Sunday, January 1, 2012


It's a brand new year! Every year, we make resolutions to eat better, do more, etc. It typically always starts on January 1st. Why is that? I've jumped the gun a little bit and started a project called #365slivers. I've already completed 32 days =)

It's quite simple: every day for (you guessed it) one year, I will take a picture and post it online. You'll see 365 slivers of my life. I have no set theme for the pictures and they'll really be of anything and everything that tickles my fancy. The only rule is that I have to take a picture each day and post it each day.

If you have instagram, you can follow me (@jianinglai) or through Twitter as well. (!/jianinglai).

If you have something similar you are doing, I'd love to know about it so I can get inspired.

Happy viewings.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Staring down the barrel

Waiting in the corrals just minutes prior to the gun has to be one of the most nerve wrecking moments. You, and everyone around you are pumped full of adrenaline yet must patiently do the countdown until it is time to go. I find that I'm so excited I can barely contain myself.

Slightly behind that level of nervousness are the few days leading up to race day. The entire waiting game is what I'm calling 'staring down the barrel' and it drives me crazy (in a good way)!
For those of you who somehow don't know, I'll be running in the New York City marathon on Sunday, November 6th along with over 45,000 strangers / new best friends. A few years back, the thought of running 26.2 miles was beyond comprehensible, yet as I sit here staring down the barrel, my concern has shifted from 'will I finish' now to 'how long will it take'? The funny thing is, after the race I will inevitably think, 'wow, I could not have run any faster since I am so dead tired', but next year, I'll reflect back (while hopefully training for an even faster time) and laugh, thinking, 'that wasn't so bad in New York...but NOW this will be the fastest I will ever be able to go'. Rinse and repeat. I'll put it out there, my medium term goal is to time qualify for the Boston marathon (currently set at 3:05 for my age category). I'm nowhere near that yet, but check back with me in a year or two, and I hope I'll be able to tell you that I'm much closer to making it a reality.

If you've never watched the finish of a marathon, or any endurance sport for that matter, you really are missing out on seeing something incredible. 99% of the runners will not receive any monetary prize, endorsement deal, or anything of that sort, yet all of us will still be pushing, pulling, and willing our way through to the finish line. What is it that drives someone to push the limits of their body and mind? The beauty is that its deeply personal - some do it for a friend / family member, others run 'in honor of', some want to test their limits...but whatever it is, I applaud you! If you are in New York and want to witness your first one, come out on Sunday! You can help cheer me on...and secretly I will be using your smiles / cheers as fuel to push myself on. I am runner number 16374, starting in wave 1, and aiming to run a sub 3:30. I look forward to seeing you out there and promise you won't be disappointed =)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Simple pleasures

I cannot explain it exactly, but have had a big smile on my face every morning for the last few weeks. I actually look forward to my commute to and from work now. Let me first clarify, I'm very blessed to have such a short door-to-door commute and have friends who travel up to 1.5 hours each way. Just think about it, that is 3 hours a day, 15 hours a week spent on the road traveling. That is 15 hours a week that could be spent doing something, ANYTHING else.

One of the reasons I have a smile is because of Linus. Yes I will admit it, she is beautiful. I am head over heels about her. She is old school, yet new school. She is trendy, yet classy. She is simple, yet incredibly complicated. To put it lightly, she treats me well. Every morning when I'm ready to go, she is there, waiting for me, ready to do anything I ask of her. It doesn't matter if it is 4am, 3pm, or 9pm.

She gets way too many compliments and at times, I get a little jealous. That is okay though, because she never actually gets mad. All I have to do is to keep her greased up, if you know what I mean. However, I get awfully suspicious that other guys are looking a little too hard because I know what they are thinking about deep down, so I lock Linus up in my room so they can't get their grimy hands on her. You might think I'm too protective about the situation, but if you saw her, you would know.

Now, let me just clarify because you may begin to think I'm some crazy pervert, serial killer, or a mad scientist. Linus is my new bicycle! Does that make things a little better?! I hope so.

I bought a bicycle after seeing a number of people who commuted this way while in London. I thought the idea was novel at first but not do-able in New York due to the chaotic traffic messes that can build up. Also, I've heard enough stories about bicyclers who get creamed by cabs, trucks, or doors popping open without warning that serve as an endless obstacle course.

However, after stewing on it for a month and researching potential routes to / from work, and part-time shopping trips to bike shops on weekends, I finally pulled the trigger! Actually, here is what happened - I walked into a store on a sunny Saturday afternoon, fully intending JUST to look at different Linus models, saw the Gaston 1 which I had not yet seen anywhere else, took it for a test ride (do you call it a test ride or test 'drive', har har har), and found myself walking out of the store with a new bike in tow.

Within the first minute of the first ride, I was reminded of how much fun it was to ride a bike. I probably haven't ridden a bike for 10 years or so prior to the bike shop trip. Think about the joy you felt when you got your first bike. Think back to when you rode up and down the street with your friends because it was your only form of transportation outside of asking Mom and Dad for a ride. I got to re-live that recently! And if you can't recall, I will happily lend you my bike and let you take it for a spin. I promise you will also remember.

Most people have seen New York on foot, or in a car / cab, or through the many subway tunnels that connect the boroughs together, but seeing the city on a bike is by far the biggest rush. I don't do it much justice, but it feels just so liberating when you are in control, guiding yourself down the street using only your legs to propel you forward while your hands steer you whereever you want to go.

I can honestly say that so far, it has been such a joy to ride my bike to work. I'm pretty sure I look ridiculous riding around in work clothes with my right pant leg tied back (to prevent getting grease on it from the chain), but honestly, I think I look semi-cool and that is what matters most =) I really find myself smiling as I ride and have to remind myself to tone it down on the way to work as people riding in the opposite direction have given me some weird looks already.

