China

2012 Review

This is a great survey to fill out each year.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

Bought a wedding dress. I thought it would be overwhelming, but it was surprisingly easy.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My failed New Year's resolution

My failed New Year’s resolution

No 😦 My resolution was to organize my desk every night, and as you can see, I did not keep that up.

My new new year’s resolution is to write at least 750 words a day. I think the key to a good resolution is to start it before New Years to make sure it’s something you can maintain.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

One of Mike’s best friends, Vanessa, gave birth to a beautiful little girl!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Fortunately no.

Mike and me at the first entrance for the Forbidden City

Mike and me at the first entrance for the Forbidden City

5. What countries did you visit? 

China.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

A finished manuscript

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

April 27th when Mike proposed to me and March (I can’t remember the exact date) when my Artist’s Way group first started.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting into a writing routine, and starting a story that I really enjoy writing.

9. What was your biggest failure?

BeddyBye, but I don’t really look at it as a failure.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nope!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The tour package to China. It was a great bargain, and I got a taste of a country I’ve always been curious about.

12. Where did most of your money go?

I was unemployed for a few months out of the year so I went through a lot of my savings.

13. What did you get really excited about?

Coming up with a great story idea, and then working on it non stop. I’m spending about 5 hours a day writing! And of course, planning our wedding and honeymoon.

14. What song will always remind you of 2012?

Call me Maybe and Gangnam Style.

 15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?  Happier

b) thinner or fatter? Fatter

c) richer or poorer? Poorer

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Spent more time in out of the apartment. It’s easy to take NYC for granted when you live here.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Overeat!

18. What was your favorite TV program?

Happy Endings, Breaking Bad and  Damages

19. What were your favorite books of the year?

I’m an avid reader of fiction, but this year I spent a lot more time reading articles in The New Yorker. That magazine is so dense and I’m usually just finishing the last article by the time the next issue arrives. I loved reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

20. What were your favorite films of the year?

I just saw Les Misarables and flipped over it. Argo and Looper.

21. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 28. I like a low-key birthday, so Mike took me out for dinner and then we saw Sleep No More a few days later.

22. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Having a housekeeper come once a month.

23. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

Whatever’s on sale at Banana Republic works for me.

24. What kept you sane?

Blogging.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

Small actions add up.

I’d love to hear your answers to these questions. Leave a comment!

Suzhou, the Chinese Venice

I will always regret  not riding a gondola in Venice. We were only there for one night and it was cold, pouring rain, and it stunk to high heavens. The last thing I wanted to do was get closer to the stinky water.

Good thing I got a redo on the much cleaner waters of the Suzhou canals, nicknamed the Venice of China.

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Notice the leaning pagoda in the distance

We took an hour long boat ride through the man-made canals. Built over a thousand years ago, this used to be a major thruway for industry. The houses along the sides of the canal have no running water or sewer system, but everyone pays a price for water-front property.

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The foundation of this house is over 600 years old.

Once we got off the boat we landed in the crowded market place that was not meant for tourists. This is always my favorite part of a trip.

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Shantang street runs for 2 miles.

I have a thing for baby shoes.

I have a thing for baby shoes.

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The peeking duck are the white ones in front of the cage.

As we were getting back in the boat, we watched a guy trying to fish his car keys out of the canal. Someone with a stick with a magnet taped to the end came to help. It must happen pretty frequently.

We had to come back and see Shangtang St. with the lights on.

We had to come back and see Shangtang St. with the lights on.

The best hotels ever

Before I left for China I told you I booked the trip through Living Social and I wasn’t sure how that would go. I have to say that we got more than our money’s worth on this trip. Actually I have no idea how they can afford to have a trip like this for the price we paid. The total cost was $1,300 a person including airfare,  5 star hotels, ground transportation and food. The flight alone usually costs that amount. Mike and I kept joking that the Chinese government probably subsidized our trip just so that we’d go back to America and tell people all about the luxury hotels and fine dining. Their plan worked. Actually, I must admit the sketchy Chinese restaurant on my block has better Chinese food than what we ate there, but the hotels were incredible:

The Oriental Bay International Hotel in Beijing

You’ll notice a reoccurring theme of giant windows in the bathroom. I’m sure the designers thought this was sexy, but there’s nothing like waking up in the morning and seeing your loved one on the toilet.

You can watch a movie from the bathtub!

And they gave us matching robes!

This is how we roll

Moving on to The Grand Metro Park Hotel in Suzhou

Mike is actually spinning around singing, “the hills are alive with music.’

This hotel room was bigger than our apartment, but sadly there was no window overlooking the bathroom. Instead, the bathroom was encased in frosted glass.

The view from our room. You can’t see it from the smog but there are thousands of identical houses stretching for miles. These were provided by the government to farmers who agreed to sell their land and move to the city.

