Saturday, June 8, 2013

China Friends Hit the West Coast

We talked about it for years, but we finally made the decision to meet up somewhere else outside of China.  And how refreshing it was to have a change of environment, but with all the people we adore! (Minus a few key folks, of course, that couldn't make it.)  We met in Los Angeles, CA then drove over to Las Vegas, NV for fun, food and the usual shenanigans.  I feel so fortunate to have opportunities like these to see my geographically dispersed friends and create memories all over again in new places.

Los Angeles @ D's rooftop:

Rock Stars in Vegas:

Coffee in NYC:

Mustache Party in Vegas:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Goodbye Shanghai, Hello DC

It was a tough decision in January to give up my role working on a strategic project in Shanghai with lots of travel and a large expense account for a more "typical" role on a plant leadership team in the States, but it was the right move to make.  I needed to manage people and work in plant operations after having 3 division roles with no direct reports.  I also needed some time away from the complexities of state owned companies and minority-owned joint ventures in China.  The last few months transitioning into the new role have admittedly had their own level of complex and hectic, and have been without the allure of the business travel to the orient, but it is teaching me new things as I get to know a new location:  the DC area.

Moving to a new area has it's usual challenges, but at least I get to live in a metropolitan area on this go-round.  The Pros:  A) Diverse ethnicity offer a wide array of restaurants, pubs and food trucks.  B) It's close enough to drive to NYC, Baltimore, Annapolis, VA, and a slew of other interesting places.  C)  Large airports make for decent travel prices for Soeren and myself and we come and go.  D) Cultural offerings make for more creative date nights then what could be found in my previous location.

The Cons:  A) HIGH cost of living caused me to more than triple the rent I was paying in Michigan.  B) Regulations are particularly strict and costly to do things like register a car, pay taxes, etc.  C) Cameras are everywhere! (Says my three tickets I received in the first 3 months.  Thank goodness they don't include points.)  D) Traffic.

As I've been getting used to living in the States again, the migration of my Beijing friends back to the US has made the process more bearable, knowing that I'm not missing out on as much as I used to!  At least 5 of them have found jobs in the US, started MBA school, etc. and moved on from the China chapter of their lives.  We all do it eventually, either when we've tired of the Chinese culture or have decided that we've had too much fun and need to re-enter the real world to seek out the next life challenge.  Regardless, I know my parents are happy to have me somewhat closer to home, and I am enjoying reconnecting with my friends on this side of the world.  Now...if only I could come to terms with the most terrifying part of this transition: that I will lose my 1K status on United at the end of the year because I don't travel as much as I used to.  Better live it up while I still have it through December 31!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Vietnamese Thanksgiving

It is always so refreshing to hang out with my little sister, Kelsey. We both have a silly side and when you put us together, the inner goof-ball just comes out! I had the opportunity to meet her down in Vietnam this year for the week of Thanksgiving while she was backpacking around SE Asia and I was working in China. What a lovely country! It is definitely poorer and more disorganized than China, but the people were kind, the landscapes were breathtaking, and the shopping was cheap!

We only spent time in North Vietnam, flying into Hanoi. The city is a typical SE Asian city, and I don't really recommend SE Asian cities to tourists because all the beauty in those countries is in the natural landscapes, mountains, islands and crystal clear water. The cities are typically hectic and stressful for a Westerner with millions of motorbikes, lawless traffic, dense populations and run-down housing. This pretty much goes for Jakarta, Hochimin, Bangkok, Manila, etc. You still have to stop there if you're a culture or museum buff, but just plan for more time outside of the city than in. The nice section of Hanoi is around the lake where there is good shopping, activities like Water Puppets and massages, and restaurants with a view.

After Hanoi we made our way to Halong Bay. Beautiful scenery with limestone karsts (peaks) jutting out of the water all around you, and it is a Unesco World Heritage Site to boot! We did a two-night cruise on a small, 16-guest boat. All activities, accommodation and food for the 3 days was included for $185! If you go to Halong Bay, I highly recommend doing more than the standard 1-night cruise. Most tourists come in and out in a rush and have a very canned experience. I recommend staying two nights on the boat or spending a couple of days on Cat Ba island in order to get a broader picture. Even better- find your way over to one of the other three bays in the area with similar views because Halong is the most crowded. Our second day on the cruise was the best because when the big boat took the 1-nighters back to the harbor, we took a smaller boat over to a cove in a different bay. We anchored there to kayak to the caves and multiple beaches, swim in the cove, and just lay on the top of the boat with a drink! That was my favorite part of the whole cruise.

