Do Not Buy NormaTec Recovery Boots

For $1300 bucks you’ll only buy headache.

I ordered the recovery boots and was really excited to finally own them after having been impressed after trying at various sporting events. However, my first pair of recovery boots broke within 2 months of purchase. So I contacted Amazon and received a replacement. And then they broke again, just after a few months, and there’s no support information related to “Error 01”. So I contacted customer service for the second time, and managed to only get a partial refund. For $1300 you think they would at least last longer than two months. I’m really disappointed and will make sure to tell anybody that listens not to waste their hard earned money on this garbage.


Visiting Saudi Arabia

For the first time in its history Saudi Arabia has started to issue eVisas for tourism to people from 49 countries. In addition, it has relaxed its dress code and allowed single women over the age of 25 to travel alone.

I’ve always wanted to travel to Saudi, which predates my Arabic studying days. Back then I used to search for ways to get a transit visa to Saudi, and always stumble upon stories in which women couldn’t get a taxi or check into a hotel alone. So when I saw the news that Saudi finally opened up for tourism, I applied my visa and booked tickets right away. Since the tourist visa program only started in October 2019, there is still a lack of adequate tourism infrastructure, such as tour operators and public transportation. I tried my best to search for resources, everything from googling and searching hashtags on Instagram. Fortunately I was able to find several interesting activities.

Edge of World

If you want to explore Saudi Arabia at some future point, here are my experiences and tips.


Saudi is safe. The fact that it’s under Sharia law and even small crimes have heavy punishments makes it very safe for solo female travelers. I walked around by myself in Riyadh and Jeddah, and not once I was harassed or cat called.

Dress Code

Local women are still required to wear abayas but as a foreign woman, I can basically wear whatever I want as long as I cover my knees and shoulders. A headscarf is not required, but I wore one on the first day during my trip because I wanted to try out new styles. Soon after that, I got tired of it and stopped wearing it for the remainder of my trip. I mostly wore jeans and yoga pants with a tank top, then a shirt outside, and it was totally fine.

Kingdom Tower, Riyadh

Drinking Water

The water used in Saudi is mostly desalinated sea water, which has a weird taste but drinkable. I drank mostly boiled tap water but you can also buy bottled water (I try to use less plastic).

Interaction with Local People

Saudi people are among the friendliest I’ve ever met. Unlike in Egypt and Tanzania, in which people try their best to scam tourists out of their money, Saudis are just proud of their country and want you to have a good time there. On the first day of my trip, a stranger showed me around a historical site, explained the portraits of their kings and pointed me directions to their souqs. In Egypt, a person would be like, “a small tip, 20 dollars.”, but this stranger just left afterwards, wished me a nice day and said “welcome to Saudi Arabia”. A lot of random strangers on the street, or the tour guides I hired for a day trip often asked me if I’m there for business, and when I replied, “it’s for tourism”, they were all very surprised. Since Saudi never really had tourists in the past, except for Hajj and Umrah (Islamic pilgrimages), locals are generally happy to see foreign tourists, some even want to take pictures with me.

With my guide Asem


Saudi is vegan friendly like New York City, there are a lot of Indian restaurants that serve vegan food, and whenever I went to a coffee shop and asked for vegan milk, there were multiple options like soy, almond and coconut. A lot of cafes and casual restaurants have falafel, either with a platter or as a sandwich.

Falafel wrap and latte with coconut milk

At the end of my trip, as I was riding in a Uber alone on my way to the airport, I thought about an old thread on TripAdvisor, the one in which a female traveler had a layover in Riyadh and she wasn’t allowed to leave the airport because she didn’t have a male guardian. Things have certainly changed, and today women can travel in Saudi Arabia alone without any problem. There has been great progress towards becoming a more moderate country, as well as improvements towards women’s rights. Even though Saudi is not comparable to western countries, I’m still amazed at how far they have come, and hopeful that more people will travel to Saudi and discover its beauty and hospitality.


I chose to get sterilized after listening to an interview on NPR with Andrew Solomon with Peter Lanza, whose son Adam Lanza, shot and killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, before shooting his mother and himself.

It was March 2014, my boyfriend and I were driving back to Upstate New York from spring break in Miami. It was a long road trip, we were on the road for about 20 hours for the last two days, and the news coverage had been completely over the disappearance of Malaysian Airline flight 370. So when the interview with Mr. Solomon came up on the car radio, we were craving for something different, so we stayed and listened.