Next up, The Sanli New Century  Grand Hotel in Hangzhou:

The incredible lobby

This lobby was colder than outside. Thank heavens for Eda, writer of Tokyo Tales, who warned me that it would be cold indoors. I wore my coat, hat, scarf and gloves inside every restaurant, bus ride and lobby. Heating is not common.

In Hangzhou we got a night off from the group and found a great little restaurant. They didn’t speak a word of Enlgish and we had to mime and point to other people’s food to order. At one point I rubbed my belly to ask if something was tasty. The woman gave me a stern look. Mike said, “I think you just ordered an abortion.” We did end up getting an amazing beef dish with a very light tempura and pistachio nut batter.

Now on to the final hotel. Courtyard by Marriot  in Shanghai:

Had to use the panoramic feature on my camera to show you all the elegance of this room in one picture.

This one came complete with a binder for the remote:

The strange view from the room: Skyscrapers, a slum, and an abandoned field. I’m pretty sure there will be ten skyscrapers in that space by next year.

Hiking the Great Wall of China

From atop one of the lookout points in the Beijing section of the Great Wall.

The great wall should really be called the great staircase. The portion we climbed had over 1,500 steps, and these are not your mother’s steps. It’s the steepest section of the wall and every step is a different size and depth – some are almost a two foot climb. As you focus your attention on not tripping there are hundreds of people coming towards you from both directions, and your body is in a state of constant confusion because the air is so cold, but you are sweating profusely. It was a lot of fun.

Some quick facts:

  • Stretches over 5,500 miles.
  • Built over 2,000 years ago.
  • Built to keep out the Mongolians.
  • It’s a symbol of the unification of the 6 kingdoms of China
  • You can’t actually see it from space 😦

We had to do a ridiculous pose next to these ridiculous weapons.

Since the wall was meant for defense there are plenty of lookout posts with great views.

I wouldn’t mind being a guard here.

Legend has it that if a couple puts a lock on the wall they’ll stay together forever.

Thousands of love locks

There was a lot of love on the wall. I wonder if it’s a happening date spot.

Graffiti always looks nicer when it’s in another language.

Mike and me posing on the wall:

Mike was obviously influenced by the Asian tourists

I’m wearing the chocolate pearls Mike bought me.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful picture!

This is not fog

Before you plan your trip to the wall I suggest you warm up on the stair master and take some potassium vitamins. And don’t forget to stretch afterward. I work out almost every day but my muscles were no match for these stairs. I had leg cramps for three days.

 

Back from the Middle Kingdom

I wanted to post sooner, but it took me some time to wrap my head around such an enormous and complex country like China. Our tour was a great introduction to the big cities on the East Coast but it left me with more questions than answers. A lot of people asked me why I was going to China in the first place; It’s not known for being romantic, scenic, or easy for tourists. But it’s a country that is so entwined in our economy that one day it will be hard to distinguish what’s American and what’s Chinese. Anything China does affects us – so I wanted to see what it was like firsthand.

I’ll start my travel narrative in the Summer Palace.

There were two massive dragons guarding the summer palace

The lake and mountain are man-made and based on Hangzhou:

A pagoda on top of the man-made hill

As soon as we entered the palace we saw groups of seniors practicing tai chi in the inner courtyard. We could also hear ethereal chanting coming from some distant location. We followed the pleasant sound up a hill and found hundreds of senior citizens singing in an outdoor pavilion.

Hundreds of Senior citizens come every day to sing

This was up a steep rocky hill that was hard for me to climb, and these seniors walk up it every day. I don’t know if the sense of community, the singing, or the exercise is what’s keeping them so young. Exercise is a huge part of the culture there. You’ll see people stop what they’re doing to do some stretches.

A quiet moment of reflection

The enthusiastic conductor

I had a fan on the mountain. He told Mike that a pretty wife will make him happy every day. He didn’t let a few missing teeth ruin his smile:

A shameless flirt

Stay tuned for more stories from China.

We’re going to China!

It was an impulsive purchase on Living Social months ago, and I almost completely forgot about it, but on Monday we’re leaving for China. We hear so much about China in the news, but I really don’t know much about it at all so when I saw the great deal online I had to take a leap. I’ve taken lots of trips with Living Social (I love this company), but I’ve never done such an extensive, oversees trip with them. We’ll be touring all the major cities for two weeks (BeijingHangzhouShanghaiSuzhou and Xian) I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post while I’m there, so I send everyone a big kiss goodbye, and I hope you all have fantastic Thanksgivings. I’ll make sure to post a ton of pictures when I get back.

Close up of a cute baby 7-month old panda cub ...

