Tag Archives: work

forget it… it’s china[town]

the second big trip in 2013 (i also went to california, but it was strictly work so and nothing really worth reporting) was to china. every year the company i work for does three “town hall” meetings- it’s a chance for the president to answer employee questions and do a progress report for the year. there is always one in des moines, iowa, usually one in belgium (our second biggest office), and then one in another global office. this year china was selected.

i have to admit, i wasn’t super stoked to go to china to begin with. not because i have anything against the country. it’s just… it’s just that i’m asian. and that gets confusing. because i’m the fakest asian there is. i really know nothing about my heritage. i can’t speak the languages. oh, and i’m not chinese, i’m korean.

but my boss was going with me and she and i got along really well. slowly but surely she convinced me that this trip was going to be amazing. we planned out fun things we could do in our free time. and, she reminded me, i’m adventurous. it’s not somewhere i’ll probably ever go again. i should be soaking up this opportunity and enjoying every second of it.

i hate it when she’s right.

the best part about this trip was that it was a 16 hour flight. well, that wasn’t the best part… the best part was flying FIRST CLASS for a 16 hour flight. i’ve never ridden in first class in my life. and it was everything i dreamed it would be and more.

first classsorry for party rockin

i mean, the seats laid ALL THE WAY DOWN. they offered us champagne. and wine. and port (which, turns out, is disgusting). and an assortment of cheeses, appetizers, and snacks. the meals were almost restaurant worthy. the attendants smiled. it was a happy, beautiful place i hope to someday return to.

so, when you fly to china, you have to go into hong kong first. we got to hong kong in the afternoon, took a taxi to our hotel, and got ourselves situated. that night we went out for dinner and to explore the area. our hotel was near the water and we apparently hit a good time, because as we were walking we noticed a crowd of people starting to form along the dock. wondering what was going on, we stopped as well, and we witnessed hong kong’s “symphony of lights,” which essentially is the world’s largest laser light show. 44 different businesses/buildings along the victoria harbor participate in this ten minute show and it attracts around 4 million visitors each year.

hk laser show

the next day we did a little more exploring of hong kong. we decided the best way to see the sights in one day (not enough time) was to take a tour. we booked the tour through our hotel, which was recommended to us so we wouldn’t get ripped off and everything would be organized. our tour guide picked us up and we headed off with a bunch of other tourists with cameras strapped around their necks to victoria peak.

victoria peak is the highest mountain in hong kong. it’s referred to as ‘the peak’ by the natives and it’s a huge tourist attraction because it has a breathtaking view of hong kong and the surrounding islands.

hk-victorias peak

peace-1
oh, and i also accepted my roots and threw the peace sign as often as i could.

…a little bit of immaturity. while we were at the peak we saw this and couldn’t stop laughing. i’ve always wondered where that went.

cum recycle

after we left victoria peak, our tour bus brought us to the aberdeen fishing village, which houses around 6,000 people who live on the boats. we paid 60 Hong Kong dollar (approximately $8 USD) to ride a sampan and help support the fishing industry. aberdeen is one of the most important fishing ports in kong hong, but due to the increasing costs of the industry the community in aberdeen has started to decrease in size.

aberdeen:

sampak

aberdeen  sampak2

after the sampan ride we walked around the hong kong market for a bit, then made our way to the docks. you see, the reason we were only staying in hong kong for a day was because we were going to go to macau that night. i really knew nothing about macau except that it was supposed to be the “vegas of asia” and that one of the james bond movies had a scene there.

a little fun fact about me. i get motion sickness. like, crazy bad. the sampan wasn’t too terrible (surprisingly), but i felt absolutely miserable on that boat that took us from hong kong to macau. chalk it up to being tired or just lucky throughout the day, but i fought the headache and stomach until i made myself go to sleep for the rest of the ride.

so we arrive to macau; tired, sickly, and starving. we had chose a hotel that was not on the “strip,” but rather in a different part of the city. it was kind of remote, but well-kept and very pretty.

macau by night

the strangest part of macau is the mix of cultures- it has influences from china, but cantonese and portuguese influences are found throughout the country as well. we decided to do a bit of gambling (when in rome), but a lot of the games were different than the ones we are used to in the USA. even so, slot machines seem fairly universal, and stephanie ended up winning $200 on the slots!!! well… $200 HK dollar, which is about $28 US dollar… but still!

winner winner

the next day we decided to do a bit of exploring of macau on our own. i had a list of things we should check out, so we took a taxi to the casa gardens, which is just a cute little park in macau. attached to casa gardens is the old protestant cemetery. apparently back in the day macau was a strictly roman catholic country, and china refused to bury any outsiders, so the protestants had to bury their dead at night. they also risked being killed for this procedure if they were caught. in 1821 the land was bought and they got legal status to bury their dead. we also saw plenty of temples, the old city wall, and the ruins of st. paul. macau is a fairly small place so most of the sights are easily walkable if you don’t mind some hills. i loved walking around the city and seeing the different lifestyle- old buildings are a weakness of mine. i have to take photos of things that are run down or interesting, places that seem like they have a story.

casa gardens
casa garden is faaaabullouussssssmacau air macau

another highlight of macau was going to the macau tower, which is the 10th tallest tower in the world.

macau towerview from the macau tower

the reason i liked the macau tower so much, though, was not the impressive heights or the view (those were fine, but you go in one tower you pretty much go in them all), but the fact that you could BUNGEE JUMP OFF OF THE TOWER!

