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Flying Business Class With Etihad Airways

February 21, 2017
*The following post was not sponsored in any way. I paid the full price for my airfare with my own money. 

Have you ever flown first or business class? On one occasion I got a free upgrade when I flew to Ulaanbaatar on Mongolian Airlines, which was awesome. Besides that lone time, I chose to save my money and always opted to buy economy tickets. However, because of my back surgery (seems to creep up in every post), the most I could probably tolerate these days would be 5 hours of sitting up straight without being in a lot of pain. Rachael and I had planned on going to Morocco from Shanghai, which was about 19 hours of flying time, split up into two flights. For me, my options were to buy a business class ticket or not go to Morocco. Believe me, I thought about this very carefully because a business class flight from Shanghai-Casablanca and from Madrid-Shanghai was just over $2,500. Maybe to some that's nothing, but that is quite a large amount on my salary. I talked about this with my friends in Shanghai, and in the end decided to go for it. I hadn't been able to leave China for a year and had to cancel so many trips for my surgery and recovery, so spending the extra cash to be able to go on my dream trip was worth it to me. I already had a deposit down on a tour I booked in Morocco which was non-refundable, so that was more motivation to want to go. Even Tara who calls herself "frugal" told me if she were me that she would do it. I was really surprised by that, but her explanation made total sense. One of the main reasons why she is living in Shanghai is for the traveling opportunities and ample vacation time. The same goes for me. It's not the only reason, but it is a HUGE perk, so why not take advantage of that? If my surgery taught me one thing, it's to not hold back or let opportunities pass me by. Our lives are so much richer with the extra trips thrown in, even if we aren't. Now, am I going to be able to afford business class for every future trip? No way. For shorter trips, I'll opt travel within Asia, but our break for the Chinese New Year holiday was about three and a half weeks long, so I was able to spend a decent amount of time exploring Morocco and also have a short stay in Spain.

So, now that I've prefaced this post with a little background information, I'll go ahead and start telling about my experience flying business class with Etihad Airways. Like I mentioned, I haven't flown business class frequently, so I'm going to be comparing my time in business class to economy flights in general.

When Rachael and I arrived at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, it was so nice to not have to wait in any line when it was time to check in. They saw that Rachael was traveling with me and even invited her over to the business class section and let her check her bags then and there. Very thoughtful. I didn't check any bags on the way up, but was allowed to check two bags for free, which I did on my flight from Madrid back to Shanghai. Once we got through security, we decided to go to the lounge. Etihad is partners with China Eastern Air, so that's the lounge we stayed in. It was my first time going to a lounge, but I can see the draw. Rachael has a credit card that allows her and a guest to have lounge access. Now that I've been in a lounge, I'm thinking of applying for American Express Platinum so that I can enjoy the same perk! It's just less chaotic in there and the bathrooms are nicer. Anyway, we had just a small amount of time, but we were both feeling very dehydrated, so we chugged some juice and cucumber infused water. We weren't hungry, but there were chips and sandwiches as well as some other small snacks available. It was still pretty crowded in there, but it was even worse outside of the lounge by the gate. We were prepared for that since we were traveling at a peak time in China, right at the start of Chinese New Year.

Once we got to our gate, of course I got to board early. This was especially ideal because I sometimes still panic about getting shoved when there are a lot of people around. I wanted to avoid falling and hurting my back again at all costs, so thankfully I did not have to worry about that courtesy of the early boarding. There was a special shuttle just for business class passengers, which was also nice because almost everyone was able to get a seat.

Just after boarding, a flight attendant asked me if I wanted champagne. Is that even a question? The same flight attendant also was taking everyone's coats and hanging them up. I never knew there was a coat check in Business Class! Is that ignorant?

While others were boarding, I scoped out the scene. I was really worried about making my seat go all the way back and making it into a bed. I thought I was going to have to ask a flight attendant to help me, so I was very relieved when I saw that all I had to do to make my seat into a bed was to press a button! I couldn't believe this, but there was even a button to press for massages! (From the chair...not from an actual person, ha ha.)

Another difference between first and economy class is that the flight attendants came around and took my order. I felt like I was in a restaurant for a moment! Since I was on a night flight, I asked for a snack, and then ordered breakfast for the next morning. I was expecting real silverware and plates and was not disappointed. I opted for a cheese plate because cheese in China is pretty scarce, so I tend to order cheese whenever I see it. For my breakfast I got a cheese and herb omelette with a mini smoothie. I was fine with just the snack and a meal, but there didn't seem to be any limit to the amount of food, as the flight attendants kept asking me if I wanted anything else. As for the drinks, they served this lemon and mint drink that was pretty delicious. As soon as I tasted one, I ordered one for every flight.

