long before he even got close. Despite Steve's skinny fingers, he was unable to type in the necessary commands to get to one website on the Storm in the 20 minutes that my family drove around. And Steve's not alone - earlier I got so frustrated using that thing that I gave up without ever being able to enter in the password to unlock it. I still don't understand why Blackberry would make such a shoddy piece of equipment three years after Apple put out its flawless iPhone.


I was able to keep my mind off of travel-related stuff for the last three minutes, but I give in. This is a travel blog, so I should discuss how the planning is going.

Zhou and I were about to book our hike on the "finest walk in the world" today, but backed out at the last second. Instead we have decided to do a nearby hike - the Routeburn, which supposedly stays a lot drier and, according to National Geographic, "the scenic payoffs far surpass those of the Milford." If anyone has done either of these two treks, please let us know what you think, as we have not locked into the Routeburn yet.

We have also decided it's time to fill our diarrhea prescription. Wait, anti-diarrhea prescription. I've recently talked to several people who've been off exploring the world, and some have said they haven't had any problems, but others said that was the hardest part of the trip. I'd rather not take the chance. After all, eating something as simple as an orange will probably play tricks on my stomach, having never really eaten non-apple fruits. (On a somewhat related note, don't talk about your airplane bathroom experiences if you want to win The Next Food Network Star.)

Does anyone have tips on what picture website to use when we're on the road? The three I can think of are Shutterfly, Picasa and Flickr, but unfortunately neither Zhou or I has used any of the three extensively. If anyone knows a particularly easy one to use that will let us post thousands of pictures, let us know!

The last travel-related topic of the week: I need to shamelessly promote two travel websites/blogs that I think are pretty cool. First, my cousin Brenda is one of our big world travel influences, and I've yet to give her the proper respect. She's been all around the world a million times, and her favorite spots include Vanuatu, Colombia and Croatia. These are three places not on our itinerary, but not for lack of trying. The worst part is, it took her linking our blog on her site for me to mention hers. Sorry Bren!

The second is a blog by Dave, a friend of mine from work. He did his world travel before becoming an investment banker, and then realized that world travel is so much cooler than banking, and he now lives abroad. Unfortunately this blog was to track a trip from two years ago so it is no longer maintained, but it has some cool pictures and videos. Zhou and I can only hope that we get to see some of the sights that Dave did.


I'll end the post with pictures taken from four different cities where I have recently been, with four different groups of people (because no one other than Zhou can put up with me for any length of time).

(1) Cleveland, OH: jamming at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Matt and Hadley.

(2) Charlotte, NC: disc golfing at Renaissance Park with Charlie.

(3) West Orange, NJ: me and Zhou in Eagle Rock Park at a scenic outlook overlooking New York City.

(4) Fishers, IN: my brother (right) and I doing tricks while tubing on the lake with our parents.


Puzzles for Postcards : We've been debating making some tweaks to our categories, and this week we've decided to make it official. Going forward, there will be no more VQs or Better Chargers, as it is much too difficult to think of good ones. Our puzzle rotation will now consist of Anagrams, Rhyme Time, Consonantless Words and Where Am I? (oooh, a new one!). Good luck, and as always, here is the list of winners.

Where Am I? First person to respond with the country where the below picture was taken wins! Once we get a little ways into our trip, we will use our own pictures for this game, but for now we're borrowing them from Flickr (source). Good luck!


Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS

July 12, 2009

Unraveling the Traveling

Less than eight weeks to go 'til we'll be on the road
If by road I mean plane over water
Me and Zhou will then go where our load will be towed
Through a country that couldn't be hotter

We'll do a safari, maybe pet baby rhinos
And forage the forest for apes
The goal is to know each rhino by nose
Take lots of pictures and then escape!

I can't wait to check out Ngorongoro
And greet all the African villagers
One thing though me and Zhou will forgo:
Meeting the pirates and pillagers

From there we'll fly to Asia, our homeland
Making our way on Cathay
For me to call it "my homeland" Zhou banned
Since I'm born and raised U.S.A.