Mr. Solomon talked about his own experience as gay growing up in a strict family, his new book ‘Far From The Tree’ on raising non average children, and this article in the New Yorker of the interview. I remember that he mentioned, at the end of the interview Peter Lanza told him, that he wished that his son Adam had never been born. On hearing that, I immediately made up my mind on sterilization, because I don’t want the same regret.

I have contemplated sterilization before (at 17, in high school when I thought I was pregnant, then again at the age of 22, and went to the college hospital asking to be sterilized), but never too seriously, and also too young at the time, everyone around me told me that I would eventually change my mind. I knew I wouldn’t but decided to wait.

From the interview, I learned that Peter Lanza got a divorce from his wife after exhausted from raising a difficult son, and exited the family. He hadn’t seen Adam for years and didn’t know what his son had become. Where I grew up in China, divorce was still uncommon, and children from single parent families usually received more attentions and gossips behind their backs in schools. And yet still there were fathers and mothers ran away, or went on never ending business trips. I have grown up knowing several children from single parent families, and because of differences in cultural and social acceptance in China and the U.S., some of those kids didn’t end up with a good life. Where did all their parents go? Did they ever think about their children afterwards? And why escaping the life with their children is so essential that made them left?

I wanted to ask my parents why they didn’t leave.

To my parents,  family is something you always choose without a doubt. I remember one time about 2 years ago, my dad told me that he had planned to bike along the Beijing – Hangzhou Grand Canal after graduating from college. However it never happened and you know why — because he got married and I was born. Then he and mom just worked and worked for many years to support me, all my schools, language classes, extracurricular activities and even the plane tickets after I got a scholarship to study in America.

I cannot be like them. I love freedom too much that I always want to do something new with my life. Either that or I’ll kill myself.

Perhaps this is made possible by the fact that I haven’t attached myself to things, that I am loose and free enough to walk away from anything at anytime. But what am I being child free for?

I want to have my life for the unexpected.

Essentials on a Long Haul Flight

A good friend is planning her trip to Europe and is asking me what I bring in my carry on bag for a flight. I don’t travel often but when I do, it’s purely for leisure, to Africa, South America or Asia, so my in-flight packing list applies mostly to 10+ hour flights.  Some of my recent and future destinations includes Antananarivo (17), Santiago de Chile (10), Rio de Janeiro (10), Beijing (14) and Cairo (13).

1. Pen. You won’t know how important a pen is, until you have to wait in long lines to fill border crossing and declaration forms. Bring a pen in flight will save you a lot of time.

2. Sheet mask. This is why my skin always looks radiant right out of the exit, besides the fact that I’m Asian. I always put on a mask when they start to serve food, so for a 10 hour flight, I need 2-3 masks.

3. Sleeping pills. Especially for red eye flights.

4. Eye mask. Some airlines offer it for free (ie. Ethiopian Airlines), but I’d still bring my own.

5. Flip flops. Or slippers, whatever that’s comfortable to sleep in and easy to take off.

6. Thick socks when I have a window seat. I almost always choose aisle seats but sometimes unfortunately I miss my flight and get assigned to the next one on a window seat. The window seats are colder on the walls so a pair of socks will help you sleep.

7. Foldable water bottle. It’s very important to hydrate in a flight and foldable water bottles take up less space. I usually bring a thermos too, because you know, I’m Chinese and I drink hot water.

8. Noise canceling headphones. It’s not necessary if you don’t care a crying baby onboard and in your proximity in the next 10+ hours.

9. Lip balm.

10. Entertainment. I download audiobooks before flight but in reality I always fall sleep.

** I don’t need a neck pillow because I basically can sleep in any position; and also I don’t bring a jacket because international airlines (at least the ones I took) always provide blankets.

Why is Arabic so hard?

When I walked into Arabic class last week, Ahmed, my teacher, cheerily greeted me As-salamu Alaykum and asked me how I was doing. I said, “bi hair, alhamdulillah,” which means, “Good, praise be upon Allah.” But I was struggling. I just spent a full day at work sitting in front of a computer, and I was about to sit down for a full night in front of mind-bending grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

I am not one of those people who dread the thought of learning a foreign language. While everyone else was struggling with English in high school, I already spoke fluent English, which led to receiving a scholarship to study at an American university. So I left high school and enrolled in a Japanese language institute and took Japanese full time for a year, and I loved it. Then I studied Spanish after I moved to New York City and now I’m able to watch Spanish movies and read Spanish books with only occasionally checking dictionary. I have also taught myself some half-decent rudimentary Swahili. Languages are usually fun until I started Arabic.