macau bungee macau bungee2

um, say what?! i wanted to bungee jump so badly (i’ve never done it before), and it seemed like a prime location to do so. i mean, how many people can say they’ve been to macau alone, let alone jump off of the 10th tallest tower in the world? unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, we’ll never know), stephanie was pretty against it. don’t get me wrong, she would’ve supported me going and actually encouraged me to, but she wasn’t going to go herself. and i decided if i was going to fall and break every bone in my body, doing it so far away from home before my work trip actually started might not be the best idea.

oh well. next time.

after we left the tower, macau started going down hill. not physically or probably for anyone else, but this was the point in time where stephanie and i had to go through the immigration line to leave macau and enter china. the three hour, hot, disgusting, immigration line where no one spoke english and stephanie was constantly gawked at for being a white female. i pretended for a bit to join in with everyone else, but even that lost it’s appeal after hour two. 😉 and then i lost my immigration card and thought i was going to be stuck in macau forever…. whew, i made it out, though. he basically swore at me and called me lucky and then stamped my passport. then we waited in another two hour line to actually get into china.

once we got to china we were already in the town we needed to be in (zhuhai), so that was a little bit of luck in our favor. we hitched a taxi to our hotel, got settled in, and started prepping for our work meetings. besides doing the town hall (which i am in charge of), we had to give a few presentations, meet with the teams, and tour the facilities.

besides the meetings and everything going according to plan, two things happened out of the ordinary that came to mind during our time in zhuhai.

1) the heads our specialty crop improvement team were also in china to check out their team and plants. they are two of my favorite people who work at kemin, and they invited me out to dinner with their team that night.

sci

2) i experienced my first squatter toilet. no, i didn’t use it (at that point), but it was a new and startling experience in itself.

toilet
no, no thank you.

from zhuhai we went to shanghai for a few days, where we had dinner with a different team (apparently we have 4 offices in china- zhuhai, shanghai, beijing, and ningbo) and attended FIC, the largest food ingredient trade show in the world. the last night michael took us out for hunan food. he started us out on level 1 and the goal was to gradually go up as we got acquainted with the flavor… we ended up staying on level 1 the entire night, but we also drank a lot of strange chinese budweiser beers. apparently it’s americans contribution to the world of beer.

after our time in shanghai, stephanie and i took a train to beijing, along with another one of our coworkers, alex. alex is head of marketing for our health division, and he is a pretty funny character. he was in good humor the entire train ride, doing a bit of work, a bit of army stuff (very dedicated soldier), and conversing with stephanie and me. well, they tried to converse with me. but to be honest, i am a terrible transportation friend. i like to fall alseep, listen to music, or watch television shows when i’m in route. i’ll make some small talk, but honestly, it’s one of the few times i actually like to be left alone. after the talking wore me out, i watched a few episodes of the walking dead and then fell asleep for most of the 4.5 hour train ride.

when we got to beijing it was already pretty late at night. we hadn’t had any dinner yet so we had a drink and some food, and then we got ready for bed. even though it was already 2am, we probably would’ve stayed out later, but we had to meet our driver in the lobby at 7:30am and that didn’t call for much sleep. xuemei was kind enough to arrange this for us, however, and we wanted to see the great wall of china which was a bit out of the city.

and the great wall was just that- great. it was phenomenal, in fact. we opted to walk the wall instead of paying for a ride up, and i’m really glad we did. the sights along the way were great, and it was rewarding to get to the top and look over it all. makes a person feel rather small!

i have tons of photos of this 13,171 mile wall, but i will spare you photos of my “brilliant” photography and just narrow it down to a few. 

great wall

great wall2 on the wallin this photo you get to see the beauty of one of the seven wonders of the world.
…and then behind me, you also get to see the great wall of china.

one of the coolest parts of the trip to the wall (once you got over how old, how big, how well constructed the wall itself is), was the fact that you could toboggan to the bottom of the mountain for only 60 RMB. since i already regretted not bungee jumping, i decided there was no way i was going to pass up this less-potentially-bone-breaking opportunity. and it was a lot of fun!

the rest of the day we did typical touristic things in beijing. alex was leaving early that next morning, so we mostly did things that he wanted to see. those things included going to the forbidden city, which was right next to tiananmen square. the forbidden city was where the emperor lived during the ming dynasty. for around 500 years it was home to their households and was also the ceremonial and political center of the chinese government. the architecture was amazing. the buildings were beautiful. but no matter where i go in the world, the best part of being in old places is…

…pretending to be a gargoyle.

im a gargoyle

what can i say? even with thousands of tourists milling around, some habits die hard. alex also pretended to pee in the corner and that also made for a funny photo. he pretended, though. i swear it.

later that day the taxi driver took us to mcdonald’s, which i don’t even go to in the usa. i’m just sharing this because it made me really annoyed, although it shouldn’t have. he was a great driver and very attentive, but there was enough of a language gap that he didn’t understand me when i said i’d rather eat my own hand off.

i didn’t. i ordered some mcdonald’s, which was very cheap and tasted very much like the chicken sandwich i was hoping to get. i was also very impressed with the waiter’s english. we got to sit down and relax, and it was a really enjoyable time. (but i haven’t had mcdonald’s in the usa since either.) that night we made up for it, though, by going out for peking duck, ordering some fresh octopus, and then walking around houhai, which is a pretty trendy bar area near the water.

the last day xuemei took us out, along with her adorable daughter lele, to see some more sights in beijing. we went to the olympic park (where the… olympics… were held), and she handed us a few of those fancy masks the asians wear because of the smog. i put mine on and her daughter lele just started giggling and pointing at me. i wonder why?

