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Deciding What to Do This Summer

April 11, 2017
What to do, what to do? This summer is rapidly approaching. As I have mentioned before on here, last summer was NOT the best for me. However, it's true that (thankfully!) I am in a much, much better place now. Seeing as how things have slowly started turning around for me, I am able to do a bit of traveling and wanted to head back to the States for a month and a half. Since my back is still healing from a surgery I had, I was planning on just paying a lot for a Business Class ticket. By "a lot", I meant I was willing to fork over almost $3,000 for a roundtrip ticket. That's about how much tickets were when I first looked months ago. Unfortunately, when I looked recently and was ready to purchase my ticket, most tickets were around $5,000! After a lot of searching, I found some for cheaper, but not by much. The price of the tickets is making me rethink my decision to go home.

Here are my options, but I can't say that I particularly like any of them.

Option 1: Pay almost $5,000 for a Business Class ticket and go home to the States.

* I haven't been home in almost two years. 
* It would be nice to see my parents after such a traumatic event in my life. (Read this post if you are curious.)
* I could stock up on clothes and toiletries that I cannot get in China. I really need shoes and pants since I can't find any that fit me here!
* There is just something comforting about being home.
* I'd be able to visit some of my close friends in Cleveland and Columbus.

* That is almost two months wages for me.
* It will mess up my debt repayment plan from my surgery.
* It's only to go home for a month and a half, and I don't have too many friends in the town where my parents live. Therefore, if I wanted to see many of my relatives and close friends, I'd have to fly out to see them and that would cost even more money.
* My best friend is marrying his partner in October, and I'd like to be able to go, but there's no way I could afford to go to the States twice in such a short time period buying a Business Class ticket. (Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, I don't know how I'm going to be able to make this one work period.)
* Well, this is truly awful to admit, but I have to say that I do hold it against certain people for not coming to help me when I couldn't take care of myself for months. Some of my very close friends from home didn't even message me. A small and horrible part of me thinks, "Why should I go through all the trouble and expense of going home to see people when they left me to the wolves?" I try to dismiss that negativity by thinking that people didn't know how bad it really was for me. Of course I do not feel this way about everyone at home, but just feel that some people could have been more caring and empathetic. On the bright side of this, I did have good support here and my dad helped me out financially. Still, there is that part of me that is hesitant to go back.   
* I'm scared to buy all those expensive flights since I wasted thousands of dollars on airline tickets and then couldn't use them because of my surgery. I even had travel insurance, but my friend Scott called and wrote so many people over it and we never heard anything back. I just couldn't be bothered to fight it because I was stuck in the hospital for so long.

Option 2: Stay in Shanghai for the summer.

* I would save SO much money because I wouldn't be buying any airfare at all. In addition, my school will let me stay in my apartment for free if I want.
* I could pay off a large chunk of what I owe my dad for this surgery.
* It's peaceful here in the summer, the air is typically better, and I could try to meet other expats in Shanghai.
* It could be a really relaxing time for me.

* Staying in Shanghai this summer reminds me too much of last summer when I was alone and helpless.
* All of my friends would be going home.
* I'm scared it would "catch up to me" later, like I'd be fine in the early fall and by the time late fall hits, I'd really be missing my friends and family from home.

Option 3: Buy an economy ticket and fly home.

* I'd get to go home and do it at a much cheaper cost.
* This would ideally be the solution to my problem if I could handle it.
* I asked about long-haul international flights in my spinal fusion support group, and many people are saying they did it, but that they were just uncomfortable. If they can do it, maybe I could do it, too?

* What if I can't take the pain halfway through the flight and I'm stuck in economy? That freaks me out! Flights from Shanghai to Chicago are about 14 hours.
* My back is still healing, and what if I mess something up? I've been okay for awhile, and I'd hate to regress with something I could have avoided.

Option 4: Travel in Europe instead.

*Business Class flights to Rome are about $2,100 right now.
* I'd be flying Business Class, so I wouldn't be harming my back AND I'd get to travel in Europe.
* There is still a lot of traveling I'd like to do in Europe. I was thinking of maybe going back to Italy, to Croatia, and then to parts of Northern Europe.
* I have some contacts in Europe that I could meet up with. I can speak some Italian, so I'd feel more relaxed in Italy and that's where I'd probably spend the majority of my time.

* Well, the flight is way cheaper, but I'd need to pay for accommodation within Europe for a month and a half. Also, I'd have to buy my meals. That can get costly.
* I'd be traveling by myself for at least part of the time. I realized before my big injury that I prefer a travel buddy, but I realized after my surgery that traveling with someone puts me much more at ease. If I'm alone, I'm constantly worrying about falling or getting hurt and not being able to help myself. Part of this stems from the fact that when my back first gave out, I was traveling in another city in China and was alone for my first few days in the hospital.
* I still wouldn't be able to see my closest friends and family members.

As you can see, I have a lot to think about! What would you do in this situation? I'm going to keep searching for cheaper fares and try different dates/city combinations. However, I do need to make a decision fairly soon. Eek! I just hope it's the right one.

How to Have the BEST Time in Macau

April 10, 2017
Last week we had three days off in a row for the Qingming Festival. In case you're not familiar, this holiday is Tomb Sweeping Day. During this time, Chinese people go to the cemetery to honor their dead relatives. Since we didn't have to work for three days, I thought it would be a nice time to get out of Shanghai for a bit and explore Macau. I had a really, really good time, even better than anticipated! Below you'll find my suggestions for your future trip to Macau.

