Archive for the 'Expat Life' Category

Sunday Salon: The Amazon Kindle Electronic Reader

kindleMy reading life is about to change.* I will soon be the owner of an Amazon Kindle electronic reader!

They came back in stock last week after having sold out in less than six hours after being released last December. When I learned that my sister would be coming to London on a business trip, I immediately ordered one for her to bring for me. Woohoo!!

I will be missing out on the wireless connectivity that’s available only in the U.S. but it’s much more important to me that I have access to books in a timely fashion. When we started our expat life in 1998, books in English weren’t always easy to find.

  • In Taiwan, there was a decent selection at Eslite even though I was at the mercy of whatever was on the shelf.
  • In Japan, Maruzen was ok but it was very expensive. A couple of years after we’d moved there, launched and it was wonderful!!! (Yes, that deserved three exclamation points.)
  • In Vietnam, very few English books could be found in the shops except for classics. Relatively new releases with Vietnam as the main subject were available but only as pirated versions on the street corner. Otherwise, the International Ladies in Vietnam library was actually pretty well stocked but in disarray. So once again at the mercy of whatever was on the shelf.

    I’m not trying to make it sound like I was very deprived, though. We made frequent trips to Singapore where the selection of English books between Borders and Kinokuniya is quite good. My personal stash of not-yet-read books is also consistently worth several months if not a year of reading.

  • Right now, we’re in London, UK which is, of course, fabulous for books but can still be quite pricey esp. compared to the U.S.

In contrast, Amazon Kindle books are $9.99 or less and available immediately for download.

Whether you prefer biographies, classics, investment guides, thrillers, or sci-fi, thousands of your favorite books are available. The Kindle Store offers more than 100 of 112 books currently found on the New York Times® Best Seller list and we’re adding more all the time. New York Times Best Sellers are $9.99, and you’ll find many books for less.

You spoiled lot in the U.S. will get to download sample chapters as well not to mention doing it all wirelessly (assuming you’re in the wireless coverage area). I, on the other hand, will be very satisfied with downloading my content via USB. Three features I’m really looking forward to are the built-in dictionary, search of all materials downloaded onto your Kindle, and clippings and notes which can be uploaded to the computer for other uses.

The first set of books I intend to download includes:

  • Escape by Carolyn Jessop
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee (If you’re wondering why she has a number for her middle name, she added it herself when she was a teenager because “Jennifer” is too common.)
  • Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello
  • Pretty is What Changes by Jessica Queller

My books wishlist (started using delishlist in March) is, of course, much longer than this. Unfortunately, not all books are available for the Kindle. So while you may still find me at home with traditional paper books in hand, when out and about, I’ll most likely bring my Kindle.

What do you think of the Kindle and of eReaders in general? If you already have a Kindle, what books have you downloaded?

*Although hopefully not in the way of what’s been assumed about pregnant and post-partum women and their reading habits.

Join The Sunday Salon of readers!


Sunday Salon: Decluttering Books?!

As business expats, we move every few years so I’ve learned not to grow too attached to material belongings no matter the sentimental value. Things have been left behind because I forgot to ask the movers to pack the contents of an out-of-the-way drawer. Other items were misplaced in transit or lost in the ether during unpacking. And still more simply had to be given away because I didn’t see a place for them in our future.

Books are no different to me than anything else. In fact, they can be even more of a burden because they’re so heavy.

Last week, the Unclutterer posted some tips about deciding which books are worth keeping. In summary:

  1. Keep only those that can fit in available bookshelves.
  2. Get rid of books that are just for show.
  3. Say good-bye to books that have already been read, will never be read, or is readily available.
  4. Use the library or used bookstore.

dog eared booksI keep books if:

  1. I’ve dog-eared so many pages they are obviously worth keeping.
  2. They have anything to do with genetics, my area of specialty.
  3. They have ideas worth referencing in the future (many of my parenting books fall into this category).

I estimate that I keep one out of five books read. This sounds reasonable except that the count doesn’t include all the books I buy or are given which I haven’t read yet. Ah well. It could be worse!

Do you keep all your books? How do you decide which to give away?