invisible woman

i think because of this silliness, lele felt drawn to me (probably became i’m immature and act like a child), but it was great because she hung out with me all day. we goofed around at olympic park, she wore my sunglasses at lunch, and we pretended to be kittens while we wandered around the temple of heaven, which is a complex of religious buildings that are visited during worship. what was really cool about the temple was that all the steps were in sections of nine, because nine represented a heavenly number. everything was blue, green, and yellow; the colors were a symbolic representation of heaven, the mortal world, and earth.

xuemei also took us to the pearl market, where we bought pearl necklaces in the same place as hillary clinton and barbara bush. i had a few fake pearl necklaces, but i gave the helpers my price range and they brought me back a few strings of pearls to choose from. i picked one out and they sat down and started putting together my necklace, which was amazing to watch, and a necklace that i wear almost every day to work now! then we parted ways for the day and stephanie and i made our way on to the last leg of our journey, ningbo.

Xuemei Lele

there isn’t too much to report on ningbo, to be honest. it’s not a very busy area of china. i had edited the town hall meeting so we showed it to the employees (which chinese subtitles as many could not speak english) and then toured the factory and gave a few presentations and answered questions to help people practice their english.

that night a few members of the ningbo team took us out for dinner. that was potentially the highlight of the whole trip- the ningbo team was so nice and the food (traditional chinese foods like lotus root, various fish, etc) was good and shared family style. since there was no more work to do, we finally felt like we could relax a bit! as we were leaving we got a group photo, which is pretty common. but then the waitresses asked if they could have a photo with stephanie… which was maybe the funniest thing that happened during the whole trip. one waitress even shoved another out of the photo because she wanted one by herself with the white lady.

waitresses

the strangest part of being in china, at least for me, was that the chinese assumed i was also chinese and spoke to me in mandarin. i got really good at my ‘ni hao’ (hello) and ‘xie xie’ (thank you), but they were always startled that i didn’t understand the language. i guess it kind of makes sense, because i look the part, but like i stated before… i’m korean. even if i knew korean, i would have no idea what they would be saying. in talking with a few people about it, a lot of the chinese thought i was also chinese. apparently i look either like a northern chinese or a korean woman, which i found incredibly interesting. since i was adopted at such a young age and out of south korea, i always assumed i was a full korean. but who knows? i could potentially be half chinese. i don’t think i am, just some food for thought. i am tall for a korean. 🙂

anyway, stephanie was right. the trip was a once in a lifetime experience and i’m glad we got to go. xie xie for reading.

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you say dubai, and i say hello

i thought i would try to play catch up with 2013 on this blog. not only because, well, it’s a travel blog and i haven’t been doing a good job updating my travels, but because i want to look back and remember things- the places i go, the people i meet, and the adventures i had. it’s fun to look at the photos, but there’s something cathartic about writing it all down.

so first up in 2013 was going to dubai. i went to dubai for work, for a sales and marketing meeting dubbed “Journey to the Vision.” my company’s vision is “to touch half of the people of the world every day with our products and services.” we are about half way to our goal, and we fully expect to get to the goal by 2017. so every four years from 2009 on we have had this meeting to build morale, to be encouraging… to get to go to cool places like paris and dubai.

and really, the place was super cool. we stayed at the world’s tallest hotel only hotel in the world. it’s called the jw marriott marquis, if anyone wants to check it out. it had tons of different restaurants and entertainment. oh, AND it had a bar called “the vault” on the top floor, which had bank vault type doors as the entrance. there was also a cigar lounge, so you could also smoke up there. not that i did or anything. 😉

smoking

i had to travel to dubai early to help set up for this 3 day meeting. normally i would have loved this opportunity, but for some terrible reason i was sick beyond belief at this point in the year. that, piled on top of a 14 hour plane ride, made for a pretty grouchy amanda. but i got there, we hammered out some last minute details, worked with the musical (yeah… we brought actors out to put on a musical), did run-through’s for lighting and sound, and i loaded up on cold medication. basically anything that would help me swallow, breathe, or sleep.

after a few days, other people started arriving to dubai and heading to registration. despite feeling so miserable, i was pretty excited to see people. besides the presidents of the different business units and the few of us on the plenary teams, we really hadn’t had much time to converse or even leave the hotel. so when the taxis started to pull up and a few of my favorite co-workers were spotted, my mood was lifted dramatically. it lifted even more so when most of the the corporate marketing group (aka: my team) went up for a drink in the vault. i got a grapefruit infused vodka for 40 dirham, which is a little under $11 US dollar. alcohol = expensive in dubai.

vault

vodka

marketing in the vault

the next few days were honestly a bit of a whirlwind. i had been in charge of producing the opening “skit” (it was a WWF parody), which went off smoothly. the opening reception was in full swing. when the reception was done, everyone meandered up to our private (poolside) bar and continued what we do best. drinking. networking. (ha, see what i did there? see?)

i won’t bore you with the details of the whole meeting, but i will say that the last night was something extremely special to experience. our closing ceremony was in the middle of the desert in a man-made stadium area. there were different stations for food, drinks, and there were people there to make it a more “authentic” dubai experience. i was able to hold a falcon, ride a camel, and get a henna tattoo. there were also arabic hand writing stations, palm readers, and a nice showing of fireworks. i thought six hours in the desert was going to be a ridiculously long time (again, had to go early to help set up). but the time flew by and i still hadn’t gotten to all the stations by the time the night was over.