My meal on the way back! 
Each person flying business class was provided with: a pillow, blanket, a bottle of water, headphones, and an amenity kit full of items that would make our flight more comfortable. The little tote I got is actually really cute, and there are 6 designs in all. The designs are supposed to represent a city--taxis for NYC, a mosaic design for Abu Dhabi, a Colosseum design for Rome, and so on. I got the one for Abu Dhabi and would use it again for sure. Inside the kit, there was a city guide, toothpaste, toothbrush, an eye mask, ear plugs, and socks. Etihad partnered with the beauty brand Scaramouche and Fandango, and inside the kit there was a lip gloss and some facial cream by them. I actually really loved the lip gloss, so I brought all four of them home with me from all of my flights!

On the way back, a flight attendant came around with magazines. I asked her to pick me one that she thought I would like from the English selection, and she gave me Glamour UK, which was pretty flattering. Like a dope, I left it on the plane by accident. (English magazines are highly prized here in China!)

For most of the flight I had my seat reclined almost all the way and just spent the night watching movies. Spoil alert: The screens were bigger in first class and not attached to the person's seat in front of you. Judging by the snoring that was going on, I think most passengers were able to sleep for a bit--I just am too anxious to ever fall asleep while flying.

Another plus about the seats was that they all had an aisle on one side of them. With my back problem, I need to be able to get up and walk around, so not having to worry about disturbing anyone was a relief.

Now for the best part that was a surprise to me! I was browsing Etihad's official site and just happened to see that if you have a layover in Abu Dhabi and you've purchased a business class ticket, you are eligible for one free night's stay in a luxurious hotel. Since our layover in Abu Dhabi was about 20 hours, we were planning on paying for a night in a hotel anyway. I kept thinking that it must be too good to be true, but we really got a free night's stay at the Ritz Carlton! We only had to pay a small tax. Apparently, first class passengers can get two free nights there. I picked the Ritz Carlton because of it's proximity to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque--you can see it from some of the windows in the hotel! There are other options to choose from, too. You can book the service directly from Etihad's website. The St. Regis, Yas Viceroy, InterContinental, and Shangri La were some of the other options in Abu Dhabi. The best part was that I was able to let Rachael stay with me for free and I got a free breakfast, which I had upon arrival since we would be leaving in the middle of the night for our next flight. Too bad I wasn't very hungry because there was an incredible buffet! My favorite was the fresh hummus!

Staying at the Ritz Carlton for free was so wonderful! Traveling for long hours can be so taxing on a normal person's body, so let's just say I was wiped when I arrived to Abu Dhabi. Rachael and I just had some much needed R & R, had some tasty meals (hello nachos!) and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. We left Abu Dhabi feeling refreshed.

I also found out that there is a free chauffeur service! Too bad I didn't see it until less than 24 hours before my flight. You do need to book it 24 hours before your departure time, so in my case it was too late. This is definitely a service I'd love to try out in the future! You can book the service directly from Etihad's website. 

My only complaint is that the flight attendants did not seem too keen to want to help me with my carry on when it was time to put it in the overhead compartments. I told them that I had a serious back surgery, and one of them even suggested we lift it together. (Pretend the crying emoji is right here.) I promise my carry on wasn't ridiculously heavy--it was even weighed before boarding. I was a bit annoyed by that, so on the way back I just checked my carry on bag to avoid a similar problem. It turned out that the flight attendant responsible for my area on the way back was super attentive and seemed like he would have helped, no problem. Oh well, you never know, do you? 

I have to fly home to the States this summer, so I will be looking at business class tickets again. I will likely be flying Delta though because I still have a voucher from when I had to cancel my flight last year because of my back surgery. When flying to Europe from Asia, I will be looking at Etihad again. If I can break up a long flight with a free night's stay in a luxury hotel, then why not, right? Of course, it all depends on the pricing and what is available at that time. 

If you have flown business class before, which airline did you fly with? If you haven't flown business class, would you ever do it?