This weekend, recent news about the polygamous compound in El Dorado, Texas prompted me to read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakuer (all of whose books I’ve read). It’s a recounting of the history of the Mormon Church with emphasis on the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS) Church. I may know more about the FLDS now but that doesn’t mean I understand them any better. Escape by Carolyn Jessop, a former “spiritual wife” also looks compelling.

Join The Sunday Salon of readers!


Gifts for people in Asia

Ernie at little. yellow. different. recently went to Hong Kong and Tokyo for vacation and dropped in on some aunts and cousins:

My mom has given me bottles of multi-vitamins to give to them, which seems to be the universal gift of what someone from America gives to family members in Asia.

That is so true!! My family gets our vitamins from Costco. Other popular gifts seem to be:

  • In the nutritional supplements arena – multi-vits, vitamin C, echinacea, gingko, calcium, basically anything in pill form
  • Snack food – dried fruit, nuts, CornNuts, Jelly Belly jelly beans, candy bars
  • See’s Candies
  • DVD’s of American/UK kids’ shows
  • English tea

What regional gifts do you bring to relatives when you visit?


Here, There, Everywhere

London Gatwick airport was surprisingly peaceful yesterday when we landed around 8:30 in the morning. I hauled a still-sleeping Stephen in the sling plus our two carry-on bags of rocks books and other onboard entertainment onto my shoulders and humped my way off the plane to the airport bathroom. I’d made the mistake of adhering strictly to the size guidelines and didn’t bring my small carry-on with wheels. Of course, most other passengers didn’t bother with small details like that and coasted along the airport concourse. Drat my rule-following ways.

The bathroom stop took longer than I’d expected because I had to change Stephen’s wet underpants. Then, I rushed to the immigration counters where I was lucky enough to be ushered to the head of the already short line because I had a “little one” with me. Immigration was no trouble and customs even less so; no long forms to fill out or put-upon immigration and customs agents giving us the evil eye. With all the terrorism alerts this month, I’d expected mobs but it was actually much better here in London than in San Francisco.

Jetlag is so bad this time we were asleep from 3 pm to 6 pm the first afternoon, went to bed at 11 pm but woke up at 3 am to a tearful Stephen missing his grandma, aunt, and California in general, played until 6 am at which time we crashed until the early afternoon. There are still suitcases to unpack, laundry to wash, and a garden and house to clean. Not to mention work to do.

We loved the change of pace in California but are equally glad to be back in our own familiar home again, which is just a little more cluttered with toys, clothes, books, and snacks. It’ll be a while before we long to see the inside of a Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, or Costco. I think I visited those stores (different locations) a total of 30 times in three weeks.

Eight years ago, I followed Marv on his overseas postings to four different countries–Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and UK–and with each trip back “home,” much of what I miss about the U.S. seems less wonderful. Hardly anything is as good as I remember it (except the shopping). I hope it’s not because I’ve become more jaded, although that’s probably part of it. But I’ll never cease to miss my family and friends.

I’ve accepted my life for what it is wherever I happen to be. Wishing I were someplace else won’t accomplish anything. While I’d happily move back to the U.S. or, even better, the San Francisco Bay Area if the right opportunities presented themselves, I no longer need to live there. I can be happy anywhere even though I’m always flying off and leaving loved ones behind.


My Interview at Fly Away Cafe

Yes, it’s another interview of me. You never knew I was so fascinating, did you?

Mary Jo Manzanares at Fly Away Cafe interviewed me about my traveling habits. It’s a MUST READ. Just kidding…sort of. ;)

Talking Travel at The Fly Away Cafe:
An Interview with Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei


Second Leg of London Move

Vietnam is no longer our home. After some tearful good-byes and a last death-defying* drive through the crowded streets and back alleys, we left Vietnam for the last time. We’re now on the second leg of our move to London; transiting in Singapore for a few days.

Nerves kept me from sleeping for the entire past week. Last night was the first somewhat restful sleep I’ve had and I could probably use at least one more night before my energy levels climb higher than the level of fatigue. But I probably won’t feel completely rested until we’ve made London our home. Boxes arrive on January 28th.

One box was already waiting for us when we got to Singapore. A big one from Dell – our new Inspiron 9300 laptop! We’ll be busy playing and transferring data to the new computer before leaving on Wednesday.

If only unpacking in London could be as much fun as opening a new computer box.