camel

falcon

fireworks

unfortunately, all the energy put into the meeting made me feel even worse once it was all over. after the meeting, there was a tour for the people who had helped and didn’t get to go do any activities. it was fun, don’t get me wrong. we got to go shopping in the spices and textile souks, do a bit of sight seeing, a little bargaining… but by the end of the day i was napping in the van while the rest of the group was continuing. the souks were beautiful, though. so many rich textures and colors and even smells. i walked away with four different pashmina scarves and a few other knick knacks.

spice souks

the next day a smaller group of us went sandboarding and dune-bashing– the dune-bashing was enough to test even the strongest of heads and stomachs– and went inside the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building in the world. i also got to see my friend tim kucera who is spending the year in afghanistan. he just happened to be in dubai at the same time getting his visa renewed, which was a great twist of fate as he got to join us for a few activities.

boarding

goofy feet

burj

the worst part of the trip, however, was that i had even scheduled to stay a few extra days with my friend rohit, who lives in dubai. i obviously stayed, but i was so sick at this point that i was unable to attend a VIP party at atlantis (underwater club in a fancy hotel) with a group of his friends and instead went to bed about 9pm and woke up at around noon the next day. but rohit really saved the day by getting me some more medicine (mine had ran out), and my co-worker brad and i still got to see some cool additional sights. i bought a really unique soapstone chess set in “Africa” in Dubailand, a theme-park looking area that has markets with food and merchandise from all different areas of the world. it was like a magnified and less cheesy version of disney world’s “it’s a small world” ride.

rohit and friends

dubailand

all in all, it was a great time and adventure, though! i don’t know if i will ever make my way back to dubai, so i can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience.

here are some odds and ends or highlights of dubai or my time there:

  • because it is a muslim country, alcohol is super expensive. it is so expensive, in fact, that we had to have drink tickets at this event to prevent people from going over our allotted budget.
  • if you want to get any of this said alcohol, you must be in a hotel or a restaurant located inside a hotel. brad and i ate at applebees *cough shut up don’t judge us we were in a bad mood cough* and almost ordered some tasty adult beverages before we realized they weren’t very adult at all.
  • tina is an awards master. we had an award’s ceremony on monday night of the meeting, and she won first place for every entry she submitted. as i do most of her graphics work, i felt a nice sense of pride for my teammate. T&A (Tina and Amanda, you perverts) Harmonious Way.
    TA
  • dubai is a strange culture of the very rich and the poor. when the recession hit, it hit dubai hard. rich business men dropped their cars off at the airport and just left, never to return because they knew they had gone broke. you will see extravagant and beautiful buildings next to worn down, half-built structures with construction tape wrapped around it.
  • bring sunglasses. there are dust storms.
  • be conscious of the culture- in muslim countries it isn’t appropriate for women to be scantily clad. they aren’t making you wear a burka- but they don’t want you wearing short skirts and strapless tops either (although we did see our fair share of those).
  • 14-15 hour plane rides suck. i did a non-stop in order to get there faster, but maybe would suggest taking flights in segments if you get the chance. your body might thank you.

waffles and chocolate and beer, oh my!

oh man. besides saying that i wouldn’t mind living there for the rest of my life, what is there to say about belgium? it’s beautiful. it’s clean. it’s biker friendly. its… its… it’s 1/5 the size of iowa and yet so rich with culture and history.

evan and i took off for belgium on friday, april 27. i was being sent there to help direct and edit our company’s first town hall meeting of the year, and evan was going because he’s always dreamed of going to belgium. since the first part of may was a holiday for europe, we decided it would be a convenient time to go and have a mini-vacation before my actual work week started.

we had to take separate flights because we booked at different times, but we arrived in the brussels airport roughly about an hour apart. while i was waiting i caught up with our hostess with the mostess, adrianna, a colleague who used to work in the united states but was transferred to our europe office a year and some ago.

once we got our bearings (and our luggage), adriana took us back to her apartment in antwerp where we promptly took a nap. i know they say you’re never supposed to nap when you get somewhere because you won’t adjust to the time zone, but eff that. i’m always tired and when i’m tired, i will take a nap. don’t even try to stop me.

that night, after waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed from our slumber, evan and i went exploring around antwerp- he had a meeting he wanted to attend and i had a friend i wanted to see. while evan was at his meeting i went to the something-plaats (it’s been awhile, the name escapes me) — DAGERAADPLAATS! (i remembered 15 minutes later and came back to update, but had to leave what i had before to show how proud i was that it came back to me) …

…ahem. i went to the dageraadplaats and had dinner with jeroen, a sarcastic former-coworker who loves antwerp with his whole heart and loves to bad mouth/trash talk my love for des moines, iowa even more. we shot the shit and drank beer for a good hour before evan showed back up, and then we went to a different restaurant (the one we were at was closing) so ev could have a meal. he ordered a steak tartare, which is basically raw meat mixed with some onions, capers, and some seasonings. what a daring man. i mean, i wouldn’t order it, but i did try it and it really wasn’t too bad. it kind of tasted like meat loaf.

after we left jeroen, which was around 11:30 pm, we realized the buses had already stopped for the night. the city bike rental places also had shut down– all of which probably would’ve been a problem for most people. i mean, sure it was quite the distance back to adriana’s apartment. and sure, we could’ve gotten some internet or phone access to get ahold of her to come pick us up. but like any good ol’ iowa farm couple… we walked. and we got lost. and we read some maps. and we got caught in the rain. and evan got to babysit a slightly tipsy amanda. and we walked some more.

