Saturday, August 6, 2011

Final Post!

Between Alison starting her orientation Monday and me being in the middle of my sub-internship, it's hard to deny that our year in China is pretty much officially over. We wanted to close this blog by having our last blog post be, indirectly, about those who read it.

We signed up for a website that allowed us to track our visitors, and this is what we learned:

1) Our blog has had 15,147 views since launch! That over 1200 a month, on average. So cool!

2) The three most popular months (September, December, and January) all had 1500+ views! No doubt, getting engaged and having friends and family linked up to our blog to relay the good news likely helped traffic ;)

3) Our top three all-time most popular posts (measured by when people clicked directly on the post instead of going to the blog) are:
Dec.22: We're engaged! (265 views).
Sept 7: Stealing Alison's Post (160 views).
Mar 16: Chengdu: Mt. Emei and monkey madness (108 views)

3) Surprisingly, only 86% of our traffic came from the United States (mostly from AZ, NC, OH, and NY--funny how that works). The rest came from Canada, China (don't ask us how), Ukraine, Russia, Germany and South Africa. How international!

4) 54% of our users came from Mac computers, with another 2% coming from iPhone or iPad. We're related to/know some pretty tech-savvy people ;)

We can't thank you enough for your readership. This blog has been such a fun experience, allowing us share our adventures with those closest to us. We may open a new blog somewhere down the line, but we wanted to "close" this blog like we "closed" the chapter of our 10 months in China.

But, as soon as I click to publish this post, we're going to turn the blog into a photobook, so the next time you visit us, you can thumb through the hard copy and reminisce with us.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Coming to a close

This week marked 2 months since we returned home; the time has gone extremely quickly, and we have quickly settled into American life. (Adam sometimes jokes that it's American life with Chinese influences--more negotiation when possible, going to different parts of the city that are "closer" than they seemed before, less Land Thai Kitchen--seems salty to us, no cable TV, and probably a few other things I'm missing). 

Some highlights of big things happening:
--I got a job!!!!!! I'm thrilled to be the founding 6th grade writing teacher at Brooklyn East Collegiate, a middle school in the Uncommon Schools charter system. Orientation for the teachers begins on August 8th and the kids start on the 30th. I'm really looking forward to the positive school environment and working alongside dedicated, driven teachers.

--Adam is finishing up his first 4th year rotation, Emergency Medicine. He liked many aspects of it, but overall decided he still loves OB/GYN. It's been hectic because the shifts are at all different times, but he has enjoyed finishing when the shift ends and getting home as scheduled.

--Our apartment is [basically] together, and we love living here. Having a doorman and an elevator is novel for me, and it feels luxurious. Though it's not exactly a neighborhood, the location is perfect for the hospital and public transportation. Here are some pictures:
What you see when you walk in the front door.
Kitchen (table on the left folds up and down and is amaaaazing for space!)
Our favorite pictures displayed on the wall
Wall opposite the pictures
Bookshelf next to Adam's Navajo rug *on the wall*
Adam's CICAMS colleagues told us that the 2 side panels were upside down...oops!
Bedroom (now our silk rug is on the floor instead of the Mexican rug)
As my friend Lauren pointed out, our apartment is pretty Chinafied. We love that each of the pieces from China is meaningful to our experience, and they're pretty unique.

We also spent a week in Charlotte; it was relaxing and suburban--lots of gym time, sleeping in, hanging out with old friends. A great way for Adam to gear up for the start of 4th year!

A big thanks to the Raphaels, Balicks, Browns, and Levinsons (!!) for a beautiful engagement party--we had a fantastic time with our families and friends.

The last "biggie" is that 2 of Adam's CICAMS colleagues came to NY for 3 days. We had a great time giving them a tour of the city and American life. 
A close up of Lady Liberty.
Passing 3 out of 5 boroughs from the Staten Island Ferry
They were also visiting amidst a heat wave, so we basically sunscreened and sweated for the entire trip. Luckily there was a breeze on the water :)
They really loved being in our apartment and seeing what our lives are like.
The most incredible air mattress you've ever seen (thanks, Cathy!). Yes, that's a headboard.
He was at the hospital most of their visit :(
Some highlights of their trip include asking about the meanings of "statue" and "liberty" (oh, Communism), constantly wanting cookies and muffins, and mistaking bath towels for blankets.

The "full circle moment" came when I took them to the grocery store. They were both fascinated by our food shopping, just as we were in China! WangShaoMing couldn't get over the size of the peppers and the varieties of cookies, and she pointed to asparagus and asked what it was and if we could try it for dinner. LiRong didn't understand the fish situation. She kept pointing to a picture of a whole fish and saying "This is China!" They were unsure about fish that was already filleted. They both also wanted to try apple pie, as it is "so American" (I can't tell you the last time I had apple pie!), so I got the closest I could find--apple crumble--for dessert. WangShaoMing took pictures of every step of the dinner process, from the asparagus baking in the oven, to my cooking fish and chopping vegetables. They definitely felt just as Adam and I did in China!