Unlike your usual demographics for Arabic learners, who mostly study Arabic for work, I do it purely for fun. I figured as I’ve learned some of the world’s most popular languages, Chinese, English and Spanish, Arabic should be next.

However, my confidence, as I always boosted, “I speak 4 languages” stopped as soon as I started Alif Baa. The first challenge, the script, is a tough one. But it is by no means the biggest. Arabic has an alphabet, so it’s easier than my native Chinese, which has a set of tens of thousands of characters. There are just 28 letters, and it does not take long to get used to writing and reading right-to-left. (Though it still gives me a headache.) Most of the letters have four different forms, depending on whether they stand alone or joined at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Even then, so far so good. But the Arabic alphabet is an abjad, meaning that each letter represents a consonant. There are also long and short vowels. Long vowels can be ambiguous and short vowels are not generally indicated in writing. Maktab, or “office,” usually is just written as mktb. Short vowels are included in the Qur’an so as not to confuse the meaning, but usually not anywhere else, so you have to get used to reading without them. Tht whn y knw th lngg s tht hrd. But when you’re struggling with comprehension, to begin with, it’s pretty formidable.

Then there are the unfamiliar sounds those letters represent. I was shocked by my first Arabic class because I could not make any of them! Arabic has one “h” akin to the English h, and another one that sounds like a Spanish j as in Juan. That’s not to be confused with another kh, that is the ch familiar to Russian-speakers as the sound in “Rachmaninov.” And “r” that sounds like the rolling rr in Spanish. There’s also ‘ayn and ghayn, a “voiced pharyngeal fricative,” which are like a glottal sound of ah and hah, or as Ahmed put it, “just make it like you are about to vomit.” Unwritten in Roman-alphabet transliterations, it’s actually a consonant that begins many common words and names, including “Arabic,” and “Iraq.” and “Morocco.”

The sounds are tough, but the words are tougher. Spanish has genders and complicated conjugations but it is nothing compared to Arabic. In Arabic, there’s a dual form,  so nouns and verbs must be learned in singular, dual, and plural forms. A present tense verb has 13 forms. Every noun has nominative, genitive and accusative cases and two genders, which means put any word you learned from a textbook “vocabulary section” into a sentence, it probably writes and sounds differently. When Ahmed explains that numbers are marked for gender—but numbers from 3 to 10 take the opposite gender from the word they are modifying—we students stare at each other in slack-jawed solidarity. When we learn that adjectives modifying non-human plurals always have a feminine singular form—meaning that “the cars are new” comes out as “the cars, she are new”—I can hear gasps and heads banging on the desks around me.

There are other times we learn about Islamic culture. Arabic is peppered with a lot of Allah, like appending insha’Allah, “God willing,” to almost any statement of intent, as in, “I’ll see you in class on Wednesday, insha’Allah.” Or “bismillah” we recite at the beginning of our class, or “Masha’Allah” when we acknowledge anything.

The Foreign Language Institute reckons Arabic as one of the hardest languages, at level 5, the same level as Chinese, Japanese or Amharic, (the language of Ethiopia where the script አማርኛ looks like little people). There’s a joke that Arabic is only hard for the first ten years, and I’m now a second-year Arabic student, so I have nine years left.

That is if I work my ass off.


Vegan Food from Around the World

When it comes to vegan travel, no two countries are alike. In some destinations, vegan/vegetarian is part of the traditional cuisine, while in other places, the idea is so foreign that most locals kept asking what I could eat, and puzzled by the reason behind it (In Cuba and Ecuador people just went speechless upon hearing “soy vegana”). Since I became a vegan last August, I’ve traveled a bit here and there, and I’ve found authentic vegan dishes that were native to the region and not just vegan reinventions (tempeh and kimchi tacos? Ugh, no thank you). It has since became my quest to find and share vegan food in different cultures, so here’s the first in the series.

(You can also read this as “how to eat out as a vegan,” since I don’t know how to cook and eat out every single meal. This is my vegan version of eat-your-way-around-the-world.)