We'll have a ball for three weeks in Nepal
Hiking a trek near Mount Everest
It's quite long so let's not crawl or stall
A leg-breaking fall and we'll never rest

In Southeast Asia with the Gibbons we'll fly
And I'll have to learn to eat curry
"It's cannibalism!" I'll cry with a tear in my eye
But as they say: with beef curry, no worry

If I don't die we'll move North and then South
The Great Wall on down to New Zealand
On the skydive: bugs, stay out of my mouth
The pee in my pants I'll claim we planned

On the move again to that bunny guy's island
We'll hang with incredible Moai
We can't drive there by land, but let's hope for dry sand
Zhou, I'll wear sunscreen so no fry

I won't try to hide our Argentinian plans
Patagonian rafting, biking and hiking
In Peru we'll scan all the rainforest clans
The monkeys should be to Zhou's liking

Maybe we'll hop as we go to Galapagos
Sadly, not with Trebek
Saving the turtles, we'll be sure to stop a roast
At last a good deed on this trek

Finally in Europe the journey will end
My brain can't retain that far away
But you can depend that the trip will be penned
And logged on our blog each day

So what will I learn through this upcoming journey?
A whole new perspective on life
I'll be with my best friend just like Bert and Ernie
My best friend who's also my wife


Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

Wacky Jack's Better Chargers:

Tie Day Lou Bake My Feet
She Lazy If By Lift
Yow Arm Now Clone

Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS

July 8, 2009

Ice Cream and Sangria - Charlottesville, VA

July 3 - 5, 2009

We spent 4th of July weekend with the alliterative Jing and Jeff in Charlottesville. Guess what we did?

a) spent an afternoon at Monticello
b) went for a hike to see the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi
c) went vineyard hopping in wine country
d) relaxed poolside
e) all of the above
f) none of the above (this is the correct answer)

What's that phrase about good intentions? I'm not sure, but whatever it is, it probably applies here.

And even though we didn't visit Monticello, I can tell you that Thomas Jefferson is responsible for bringing french fries to the United States. Apparently, people had only eaten potatoes boiled before this because they thought they were poisonous otherwise. I can also tell you that John Adams thought Thomas Jefferson was being pretentious by serving those new-fangled french fries. I learned this from listening to public radio. I'm sure we would have heard all this on the Monticello tour as well.

Anyway. So what DID we do this weekend?

We drank.

Giant glass of homemade sangria

We ate.

Jing and I with our Friendly's ice cream - I got ALL of the cherries

We hid behind fire hydrants.

Yes, this is a normal-sized fire hydrant.
Yes, Jing and I are just that small.

No, I'm not sure why we did this either.

The four of us (Jing, Jeff, Kevin and I, in case you forgot) also played a LOT of games of spades. If you don't know what spades is, I like to think of it as bridge for dummies. The only reason this analogy doesn't work is because I know nothing about bridge except that Warren Buffet is good at it and it involves bidding and partners. Which is also true of spades.

We also played a bunch of Mario Kart on the Wii. I don't have much to say about that except DARN YOU DRY BONES!! HOW DOES YOUR KART GO SO FAST?

We also played a lot of Cranium and Taboo. I won't say who won the games, but I will say their team name rhymes with "the curls" and not "the toys." And that the team is pictured above hiding behind a normal-sized but giant-looking fire hydrant.

Speaking of rhymes, we're going to go ahead and give Steve the point for the last puzzle. He got the first one ("Farmer Charmer") and the last one ("Blazer Appraiser") right, and I was going for "Best Dressed" as the answer to "The Superlative Look" and "Mentor Center" for "A Place Where Advisers Gather." But his answers of "Supreme Beam" and "Board Ward" work, even though they weren't what I had thought of originally.

Aaaaand this is why I don't write the puzzles.

Picture of the day: I believe that Kevin's gesture can most accurately be described as "okie dokie."

July 7, 2009

Getting Visas (Part 2) - Washington DC

July 2, 2009

Like mad scientists undeterred from their first explosion in the basement, today we were back at it for more.

Yesterday's trip to the embassies did not go well, but I do have to say that today's went worse.


(Zhou eating her hot dog stand hot dog in the Vietnamese embassy)

8) Do not arrive later than 9:45. I mentioned this yesterday, but it bears repeating. Today we arrived at 11:30 for our noon pick-up, and the line was four deep. This may not seem like a lot, until you think of the visa office like the DMV, with the only worker speaking very choppy English and customers who want handwritten driver's licenses. We left by 12:30, at which point the line was seven deep.