From Halong Bay, we went to Ninh Binh via Hanoi. Ninh Binh was a small city surrounded by beautiful scenery. From there you go to Tam Coc or Trang Na to take a two-hour boat ride through the river, fields and peaks. 1-2 people occupy a boat while a local rows you down the river with their FEET! (Cost is $4 for the ride.) Our last night in Vietnam, I treated our crew to a night in the best resort in the area, which was itself a bargain. We had a private pool, comfy beds and a buffet breakfast to send us on our way! A great way to end a relaxing week. Although we were turkey-less during Thanksgiving, we had a lovely time and dined on the yummy local grub instead. Given the Thursday/Friday work holidays during Thanksgiving week (and the limited American vacation allotment), I'm considering making this a Thanksgiving travel tradition for the future!

The boat ride in Tam Coc:


Friday, November 16, 2012


Every now and then a light bulb comes on and we see what has been lurking right in front of us.  I've been working on this Joint Venture in China for 20 months now, and as most overly-motivated corporate citizens know, you should start looking for your next step at or around the 2-year mark.  As I've been thinking about what to do next, I've been presented with choices like: 

A)  Work in a politically-charged US corporate environment for a lot more money and status in the hierarchy,
B)  Work in a more relaxed US corporate environment for a smaller pay increase, less travel, and good development opportunities,
C)  Work as a China expat for a US corporation for the most financial benefit of all options while using my hard-learned language skills but dragging my boyfriend somewhat unwillingly, 
D)  Go into business with some high-risk, high-reward Chinese entrepreneurs that have expressed interest,
E)  Seek out a simpler, less mobile life and downgrade my salary and move to Charleston, SC while leaving the corporate world behind.

Before you South Carolinians get all excited, I'm not picking Option E.  (Although Charleston may still be in my 5-year plan, it's not my next move.)  I had my epiphany while I was thinking about these various options, and I didn't recognize it at first because it was so sacrilegious and counter to everything that I have focused on academically since 2007, but can be summed up in one sentence:  I don't love working in China!

WHAT?  For those of you that have worked or traveled with me in China, you have seen me hollering at a taxi driver in Chinese, squeezing the last $0.50 out of a street vendor, and terrorizing the waitstaff like only a local can do, and you thought, "this girl is in her element."  Minus the blonde hair, I can practically blend right in.  In fact, the ultimate complement I received in my Chinese studies was when a client (previously only communicated with me via the phone) couldn't find me in the hotel lobby because he was looking for a Chinese face!   So why would I not want to use that skill to the fullest? I could stay and grow in China until I have a small empire, or at least an impressive net worth.  But recently I was sitting in the back of a taxi, feeling car-sick, on the way to the office...and I thought:

"Ug, I really don't want to go to the office today. (in Shanghai)
Actually, I never want to go to the office.
In fact, I don't really enjoy Monday-Friday.
But....I'm supposed to love China!?
Hmm, I love my Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays in this city.
I've always had such a good time here with my friends, they are some of the best in the world.
And I really thrived here as a student...

I definitely loved studying in China.
And I will always love playing in China.
But the truth is, I really don't like working here!"

I don't think that I always disliked working in China.  There was a time when everything was new, challenging and exciting.  I think that as the years have passed and I've become an 'old China hand,' those things that used to be "new, challenging, and exciting" are now "exhausting, needlessly complex and frustrating."  I am also now far too experienced with phrases like "circular negotiations," "expected bribe" and "ulterior motives."  The crazy experiences are numerous, and most people in the US office would never believe it happened.  It can all be very exciting the first time you experience this stuff because you feel like you are seeing/learning/understanding a whole new world.  Then one day you realize...It's been a great experience, but you no longer want to operate in that environment longer than you have to.  

I am currently working in one of the most complex business models available in the business world:  a minority-share joint venture with a state-owned company in which the only customer is also the majority partner.  For those of you in international business, you know that there is nothing good about that sentence.  Therefore, I am aware that this particular situation I am in is contributing to heightened emotions, but I have still come to the conclusion that no matter how much money a corporation throws at me right now, I want my next position to be US-based.  I don't mind (and would actually prefer) the opportunity to travel to China each year for short trips, but I do not want a job that is 80-100% based in China.  All the cheap massages and pedicures in the world aren't going to make up for the levels of frustration that I would experience, and the stress of working both time zones as you try to accommodate US office hours.  