Why I Feel Like I'm Winning Post Surgery

February 20, 2017
For the past month, I've been feeling really great compared to the months directly following my surgery.  I've noticed a big change in my health, even compared to a few weeks ago. I think back to the days right after my spinal fusion surgery and know that I've come a long way, so I want to highlight (and celebrate) some of my successes!

* I was able to travel for three weeks. Last fall, when it was time to book for our vacation during the Chinese New Year holiday, I almost didn't go anywhere because I didn't think I'd be able to keep up or sightsee. Why shell out tons of cash to have to rest in a hotel, right? That was my fear, anyway. I talked to Rachael about it, and she reassured me about the trip we had in mind, which was a private guided tour throughout Morocco. She promised that she wouldn't mind resting or going on some excursions alone if it came down to it. I decided to at least try it because I didn't like the idea of staying behind in Shanghai alone during the cold and polluted winter. Once I went on my trip to Sanya over Christmas, my confidence in my health was boosted a bit more. As for our time in Morocco, I'm thrilled to say that I was able to do almost everything on the entire tour. I even surprised myself with how much I was capable of. Rachael wears a Fitbit, and some days we were walking 8,9, and 10 miles! Rachael told me that it was almost like I wasn't injured. The times we had to slow down for me were really few and far between, such as when we walked up a hill on the top of Chefchaouen to see a view of the city. Distances don't seem to be an issue, but steep steps are still a bit hard. However, with a little extra time and a patient travel buddy, I was able to push through...I'm glad I did because just look at that view.

View of Chefchaouen
* I solo-traveled for a bit. Sort of. Rachael had to leave Spain early to go to San Francisco, but I stayed behind in Sevilla for a few days alone. I was kind of nervous about that, but again everything ended up being okay. Truthfully, I am not currently interested in any future solo travel trips, but if push came to shove and something happened where I had to be on my own, I know that I could probably handle it.

* My back brace wasn't a necessity for the first time ever. I've had to wear a back brace every day since my surgery. Yesterday I woke up and went to leave to  get my nails done, and I had forgotten to put my brace on! Believe me, that is a huge improvement because even last month there is no way I would have forgotten to wear that brace. I would have felt the difference right away.

* I rode a camel in the Sahara Desert. The big question on my trip to Morocco was what to do about our desert tour. We were supposed to ride camels for a few hours in the desert, get to our camp, and spend the night in the Sahara desert. Of course I really wanted to do this, but didn't know if it would be too painful for me to handle. Our guide suggested I get on the camel and try for 10 minutes or so just to see. A short time on the camel ended up being just fine. We went on the camels for about 20 minutes, stopped and watched the sunset, and then took the camels back to our riad, which was about another 15 minutes. Even though we couldn't spend a night in the desert, I don't feel too bad because I was still able to enjoy what was probably the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen in my entire life.

* There is suddenly more time in the day. Right after my surgery, I was sleeping so much. Of course that makes sense because I had some major healing to do. Now I'm finding that I'm back on a regular schedule. While sometimes I might require a bit more sleep, it's nothing like it was before. I was working and then sleeping from 4:30 pm until 6:45 am the next day and still felt like that wasn't enough! Without all that time spent sleeping, I'm able to have hobbies again, which is so important to me.

* My x-rays all looked good according to the specialist. Right before I left for Morocco, I had to go back to the hospital I had my surgery at for a check up. Since in most Chinese hospitals appointments aren't a thing, I had to wait for four hours to see my surgeon who wrote an order for me to get x-rays. At least 200 people were in front of me in line, which is what happens when you live in a city with a huge population like Shanghai. After a few more hours of waiting, I was able to get my x-rays. I was incredibly nervous for the result, as sometimes the hardware moves and has to be removed. I also wanted to know about the bone growth. The doctor that saw my x-rays told me that everything looked good! The hardware in my back was perfectly placed and while I'm not fully fused, I am headed in the right direction. 

* I am able to recognize signs of PTSD in myself. Why is this a win? Well, I know that sometimes I'm being irrational in my thinking and can call it like it is. Now I try to change the way I think before I panic. There has been research on PTSD on those who have had spinal fusions, and the articles I've read say it happens to about one in five patients. The statistics actually made me feel better to know that I'm not alone.  

* I'm adjusting to the new normal. My body is retrained now, and I know which movements to avoid. Right after the surgery there were many new and strange sensations in my back that I'd never dealt with before. It has been about 10 months since my surgery, so I'm better about knowing how to move myself so that I can do simple tasks like putting my shoes on. Picking something up from the floor is still hard, but at least it's possible because I know how to move in a way that causes me the least amount of pain. 