Last December I missed my flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, so I stayed one night in Addis Ababa and had dinner and breakfast there. Having no prior knowledge of Ethiopian food, I was utterly surprised by the amazing vegan breakfast buffet at my hotel and learned that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes a number of fasting days (refrain from eating animal products), including Wednesdays, Fridays, so Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are traditionally vegan. And even on Ethiopian Airline, besides the standard airline meal, you can ask for “fasting” food, and it’s fully vegan!

Vegan dishes such as chickpeas, split peas, fava beans (tastes like Mexican refried beans), Atkilt Wot (cabbage and carrots), and mchicha (the Swahili name for a local green, native to East Africa, but I think in the US they use collard greens instead), on top of Injera.


I call Indian food just “food,” because it is my go-to cuisine even when I was an omnivore.

A large percentage of the population of India is vegetarian for religious reasons so Indian food also has lots of dishes that are traditionally vegetarian or vegan. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of dishes in which vegetables and legumes are the main ingredients.

The thing to watch out for as vegans is dairy. Though the dishes normally don’t contain eggs, dairy is pretty common, so when ordering vegan Indian food in restaurants it’s a good idea to ask if it contains common dairy products such as curd (yogurt), paneer (cheese), and ghee (clarified butter).

There are many Indian veggie dishes that typically do not contain any dairy at all. A few examples are dishes based on chickpeas (Chana Masala), eggplant (Baingan Bhartha, my favorite), as well as lentils (Daal), cabbage, cauliflower (Aloo Gobi), peas, and potatoes.


Many Chinese dishes are traditionally vegan, with ingredients such as eggplant, tomatoes, string beans, mushroom, wood ear, bitter melon, cauliflower, peppers and other vegetables. Chinese vegan dishes vary from province to province so I only know some of the most popular ones from the northeast, such as Di San Xian (地三鲜, potatoes, eggplant and peppers), spicy wood ear or cucumbers, roasted sweet potatoes and veggie stir fry (炒菜, shredded potatoes and other veggies), etc.

There’s also Buddhist cuisine (斋饭) with heavy Chinese influence. I didn’t know much about Buddhism since I was born and raised by atheist parents and we rarely go to temples. It’s only after becoming a vegan, I started to try out Buddhist cuisines in New York City and learn about them. I think a very distinctive feature of Buddhist cuisine is its creative use of soy products. There are mock meats of every kind made with textured soy protein and tofu, like this menu ( from Buddha Bodai in NYC.

Typical food made with soy proteins (they really look like and taste like meat) and veggies at a Buddhist restaurant in Montreal.

However keep in mind that even though Chinese food rarely contains dairy or butter, eggs are commonly used in vegetarian dishes, and a lot of people do not know the difference between vegan and vegetarian. It’s always good to ask before ordering.


Yes there are barbacoa, carne asada, machacado con huevo, and enchiladas verdes (all of them used to be my favorites), but Mexican staples such as corn tortillas, rice and beans (without lard), guacamole, and nopales are vegan. There are also popular dishes that can be made vegan, such as chilaquiles (without egg), elote (without cheese), chiles rellenos (instead of cheese, it’s stuffed with potatoes), tamales with beans or veggies. It’s also easy to have vegan tacos with nopales, mushrooms, avocados and beans.

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Tamales de frijol (bean tamales) with mole around Zócalo in Mexico City.


Discovering Swahili cuisine was one of the highlights of my trip to Tanzania.

The vegan food in East Africa is based on fresh and local ingredients that grow bountifully in the equatorial climate, so there are lots of local greens and tropical fruits. For breakfast or snack, there are mandazi and kitumbua (sometimes it’s mentioned in English in its plural form vitumbua), as well as pineapple, banana and passion fruit.

Fruit stand in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Ugali with mchicha

The staples, ugali (made with corn flour boiled in water), chapati (flatbread), mchicha (local green, tastes like spinach) and maharage (beans) are fully vegan. There are also many other veggie stews made with sweet potato leaves (matembele, I love it) or pumpkin leaves with tomato sauce. Other common veggies are cassava, avocado, tomatoes and bananas. And in Zanzibar, you can also have pilau (flavored rice) with veggies.

Chapati with avocados, it almost like guacamole, but the Tanzanian recipe also has banana in it.

My First Encounter with Sexual Assault on the Subway

My first encounter with sexual assault happened this Tuesday during my morning commute on the F train. I will spare you the details other than it was deliberate, since I tried to move away but he followed. It has been a while since the #MeToo campaign on social media and I have read many accounts of women who experienced sexual assault and harassment. I learned that many women in NYC had experienced sexual harassment on the subway, but few would actually come forward. So when I saw the man getting off the train, I decided to follow him and took pictures.