Photo by Sheila Lau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

How Your Life Can Change in a Week: An Interview with Marina Carulo

One of the murals we painted in Kenya

I met Marina in Kenya while volunteering with Cross Cultural Thresholds. We added some much needed colorful imagery to a school in Kibera. I was taken with her positive attitude and joie de vivre. She was about to start a completely new job as a jewelry designer, and I was impressed because she didn’t have any experiece with jewelry (except a keen eye for fashion!) But I was even more impressed when I caught up with her last week and found out about her new career adventure!

Here’s how a life can change in a week:

Monday:  She had an interview for a position as a full time foot model. The salary was $85k + benefits (who knew foot models make that much) and travel was required. Unfortunately Marina was not a true size 6 – one foot was a 1/3 inch too big. However she hit it off with the interviewer and she shared some sketches.

Tuesday: The interviewer called to ask if Marina would apply for a position as a shoe designer. She didn’t know anything about shoe design so she spent the entire night on the internet reading everything she could about the industry.

Wednesday: She nterviewed with Marc Fisher (designer for Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, and son of the founder of Nine West). He grew up in the shoe business and was pleasantly surprised with Marina’s knowledge and creativity. She was offered a position as a mens shoe designer (with a much higher salary than a foot model!)

Thursday: She started the job and has loved it ever since!

Next week: She was off to China for 21 days to learn about the manufacturing end of shoe design. She said, “as the plane took off for China, I realized how lucky I am, and life seemed so full of possibilities!”

How did she get to this point?

Marina grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her mother scrimped and saved to put her through private school, where Marina remembers being in awe of her classmates beautiful clothes. That’s when her love of textile and design began.

With just $500 to her name she moved to New York when she was 23. She didn’t know a word of English, so she enrolled in an intensive ESL program at Westchester Community College. After 2 years, her favorite teacher introduced her to the Chairman of the Textiles department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). He helped her get a scholarship, and two years later she graduated with a degree in textile development and marketing with a 4.0 GPA.

Over the years she has had several jobs in the fashion industry, but none have been as challenging and rewarding as her job with Marc Fisher.

What does it take to be a shoe designer?

At the beginning of the year, Marina and her team receive a trend directory from Tommy Hilfiger and Guess. They begin sketching their designs and picking out the initial materials. They narrow it down to 100 and send those designs to their factory in China. After a few weeks, they fly to China to review the proto-samples and narrow them down to 80.

Then they begin the technical specifications for each sample (what kind of stitching, what colors to use, where the logo will go, what materials will the uppers, cushion, and soul be made from, types of gromets and laces and so on). It’s crucial that every detail be mapped out down to the glue. Production will stop if the manufacturers don’t know if the eye holes for the laces should be nickle or silver.

Three weeks later they get the “salesman lot,” also known as the “pre-production sample.” They send these to buyers (like Macys, Nordstroms, etc) and then they have an idea of how many to order. A few months later the shoes start appearing in fashion shows like FFANY.

The entire time, from design to selling in the store takes 1.5 years!

Next week Marina is headed for Milan, Paris and London. Three times a year, the design team goes to Europe to get inspiration and buy samples of materials, shoes, and patterns that they want to incorporate into future shoe lines.

Marina warns, “This may seem glamorous, but it’s hard work. You really need to love fashion and design. It’s hours and hours of comparing colors, patterns and texture, and I know that’s not for everyone.”

What I love about this story:

Marina's great smile!

So many people pigeonhole themselves. Marina could have easily said, “I know nothing about designing men’s shoes!” But she knew she had the most important skills: creativity, a desire to learn, and an open-mind, and you can accomplish most jobs with those skills. In my book, passion and enthusiasm always trumps experience.

When I asked her how she avoids making excuses she said, “I think of the path I want to go down and I imagine it lined with open doors. I have no idea how long it will take to get through each door, but all I need to focus on is the one right in front of me. I never think of the obstacles, because what is the point? Obstacles won’t help me get through the door.”

She feels truly blessed by God, and wants to start giving back. She asks herself, “What purpose do I want to serve the World?” In my opinion, she’s already served the world with her motivating story!

Just Another Step in a Long Journey

Yesterday I met with Creative Engineering to see if my designs for the baby bed are viable and marketable, as well as get a better sense of the production costs. It was bittersweet. Paul Dowd met with me for 2 hours and explained:

  • Patent research
  • The difference between injection molding, blow molding, and vacuum molding (phew)
  • Certain design refinements
  • 3-d imaging software (Rhino and Solid Works)
  • Manufacturing in the US vs China

As if you didn’t know this already, but I learned that google provides a free version of pretty much everything. You can make 3-d models using Google Sketch Up. You can research patents using Google.com/patents.

The meeting cost $45o – a price which seemed astronomical to me at first. Now I’m realizing any amount you pay to avoid wasting thousands in the long run is totally worth it. I was really nervous before the meeting. I was afraid he would tell me I’m wasting my time. My fears weren’t based on him criticizing the idea, it was facing the reality that I might not make it as an entrepreneur. The meeting was bittersweet.