* Even my students have made remarks on my progress and how I carry myself. I really feel like my trip to Morocco was a pivotal turning point for me. I didn't see my students for over a month, but this past week many of them have commented on how they think I'm healed! If they're pointing it out, it must really be noticeable. 

* This week I went out three times! I mean out-out, as in three nights out on the town. It just so happened that there were some birthday celebrations I could not miss. It's just funny that I went out more times in one week than I did the whole entire last semester. I feel like I am getting my life back!  Not that I want to have lots of big nights out all time time, of course. I'd much rather have a busy day exploring Shanghai, and I think it's going to be possible. 

I hope that these gains continue to keep happening! I've accepted that my back is never going to be the same as it was before the surgery, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy life. I will respect my limitations but also won't hold back on what I can actually do. 

How are you winning at life these days? 

Anecdotes About Cultural Differences

February 7, 2017
Lately, I've run into a few surprises while living abroad in China and while traveling through Morocco and Spain. I thought it might be fun to do a little write up on what exactly I've come across recently and explain how I ended up with a cultural lesson.

In China- I told my Chinese friend happily that my year of bad luck was over because it's the Year of the Chicken, which is my zodiac animal. She informed me that actually it was the opposite, and when it's your year that you have to be extra careful because it's like a curse is on you. I couldn't believe it! She said it's true and that Chinese people wear red and jade to drive away the bad luck. I like reading about astrology and the zodiac for fun, but am just slightly superstitious about being cursed this year. I guess I have an excuse to buy some jade jewelry, right? 

In China again- I was walking down the street I walk on most frequently in Shanghai. It's the street that my school is located on. My friend Lauren needed to stop and use the ATM to withdraw cash. As I was waiting for her, something appeared to have fallen from the sky and hit me on the head. I was startled and a bit horrified as I pulled a wrapper from some type of food out of my hair. There were even a few crumbs from the food wrapper stuck in my hair. Someone was in an upstairs apartment and just carelessly threw his or her trash out of the window, and it happened to fall right on me. I've never had that happen before, but now I'm going to be more wary when standing by apartment buildings. Please check out this article for more information on littering in China--it's very interesting on how they're now using DNA to shame people who litter!

In Morocco- Our tour guide Hassan told me that he was 35 years old. A few days later he mentioned that he was 37, and I brought up how he told me that he was 35 earlier that week. He said he had a birthday during our trip and laughed, so Rachael and I told him that would make him 36, and we were wondering why he said he was 37. Later on during the trip, Hassan told us that he was a Berber nomad and when he was younger he had no official papers from the government of Morocco. Later on, when he did get papers, no one was sure of when he was born or how old he actually is, but they had to write something down. The numbers are basically made up and not super accurate. Even he doesn't know his own birthday or how old he truly is. His parents don't know either. 

In Morocco- The touching. I've never been to a place where the men have touched me so much. Strangely enough, Rachael did not seem to encounter this problem. Maybe I'm tall so I stick out more? I'm not someone who particularly likes being touched in general, let alone by strangers. It took me awhile to get used to the fact that it might reoccur, and it did a few more times. Don't get me wrong--I still totally loved Morocco, but I can't say this was my favorite aspect of the trip. 

In Spain- I'm in Sevilla right now, which is the land of tapas including jamón. Now, I'm not a big meat eater and get squeamish sometimes over meat. In fact, in Morocco, Rachael and I ate vegetarian meals 99% of the time, and I used to be a vegetarian for three and a half years. Now I eat some meat, but not very frequently. I did want to try jamón because it's so famous here and the slices are thin which appealed to me more. Tonight when I went out to a local cafe, I did a double take because I noticed that there was an entire pig's leg hanging up, hoof and all. That's where the meat was coming from--I guess you can't say it isn't fresh. It really shocked me to see that at first especially because I have mixed feelings about eating meat in the first place, but now I see the legs everywhere and am more used to it.

In Spain- I went out to eat and started chatting with an Irish lady who had just spent a month in Sevilla. Both of us were talking about our mutual like of the city and culture here. She brought up how the locals rarely seem to be on their phones during a meal and how people here are more present/have better manners. As we looked around the cafe, sure enough, several tourists were on their phones, but the locals were talking to each other. I know that I'm guilty of getting wrapped up in looking at my phone, especially when it comes to looking Instagram. Now that I noticed the difference, I'm going to try harder to make a better effort to stay off of my phone when out with friends.

