Saturday, January 14, 2017

Home!

I got home around 9pm on Thursday.  It's a 25 hour journey from the time I set foot outside my hotel so it feels pretty incredible to be home.

Friday was spent with the kids getting caught up.  They are home from school on Fridays because their private school goes slightly longer Monday - Thursday in order to give older teachers and students a break on Friday.  They usually come home with extra homework but it's nice to have an extra day with the kids.

We spent the morning doing crafts, I found laser cut wooden puzzles of sea creatures at the Design Gallery at the Hong Kong toy fair.  Afterwards everyone was hungry by 11 so we went to Chick Fil A for lunch, our monthly splurge.  Later we watched Kubo which is a fascinating movie.  The parents die so Charlotte's not too happy with the ending but I love how it explains how the Japanese deal with death.  My Violette and Sam love the movie and baby just seems to enjoy most movies.

The day got hard about 3pm when my body started to ache and wish desperately for sleep.  Somehow I managed to stay away until 9pm by doing too much activity and got fitful sleep until 5:30am.  It feels like such a victory to wake to coffee and a quiet house.  The weather looks cold with possible snow today.  We need food but maybe we'll just make due and stay home!

I'm loving the very early hours.  I've already answered work emails, last minute projects that need to wrap up before the team leaves for Chinese New Year and this blog post.  I think I'll go crawl back in bed now and play games on my phone with my coffee.  :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Last Day in Asia!

My trip has ended 3 days early!  What luck!!  I'm told my work here is done so I can go home early.  So glad it worked out well with the airlines to change my flight to today.  Wish I could have written more while I was here but we did stay very busy.  Looking forward to life back in the states!

Review of London House

London House is a Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Hong Kong.  It's in the building where I work, so for me a very logical conclusion to the day.  So much so that I went three times!  Maybe 4?  Here are my thoughts on their food:

For lunch on my first day of working in Hong Kong I chose the Chicken Tikka Masala with Mango Juice - It was wonderful!  Decent size proportion and I was very happy with the service.  It was a lunch time so more quiet, quick in and out timing.

I went back the same day for dinner with co-workers and had the Shepard's Pie.  I was not very happy with this dish.  I didn't like the recipe and the dish was also very small, in a 5" iron crock, about 1.5" tall, I think.  Very bland.  I found out later the dish was the same size as their side dish Mac and Cheese so I found that to be a bit odd.  My tea was served lukewarm.  It was very crowded, that may have been why.  My advise if if you want to try this dish it must be ordered with a side because it's just way too small for a meal.

However, I would not be deterred!  Confession time - I'm a bit of an Anglophile so having a British pub within walking distance of work means I'm going to come here as often as possible if the food is decent.  

The next day I had the Salmon for lunch.  It was incredible!  I eat Salmon because it's good for me but usually the taste is just boring Salmon.  This was buttery and lemony - it's hard to describe how incredibly good this was.  As I've said before, Hong Kong IS really good at seafood but it was also a very good recipe.  I also had a side of Mac and Cheese with Bacon, it was very creamy and delicious!  The cheese base tasted like it had a bit of fresh cream, it was very rich.

I had dinner in my hotel that night so I took a little break from London House, I was too tired to sit in a restaurant.

My last night in Hong Kong I had the Bangers and Mash and it was a very large dish with three bangers and a giant pile of mashed potatoes with onion gravy.  It was wonderful!

Well this just goes to show that one bad night of service and food does not mean the restaurant is bad.  I'm quite looking forward to my next binge at London House when I return to Hong Kong later this year.






Sunday, January 08, 2017

Stroll through Hong Kong's Science District

After one week in China, I was very anxious for a walk and American food!  Here's the thing with China, I'm stuck in a hotel when I'm not working.  I love the freedom I have in Hong Kong to walk and experience the city.  After 16 years of traveling here I've found a level of independence and it's become one of my favorite cities.

This particular Sunday I was dropped at my hotel around 1pm and I immediately went to my favorite "Western" restaurant - Ruth Steak House (American food is called Western in Asia).  I don't order steak because Hong Kong is much better at seafood and this restaurant is particularly good at the King Crab Tuna dish.

After lunch I walked for two miles through the Science district.  I was looking for the Starbucks on Hollywood walk but it was closed due to construction so most of my walk was not very pretty.  I tried to catch local Pokemon but the game didn't work very well for me as I had trouble keeping a Wifi connection.  Regardless, it was still nice to get out and see things.  Here are some of the interesting sculptures I found around the Science center.