*Not for us, for the motorcyclists, pedestrians, and street vendors.


Boxes Out, People Next

The movers have come and gone. Seeing the four packing guys move in such an efficient way – pop open box, tape bottom zip zip, bundle things in, fold flaps down, tape top zip zip – convinces me that a moving budget should always include packing (unpacking I can do myself).

Stephen came home about two hours after packing started. I had asked that the living room and all his toys be packed first because I knew that if he were here, he’d want to play with all his toys and would have a hard time letting them go. When he walked in, he went straight to his toy cabinets and saw that they were empty. The poor kid never had a more pathetic look on his face when he tearfully asked, “Where’s my plane?”

It was at that moment when it finally hit. We aren’t going to be living here anymore.

No more authentic Vietnamese food, household help, pirated DVD’s, and a mandatory game of chicken when crossing the road. We’re moving back to the land of gigantic supermarkets, parks and museums, and stoplights.

Thank you, Vietnam, for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Moving or Not?

Around the apartment, I’ve been taping post-its with the following message on various cabinets and cupboards:

Our belongings basically belong to the following categories:

  • Things we’re taking ourselves.
  • Things the moving company will pack for us.
  • Things that belong to the apartment building.
  • Things I’m giving away.
  • Garbage

“Why didn’t you write ‘Don’t Move’?” Marv asked.

The note actually started out as “NOT MOVING” but I changed it to “NO MOVE” because it seemed like a more straightforward message. Our packers are local Vietnamese who may or may not understand English well. I figure everyone understands “NO” and “MOVE” should be part of a moving company employee’s vocabulary.

Or maybe the notes are a form of silent protest.


Living and Leaving Books and Places

Starting a new book is like moving to a new neighborhood. The people, the surroundings, the local happenings are all unfamiliar. It takes some effort to get acquainted and be in-the-know.

When I start a new book, I don’t feel comfortable until about one-fifth of the way in. So for an 800-page book like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I couldn’t get into it until after 150 pages.

By then, I knew most of the main characters and their idiosyncracies. I cared about what happens to them and how they’re going to solve the dilemmas confronting them. And I’d finally become accustomed to the way the author was telling the story with all those funky footnotes (in a novel!).

When I finish the book (probably around the time we leave Vietnam), I’ll undoubtedly feel the same regret as when we move away. Just because we’re gone doesn’t mean that I no longer care what happens to the people and the city. At least with books there’s always the possibility of a sequel, but learning about our old home and acquaintances secondhand won’t be the same as being there to observe it all in person.

Who knows. Maybe there’s a sequel featuring Taiwan, Japan, or Vietnam in our future.

Update, January 8: There’s no way I can finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in time for the move and I don’t want to take this doorstopper with me. Marv suggested tearing out the pages I haven’t read, but that seems sacrilegious not to mention that I wouldn’t be able to turn back when needed to refresh my memory. I’ll give it to the movers to pack and finish reading it next month.


Living in the Stone Age

My dad asked me to fax him a copy of my passport and accompanying visas today so he could get me out of jury duty in California. To do that, I had to go down to reception and ask them to copy and fax everything for me.

That’s right. I have no fax machine. I also don’t use or have any of the following:

  • Wristwatch (Haven’t bothered to wear one since Stephen was born because I didn’t want to whack him with it.)
  • PDA (No, not public display of affection – although I don’t have that either – Personal Digital Assistant.)
  • MP3 Player
  • Cordless Phone
  • Copier
  • Scanner
  • Printer (My 1994 laser printer is the wrong voltage and I didn’t bother to get a voltage converter for it when we moved here from Japan.)
  • Toaster Oven
  • Coffee/Espresso Machine
  • Vacuum (I’ll have one in London, though, because we won’t have housekeepers there.)

Because we move so often, we’ve tried very hard to pare down our belongings, especially fragile electronic goods. As a consequence, we’ve learned to do without many of the things we used to take for granted. We write in a notebook or read onscreen instead of killing trees by printing; we grill toast in a frying pan instead of in a toaster oven; and we drink instant coffee at home instead of fresh brewed.

I’ll set everything up properly when we finally settle down in our own home in Singapore. But for now, we’ll have to ask for the occasional favor or pay for the occasional service.

What modern conveniences are you doing without?