So what path am I going to take?  Probably Option B.  I will keep my China relationships and friends forever, but I just don't plan to co-locate with them for much longer.  This will be good for my sanity, my health, and my boyfriend.  However, I will be forever grateful that I learned Chinese and spent this many years here.  Besides giving me some of the best friends I could ask for, these experiences opened many doors for me in the university and corporate worlds.  I wouldn't be where I am today, with this many choices in front of me, without my China experiences.  So I thank you, China.  And Goodbye for a while.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

18 months...A Whirlwind Tour

18 months since I last posted! So. Shameful. How did that happen? I don't have access to Blogger when I'm in China for work (80% of the time) and until this month, I didn't even pay for wireless in my apartment in Michigan! But now, I've re-joined the world, and all of you.

What's been going on, you ask? Last year I started a new job with my same company! I've been at it for 18 months now, launching a new plant in Shanghai. It's challenging. Boy, is it challenging! But such a valuable experience, (not to mention a resume-builder). I have another 6-12 months on the project before I need to move on to my next step.

This past year and a half have been exciting and very eventful! A brother got married, my boyfriend came to Asia for the first time, I bought a house, my car burned down, I went to a couple new countries, grew to love a new city (obviously I'm referring to Shanghai here, and not Jackson, MI), and most importantly: I finally got to my 1K status on United Airlines! Well, maybe not the most important, but definitely makes the trips a bit more comfortable.

It's time to share a couple of the highlights of what's been going on via photos! Why don't we work backwards!?

August 2012: Mom and Soeren made it to China! Here we are at Tian Tan (The Temple of Heaven)

We also got to stay in Yang Shuo (Guilin) for a couple of nights and the scenery was fantastic! Just what we needed for a few days out of the city.

July 2012: I took a long weekend for the 4th of July and got to see Soeren in Europe.  We did our weekend in Vienna (because tickets were cheap to that airport) and got to dip over to Bratislava, Slovakia for a day ask well!

May 2012:  A trip home to go to my little brother's wedding!  He married a gal named Kera and they are in the middle of living happily ever after with their furry child, Cyrus.

April 2012:  I had a special 3-day weekend away from Shanghai in CAMBODIA with my favorite new gal, Kate!  We hit up Phnom Phen and Siem Reap and had a weekend full of beautiful sights, lots of sweat and many, many cheap massages.

Christmas 2011 and New Years 2012 in Beaufort, SC, spending time with the people I love!

December 2011: Right before I went home from Asia for Christmas, I stopped in Seoul, Korea to see my little sister!

November 2011:  A weekend in Florida doing all things coastal!

Sometime in fall 2011: Visits to Beijing to see some of the best buds!  

AND we bumped into Ai Weiwei while boating in Beijing's Chaoyang park!

September 2011: Visit to see Soeren in Germany with visits to castles, Stuttgart, and Heidelberg!

July 2011:  Summer in Beaufort, SC with some of my favorite people visiting!  It was Soeren's first time on a wind surfer.  Show-off!

 June 2011:  Visiting those same buds in Pittsburgh was like a little piece of heaven.  Definitely good for the soul!

March 2011:  I started my new job and the JW Marriott in Shanghai became my new home-away-from-home, and I started really exploring the city!

I'm gonna call that whirlwind tour through the last 18 months a wrap!  Hopefully I can get into more knitty gritty topics later on now that the update is out of the way!  I missed you all- it's been too long!  Good to see you again :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Christmas in Carolina

Holidays are certainly never dull, are they? I changed my flight at the last minute so that I could come down early for a little R&R before Christmas. It ended up not being so relaxing, but I was certainly glad to be there. Dad started having serious trouble with his foot, but still had loads of Christmas cookie orders to get out of the door. Between shifts of nurse and chef, the relatives came down from Pennsylvania to start the party. Dad went into the hospital on the 23rd and proceeded to have surgeries on Christmas Eve and Day, followed by a long recovery that's still in progress. So we brought Christmas to the hospital and it really didn't feel to be that out-of-the-normal!

Then, the day after Christmas, Soeren swooped in from Germany and joined the madness. Fortunately for me, it was too expensive for him to change the ticket and run the other way. Christmas #2 in the Carolinas for him- and it only increased on the scale of madness. But he was a sport with the never ending sitting-around-catching-up-time and daily hospital visits.

