Marriage, it’s like riding a bike

Today marks my one-year wedding anniversary. Well, technically, it’s my one-year marriage anniversary, because for me, a wedding and a marriage were two very separate events that happened about 10 months apart.

Married in China-1

The Diploman and I got married in Guangzhou’s Civil Affairs Bureau No. 3 last June. As is part of the story we both tell today, we had to rush to dragon boat practice afterwards, and because the translator had taken so long with our documents, neither of us remembers very clearly exactly what vows were read.


I’ve learned a lot about myself this past year, and a lot more about this relationship that I thought I knew so well already. Marrying someone is like riding a bike. I know, I know, they say everything is like riding a bike these days, and in the end only riding a bike is like riding a bike. But hear me out.

Married in China-2

You’re on training wheels for what seems like forever, and finally one day, after you’ve thought about it for awhile, you take them off. You ride. omgeveryonelookatmeimriding!

It’s new and exhilarating when you’re on two wheels. You fall off, a lot, at first. There’s some skinned knees and some scratched elbows. There’s a lot of bruised egos, a lot of figuring out what exactly is the best approach to stay on course. There’s a lot of wobblying around, but then you find the payoffs are huge. You get to go fast, you get to be free. Most of the time it’s great, but then you’re reminded that it really sucks when you fall. And there’s never an easy fall, mind you – there’s always pavement and gravel stuck in your skin and ooof, it’s so hard.

But you and your bike, your trusty bike, it takes you places. It takes you on adventures. Sometimes down a wrong turn or two, but somehow you always end up at home. You get to know how it moves, you push its limits, you find new friends because of your bike. Your horizons are expanded, you can see more of the world, and you start to understand new things. Because you know how to ride a bike, you know you can do other things, as well.

The diploman has had his bike since he was sixteen – it’s his trusty (and rusty) yellow Diamondback mountain bike. One of the pedal straps is missing, there’s a lot of paint scratched, he wore through the brake cables this past year, and in the end, he’s really the only one that can ride it because he knows exactly how it works.

Married in China-3

I can only hope that, if bike years are converted to human years, he’ll keep me around just as long.

It’s about time.

Look! Newly released snapshots from the next Hoarders episode!!

Just kidding. This is our apartment, pre-packout. Specifically, the day before the packers came, when we decided that piling everything we wanted to pack in one room, despite it seeming to be the antithesis of packing our things up, worked really well.

There is actually some strategy to the madness that you see above. We were methodically separating our goods according to how we wanted the movers to pack our things, so each room got assigned a designated shipment, more or less. Here’s what you need to know:

Our UAB (Unaccompanied Air Baggage) is a limited number of pounds that gets to be sent with us home (to the Bay Area) and then onward onto DC (where the DiploMan will be going through training). These items were confined to the dining room table. Well, it was only the table at first, and then it spilled out onto the chairs and against the wall next to the table…

Our HHE (HouseHold Effects) is most of our belongings, and is our shipment with a max limit of 7,500 lbs. that will be shipped and stored somewhere in Singapore. These items will sit patiently in a dark, dank, musty storage space and then sent to Tanzania by sea once we arrive in May of next year. This is all the boxes that you see in the last three pictures of the post…and more, because that didn’t include a few stray boxes in the kitchen and our bedroom. In other words, we won’t see a lot of our stuff for a year!!!

Vocabulary words aside, our movers were brilliant. I think we actually hired human machines that wrapped, packed, folded, taped, stuffed, unscrewed, and dismantled as we directed them to.

Some of you reading this are, like we are, going through packout, or have in the past. So you can empathize. Others will get to experience this in the future, so maybe you can sympathize. But I guess most of you won’t have to deal with moving all your belongings and having a smidgen go with you back to the states while the other portion goes to a far-away mystery storage area. In that case, you can probably stop reading here, and I’m sorry if this post has been completely pointless.