Hong Kong loves and cherishes their trees.  I like taking photos of the local trees because they are so carefully cared for and they build these nice boarders around them.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

January Trip to China - Day 3

Yesterday we drove 1.5 hours to visit a factory.  Don’t ask me where we ended up, I have no idea!  At one point I saw a McDonald’s and secretly hoped we’d stop for lunch but they had a restaurant in mind.  It was nice, I got a surf and turf that wasn’t too hard to chew and some mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon.  I even got a latte in a cowboy glass!  I wish I could have taken the glass with me, it was cute.
Our day in the factory was from 2-7pm and while they were kind enough to not smoke in the room, by end of day my eyes were burning from the smoke in the air.  We worked on a feature plush that needed improved eye and dancing movement.  My contribution consisted of reviewing the samples at each stage and confirming it needed to be faster. 
The sample was finished at 7pm and we were finally free to leave for dinner.  Everyone elected to revisit the same restaurant we had for lunch.  I made an unfortunate selection of shrimp that was covered in a crunchy brown substance, coated in an unfamiliar spice and possibly still had the shell on.  I couldn’t eat it.  Even the rice was crunchy.  The restaurant was smoky and I desperately wanted to remove my contacts and go to bed.  We ordered a replacement dish so I didn’t leave hungry. 

After dinner all the guys had a smoke while I played Disney Emoji’s.  

Friday, January 06, 2017

January Trip to China - Day 2

Yesterday was a challenge from the weather.  I didn’t realize the smog would be so bad, the air is thick with smoke when we are outside and it’s making my eyes burn.  I wish I had brought a face mask at minimum. 

I worked in our China sample room and it was a typical day.  I work at a table with several others and during the day they bring me samples to review.  It’s so much easier than reviewing them in photo like I do from the states. 

We had lunch at their favorite local Chinese restaurant where it’s still okay to smoke in the dining area.  I forgot to bring eye drops, it always hurts my eyes.  I ordered what appeared to be Pepper Steak and was pleasantly surprised when it was as it appeared!  Afterwards we went back to the office to finish working.

By 6pm I was very tired, no afternoon coffee had dropped my levels to almost 0% and they decided to drop me off at the hotel and go back to the office to finish working.  I ordered a pizza that I’d had last time and went to my room to read and wait.  It arrived by 7 and afterward exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was reading and nodding off while thinking it’s too early to sleep.  I couldn’t fight it.  By 9pm I was in bed and then thankfully I slept until 5am. 

Internet in this hotel has been spotty at best.  Before I go to bed, it turns off so I can’t say goodnight to my husband on WhatsApp.  I hate that.  Then in the morning it comes and goes like a flicker, so I send messages out when I have it and finally give up.  I can’t download my email so I really can’t work until I get into our China sample room.

I can’t access Facebook (I thought I could the last trip), or Pokemon Go, and Tsum Tsum game.  My 3 primary sources of wasting time, I mean entertainment, gone!   Surprisingly Pinterest works here, which I use for private design boards on some of our projects. 

I used to love reading books, but I’ve had to retrain my brain to stop looking for the short term entertainments and sit and read for 2-3 hours.  My ride is not ready until 9:30, so from the moment I wake up, I have 4.5 hours to get ready for work, eat breakfast and read – or write a blog post that I will post when I get back to Hong Kong since I can’t access my blog either because Google is still banned in China and my blog is Google based. 


Please understand, I’m not complaining at all.  I just like to outline my experiences as they happen for my own future reference.  Just think how thankful I’ll be when I’m back in a place where all my apps work and I can independently walk to wherever I want to go!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

January Trip to China - Day 1

I’m back in Asia for the first of three planned trips in 2017.  I had about 2 weeks to prepare for this trip, it was rather unexpected but necessary.  Preparing for an Asia trip over Christmas and New Year’s along with my youngest 2nd birthday was not particularly easy.  I had some last minute panics about putting together a professional wardrobe for 60-70 degree weather, shoes needed bought as my last pair had quite literally cracked in the soles and my 2nd pair still looked good but the padding had worn down inside and became unbearable to wear after a day of walking.  So I went on a desperate quest for shoes the day before my flight and I’m very happy with the slip on shoes that can be worn with or without stockings.

My trip began on a Monday which was a wonderful change from my normal Saturday departure.  It’s nice to only lose one weekend from the middle of the trip.  I arrived on Tuesday night in Hong Kong and spent the night at my favorite hotel in Kowloon.  I was not required to be anywhere the next morning so I took my time getting ready and arrived around 10am. 

During the day we visited my favorite market to pick up food for our trip to China.  I find that if I’m well stocked with breakfast items, I don’t have to stress about what the hotel is offering. 


We left for China on Wednesday evening, arriving at 9pm and I’m not required to meet my co-worker until 9:30.  I slept from 11-6 and am excited to have 3.5 hours to read, write and eat breakfast.  Think of it – no one needs me!  It’s a very small luxury these days of which I’m going to relish.  If you’ll note on my blog, there have been no posts since November.  That’s what happens when work ramps up and I work from home.  Virtually no personal time!  I’m not complaining, I adore my four little darlings but it sure is nice to have some personal quiet time.

Life Size Gingerbread Castle found in China

In the hotel lobby I found this very large life size gingerbread castle!  Upon closer inspection, I believe it was real baked gingerbread!  Imagine the work that went into this!!  Closer photos show shelves inside where someone may have even handed out treats through the window.  I'm so blown away by this!!!





Saturday, December 31, 2016

Frugal Living - December Part 2




Here is an update on our past month adventures in side hustles and savings!