The man quickly realized I was following him, so he circled the block in an attempt to lose me, but I followed closely since he already found out. Eventually he stopped so I had the chance to confront him. And he said nonchalantly, “come on, I fell asleep.” Those were his exact words, and he actually said “I fell asleep” many times, and sounded like I was the one who was causing trouble.

At the time I had some decent pictures to identify him, so I left for work since I didn’t think I would make any progress continue following him or questioning him.

Right after I got to work, I tweeted the pictures to NYC Subway twitter account, and also from their old tweets, found a link to report sexual misconduct on the subway to NYPD, so I did. By noon I received a follow up direct message on twitter and an email reply from NYPD, that a detective will be in touch with me soon.

In the evening, I received a call from a detective, described to him what had happened and we scheduled to meet the next day.

The following day, in the morning I met with two detectives. They accompanied me on the train, and I walked them through what happened, how I followed the perpetrator and also pointed out the food truck where he had stopped to get breakfast.

On Friday, three days after the assault, the detective from NYPD notified me that they had the man under arrest and asked me for a written statement. Just this Monday, a bomb attack happened at Port Authority, and there have been police officers everywhere. I could image this must made it harder for any criminals to hide.

I chatted with several friends about what happened to me and they have been nothing but supportive. I could picture the man doing the same thing to other women, at any other time, or all the time in the past. I have always been an outspoken feminist, and I would feel personally responsible if I hadn’t done anything in this situation. During the entire time since it happened, more than feeling violated, I have felt anxiety, guilt and humiliation, but I never felt powerless.

Arabic Class Updates

I guess I cannot sustain a 4 hour sleep per night too long. I was exhausted after my Arabic class, so I decided to Uber home. My uber driver happened to be Pakistani, so we exchanged some simple greetings in Arabic before I dozed off. Arabic remains one of the hardest things I ever attempted to learn so far, and I still struggle.

What It Takes To Train For An Ironman 70.3

It takes everything you’ve got.

Well it actually depends on several factors, the person’s fitness level, experience level, race goals, etc. For me, my goal is to finish and my background in cycling and swimming is none. I’ve ran several marathons and they didn’t kill me so I thought about doing something crazier. Why not an Ironman 70.3? So I picked a relatively flat course and signed up. It was then, after I signed up, I realized what I was doing, and thought WTF do I do now? So I got a swimming coach, bought a road bike and joined a cycling group.

My advantage over other absolute beginners is that I have lots of time available for training. My entire family is in a time zone 13 hours ahead and I barely know anyone outside the running/cycling community, so I have no need to attend people’s wedding/birthday/baby shower etc, my entire social life is done either on the run or on the bike.

But a lot of things still changed in my life. I have many other hobbies, but except taking Spanish classes, I stopped doing everything else completely. It’s not just training time, most of the time I’m simply too tired to do anything else other than my training.

Mondays and Tuesdays became my longest days. I wake up at 7:30am on Monday, and because of freestyle training from 7:45pm to 9pm, I won’t be back home until 10:30pm; Tuesday I wake up at 5am for a morning interval run, then I have Spanish class from 6pm to 9pm after work, and get home around 10:30pm again.

I stopped eating at home completely. Though I don’t know how to cook, I used to drink instant coffee and heat up oatmeal in microwave for breakfast. Now I have no time. My breakfast and lunch is at my work desk, and dinner is ate quickly at the buffet bar of Whole Foods Market before swim/bike/run.

I stopped doing my laundry. I use an online pickup and delivery service now.

I stopped reading books. The only time I have is during my commute on the train, so I listen to books from audible now.

I stopped watching all the shows I liked: Narcos, The Strain, The Americans, Bordertown, American Dad, Family Guy, Taboo, Criminal Minds. All of them.

On weekends I wake up earlier than weekdays, and besides long runs, swim and long bikes rides, I sleep. Sometimes on weekends I go to sleep at 7 or 8 when I can.

I stopped taking weekend road trips. I used to spend a lot of weekend in Lancaster, PA. And I haven’t gone at least once this year.

I enjoy my training so far and made a lot of new friends. But sometimes I do wish I have more time to hang out with people outside my running/cycling groups.