• The Year in Review: 2009

    January started out with a New Year’s Day flight from Phoenix to San Francisco, which included watching the USC Rose Bowl game as soon as I got off the plane in San Fran.  Then more game watching downtown with my awesome cousin Kelly and her friends.  The next day I grabbed my passport from Alec who I hadn’t seen since 2006, many thanks to him for getting my Indian visa.  That same day I caught my 1st transpacific flight of the year and headed back to Shanghai.

    Back to work in Shanghai for a week, ssl22687r then birthday celebrations galore start.  I’m not sure how its possible but I managed to have 3 celebrations during the week of my 25th bday: dinner on the 13th with a few girlfriends, then co-party night with Sian, Sherry, and Yi, and finally birthday brunch.  Thanks for organizing that brunch, and every other one, Sherry!  This is was also the first time in 2.5 years in China that I really got on a work permit.

    Late January, at the start of Chinese New Year, Sian and I headed off to India for a whirlwind 10-day trip around Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, and Jaipur.  India is an immensely fascinating country.

    From February, as everyone got back to Shanghai from CNY, we started having more tweetups, including Twestival, where I met a lot of the people I’d only ‘met’ online, including @IrisJumbe and @PDKay.  At the SXSW Shanghai party at M1NT in late February I got to meet a lot more of my twitter friends, including those who don’t live in China and make better connections with them.  To round out February, I changed the theme on my blog to center around life-streaming, (which I’m now coming to hate…)

    In March we had our first !talk! Chatfest and finally launched the open beta of the teaching platform.  Despite this, the !talk! situation was in somewhat of a flux, so after awhile I decided to work less hours there and spend more time on my multitude of other activities.  Since November of the previous year I was already teaching English a few nights per week.

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    With the start of spring, I still didn’t feel that my health had completely recovered from all the illnesses of the winter, so I decided I needed to take drastic actions (haha). For Qing Ming festival, I booked myself a week at a cleanse resort in Thailand.  It was a much needed flushing out of the system that kept me much healthier in the ensuing 8 months, especially compared to the previous 8.  Besides meeting some like-minded people during the detox, I also met some other awesome people at the #BangkokTweetup, some of whom have become really helpful to me recently.  This spring, I also got to connect with fellow Shanghai transplant Arizonan @Mark_E_Evans and another China-interested tweeter @lparsons, whose dream is to move to China–good luck to him.

    Jane, me, Al and pagodas

    Jane, me, Al and a pagoda

    By late April / early May, when the Dragon Boat festival rolled around, Jai, Allison and I headed to Seoul for a 4-day weekend.  They say Seoul is a city with no soul, but I loved it and think that’s in large part due to our excellent tour guide, my long time friend, Irene.  Check out the DMZ tour, really interesting, including a step into North Korea.  Literally the day after I got back from Korea, I did my first set of factories tours in 2009It’s amazing all the crap that gets produced in China!

    In Late May, I spent a weekend in Hangzhou with Al & Jane, when they generously took me around to all their favorite sites and restaurants.  Tea plantations, China’s Grand Canal, Pagodas, and spicy wings, the spiciest food imaginable.  I was crying, literally.

    As June rolled around I was just starting planning tech events for the Shanghai community and welcoming 妹妹 (little sister) for her summer in Shanghai.  Eliana arrived on June 3 to spend 5 weeks with me and exactly the day after she arrived, we set off to see the ‘real’ China.  The real manufacturing China, that is.  This was my second factory tripping of 2009.  It’s amazing all the crap that’s produced in China!

    Around mid-June the Geeks on a Plane tour rolled through town to attend Shanghai Barcamp on June 14, and then celebrated the end of the trip with the Geeks and Glamour afterparty at M1NT.  It was awesome to meet entrepreneurs, VCs, and other twitter friends from the States including @DanMartell.

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    With Eliana in Pingyao

    Throughout June and early July, Eliana and I went revisiting or exploring new parts of Shanghai.  And of course, we went to Beijing and saw the not-to-be-missed, Great Wall of China, Tiananmen, Forbidden City, and she went swimming in the Olympic Watercube.   I also got to see to see Ian, Leslie, Jeremy, and Jenny, and join yet another Tweetup to meet twitter friends in Beijing.  To check another place off my list, we took the train to the old walled city of Pingyao. At nearly the end of the trip, on the bus ride to the airport, my cosmetics case got stolen from my backpack :( A very sad day.  In this case, Eliana was the rock–thank you girl, I love you!

    Just around the 3 year anniversary of my life in China, the internet went on lockdown in China and ever since then Twitter, Facebook, Twitpic, and since even earlier Youtube have been inaccessible, seriously hindering multimedia communication with the outside world.  Mid-July Eliana went home and I took my 2nd transpacific flight, this time to Vancouver.