we finally arrived back at adriana’s apartment at around 2:00 in the morning. we were tired and wet from the rain, but still extremely happy. antwerp was such a great city to walk around and get familiar with. we loved the idea of the “red lane” in the middle of the sidewalk which was reserved strictly for bikers and motorbikes. we loved how the city felt safe and everyone was friendly. we got home and immediately crashed into bed. the plan was to meet my co-worker drew and his wife chelsea in bruges the next day and figured it’d be good to at least get a little bit of sleep.

let me just stop to say, i do not have an international plan on my phone. i think it costs a ridiculous amount of money for the purpose it serves, and as long as i am somewhere with wireless t i can contact other iphones and use the internet. it may not have served me so well in italy (uggggh that day), but i think it served me fine in belgium. i will admit, however, it would’ve been easier if drew and i had phones to contact each other, because getting the hook up for bruges was a mess. we finally got connected and agreed to meet at the train station a little before noon. evan and i had adriana’s car and drew and chelsea were taking a short train from brussels (where they were staying).

by the time we had met up with d&c, we were all starving. i was on the verge of getting hangry (a mixture of hungry and angry) so we walked around the small city of bruges and scoped out what restaurants struck our fancy. it was starting to rain, so chelsea picked a nice little place and we ducked in for some heat and for some food.

the place was a bit expensive- not only pricewise, but because of the exchange rate from the euro to the dollar. but we weren’t going to let that hinder our good time- we got ourselves a feast. drew and i sampled a few different types of belgian beers and he and evan also tried mussels (i’ve had those before, highly enjoyable). our menu was set- we got to pick from an appetizer menu, then a main course, and a small dessert. it was all really good, and from the restaurant we had a nice view of the lake and watched people do boat tours.

side note: have you ever seen the movie “in bruges?” if you haven’t, first off, you need to. it’s absolutely hilarious; subtle humor mixed with over the top, ridiculous situations, beautiful scenery….

and it has the best quotes. “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me… but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

so many things to see and do in bruges. we explored some abandoned streets, had our first belgian waffles, took a boat tour, saw a carnival area, and just soaked in the belgian life. okay, sure, bruges is probably the most touristy part of belgium, but i can’t really blame people for that. i mean… it’s like a fairytale town.


“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f*cking thing?” 

the next day we all agreed to meet in brussels for the day. again, this is where having a phone would’ve come in handy. it took longer than evan and i anticipated to get from the bus to the train station, and by the time we got to the train station, we found our train was delayed. so while we were already a half an hour late to brussels, we ended up being closer to 50 minutes later than the time we told drew and chelsea we would meet them.


evan sleeping on the train

determined to not let it ruin our day (as we assumed drew and chelsea had given up on us), we did some touristy things and explored brussels by ourselves. as fate would have it, i found a small coffee shop with internet access and drew happened to be on skype at the hotel at the same time. they met back up with us and we continued on our merry way, onto one of the merriest places of all: a place with beer. lots and lots of beer.

we also got a little reckless, in our own harmless way. we went to a casino and blew a bit of money and smoked a few cigarellos we picked up in a shop (evan had bought some cigars for my dad and the cigarellos were nice and cheap.) you know… when in rome. we also had our fill of belgian waffles, chocolates, and well, beer, of course.

the next day was probably the most low key day of our vacation. adriana brought us out to this little town called balen (which jeroen says translates to “it sucks” and advised us not to go) because koen had convinced evan that he should go orienteering while in belgium. since evan had never done that type of race before, the boys did a little bit of practice orienteering for the afternoon.  i sat on a terrace, drank, and watched gliders go up.

afterwards we had dinner with koen and his wife hendrika, and then they took us to the b&b where we were staying at, an adorable little place located on a sheep farm.

the rest of the trip was rather boring overall, so i will spare you all the details. basically i got to go to work and evan got to rent a bike and ride around belgium. sounds like he got the better end of the deal.

these were the highlights of the rest of the trip:

  • being able to network and meet new coworkers– i love the people/company i work for. it’s always good to get to know them better.
  • helping (successfully) organize the first town hall meeting of the year.
  • koen gave me a ride to work every day. (i love koen.)
  • i ate horse. don’t judge me.
  • recapping with evan at night about what we each did during the day.
  • going out to dinner with a fun group at the Kathedral restaurant.
  • airport hang out time with penny (i love penny… but in a different more work appropriate way)
  • actually getting to sit next to ev on the plane ride home

^Ja, ik zal.

a half-hearted apology, my letter to june.

Look, I don’t really have a good reason for why I’m not keeping up with this blog as well as I should. Realistically, I have three trips and a ton of events in my life that I’d like to tell you about. It’s just finding the time to do so.

I mean, it’s not like work has been ridiculously hectic (it has). I mean, not that I’m stroking my own ego (I am), but since the beginning of 2012 I have completed–as in from conceptualization to finalization– imagery/layout for over twelve advertising campaigns across the animal divisions of my company. Plus over five more products that are waiting to go through testing. (And about 25 products that probably never will.) Put that on top of daily graphic design work, add being the sole video person for a 1500+ employee company, and try to fit in a personal life… let’s just say my dance card is full. But hey, I mean, I think anyone could do it (they can’t).

I’m not complaining (I am), it’s just that I’ve been a little stressed out. But, things have seemed to calm down a bit (or I have just stopped caring),  so while I have your attention, I would love to tell you about my month of June.