Pop Quiz: Where are we now?
We had a wonderful year in the Far East, and we are settling in to our life together on Upper East Side!

Monday, June 20, 2011

zero-displacement/birthday weekend

Since my last post, I've passed a monumental milestone by entering my late 20s. The weekend was perfect--we finished our apartment (pics to come!), except for the part the lazy super has to do, had a lot of close friends over for drinks and boardgames on Saturday night, and then spent Sunday afternoon reading the NYT in Central Park, feeling like total New Yorkers.

One of my friends wrote me a nice birthday card that discussed the idea of zero-displacement: that things and people feel and are so similar that it's hard to remember you were ever gone. I definitely agree with him--it's remarkable how easily Alison and I have fallen back into the fold of New York life and how our relationships have picked up seamlessly where they left off. But even without the beautiful things we brought back with us, including an amazing collage of framed pictures, it'd be impossible to notice three big ways I've changed from China:

1) I'm better at knowing when to pick my battles--10 months being illiterate and unable to communicate with the population-at-large and never knowing 100% of what was happening at CICAMS has taught me when I should speak up to ensure I'm not being taken advantage of (or to ensure I'm not offending anyone!) or when to just keep on truckin', trusting in the general goodwill of humanity.

2) I'm much calmer: Coming back to Sinai and starting to do the whole residency application process is obviously anxiety-provoking. However, Alison and I have navigated much trickier obstacles, so even one as supposedly all-encompassing as residency doesn't seem particularly overwhelming.

3) Inquisitiveness in my home city. I've spent three years living in on 98th and Madison, barely going to 80s/2nd or the Upper West Side and rarely, if ever, going to Union Square, Brooklyn, or Astoria. Basically, I feel that I now know more of Beijing than of NYC. However, between how close and accessible everything seems to be and how pleasant it is to get there on public transportation, my attitude of this city has completely changed. In the three weeks we've been back, I've been on a yacht cruise with a friend from home that left from Wall Street, to the Brooklyn Bridge for dinner with Ben's dad, Tom, all over the Upper West and East Sides to hang out with friends, Harlem to meet with a florist, and Brooklyn to eat dinner with family. NYC is now my oyster ;)

So yes--everything feels the same but I am slightly different ;)

PS My former roommate and his fiance are both children of Chinese immigrants and tested our Mandarin knowledge at the birthday party. Alison did amazingly ;)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Top Pictures!

Adam and I decided to create a sort of photo gallery on a wall of our apartment with our favorite pictures from this year, so we have been poring over them to decide what we like best. Of course I just had to share...(this will probably be long, but the pictures are awesome!). I can't wait to put them up!
And there you have it! (Favorites of us to come...). There are obviously many more pictures--any favorites from reading our blog all year? 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have I become a Beijinger?

Today, Alison and I went to Macy's. Before China, going downtown on a single subway line downtown to Trader Joes was an ordeal for me--the subway took forever, it was packed, and Trader Joes was too much to deal with--so I was preparing myself for what I assumed would be a horrific experience, particularly since today was 95 degrees, we had to transfer subway lines, and kitchen ware is my personal nightmare.

We walked out of the apartment, got to the subway, waited three minutes for an air-conditioned train, walked 2 minutes to transfer lines, and sat both on both trains. 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination. (Keep in mind that in Beijing, 20 minutes was how long it took to get from locking the door to boarding a bus, so this trip felt like it happened in a blink of an eye.) On the way back, it was much more crowded so we had to stand on the trains. But no one was touching us, the train was still air-conditioned, people were very polite getting off and on at each stop, and no one was screaming into a cell phone. It was one of the most peaceful experiences in public transportation I've had in a year!

The icing on the cake of a wonderful day together (those zappy things made registering really fun...until I had to excuse myself when Alison was drooling over KitchenAids) was that we stumbled upon this Chinese antique store relatively close to our new apartment. The owner ignored us when we walked in, and we browsed beautiful antiques with well-documented authentication cards from Chinese and American experts. On the way out, we asked him how he managed to obtain Chinese antiques from as early as 500 CE considering export laws ban anything from leaving China if it was made before 1800. I guess he realized we knew what we were talking about or something, because we started chatting about Chinese antiques, Beijing, etc. Turns out, he's created a lucrative business by buying Chinese antiques from Americans (after proving they're legit) and then selling them to mainland Chinese for 10x more than he bought it. In essence, he plays directly into Chinese nationalism, as one manifestation of patriotism is purchasing "plundered" Chinese antiques to return them to China. Long story short, we made a friend and he offered to take us to his warehouse to show us his merchandise...and most excitingly, he also does antique furniture, which we decided not to buy while in China, as we knew we would get ripped off. (see, things work out!)