Health Insurance:  

This is my 3rd year of working as an independent contractor and paying my own health insurance.  I could write a much longer post on my thoughts on the Affordable Care Act and how it has impacted us in both positive and negative ways and I will write this post, but for now I simply want to say we got a bill from Evergreen Health that was set to increase our premium by $300!  I had no intentions of pay this steep increase and immediately started looking for alternatives.  A friend at church suggested Samaritan Ministries.  For $440 per month, my husband and I could pay into a system where Christians pay each other's medical expenses. It's not insurance, but it's legally accepted on tax returns to act in place of insurance.  

$440 is about $200 lower than our 2016 monthly premium and the additional savings can be put aside for medical needs not covered by Samaritan Ministries such as regular office check ups and some prescriptions.  I did the math and in theory we should have more money in our pockets by end of year.  


To be honest, it's a huge leap of faith and it feels weird to not be covered by traditional insurance!  I don't know if it's a safety blanket or what but it was a tough decision to make.  I did a ton of research and couldn't find a compelling reason to NOT give this a try so we are on board.


I kept the kids on the Maryland plan because for $66 per month, it covers all their doctor visits, vision, dental, etc.  I'm so happy with this plan.  If and when it goes away in the upcoming years, I'll have to more carefully budget for their needs but for now, we will enjoy this plan for as long as it lasts.  


Consignment Sale:

Despite my disappointment in the last sale, I found another one that was doing a Christmas sale at the beginning of December.  I thought it might be nice to gain some extra money for the holiday's so I put in my due diligence and updated all my winter items that didn't sell at the last sale to the pricing tags for the new one.  I have to say this one was even more of a disappointment.

I sold 84 items and made $136.74.  The process to find all remaining items that didn't sell took me over 3 hours!  The shoes were such a mess that I found one boot of a pair, the clothing was a bit disorganized so it was very hard to find my items and I must have checked the toy section half a dozen times and couldn't find certain items.  When I was leaving, I made copies of my paperwork and highlighted all my missing items.  They promised to call me back once they found my items but I never heard back from them.  They were also late in sending the check or didn't send it at all.  I finally managed to get it on the 30th right before leaving for Asia.  


The space was an entire ballroom and it was just massive.  Maybe I had tried to hit too many categories?  I don't know but it was an exhausting experience.  I much prefer the other sale that I had done twice in the year.  It's a much smaller room and I've never had such trouble finding my things or getting a check in the end.


The Penny Hoarder and Money Saving Mom:

Both websites have given me some very interesting things to do with my spare time but they can be extreme time sucks.  I think they are wonderful websites with lots of great advise but some of these apps and websites are time consuming with very little return.  I have to be more careful in the future to not go overboard in things that are not adding enough value.

Here are a few examples:

  • Swag Bucks - I know some people swear by this site but for me it's a big time suck.  The inbox suggestions lead to online gambling, medical things, watch movie trailers for a few points, etc.  You can also buy things through SB like Ebates and it will add reward points.  I've tried cross comparing between the two and I think it's like airline miles.  You need to find one and stick with it to get the biggest balance of points on one account.  I think I'm going to stick with Ebates because it's easy and I don't have time to click on a hundred websites to earn points.  I just want to get a small discount when I do online shopping and Ebates meets this need.  
    • The Swag Bucks app has survey's but I've found that 100% of the survey's I've tried to do say they will give you big points but as soon as I try to take them I get a notice saying they've exceeded the number of people who can do the survey or I don't qualify.  Well update your system to not show the survey if you've got enough applicants!  That's just irritating so I've stopped even trying to do these survey's.
  • Free stuff comes with a price of extra emails in your inbox and quite a few tricks to achieve the free result.  Case in point - I got a free Play Doh set from Toys R Us through Money Saving Mom but I had to pay full price and was supposed to get reimbursed.  I don't think the reimbursement came through.  I don't know who to chase for that and I don't have time.  So stuff like that is too time consuming to get something for free.  I will budget for what I need.  I'm not going out of my way to get a free item.  Time is more important to me than free stuff.
  • MySurvey - last month I contemplated ending my relationship with this company and after a month of ignoring them the emails piled up to over 60!  I tried doing a few more survey's and I'd only get a few points per survey.  After two months I'd not even accumulated enough for one gift card!  I'm out! 
  • Shop Tracker - my phone hated this app.  I had to turn on an exception to get it to work and it caused other problems.  Then I realized that Pinecone Research (which I love) already uses the same bot to track my spending on Amazon so I couldn't use both.  I deleted Shop Tracker.   
In summary, there are some great ways to save and earn money but the trade off is time!  Is my time more valuable in spending it with family?  Cleaning my basement of clutter?  Studying our eating habits and finding healthier ways to live on our food budget?  There are so many distractions in this world.  To me the biggest budget impacts have been big decisions like switching our health insurance to Samaritan Ministries, that $200 savings will have a far greater impact with less monthly time investment in earning that!  So I'm at a point where if I find a great app or website like Pinecone Research, I'll work it into my routine but the other stuff has to go.  My time is more valuable spent elsewhere.