What has surprised you about another culture lately? I'm curious to know!

Crying: My New Favorite Pastime

February 6, 2017
I don't know what's going on exactly, but it seems like lately my emotions are getting the best of me. Maybe it's because my surgery and (still ongoing) recovery last year opened the floodgates. Maybe it's because I've been influenced by Rachael, who describes herself as a "very emotional" person. Or, maybe it's because I'm just more appreciative of the little things after being cooped up for months on end. I would say it's a bit out of character for me, but I think this is becoming a part of my personality now. I don't really consider this problematic because it's not like I'm only crying because I'm upset.

For example, yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday in Sevilla. As I was taking a Sunday stroll, I started feeling nostalgic about the two years I lived in Europe. I remembered how on Sundays everything was shut down, so I spent a lot of quality time with my friends and the family that I worked for. That caused me to take a big trip down memory lane, and then I heard some performers start playing some beautiful classical music. At that moment, I started tearing up because while I've always wanted to live in Europe, it became clear to me on this trip that I don't want to live anywhere else. This realization made me more determined to get out of debt so that I can make this possible! After all, wanting to teach in Europe was one of the main reasons I went back to school to pursue a Masters in Education. Life happened, and I think I lost sight of that, but now it's back on my radar and I'm going to try to take the necessary steps for this to actually occur. But yeah, I basically started crying in the street because I realized how well Europe suits me. This is one love affair that's going to be lifelong. 

The second stop on my crying journey has to do with this Facebook group I joined for those who suffer from back problems and for people who have also had spinal fusions like me. When I read some of those posts, it just sickens me because I REALLY feel for those people who are posting with major problems. So many people have lost their jobs or have been fired for "other reasons" (not true!). Some have had to apply for disability because their surgeries went wrong, and they can't live a normal life, let alone work. Many have had to get lawyers and really fight hard for years to get approved for disability pay. A lot of people are not in a good spot financially because they can't work or they are drowning in medical bills. People have lost their homes, their jobs, and sometimes even their spouses who do not want to shoulder the burden of this massive surgery. Some patients are worse off after the surgery--I read about a woman becoming paralyzed and she is now in a wheelchair where she will likely remain for the rest of her life. So, I not only cry for them, but selfishly and with a guilty conscience, I also cry with relief for myself knowing full-well how it could have been me and isn't.

Are you ready for crying example number three? If you've been following me on Instagram, you'll know that I spent thirteen days traveling through Morocco. I signed up for a thirteen day tour, so it was clear all along how many days I would spend in Morocco. At the end of my amazing trip, I started feeling extremely sad about leaving and was fighting back tears as Rachael and I said goodbye to our guide, Hassan. I don't do well with endings, and this one was an exceptionally sad one because who knows if I'll ever make it back to Morocco? 

The next crying episode is kind of funny. When Rachael and I arrived in Spain, we desperately wanted to go shopping because in Shanghai, we are limited in what we can wear and buy since sometimes our favorite products are not always available in China. Also, we are both tall and curvy girls, so what fits the average Chinese woman will not fit us. We went into a department store called El Corte Inglés and were ecstatic to see tons of products/brands that we just don't have in China. Even some of the products that we ARE able to buy were much cheaper in Spain. While we were looking at all of the makeup, we both were so deliriously happy that we started to cry a little. It might sound silly, but that day was really something we both kind of needed. I didn't get body shamed once, and I was able to try on clothes and have stuff fit me. For the first time in a long time, I felt normal. 

Then there's the crying related to political drama because let's face it, there's lots to be upset about especially when it comes to education. 

The final time I recently cried was when I saw flamenco dancers in Triana. For the performance I watched, there was a man playing guitar, a woman singing, and both a male and female dancer. The dances and music that accompanied them were just so passionate and powerful that again, my eyes were brimming over with tears. Never underestimate the power of art.

So, this was kind of a strange post. Out of everything I could have written about, I chose to write about crying--kinda weird, but please don't tell me that or else I'll probably cry again. Or, all of a sudden I might have a sudden onset of "bad allergies," which will be my future excuse to cover up this constant crying. ;) 

When was the last time you cried? Do you think crying is therapeutic?