  • the weather broke 100 degrees F. i know i probably sound like an old farmer, talking about the weather, but seriously? that is ridiculous. it usually doesn’t get that hot until late july/august
  • i had forgotten my old running shoes in mason city and i needed them for a race in des moines. evan, being a wonderful boyfriend, shipped them to me. i thought maybe he would include a note in the box, but he did me one better. he included a pre-eaten peanut butter sandwich. if that isn’t love, i just don’t know what is.
  • i celebrated my birthday on june 8 and evan celebrated his on june 21. for our birthdays, we went out for a nice steak dinner and we got addicted to a board game called settler’s of catan. it’s funny (sad), i got it for my birthday and we still play it daily (i’m writing this in late july)
  • speaking of celebrating my birthday– i didn’t really do it up this year. but i did get a lot of quality time with some good friends, which i appreciate even more than extravagant/ridiculous parties.
  • i ran my first 5k. i (kind of really) hated it. but it was a mud run with obstacles and a lot of stopping and starting. i think i would enjoy an actual 5k , sans mud (or so i’m telling myself).

    mud run

  • the dj girl talk came to des moines. it was the sweatiest, most outrageous dance party i have ever been to. i had two bottles of water poured on my head and i’m still convinced most of the moisture was sweat.

april showers

and a sneak attack by the month of april!

this year is FLYING by. just when i thought i had my head and hands wrapped around this so-called life, i look up and realize that april has already passed me by. no joke, i’ve felt so busy in the past month that i’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone blog.

but april, though busier than fuck (a friend of mine says iowans say “as fuck” or “than fuck” more than any people he’s met so i am trying to live up to the hype), has treated me rather kindly. here are a few highlights for the month.

  • it was around 90 degrees the first day of april. it was so warm that we had a pool party. that is unheard of in iowa.
  • krista and i took a mini-road trip to madison wisconsin to see Fun. and it was. (fun. it was fun.)
  • celebrated easter with evan’s family. it is great because the kids are all getting to an age where they recognize me every time they see me. last time we were back brookelynne called me “aunt amanda.” and i think i’m okay with it.
  • game night. it had been so long since i had a game night. we were over having a grill out at katie and tony’s. it started raining, we went inside to play fireball island and it from the pit. best games i had never played.

    (we have to go back, kate! WE HAVE TO GO BACK!)
  • april marks the beginning of the horse racing season at prairie meadows. i only went once, but i came home $20 dollars richer.
  • i’ve kind of gotten into running. i know, it surprised me too.
  • vacation. i went to belgium for work and evan got time off to come with. it was an awesome time, not only being in belgium, but just being with each other. evan thinks we could live in belgium. i think i agree.
  • on vacation i also got to see a person i used to work with who i hadn’t seen in around two years. it was good to catch up and even better to make new memories. also got to see some other employees/friends and make some new ones as well.
  • secretary of agriculture, tom vilsack, toured kemin and also did a press conference at our facility, encouraging young farmers to stay in the industry. i hung out with his six body guards.
  • my parents celebrated their 37 year anniversary. that is nuts to me. sure, they’ve had their ups and downs, just like any couple. but in the end they decided to that they were to be together for the rest of their lives. and there’s something incredibly normal yet romantic about that.

[[what really happened in italy]]

written in response to my earlier post italy [[rough agenda]]

thursday, march 1
-had amazing airport companion that made the trip from st. petersburg airport to paris, france much easier. a few perks: getting to cut lines and save hours of time, using the business class lounge, good plane conversation/no motion sickness, had someone carry my luggage for me.
-had assistance finding my gate for verona. hung out in the airport for a few hours, got something to eat. boarded plane. fell asleep. woke up in verona.
-went to car rental place– realized i either forgot to bring my license or lost it in russia. (i am praying i forgot it.)
-took a taxi to san bonifacio to the soave best western hotel. approximately 70 euro, but very typical.
-checked in to my hotel room. fell asleep immediately.

friday, march 2
-woke up– tried to find a way to get from the best western to the eurhema facility. was suggested to take the train. colleague would pick me up at reggio emilia station at 3:05
-terrible idea to take the train. had to switch trains twice; one time a full station.
-friendly italian man who was helping me turned very creepy and wouldn’t leave me alone. kept trying to kiss me and put his arm around me. followed me from train to train even though he had not paid for a ticket for himself.
-friendly turned creepy (FTC for short) was very adamant that we got off the train at a certain stop. since he was right about verona station i followed– he was wrong. supposed to get off at modena. got off at mantova, putting me about an hour behind schedule…
-spent about 1.5 hours trying to get someone to help me as my phone doesn’t work internationally. no one speaks english. i bought a phone card. didn’t work. no one would let me pay to use their phone or internet. FTC still following me around.
-finally convince a taxi driver to talk to me- he lets me borrow his phone to call his son (who speaks english); i explain the situation, he tells his father. his father calls the eurhema plant and talks to them for a bit. they tell me to take the taxi to the plant.
-i get into the taxi, very frustrated. taxi driver speaks minimal english, i speak minimal italian. still, we make small talk, lots of gestures. i cheer up.
-i arrive to eurhema plant. it is now 5:00pm. i meet lauro and pamela, reintroduce myself to claudia and diego.
-get quick tour of the plant by claudia and lauro.
-take product shots of our products produced in the plant.
-take photos of the laboratory areas/facility for reference.
-ride back home with diego. he’s got a great accent- rolls his Rrrrss. he owns a restaurant and is a waiter in his spare time. he said american accents are very hard to understand because american movies/films are dubbed over in italian when they are at the cinema or on television so they never get a chance to hear them.
-got back to best western around 7:30pm.  realized i have not had any food all day.
-ate in the hotel restaurant. very good food. watched a family play with a small child.
-went back up to my room and uploaded photos from st. petersburg.
-tried to talk to my parents through skype but they were not home. they called back at 2:15am my time.

