Chinese Consulate, take two

So, I went back with my newly typed and printed visa application form this morning for the second time this week. The line somehow was shorter today, and it seemed to be moving so much quicker. And this time, the security machine scanning all our bags/coats was working, too, so no manual inspection!

A retired couple who travels to what sounds like a dozen countries every year was in line behind me. They’re planning a 2-week trip to China next month, and they got upset last week when they came in because their applications literally got thrown back at them because the woman reviewing all the forms said that they not only needed proof of hotel confirmations, but they also needed a letter typed in Chinese from the Chinese government saying they would be approved to enter the country.

“If you don’t have that, then you aren’t going to be successful today, either!” the retired woman exclaimed to me.

I had a few seconds of panic. There was no way in hell that could possibly have been the case. Chris got in just fine yesterday! He just showed the usual forms and the hotel confirmations I have!

I held my breath as the working woman scanned my forms again and eventually gave me my ticket number. Nope, no government corruption, no stupid letter needed. I was finally in.

Chinese Consulate visit

Chris and I went to the Chinese Consulate office this morning to submit our visa applications for our upcoming trip to Mainland China. Neither of us has been since our separate trips before we knew each other 2006, and for whatever reason, this visa trip seemed to be so much more cumbersome than it was back then. Chris prepared our forms… yet somehow, he typed his form and hand wrote my form. And when we got to the front of the line, the woman reviewing applications turned me away, saying they have just stopped accepting handwritten forms and that all applications need to be typed. So, I’d have to type the damn form, print it, and bring it back. I was NOT happy.

Somehow, going to my own fatherland is so much more exasperating than going to any other country to date. I wonder why that is.

Freezer space

In New York, where space is a luxury, it’s amazing to even say that you live in an apartment with a standard-sized refrigerator and freezer. In our last apartment, we didn’t have a standard size for either, so when we moved into this place, it was like we had a field day stuffing the freezer with as many things as we could. It’s a pull-out freezer, so unfortunately, we end up stacking things on top of each other… and then slowly forget what we’ve purchased.

The one thing I never forget I buy when I go to Costco is a leg of lamb. They sell Australian lamb only at Costco, and it’s always the best price out of any place. I spent five hours today slow-roasting the leg in Persian spices and got to use my new pomegranate molasses for the first time. When one leg of lamb gets eaten, on the next Costco trip, it inevitably gets replaced. But that usually means we only end up having a leg of lamb maybe 2-3 times a year.

It ended up turning out tasty, but I’ll be honest and say I couldn’t taste the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses or honey at all. I guess this just means we’ll need to experiment with another lamb leg I’ll get on the next Costco trip.

Bo 7 Mon in Manhattan Chinatown

While in Chinatown today, we were looking for a Vietnamese place to eat dinner and came across a spot that had relatively recently opened, so I decided to check it out. We ordered bun bo hue and banh xeo, both which were quite tasty and would mean we’d have faith in coming back to try other things. One of the things that caught my eye on the menu was bo 7 mon, or Vietnamese 7 courses of beef. This is one of those traditional banquet-type meals for special Vietnamese events, or historically, government officials, that serves Vietnamese beef in seven different and delicious ways. The first time I’d ever had this was in Westminster, California, the heart of Orange County, where the biggest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam lives. I loved every single part of it, and have wondered when I’d see it at other places. Gradually, we found one spot in San Francisco that serves this, a couple in San Jose, and that’s really been it. And given that New York’s Vietnamese population isn’t that big, it was quite a surprise to see this on the menu here. Next time, I’m definitely trying this. I did notice that no price was set on the menu, and it simply said, “S.P.”

Dentist visit

I came in for my bi-annual teeth cleaning today to see my dentist and his wife, who is also a dentist, but does all the book work for him. I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I first started seeing them since Chris recommended them to me, but it’s been quite a long time. I usually feel quite comfortable with them, and we tend to chat about all kinds of random things as though we are all old friends, everything from leisure travel to their dog to their remodeling project going on right now. They are always chatty with me, and at the end of my visit, they usually will give me a dental kit to take home.

This time, they actually gave me two sets. The toothbrushes were particularly sturdy, perhaps the latest innovation from Oral-B. So when I got home and unpacked it, Chris noticed it and asked where I got it. I told him that our dentists gave them to me, and he said, “Oh. They never give me anything when I go see them.”

Maybe all the friendliness and chatting pays off?

Ghost town

Our office here in New York is still small enough so that when someone is out, everyone seems to notice. I haven’t been in the office since last Wednesday, so when I am away for a while, I tend to get pings from colleagues asking me when I am going to come back, even though they know how long I will be away since I announce it on our team’s Slack channel. Several colleagues said that it was overall a heavy travel week, as the office was quite empty. And I felt it myself when I came back this morning to barely five people there.