Another highlight was asking the lady at Macy's to see their selection of silk rugs. We had no intention of buying anything, but we wanted to compare prices as we bought one from the silk-rug factory in Xinjiang last October. She looked at us with disdain written on her face and said in a thick Jersey accent, "Real silk rugs start at $30,000. Are you sure?" And we laughed about what a great deal we got and walked away. Typing this now is actually really sad: one rug sells at Macy's for more than what the rug makers earn in their entire lives.

Over the next week or so, we'll be blogging more frequently about leaving Beijing, arriving in NYC before wrapping up the blog. I can't believe it's been 10 months since we left NYC! Feels like it was a dream.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Top Lists

Now that we've had a bit of time in America, we're ready for Top 10 (or 5 or 8 or anything in between!) lists about China. Here goes...

Craziest Foods We Tried:
7. Fish cheeks
6. Duck blood tofu (very popular in hot pot)
5. Lamb heart [kebabs]
4. Mule [tacos]
3. Pig skin jelly
2. Pig's ear (accidental order and unpleasant discovery a few weeks ago...)
1. Duck neck

Things We Miss:
12. Massages
11. Having a washing machine in our apartment
10. Street food
9. Getting away with things we could not get away with in America (being visibly foreign does have its advantages!)
8. Low prices of basically everything
7. Hopping into cabs when we don't feel like taking the subway...and it costing $3
6. No tips. Ever.
5. Waking up to lots of emails from home (and getting rid of those pesky listserve and advertisement emails all at once)
4. Availability and cost of fresh produce
3. The ability to just pick up and travel to a new, exciting place
2. My students making me smile and laugh
1. The amount of time we get to spend together (which we still get to do until July 5th!)

Things We Do Not Miss:
10. The constant communication challenge
9. Not really knowing what's going on. Ever.
8. Pollution (people pollution, noise pollution, cigarette pollution, air pollution, etc.)
7. Creepy men at the gym
6. Walking 15+ minutes to the bus and subway
5. Fearing for our lives when crossing the street
4. Cigarettes
3. Things never going the way they are supposed to (while we're used to's enough already!)
2. Subway line 1 (my commute and the most crowded, sweaty place in Beijing. Ugh.)
1. Have I mentioned pollution and cigarettes?

Things We Enjoy in America:
10. Our gorgeous apartment
9. Fast internet
8. Free use of our cell phones (for calls other than each other)
7. The variety of food at our disposal
6. New York City
5. Being able to communicate exactly what we want in a store, restaurant, etc.
4. Brunch!
3. Having social lives
2. Pedestrians have the right of way (no more "No dying in China!")
1. Seeing friends and family

While we both miss some things about China, it feels like we never left. But it's definitely good to be home :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

We're Baaaaack!

After several months of planning and a well-kept secret, Adam and I managed to surprise Blake and Victoria at Blake's graduation AND my parents on Saturday night. Whew! Success!!!

We left Beijing at 6:55 Wednesday morning (after staying up all night and taking Nyquil on the flight to sleep!) and arrived in Chicago at 6:00am Wednesday morning. Gaining an hour of your life ain't too shabby :) We then flew to Boston for Blake's graduation; Adam managed to get on an earlier flight and shocked Blake, and I joined them later in the afternoon, just in time to catch Amy Poeler's speech (what a welcome back to America!). We had a wonderful time in Boston with Adam's family; it was a great way to re-introduce ourselves to home.

We had originally intended to take the Megabus from Boston to NY on Friday morning, but then learned that they had a one-suitcase limit. Um, no thank you. (4 50-lb suitcases, 2 large duffels, 2 backpacks, and 2 suit bags might be slightly conspicuous...). So instead, we drove into the city and really enjoyed the lack of highway traffic, lush greenery, radio selections, and everything else we didn't realize we missed. It was great (though slightly hectic) to be back home in New York. Our apartment is gorgeous and massive by NY standards and we love the location. So we had lunch at my favorite restaurant, were denied converting currency at the bank (who knew there was a time cut-off for foreign money??), and met movers at my old apartment to move furniture. Then Cathy, Jennifer, and Ben arrived and we met for dinner.

On Saturday morning, our friend Mike came over (!!!) and he, Adam, and Cathy picked up our rented U-haul to move out of the storage unit. They are beasts--got it all out in one go! We moved in and helped Mike move out of his place, while Cathy and Jen stayed back to unpack boxes--they were incredibly helpful. Later, we organized and enjoyed delicious H&H bagels. Welcome home!