9) Do not forget your identification slip in the car across town, unless you really want to tick off the embassy worker. Although we were told (or so we thought) that we did not need the piece of paper with chicken scratch written on it, apparently we did so the lady could locate our file. She was not happy, and in turn the customers around us burned holes in us with their eyes as the lady disappeared to find our file.

10) Do not be dishonest. Ok, this one is just me bragging about being the bigger man with the smaller wallet, but the lady yesterday did not write down if we paid the expedited fee (we didn't) and today she asked us what we had paid her the day before. I told her the truth and handed over the extra $40, but got a good night's sleep afterwards.


(Kevin Doin' Work at the Kenyan embassy)

* If you guessed "(d) Kevin Doin' Work at the Kenyan embassy" to Sunday's quiz, then I'm incredibly impressed, since it wasn't a choice.

11) Do not forget your visa photos in the car across town, unless you luck out with really nice embassy workers. We showed up 15 minutes before Kenya's 1:00 closing, only to realize that we had left our visa photos in the car. We showed the workers that we had everything else, and had completed the application online, and they graciously told us that even though they were closing that we could knock on the window after retrieving our photos and they would help us out.

12) Do not assume every embassy takes cash. After hustling across town via foot and subway, we drove the car back and two hours later showed up at the window. We tried to hand over our $100 for the two visas, only to find out that they only take money orders. The lady told us where the nearest post office was, and we dashed off.

13) Do not be mean to the embassy workers. I think through all this, the only reason the Kenya people helped us out is because we were very friendly and seemed genuinely lost and confused (we were!). After coming back with the money order, I chatted with the lady for a while about the trip and our families and such. She gave me some good sites to see in Kenya, although we won't be able to follow her advice since the safari is planned out for us.

In the end, we now have our Vietnam visas, we have our Kenyan visas coming to us in the mail (if you're doing this option, bring a prepaid non-UPS envelope with you to the embassy), and we will be mailing our passports off to the Chinese embassy once we receive them back from Kenya. Although we don't have all three visas in our hands as expected, it looks like everything will have worked out.

Had this situation arisen in a non-English speaking foreign country (and I'm positive something similar will), Zhou and I will surely find out a good deal more about our problem solving and patience levels will each other. I'm looking forward to this.

Pictures of the Day:

Petite lady Zhou ready to attack her mussels at Granville Moore's (home of executive chef, Teddy Folkman)

The mussels attacked back (see Zhou's shirt stains), but buff hungry Zhou's muscles eventually won

July 6, 2009

Getting Visas (Part 1) - Washington DC

July 1, 2009

Zhou and I are in for a long trip...

Today we had our first out-of-town task to prepare for our upcoming year abroad: get three visas. Not all 11 that we will eventually need to get, but just three. Vietnam, Kenya and China. We were originally going to get them through the mail before we remembered that we would be in DC, so we thought we could get them in person. After all, we're in a country where everyone speaks English and we have access to running water, so how hard can this be?

I think it will be best to write the rest of this post in an educational format, so you can learn what not to do based on each of our three stops.


(Kevin looking for the subway to take us to Vietnam)

1) If you're very short on time, do not arrive at all. If you're somewhat short on time, do not arrive later than 9:45 (the embassy opens at 9:30). This was the one thing we did right. We showed up at 9:31 and walked right up to the window. A lot of good this would end up doing for us...

2) Do not expect your visa in less than a week. We ended up paying $20 per visa as an expedited charge in order for us to receive them the next day. That's a 30% increase over the list price of $65 per visa.

3) Do not arrive with just a credit card. It may seem obvious to some to bring cash or a check, but not us. I ended up running three blocks to a Wachovia ATM to withdrawal cash for our three visas. It actually seems a little ironic to me that you can't use your Visa to get your visa.


(Spirits still high, despite paying the $20 fee at Vietnam)

4) Do not show up without having read all instructions online. For Kenya, if you don't fill out the online application ahead of time, they can't do anything for you. Fortunately for us, it turned out that we wouldn't be able to get our Kenyan visa anyway because even expedited here took two business days to process.