The Sweet:

He thinks the design is good and worth pursuing.

The Bitter:

Just to make the molds for the prototype can cost $10,000 -$20,000. I can work around this by making a prototype out of foam without breaking the bank. I won’t be able to test it out with babies, but at least it will  be able to give potential investors a better sense of my concept. But even so, eventually I will need to get the molds and they’re going to cost big bucks. The thing is, plastic molding is really expensive to make small batches, but in large volume it gets cheaper. But if I spend $20,000 on the molds, then $5,000 on website development and marketing, and $5,000 in miscellaneous costs, will I ever be able to order a large batch??? Will I ever break even??? Am I going crazy???

OK I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. I still believe in the concept and in my ability to follow through. And I know there is always a cheaper way to make something happen, and I just need to do my due diligence.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I need to stick with my goal, and not get bogged down with future challenges. Things will come together. One step at a time. A thousands points of light. And all those other great cliches.

Flying Pigeon

I´m taking a break from sharing about my time in Spain to tell you about my friend´s HeSo inspired enterprise. I recently bought an awesome bike from Nathan Einschlag. We used to teach at the same school until he left to live in China for two years. He fell in love with the bike culture there, and more specifically the legendary bike called Flying Pigeon. He recently bought 140 of these bikes to sell in the States. First read the interview then visit his website so you can ride your very own flying Pigeon!

Where does the name Flying Pigeon come from?

It comes directly from the Chinese factory in Tianjin. The name represents the liberation of the Chinese people after the Japanese invaded China in the late 1940’s. The  image of the Flying Pigeon is actually a representation of a dove symbolizing freedom. The Flying Pigeon bicycle has a rich history in China and has been named a “national treasure” by the People’s Republic.

That´s a lot more history than a Huffy. What made you want to sell them?

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, oh, wow, I want to become a bike salesman. It was much more than that. I wanted to bring something tangible from China to the United States almost as a cultural exchange. There are a lot of people in the States that have never ridden or heard of Flying Pigeon bicycles, and a lot of people who have negative stereotypes about China and their craftsmanship. Bringing the Flying Pigeon bike to the States was a way for me to help immerse Americans in Chinese culture as well as continue my love of riding bikes here in the States and also show that China has great products that can stand up to American standards.

It took a lot of guts to buy 140 bikes. Can you describe some of the anxieties you felt before making such a risky commitment, and how you got past them?

A friend of mine once asked me what I would do if fear didn’t exist.  There comes a time in your life when you want to experience more, do more, and learn more. I made a choice, and stuck to it. Fear and anxiety were just motivating factors, not inhibitors like so many people let them be. Life is about risk and reward. Without the first you can never have the second.

I completely agree. Part of my motivation for the HeSo project is to make fear a motivation rather than an inhibitor. A lot of people use money as an excuse for not taking risks. How did you finance your enterprise?

 I was lucky enough to find an investor who believed in my idea and in me. I’m not an advocate of spending money foolishly, but I say if you are driven and have a plan, then do what you have to do to get there. Scared money doesn’t make money, as the old saying goes.

I´ve never heard that expression, but I like it. How do you plan to sell all of those bikes?

I’m starting from the ground up. Literally- flyers on light-posts and hitting the streets to meet people face to face. I’m taking out craigslists ads and putting bikes on EBAY. I’m going to be hitting the bike store circuit pretty hard this upcoming week to stir up some interest on the distribution front. Word of mouth has proven to be the best so far, but getting the company name on blogs (thanks) is also the direction I’m trying to move in. I really want to get to know the customers buying a Flying Pigeon bicycle. When you buy a bike you’re not only saying you like the bicycle, but that you trust the company name and believe in what I’m trying to do.

Why should someone buy a bike from you?

I think people want to relate to other people in life. People want to be heard and comforted. People want to get their ideas out and ultimately want to trust and be trusted. I want to create a brand where these feelings and emotions are felt with each purchase. When I started NYC Flying Pigeon I wanted to make sure that each of my customers would be fully satisfied with a purchase, and that they would be walking (in this case riding) away with something unique and rich in history, much like each of us is. Each bike is limited in quantity to 40 pieces. These aren’t bikes that you can just go down to the store to buy. They are durable, and have been
spotted all over the world, from Paris to Argentina to Montreal. If you are looking for a bike that will last you a lifetime and has more flavor than your neighbor’s bike, Flying Pigeon is definitely the bike for you.

Describe your perfect day on a Flying Pigeon.

Cruising down a Shanghai street on my way to grab some dumplings with a beautiful lady on the back of my bike.

These bikes are selling quickly so get one soon and enjoy the fall on your new Flying Pigeon!