I left in the afternoon to come home and surprise my parents--they had no idea I was back in the states; I actually received an email from my mom that afternoon that said "1 more week!" Haha. My parents friends (and my pseudo-parents) Melissa and Steve picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at home, to an empty house. While being with Lucy was clearly wonderful, by 10pm, I was tired of waiting and called in the big guns--Courtney. She called my mom and said "It's too late for you to be out to dinner; go home already!!" For some reason, they listened and were home 30 minutes later. They walked in and FREAKED OUT. It was awesome and definitely worth the secret-keeping.

We will post about our packing up and leaving Beijing experiences in the coming days, amidst unpacking, job-searching, friend-seeing, food-enjoying, etc. Can't wait to see everyone!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Economic Trees

Adam and I had lunch with our friend Olive (former language teacher) yesterday, and we realized we have created mini-economic chains through our friends.  It's something we all do; you recommend something or someone that you've had a positive experience with to your friends, who then bring their friends, etc.

We originally thought we'd do a second language course or Adam would do medical Mandarin this spring, but with all of our visitors and traveling, we never found the time to dedicate (especially because we were able to get around in the most basic sense, so it felt like a vast improvement over our arrival!). So instead, we recommended Olive to our friends--Jeremy and Claire now take a class with her once per week, my former boss has class every day, and the teacher who will take over my classes wants to start with her in the summer. We're so excited for Olive--while incredibly awkward (remind us to discuss the first time we took her to an American restaurant!), she's a great teacher and well-deserving of more students.

We also love Tailor Tao (as christened by Papa!). After a pretty horrible tailor experience with Janice, Adam and I found him through our Bible--the Insider's Guide to Beijing--and we've had much success. While everything isn't perfect (aka a pregnant bridesmaid's dress that had Adam literally laughing his way down the street!), he does a very good job and is reasonably priced. We sent our friends Sarah, Esther, Dan, and Jess to him, and all came back with glowing reviews. So if you're headed to Beijing for a few days and want tailored clothes, he's your guy.

Our last economy tree lies with Pearl Lady Lisa. She is a friend of a friend of Cathy's, and has been a staple for visitors since the Lewkowitzes were here in February. She can imitate almost anything you can come up with, is honest about quality, reasonably priced, and has such a range and variety to choose from that there's something for everyone. Again, if you're in Beijing or looking for pearls, we've got you covered :)

Adam estimates that through friends and friends of friends, etc., we have possibly funneled 15,000rmb into the personal economies of these three (think suits, jewelry, dresses, regular language lessons, etc.) Gotta love it!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Whoops! Presentation in Portugal

I just realized that I never posted about my presentation--the actual reason I went to Portugal!

The conference was also SO COOL for a few reasons. First, I got a big kick out of putting faces to names of people I've either been emailing with all year on my papers or whose papers I've been reading. Second, I'm a huge nerd and enjoyed hearing top-notch lectures about cutting-edge research on treatment algorithms for cervical cancer, new screening modalities in the pipeline, etc. Lastly, thanks to some outstanding mentorship from the US (Jennifer Smith) and here (Fang-Hui Zhao and You-Lin Qiao), I wasn't really intimidated, either during the conference or while giving the talk, though Sarah and I appeared significantly younger than the other people. I think that's because this year has allowed me to start rubbing elbows
with these people...and has given me a foundation into the professional and social relationships I'll have in academic medicine, whether it's continuing researching cervical cancer prevention in low-resource settings or something else in global health. I guess that's what the Fogarty is all about?

Anyways, the day before our talks, Sarah and I went to this Modern Art Museum. I am not artsy or creative enough to really understand modern art, but we still had fun interacting with the exhibits.
My talk went well--I looked nice, which is more than half the battle, right?It's pretty cool that my name was on the podium. And there were about 30-40 people there, just not in the front row, I promise.Someone asked me a question afterwards, which I answered, but then he asked it again, and I got all flustered and sounded (and felt) like an idiot. But afterwards, a few people came up to talk about the presentation and the findings, and we were able to discuss the ramifications about the research in China in other settings, and that made me so excited!

Immediately after my talk, I listened to Sarah practice hers one more time and ran into Dr. Zhang, who is in Yunnan Province and spearheading a HIV/HPV coinfection study that Sarah is helping out on. She's super nice, and I hope to see her in the future.
(Side note, which suit should I wear on residency interviews?).

PS: JNCI just got back to us about the paper we submitted to them in February, and they like it! So we're doing a ton of edits now to resubmit
PPS: Today, I submitted Dr. Smith's paper too. And we're so close on 3 others...but who knows when they'll actually be ready