After Christmas the serious competitions begin. Brown family traditions: Cookie decorating contest and photography contest. The cookie contest is my mom's sugar cookies and amazing wedding cake frosting plus every type of sprinkle and food coloring in the grocery store. We all sat around the table at Ned's river house and decorated for what seemed like HOURS! The fruits of our labors:

Then there's a very serious judging process:

And finally the winners are announced! (Note: Despite the pleas of some, they still let foreigner boyfriends enter AND win the family cash prizes. So not cool.) Seriously though, aren't they cute? Soeren's sailboat in the river won First place, Kelsey's reindeer won Second, and Sheldon's intricate snowflake got Third.

Now we come to the second, more intense, week-long photo contest. We have a limited number of days to run around and take pictures for three competition categories. This year they were: Local Landscapes, Humor, and People/Animals. Only the most professional eyes are allowed to judge, so the process had to take place in the hospital to include my Dad. Another very serious judging process:

And of course the judges have to do the memorable Ned Brown pose before coming back to announce the winners:

The Cunninghams racked up the winnings big-time, with Patrick winning the $50 grand prize and both Katie and Patrick winning Starbucks gift cards!

Soeren and I got a couple of restful days away in Charleston, but he's holding those pictures captive. All in all it was great to see everyone, enjoy the warmer weather, and to be able to be there for Dad's surgery and hospital stay. Holidays are never normal...but that's why we love them!

Nov '10: To Grandmother's House We Go

Soeren came over for the week of Thanksgiving, and we decided to go over the river and through the woods to the Millers' house. It certainly was a houseful of relatives to meet all at once, but he was surprisingly good at remembering who-was-married-to-who and who-birthed-who. It was also his first glimpse into Amish Country, USA. We made sure to act like tourists and stop at the grocery store to snap pictures of the traditional horse and buggies. My favorite was when my grandparents pulled out the photo albums (dun dun dun....) and spent hours showing us (but mainly Soeren, because I flaked after 20 minutes) pictures from my Mom's childhood and from their numerous trips to Germany. How cute...

The week after Thanksgiving was the first office Christmas party. We had a blast and I was reminded about how much I appreciate my Pittsburgh coworkers :)

Also, I can't end this blog without a shout-out to Ms. Elliott- the best dinner party thrower I know! She invited both Soeren and myself over for an evening of wining and dining. Pure heaven- that's all that can be said!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here Come the Holidays!

This is definitely my favorite time of year. After the craziness of moving, mom visiting, my sister's accident, works trips across the country, October trip to Germany, etc. it's nice to have a little time to kick back with a lazy schedule and a lot of good food.....I mean...good people. Soeren will be here for both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, making it even more special. (Although he may see it as terrifying, we'll see about that.)

October was a good month too. I had about 36 hours with my Mom up in Pittsburgh, and we wined and dined and went to the Opera. I'll have you know that there were two points where I thought to myself, "Whoa, I have one hot mama!" First, she turned ALL of the heads at this little bar near my house called the Seashell. Then, when I saw her in the little black dress, silk and heels getting ready to go out to the Opera, I thought that I should go and change because no one would even notice me next to her!
Unfortunately, little sisters have a way of demanding attention, and mom had to rush back to South Carolina to take care of her in the hospital. (Don't get your feathers ruffled people, I'm kidding.) In all seriousness, Kelsey is doing a lot better now and will probably be away from the crutches by Christmas. Word on the street has it that she can bend her knee 60 degrees now. Keep up the good work at PT!

But back to me :) You've all seen the pictures on FB of a quick trip to Bonn to see Soeren at the end of October. (Really quick=only 3 nights) The favorite is below. He's so darn good at taking pictures by sticking his hand out with the camera. And why don't I ever do my hair on the good picture days? I actually went over there to celebrate a year of being together...or putting up with each other...however you want to call it. The walk along the Rhein and snacking on Currywurst was a good memory from October 2009, so we repeated ourselves. Yummy as ever! (The scenery, the man, and the currywurst...of course)

Well it's time to light a fire in the fireplace (yes, I have one of those this year, yippee!) and make hot chocolate because FALL IS HERE! More babbling and pictures to come soon, probably right after Turkey day! I hope you all enjoy the time and are safe in your travels!