saturday, march 3
-woke up late.
-go explore san bonifacio- not much to do in town but find a nice little cafe. people are drinking wine and beer at the counter. it is 1:00pm.
-i order a panini and hot chocolate. the hot chocolate is not a drink, but hot chocolate pudding, served with a spoon.
-the italians try to ask me questions and joke around with me. i answer back with my minimal italian. lots of smiling. they were drunk. at 1:00pm.
-finish my meal, walk to train station. buy a ticket for vicenza.
-arrive in vicenza, walk around and soak in a new city. vicenza is beautiful- lots of parks and rivers. buildings are tall and old like venice, but the town is a lot smaller and less touristy.
-asked “dov’è il teatro olimpico?” (where is…) about 100 times. very helpful people, but no english. that’s okay. i know “sinistra” “dittro” and “destra” thanks to rosetta stone.
-found the theater. took some photos.
-walked back near the train station. got “e cafe” and sat outside and watched people.
-went to explore the city some more- took some off roads. bought some gelato. consumed said gelato.
-barely missed the 6:22 train back to san bonifacio. hung around the train station (it was getting cold/dark) until 7:27 train. bought some earrings and some snack food.
-got back to san bonifacio around 8:00. approximately 700 amanda steps from train station to hotel.
-ate dinner at hotel restaurant again. realizing how starved i am for real human interaction and conversation.
-got back to hotel room, uploaded photos from vicenza to computer. talked to my parents. and anyone else who was online. (again… starved for conversation.)

sunday, march 4
-woke up, ate breakfast, drank coffee, soaked in italy
-cleaned up my room a bit to get organized for the week.
-talked to some more people who were online. courtney made it to turks and caicos okay.
-read a bit, surfed the internet. stalked people on facebook.
-took a nap.
-got ready for the day– brian (our new HR trainer) was in italy too and had just gotten to soave.
-met brian for dinner. decided to have an aperitif first; ended up having about 3 glasses of wine.
-all restaurants full or not serving food. went back to hotel to wait. drank a few more glasses of wine.
-all restaurants officially closed. took a taxi back to san bonifacio and found little pizzeria that still happened to be open.
-got kicked out of the pizzerria after we were done eating because they were ready to close.
-went back to hotel and brian went back to soave.

monday, march 5
-woke up, ate breakfast, got ready for the day.
-benjamin picks me up on his way to work.
-traditional stop at gas station for cigarettes and coffee.
-work with benjamin on SOT (sound on tape) bytes.
-interviewed benjamin.
-tour of facility and equipment with benjamin.
-regular work.
-saw koen.
-re-fell in love with koen.
-discuss life, love, and happiness with bruno.
-toured sirmione/lake garda.
-broke camera. used phone to take photos.
-fixed camera. still used phone to take photos.
-ate in verona. walked around in the rain. (i love the rain.)
-saw giuseppe. bantered.
-back to hotel in san bonaficio.
-final final.
-sleep.

tuesday, march 6
– wake up. grumble. press snooze.
-quick breakfast.
-car pool to veronella.
-catch up with needed work for des moines office, review projects and workload.
-shoot b-roll for video.
-take photos for record.
-work with koen on SOT bytes.
fall in love with  interview koen.
-upload video content; make sure footage comes out okay.
-do graphic design/other video work as time allows.
-meet up in soave with kn europe sales team.
-feel awkward for about 5 minutes. get over it. socialize.
-dinner in soave.
-embarrassing conversation.
-new friends/colleagues.
-early retirement.
-sleeeeeeeep.

wednesday, march 7
– wake up way too early. grumble. can’t press snooze.
-taxi to verona airport. arrive at airport: 6:30am
-catch flight to paris, france: 7:40am
-arrive in paris and find gate just in time to board for minneapolis.
-board plane. excitement builds.
-watch about 4 movies. sleep. eat. get restless. get excited.
-touchdown, usa.
-call parental units. assure that i will be in dsm by 4:40pm and will need someone to pick me up.
-text the love and let him know i’m okay.
-get back to des moines: 4:30pm.
-food time.
-nap time.
-…karaoke time. (the first wednesday of every month is carl’s karaoke. i haven’t missed one since it has started and i’m not going to start on the account of jet lag!).

|| fav shots of italy ||

 

the motherland welcomes you.

i enjoyed russia so much more than i anticipated. don’t get me wrong- i was very excited to go, but i knew it would be cold, i knew it’d be busy, and i knew that work trips always have a way of… well, being work.

the opening reception at the grand hotel europe was amazing. it was a great opportunity to network and see some colleagues who i haven’t seen for awhile. a men’s russian choir also sang for us while we ate, an experience i’m not sure many would have. i sat with some of my favorite people within the company. they didn’t even mock me too much when i had sprite instead of wine. 🙂

the next day the meetings started. i won’t bore you with the details of the sessions- but our technical service people and marketing people split up into two different groups and attended sessions that related to their subject. i obviously went with the marketing group. the sessions were nice- they were lead by internal employees so we all had an opportunity to see and get to know people’s personalities more as the week went on. there were also poster sessions (where people presented an important “finding” for the year for their division) and a bit of time that i used to get interviews done, the main reason i attended the meeting.

after the first day was over we were broken out into smaller groups for dinners. our dinner was within walking distance, so we set off for this place called terrassa.  it was snowing, but very lightly. the walk was nice because it allowed us time to check out the sights of st. petersburg. it also gave me time to catch up with my friend chandru, who i had not seen in a very long time.