So then I thought about my thoughts earlier this week about being spoiled with all the free snacks and food we get in our office, and I thought, wow, sometimes, all that food can really just go to waste, especially when no one is even here to enjoy it!

Jersey boondocks bound

After two nearly back to back trips out of state, this morning, I had to wake up to get to Penn Station to take Amtrak out to Trenton, from which I would grab an Uber to Ewing, New Jersey, where one of my customers is headquartered. I would be there for over five hours in different training sessions and meetings to discuss how the team could better leverage their technology subscription with us.

It’s funny to think that travel to cities like Orlando or Chicago would somehow be easier from New York City than travel to Ewing, New Jersey. Jersey is right next door to New York. There’s little reason that it should be so cumbersome to get to even the most random cities there, yet somehow, it is. It wasn’t clear to me whether I should take New Jersey Transit, which would have taken over two hours, or Amtrak, which would take about one hour. My colleagues who live in Jersey strongly advised me not to take NJ Transit because “it may never arrive!” And the roundtrip train ticket cost a whooping $126, which is total insanity. Why should it cost this much??

When I was there, I half jokingly suggested to them that for our next set of trainings, I could host them in our Flatiron offices. Only the customers traveling from LA seemed enthused by that idea.

Thoughts on salads continued

I had my last customer meeting here in Chicago during this trip this morning, which ended with my colleague and me taking our customer group out for lunch at a nearby, very corporate lunch spot. It was a fairly standard American menu, with different sections for wraps, sandwiches, salads, and burgers. The majority of us at the table ordered salads, and when they arrived, I couldn’t believe how large they were. This could easily have fed three of us, and I felt horrible at the thought of having to waste nearly half of this massive plate at the end, even if I would be expensing the entire meal. When our lunch was done, zero people at my table finished their salads, and most were barely even half eaten.

I understand why people oftentimes get annoyed at eating salad as your meal because they don’t think they are filling, but at the same time, I do not think you compensate for that by just making the salad astronomically bigger, even if it’s with additional avocado, tomatoes, or chicken. The amount of food waste in this country is ridiculous and so indicative of how spoiled and privileged we are, and if only there was a way to actually ask for a specific portion of said salad, that would be the very beginning of restaurants wasting less.

sweetgreen

When I go visit customers at their offices, I’m oftentimes reminded by the fact that I’m extremely spoiled where I work in that not only do I get free lunch of whatever I want that will deliver to my office via Seamless, but we also have endless snacks, both healthy and unhealthy, as well as juices, nut milks, cow milks (of varying fat percentages), soy milks, and even now oat milks (in two fat varieties, as well). We have green tea, cold brew coffee, and ginger kombucha on tap, and the latest addition to our “on tap” series is a California Cabernet Sauvignon that our head of sales is obsessed with and asked our office manager to get. Most offices I am visiting barely have water, coffee, and non-dairy creamer.

I was onsite at McDonald’s headquarters today, and even though they are McDonald’s, no, contrary to what my colleagues joke with me about, you cannot just go to the kitchen and get McNuggets or a sausage egg McMuffin just like that. Yes, there is an endless soda stream and water, but that’s really it. However, they were very kind to offer me lunch today, and no, not a quarter-pounder, but actually delivered sweetgreen, the trendy D.C.-based salad company that makes salad actually seem like a delicious treat.

As the delivery came as I was getting my computer set up for my training, I had a small chuckle to myself at the thought that here at McDonald’s, the epitome of bad-for-you fast food, my team was all eating sweetgreen and feeding me with sweetgreen, as well. The irony to me was hilarious.

Chicago bound

I traveled to Chicago tonight for some customer meetings I’ll be having the next two days, and when I originally searched for flights and hotel, I was shocked to see how expensive hotels were in the city this week — the cheapest hotel I could find in the general vicinity was at least $390+/night, which would be completely out of the realm of what I’d be allowed to expense and get reimbursed for. I ended up finding a deal for $282/night, which still sounds insane, but at least would be within my company’s limits. That was two weeks ago; a colleague who would be accompanying me tried to search just days before our scheduled travel, and the cheapest hotel he could find was over $680/night! I later found out that a number of big conferences were happening in the city this week, and one of them was actually being hosted at the hotel where I am staying.

It’s pretty absurd to me to think that normal, everyday people could afford hotel rights such as these, and even more absurd to think that some companies would actually allow their employees to expense hotels that would be that expensive. If you were to stay in Chicago at that latter rate for just two nights, you’d already be over $1200, and for some people, that’s rent money for an entire month!