5) Do not expect to get your passport back. Vietnam was able to make a photocopy of ours for their overnight process, but Kenya said they would need to keep ours for their process. For countries like this, you can only get one visa at a time.


(Now just angry because nothing's working out)

6) Do not show up where you think the office should be - look it up first! After walking what felt like two miles from Kenya to China (the embassies, not the countries), we came to a sign that read something along these lines: "we have moved to a land far far away." Fortunately the sign was in English, so we could read it.

7) Do not assume the embassy is in the same location as the visa office. For China, this is not the case. We called my brother who found out that they are two separate places, and all reviews said not to even bother showing up to the visa office - it was way too much of a hassle. Just send your passport and application in the mail.

The worst part about today? We still have to finalize everything tomorrow. I'm sure there will be a laundry list of "do nots" that we'll need to cover tomorrow as well.

A funny side story: we were eating lunch at a local diner which I can't remember the name of when we overhead a nearby lady's directions to her friend: "Yeah, I'm sitting at a diner right next to the Starbucks and down the street from another Starbucks." If you ever need to give directions, find your address and never mention anything about Starbucks! There's 8 million of them! We ended up finishing our meal before the lady's friend ever found the place.

[Any suggestions about how we can improve our travel-posting format are welcome. Is there anything you'd like to read on a daily basis?]

Picture of the Day: my dad is the headliner for Taj Mahal's karaoke night.

July 5, 2009

A Taste of Things to Come

Since we're no longer working for an income (but we still have two paychecks left to come in!), Zhou and I have spent the last week on the road visiting friends and relatives. We've been up and down the East Coast soaking in new experiences and taking pictures of cool landmarks such as our doctor friend standing next to someone else's car.

(If you own this car, Jing is just fake touching it)

In honor of this mini faux world traveling we're doing, we've decided to try our post-a-day strategy for the next three days.

To set your level of anticipation: travel posts will be shorter than what we've been doing, but the ratio of pictures to words will be much higher. If you do the math (p = 1,000w), this means that the amount of content in each post will be similar to what you're used to, but your brain will have to process it differently. Hopefully you can handle this.

Also, our signoffs will start becoming a little different, as we won't have a new postcard puzzle every day, and as we travel we will not keep the Scrabble stats quite as detailed in the blog. We'll have to come up with something else to finish our posts so we can focus more of the time on the post itself.

As a sneak peak of things to come, below is a picture of something that happened on our road trip this week. Can you guess what is happening out of the three choices below?

(1) Zhou and I were driving down I-95 when a large bird pooped on our windshield, right in the driver's line of sight. After pulling off the road and trying the wipers for several minutes, we realized we needed to get to a car wash of some sort. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of nowhere, so at the next exit the only place we found was this house. After washing the windshield, I offered to clean their windows as a token of our appreciation.

(2) While walking around DC, Zhou heard a pitiful meow in a tree by the pictured house. We looked up, and a cat was dangling from one of the limbs with its back paw caught in the tree. As I climbed up to get the cat down, the owner of the house shouted from the window to find out what I was doing. I explained the situation and gave the lady her cat back. Surprisingly, she was not all that grateful...

(3) We were running low on cash, and ATM fees are too expensive to even think about withdrawing anything these days. Fortunately, I noticed this open window in a back alley in Charlottesville. Having not eaten for the entire day, I was desperate. I took a quick peek in the window and saw a couple dollars sitting on the desk inside. It looked like no one was around, so I stealthily reached inside for the cash. You should see the next picture Zhou took. (PS - we later were able to eat at McDonald's.)

Answer to come in one of this week's posts.

Puzzles for Postcards (list of winners):

Rhyme Time (solve THREE of four):
(Note: Aaron got the first one correct, and the third one isn't a perfect rhyme, although according to rhymezone it is.)

One Who Enchants Corn Growers
The Superlative Look
A Place Where Groups of Advisors Gather
One Who Values Jackets for a Living

Scrabble Games: 55 (full log)
Zhou WPLB: 28; 367; 315; SENIlES
Kevin WPLB: 27; 368; 397; sETTINGS