This experience, this adventure, like with every adventure, has its advantages. I hope those of you that have packed out have seen the bright side of things, because otherwise it can be pretty easy to drown yourself in a fortress of newsprint and bubble wrap. What advantages, you might ask? Well, for example, packout is the perfect reason to clean out your closet and get rid of that feather boa you collected on New Years’ Eve (but keep the feather flapper headband, of course). Packout is the perfect time to unload all your crappy booze that was unloaded unto you when others left post. And during packout, you also get to record how much stuff you have as gross weight, which can become a fun game. Our grand total was a mere 3,500 lbs, in case you were wondering, far under our estimated 4,500 lbs. Well under the 7,500lb max limit the State Department offers, so we get to collect lots more junk in the future, hooray!

After two long days of packing and wrapping and tiresome hours of instructing other people to do stuff (that was meant to be wryly sarcastic, but it turned out to be sadly true) the DipoMan and I sat down in a newly emptied living room and made a short list. A list of how to go through this process easier, and better. Now, this list is mostly for us, but I’m also going to share it with you, because if it will help you with your move, then all the better. Because seriously, in the end, this packout process is a good amount of stress with a little fun and a lot of relief, and really just a drawn out way to say goodbye to a place that I call home and people I call friends.

The DiploMan and Jessie’s Packout Pointers.

*original notes in black, added commentary in italicized red.

Things that are good to know: 

  • Reduced reduce reduce, then reduce again
  • Items going UAB should be separated into three piles according to necessity- and weighed between each to determine how much more can go in:
    1. Things that MUST go (then weigh)
    2. Things that really should go (weigh it again)
    3. Things that we would like for them to go (weigh to reach max UAB weight, if not already)
  • Hiring help just to fold clothes is a GREAT idea Our a-yi came for three full days (we were able to snag another day from a friend) and really, mostly folded clothes to be packed. It was the best idea we (the DiploMan) had throughout this entire process.
  • Clearly separate and check welcome kit The welcome kit is a small kit of plates, utensils, sheets, etc. that we are provided when we move in, to enable us to survive on fried eggs and buttered bread until we receive our belongings. It also serves, on the flip side, to allow us to live out our last few days in Guangzhou with a bit of sanity. If you’re like us, you’ll have packed a plate or knife or two from the welcome kit into the HHE. It’s not a big deal, but it just means you’ll have to deal with getting rid of an ironically dull chefs knife when you get to your next post, and that you’ll be cutting your vegetables with a steak knife between packout and your leave date.
  • Pack carry ons and checked bags first
  • 250 of UAB is two boxes, not quite maxed out Typically one person would receive 250 lbs, and persons after that an additional 200 lbs each. But because my medical clearance is still pending, we had to suffice with a 250 lb shipment. 250 lbs is not a lot between two people. Especially if you have to anticipate spending three seasons on the East Coast and you like to have dinner parties. And your significant other HAS to pack his three-piece suits for “work”. Looks like we’ll be layering during the cold season and we’ll be coming over to your house instead. But at least I’ll have arm candy as my date.
  • Post-its for jbone are useful jbone, the DiploMan’s wildly un-romantic petname for me.
  • Set aside UAB first, and in order of necessity.
  • Jessie does a great job labeling boxes Thank you. And yeah, if you don’t label things yourself, you’ll have a lot of boxes labeled “living room” and a lot of boxes labeled “books”. Be specific, and you’ll thank yourself later. In a year.
  • Be in the room that is being packed up, and label each box yourself
  • Yarn does not go into UAB ‘really’ This happened after an attempt where one of us thought that twine should be packed into our “should go” to DC pile. The other one of us condescendingly (albeit unintentionally) remarked, “Really? You think YARN should go with us, really?!”. I mean, it wasn’t even yarn. But it’s okay, that was in the heat of the moment. We’ve since called a truce.
  • Remember to pack extension cords Our home is now a graveyard of various extension cords, both 110w and 220w capable.
  • “Just as bad as it is a liar” This is the iPad voice recording feature’s transcription of ‘Jessie is bad at leaving things in the dryer’. I originally didn’t want that full statement written down, but admittedly, I kept leaving things in the dryer.
Okay, so where does all this information leave us? Here’s a Useful order of operations:
  1. Welcome kit is separated (including bedding)
  2. Pack for flight (don’t forget travel docs)
  3. Go around the house and put post-it’s on small groups of items in each room: UAB, HHE, mail, and give items
  4. Create and movie items into UAB, HHE, etc., piles in separate spaces- separate rooms, if possible.
  5. Start to pack UAB first, and in order of piles. Must go, Should go, Would like to go.
  6. Supervise while movers pack (if possible, with one person handling- labeling- HHE items and the other person doing UAB and other misc packing items)
  7. (There was something inappropriate here that was written as a joke, but I’ll let you imagine what it could have been)

Newsworthy….for reals, this time.