Step One: Find yourself a fun-loving travel buddy with similar interests to go with you. When I brought up wanting to go to Macau, my friend Chris said that he'd like to go, too.  We had traveled together before when we went to Xi'an, so I knew that the two of us would travel well together again. Chris said he wanted to do some sightseeing but nothing too intense, and he mentioned that he didn't want to rush around. That is exactly what I wanted to hear because I'm not even physically capable of running now due to my bad back. Chris was a good partner in crime for our little excursion--we laughed a lot and wanted to do the same type of things.

Step Two: Maximize your travel time. We booked our flight to Macau right after we finished working on Saturday, had all of Sunday and Monday to explore Macau, and then flew out on Tuesday night since we had to work on Wednesday. It was a rough working day the next day, but I'm glad we didn't fly out early or else we would've had to cut something from our trip. Macau can be "done" in a weekend, but spending more time there was the right call for us since we used our evenings to swim in the pool and relax instead of sightsee.

Step Three: Get a good deal on a fancy hotel. Chris got us a discounted rate at the Altira through the Genius Program at Booking.com. The hotel was undergoing some construction, so Chris said we got some money off for that, too.

We LOVED the Altira. Our room had a waterfront view of the city, a massive bathtub, and there was even a tv in the mirror of our bathroom! The staff treated us like royalty. Just to give an example, one staff member ran ahead of us to press the elevator button so we wouldn't have to and then bowed at us as we were leaving. Everyone we came in contact with really seemed like they wanted to help us. We got some tea as a welcome drink, the soft drinks and beer from the mini fridge were complimentary, and every day we got some sort of little gift on our bed such as cooling foot gel or moisturizer for our face.

The best part of the Altira was the pool area! First of all, I love a good infinity pool, and that was just the kind of pool they had there. Plus, it's an indoor pool with a panoramic view and they play underwater music! It even made it onto the Forbes Traveler list of the top 10 pools in the world. There was no hot tub in the pool area, but both the male and female locker rooms had a hot tub inside.

On the last day, the other guests that were swimming left, and we had the whole pool to ourselves for a bit. I can't say I hated that!

Step Four: Visit the Portuguese area by Largo do Senado to take in some of Macau's most famous sights. From Senado Square, it's just a short walk to the ruins of St. Paul, Monte Fort, St. Dominic's Church, and the Macau Museum.

Tip: Link arms with your travel buddy here or just be super careful not to get separated. The walk up to the ruins of St. Paul was one of THE most crowded areas I have ever been in in my entire life. Chris and I got split up in less than a minute, but luckily he was able to spot me later because I'm so tall. If we actually got separated, that would have been rather annoying since I didn't have service on my cell phone.

Step Five: Walk the Cotai Strip. I would say to try to walk it one time during the day and one time at night to get the full experience. We made it to City of Dreams, the Venetian, the Galaxy Mega Resort,  and the Parisian.

We people watched, shopped, listened to a performer sing at the Venetian, saw a bunch of what Chris described as "Carnival people" at the Parisian (they were on stilts!), had coffee, ate macarons, and admired the various lobbies at the hotels.

Tip: Don't miss the Crystal Lobby or Diamond Lobby at the Galaxy. The best is when the robots go through the Crystal Lobby!

Tip: There is a free bus that does a loop and makes stops at several of the hotels if you don't feel like walking!

Step Six: Book a ticket for the House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams. I've only been to Vegas once and did see two shows, but I have to say that House of Dancing Water was on par with the shows I saw in Vegas! There was always something going on. Your eyes would be drawn to one area, and then other acrobats would come flying down from another spot. The motorcycle stunt scene will make you cringe in the best way possible.

Tip: Book ahead for this show. We didn't book until the night before and there were very few options left for seating. We were lucky there were even any seats available at all. We paid $580 Macanese Patacas each for our tickets (about $73 USD) and had to sit in the front where we got splashed with water from time to time. We were a bit nervous when we walked in because there were towels for us on our seats, so we thought we were going to get soaked, but hardly any water got on us and we were three rows from the front.

Step Seven: Eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Twice. Stop reading now if you only want to try the local food. ;) We wanted to go because we live in Asia and were craving food from home. The reason why I said to eat there twice is because we were given a coupon for a free appetizer for the next day as long as we filled out a survey on our first visit. For our appetizer, we split the nachos which could have basically been a meal in itself. Also, they had cream soda (not commonly found in Asia) and free refills on soft drinks (again, not common in Asia).

Step Eight: Try your hand at gambling. We are both not big gamblers, so we stuck to the slot machines. Yes, I know, they have the worst odds and we lost, but we still had fun in the casino! I want to learn how to play blackjack well enough so that I'm confident to play at a table sometime in the future.

Tip: If you plan on gambling in Macau, know that you need to gamble with Hong Kong Dollars and not with Macanese patacas, at least that was the case at the Venetian where we gambled. You may want to bring some Hong Kong Dollars with you, or you can wait in line and exchange your money in the casino.

Step Nine: Don't miss the Taipa Village area. We went there on our last day and had an enjoyable time. Even though this area is still bustling and has its fair share of tourists, it is considered a more authentic part of Macau. There are plenty of bakeries, shops, and cafes to choose from, as well as places that sold Macau's famous beef jerky. The Taipa Houses Museum, featuring five pastel Portuguese style colonial houses, is there too. Near the Taipa Houses Museum, there is an artificial lake and a park where we strolled around for a bit.

Step Ten: Enjoy some egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery. We tried some at the Rua do Cunha location, but there are also other locations, such as the one inside the Venetian. I've had egg tarts in Shanghai, but I do have to say the ones from Lord Stow's Bakery were served warm and had a richer taste. The top was caramelized, but the inside was still creamy.

Macau exceeded my expectations, and I would 100% go back! The glamour and glitz mixed with the Portuguese and Chinese cultural attractions were a good combination.

What about Macau appeals to you?