(looking fluffy in our warm winter-wear)

the restaurant was very nice– and the menus were absolutely ridiculous! the menu was more like a magazine, i think it had around 20 pages and it gave all the food and then the corresponding images were around the outside. we quickly made it into a matching game, trying to guess which item was what. the food also tasted pretty good. i had some sort of seafood udon noodle dish. the indians ordered round after round of food, then realized they couldn’t eat it all. it was kind of humorous. 🙂

our dinner ended and a group of us… well… the women…. decided that we were going to go shopping. there was a giant mall across the street from our hotel and everyone had a different mission of something they wanted to get. diane wanted a soccer jersey for her fiancee’s son. marsha wanted a coat like diane had bought the day before. april wanted a russian hat for her husband. and i- i wanted nesting dolls. the mall is actually very different than malls in the united states, because all of the rooms are connected. you walk into a store and then you immediately walk into the next, there’s no division. i found the nesting dolls almost immediately and then tagged along with everyone else while they made their purchases.

i got back to the hotel, went to the bar to say hello, but stayed away from any tasty beverages. i was still tired and recovering from the nights before.

the next day was potentially my favorite day in russia. besides having to present my poster, there wasn’t really anything that i disliked. the sessions were good and after they were over a bus took us to the hermitage, which is one of the most famous and prestigious museums in the world. kessler and i were in the same group, so we decided that the hermitage was our “first date.” and by that, he meant that he was going to throw his jacket on mine and make me wait for the coat pick up.

um. wait. what?!

the hermitage is BEAUTIFUL. words cannot even express how impressed i was with the museum. i know that the museum was so large that it would’ve spent days upon days to see the entire thing- but because we had local tour guides, they showed us the best of the best. we got to see some van goghs and some picassos. we got to see beautiful, elaborate design and rooms so breathtaking i literally was letting out contented sighs while i was in them. we also got to do a bit of goofing off, because i was with a fairly fun group who knew how to have fun. 🙂


(check out dexter’s “chiseled features”)


(twinsies)


(the gold room- possibly my favorite room in the hermitage)

At the end of the tour we were able to see this peacock clock. It’s a very famous clock that has a peacock, an owl, and some other nature-like items in it’s mechanisms. When the clock is wound the creatures “come alive” and the peacock even makes some… peacock-esk noises. they aren’t pretty. but they are pretty cool. the clock is only wound up around once a month now or for “very special guests.” i assume we were in that later group, and it doesn’t go unappreciated.

as we were exiting the museum portion of the hermitage there was a string-quartet playing music and champagne waiting on the tables. i wasn’t going to have any, but my arm was twisted (rather softly) by my colleagues and i gave in to the bubbles.

also, since this was the only photo i could find in my album with champagne, let me tell you about frank, who is also featured in this photo. frank is my favorite frenchmen in the world. he’s the nicest and politest person i’ve ever met, and he won me over entirely on this trip with his gentleman ways.

what i’m getting at is, if i was to have a “top 5 men of work” (which, let’s be honest, of course i do), he would definitely be on it. 🙂

the rest of russia kind of went by in a blur. i got the rest of my interviews taken care of. attended more sessions. worked. stressed out. relaxed. drank. socialized.

we did get to see catherine’s summer palace and also take a horse sleigh ride around alexander’s park. the palace had an extraordinary outside, but the inside was less impressive to me. don’t get me wrong, for a house, sure, it’s pretty amazing. but after seeing the hermitage i just expected more. as for the horse ride- well, we have horses and we have snow in iowa. 🙂 granted, we also have dogs in iowa and i was still excited to pet the dogs in russia, so i can’t really talk.

on the last day in russia i finally got to take advantage of some sight seeing opportunities. originally i had planned on going out on sunday, but didn’t make it out of the hotel. lucky for me, jim and frank had nothing to do the last day either and were ready to do some exploring.

the first stop was the church of the savior on spilled blood- the only thing that wasn’t on the agenda that i really wanted to see. the outside was just beautiful and iconic and i felt immediately drawn to the building. the church was built on the spot where emperor alexander II was assassinated, which i think is where the ‘blood’ reference comes from in the title.

the inside of the cathedral was even more beautiful and intricate than the outside. the inside was comprised completely of mosaics. 7,500 square meters of mosaics– having more mosaics than any church in the world.


after we left the church (which i think jim and i would’ve been content to hang out in all day), we moved on a bit farther to go see st. isaac’s cathedral. at st. isaac’s you can pay to enter the church, but also pay to walk to the top of the cathedral and overlook the city. of course we would like to. oh? it’s 622 steps? yeah. i guess we’d still like to.

breathtaking views. the weather was brisk, but i felt good after jogging up the steps. i was also very contented at the top of st. isaac’s- i’ve found that i like places where i feel calm, but slightly out of my element. those are usually high up places, or places where the land meets an ocean (not really a beach, but more like the cliffs of moher in ireland).

but i digress. feast your eyes on this.


(they will see us waving from such great heights)



(inside the lower level of st. isaac’s)

in conclusion- would go back to russia in a heartbeat.