    On the bus from Vancouver to Seattle there was free wifi! And unrestricted access to twitter, facebook, youtube, which was like heaven until my laptop battery died and I realized my power cord didn’t work in N America… A busy 3 days in Seattle with my Dad and friends, Burt and Dawn: food festival, hiking Mt. Rainier, and the 4am launch of !talk! Marketplace for companies, but the weather was gorgeous, the food good and fresh, and the air clean and refreshing.

    Next it was time to fly up to Alaska for my grandparents 60th Anniversary.  We went ATV-ing near Denali National Park, watched the sunset at 11pm, pet huskies, took the Denail Express train to Whittier, cruised on the Diamond Princess, went to Glacier Bay National Park, sea-kayaked in Ketchikan, went Geocaching, and had a good week of family time.

    At Butchart Gardens, Victoria

    At Butchart Gardens, Victoria

    For the first week in August, I reconnected with friends from China now living in Victoria and Vancouver, including Heike, Brook, Scales, KK, and Danielle, and made other new friends through them, include Mariska.  The Pacific Northwest from Seattle, to Vancouver and the Island, all the way up to Alaska has truly spectacular natural beauty, clear blue skies, snow covered peaks, stunningly colored flowers, green trees and grass, fresh healthy foods, all enough to satisfy me with what often seems lacking in the grimy urban grey of Shanghai.  Catching up with friends from China who are no longer living there really helped me to get perspective on life there and what is most important.  Getting on my 3rd and last transpacific flight of the year to head back to Shanghai, I was feeling very refreshed and refocused with resolutions for my life in China.

    Back in Shanghai, I jumped head first back into activities related to tech, work, events, and, from all my discussions with friends who formerly lived in China, recommitted myself to learning Chinese.  I found a private tutor to work with 2 times per week, started reading Chinese magazines and newspapers, listening to ChinesePod again, decided to more actively seek out opportunities to practice Chinese including looking for new Chinese friends, and eventually more Chinese shows and movies.  I am listening to countless podcasts on entrepreneurship, as well as lectures on world history and geopolitics to start brushing up my knowledge for the foreign service exam.

    With my September trip to Hong Kong to see Coni, Brenda, Amjad, Daniel, Stanley, etc, and Stephanie (who I hadn’t seen in 5 years, since USC), I finally gave into pressure and got an iPhone.  Podcasts, apps, Chinese dictionary with handwriting, plus GPRS allowing me to be chatting to someone through Skype while walking down Nanjing Road, I can’t believe I waited so long.  iPhone convert, admitted.

    USC friends in Shanghai

    USC friends in Shanghai

    By the time October holiday rolled around, my work permit was expiring, and still reeling from all the traveling I’d already done this year, with additional complications, I was compelled to spend China’s 60th Anniversary National Day in Shanghai, much to my chagrin.  (Randomly, I just realized the CCP was founded the same year my grandparents got married).  It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I got to reconnect with another friend who used to live in Shanghai and was back for a visit: Matthias.  October and November were spent with friends who were in town visiting, including a week with that friend from Germany, Ian down from Beijing and his friend from USC, then in November Sean came back for a visit and the HSBC Golf Tournament, followed by Luke from Toronto (I met but hadn’t seen since 2006), who came to visit family and attend his sister’s wedding

    In late October, USC opened their first office in Mainland China.  Also in late-October, I went to yet another manufacturing town, this one specializing in textiles for the Keqiao Tradeshow and also saw the canal town of Shaoxing.  A month later, Bryan, Vivianne, and I were off for a day trip to the Commodity City: YiwuIt’s amazing all the crap that’s produced in China! Since getting back to SH in August, my Chinese slowly showed signs of improvement after months of stagnation, I signed up to an internet dating site (thinking about it now, am I that desperate?), and I continued to spread myself over many different involvements.

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    With Mom at the Chocolate Hills, Bohol

    For Thanksgiving, I met mom in the Philippines for my last international trip of 2009, bringing the total to 50 countries in 25 years.  Ten days in the Philippines renewed my health (after 2 brutal days of facing the Chinese hospital system just before the trip) and helped me to realize I was stretching myself in too many different directions.  This feeling was further brought home by another conversation in early December that’s been forcing me to take stock of where I am, where I’m going, recognize my passions, and figure out what I want out of life.  As 2009 draws to a close and I face yet another round of visa applications, I’m reading Think and Grow Rich (again) and Getting Things Done, and most importantly I’m reflecting on those issues and what they mean for me in 2010.  The most influential and memorable book I finished in ’09 was The Go Giver–great book, go read it, especially if you do business or work in social!

    Happy New Year!

    Writing this made me realize there were a lot of photos from this year, I hadn’t yet put on Flickr, so if you didn’t click on any of the links above, go look at my photostream now, its been updated: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tofflerann/

    Don’t forget, 2010 is the Shanghai Expo and among other reasons, a great opportunity to come visit me in Shanghai! I’d love to host you if you’re coming this way.