What a beaut, huh?

I learn something new every day living in China. It’s something that I really appreciate being here. Not only am I surrounded by hyper-intelligent and well-traveled people, but immersing myself in a new culture and new language has taught me many things, big and small. Some days, I learn life lessons, like how I shouldn’t assume people don’t speak English. Other days, I learn things like how to say ‘Canton Tower’ in Chinese, even though I’ve lived in this city for 2 years and probably should have learned how to say it two years ago.

Anyway as you know we’re winding down our time in Guangzhou. So with the pretense of having a bucket list, the DiploMan and I set a date to go atop one of Guangzhou’s biggest tourist attractions.

Two Fridays ago, we went up 110 stories, plus some, up the highest tower in China. Highest tower in the world, up until a few months ago when the Tokyo Sky Tree was completed (mind your semantics- highest tower, not building. Yeah, I thought that was a cheap trick too).

Luckily, we caught a clear night in Guangzhou. We arrived just as the sun set, and caught a beautiful nightscape of Guangzhou all lit up.

Then you know what happened??

the DiploMan proposed. On the highest part of the highest tower, in the city we’ve made our home for the last two years. He got down on one knee and promised me a ring. And asked me to marry him. There’s been a lot of ups and downs here in China, and this was definitely a big up.

I’m not quite sure when I said yes, but I definitely asked, “are you sure” a few times.

He was sure. I was sure. We’re engaged!

Travel Envy


There have been a lot of new people I’ve met lately, many of whom have recently joined the Consulate community here in Guangzhou. In these new coversations I’ll always be asked where I’ve travelled in my time here. In the Foreign Service, it seems no person is spared from dreams of wanderlust.

Visiting the Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai, January 2012

My list includes checking off world wonders like the Taj Mahal and personal wonders such as eating a 25-cent order of Pad Thai off a paper plate on a beach in Phuket. It was pretty amazing (speaking about both the Taj Mahal and the Pad Thai). But there are still places I wish I went and sights I wish I saw, and ultimately I look at the list of places I’ve been and wish it were longer.

I still, with a proper amount of shame, have not yet seen the Great Wall. I never got to trek through the ruins of Angkor Wat, scooter through the streets of Saigon, see the Himalayas, or visit my grandparents’ birthplaces of Hunan and Jiangsu.


I came across this online video today (don’t let the still frame fool you, I promise you it’s not a weird E! Entertainment Swimsuit shoot or anything) and now have a newer, more invigorated desire to travel. Natch, to travel and get paid doing it. I also have a serious desire to get a camcorder (do people still call them camcorders?!).

See more of Casey Neistat‘s videos on his website- they’re really great.

the great wall

Monday morning, we took a trip to the Chinese (British owned) version of Home Depot, B&Q;.

Monday afternoon, our wall was transformed from this- a huge white distraction/eyesore in the living room…

…to this!  Hurray for small home improvements in this foreign land.

In case you’re wondering, those blue triangle things are Thai pillows that the DiploMan bought after seeing them in Thailand a few years ago.  They fold out, and are some of the most comfortable things ever.  I’ve managed to figure out about a dozen ways to sit on them so far…

Back in China

The barrier to the consulate building- keeping us in, or others out…?
Although I’ve been posting about Thailand for the last two weeks, I have indeed been back in Guangzhou for the last week.  (Just in case any of you were wondering if I decided to stay on permanent vacation…)
The weather here has been unusually freezing, with a wet chill that cuts right through one’s “winter” clothes.  I didn’t think I would encounter bone chilling coldness, but newsflash, I am wrong.  As a result of this grey and dreary climate, I’ve cut back on my great explorations of the city and its markets.  But, as with winters before in New York, I plan on utilizing my kitchen more since the weather is unkind- especially when my stuff gets here.  Next week?  Fingers crossed.  So, expect to hear more of my peeps from my very own kitchen!!!
And I know I said it before, but really, Happy New Year to all!