If you drive in the city, be on the look out and please please pay attention so you don't run me over! You'll know me when you see me too - the guy with an ear-to-ear grin and an appreciation for the simples pleasures that life offers.

Here she is, a Linus Gaston 1 (black frame, tan wheels, and an upgraded Brooks saddle).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Morocco and back!

After my work assignment in London ended recently, and before I flew back to Amurika to re-integrate back into an Empire state of mind, I thought one last trip was in order!

Have you ever read 'The Alchemist'? If not, you really should. It is such a fast read and I always find I am re-inspired about life, personal goals, relationships with friends / family, etc afterwards. Anyways, in the book, the protagonist goes to Morocco to begin his personal journey and I wanted to replicate this part of the story. While I did not go to Tangier exactly as he did, I did spend four days in Marrakech. I also did not get robbed like he did, so that means +1 point for me.

Being in Marrakech feels like traveling back in time. When you arrive in the main square, you are instantly captivated by everything that is going on. Your senses kick into overdrive as you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste it all. Not only are their snake charmers playing music to hypnotize their cobras, but food stalls line the square making every odd item you could imagine. Gift shops are generously sprinkled throughout, and mopeds zip up and down and through the smallest of openings. I was a bit overwhelmed and had to just sit at the edge just to get my bearings.

I decided it would be best to find my hostel first so I could grab a shower, change, and find a map. (Unfortunately, the night before when I should have been preparing for the trip, I decided to go out for 'one and only one drink' with some co-workers. I have a theory that whenever you intend to only have one night, those nights generally end up getting out of hand, or at the very least become very fun. Maybe it is the lack of expectation that you place on the evening). With the previous night out, I forgot to print a map or directions to the hostel. I thought in my head, I've worked off very bad instructions before and always end up finding where I need to go so how bad could this be? Keeping in mind I had written down the address, I attempted to navigate based on Google Maps from my blackberry. Long story short, I cannot locate the hostel by name, street address, or any other modified search that Google Maps would accept. Further, my blackberry does not have GPS and only has the 'approximate location' tool which is rubbish when you need anything under 'you are within 2000m' distance of accuracy. For me, this is 100% of the time in any foreign town!

I'll spare you the details, but 2 hours later after fruitlessly asking shop owners and hotel doormen if they knew the hostel, I finally cave in and find an internet cafe to do a bit more power searching. No worries though, I think these are the things that make a vacation more memorable as long as you don't freak out. I eventually find the hostel and arrive still with a smile on my face (and a lot of sweat on my shirt)!

The other memorable event worth nothing about my stay in Morocco was a two day / one night trip out to the Sahara desert. Based on my horrible sense of geography, I thought the Sahara desert started close to Marrakech but I was horribly wrong. Not only did it take 10-12 hours of solid driving to get there, but we also had to pass over the Atlas Mountains through narrow winding roads! Upon arrival, we all took the obligatory camel ride. Side note - I've had this image of me riding on a camel with the desert in the background for a long time in my mind so as cheesy as it was, I now have a picture of it. Now, hopefully I don't burst your bubble when I tell you this, but riding on a camel is NOT that comfortable. For the first 10 minutes its fine, but then after one hour of sitting almost spread eagle style with camel hairs chafing your inner leg the whole way, you quickly realize you want to get off. And when you do get off, you realize there are sore muscles in your inner leg that you weren't aware existed one hour ago!

The camels escorted us into the desert where the Berber (local indigenous people) guides had set up camp for the night. We ate dinner in the tents and then participated in some local dancing. I think at one point in time, we formed a cha cha line though? Either way, it was all fueled on my massive quantities of Berber whiskey. For those who don't know, they don't drink alcohol so Berber whiskey = mint tea. Mint tea = 0% alcohol.

Before going to bed, I laid out on the sand dunes just to look up into the heavens. Instantly, that long car ride and the uncomfortable camel ride (and I didn't know at the time, but the travelers diarrhea I picked up as a result of bad food / water) was worth it! I have NEVER seen the stars like I did that night. It honestly looked better than a planetarium with countless stars beaming down on me. I wished I could've stayed up all night just gazing up at the sky. It was honestly gorgeous.

I can't believe two weeks before the trip, it crossed my mind that 'maybe I shouldn't take one more trip, and should just head back to New York straight away'. I'm glad I didn't listen to that voice because I would've missed out on so many good sights and sounds and experiences. As I was flying back from Morocco to London, it occurred to me how unlikely it is that I will just head back to Morocco anytime soon just because it is so far away. I patted myself on the back that I maximized my opportunities to see the world over the last three months of my work assignment in London.

Then, I darted to the bathroom as my stomach rumbled. The next few days weren't pretty...

Don't worry, I won't share these details!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Part 2...only 3 weeks late!

Three weeks late isn't THAT late to write about my fantastic trip to Croatia, is it? Where to even begin? First of all, I have a horrible memory. That is why I try to update this blog as soon as something eventful happens. I feel that it catches the essence of the moment, the real 'feelings' behind each experience, so that it isn't just about where I was and what I did. Because let's be honest, unless you were there to experience it with me first hand, you'll prob *yawn* as you read through and eventually get bored since I can never fully explain just what happened.

With that said, three weeks ago, I got back from a fantastic trip to Croatia. It was the second of the four day weekends (and the Royal Wedding) here in the UK, and I had decided a while back that going on a sailing trip would be a great idea. Initially I had tried to drag along some friends but for one reason or another, each plan fell through. No matter though, I quite like traveling solo =)

I searched long and hard for a deal (for those who know me, you know I'm a deal hunter) and came across a random link on a random forum suggesting a random small sailing company in Croatia that offered weekend trips as well as the more normal 7 day adventures. By searching long and hard, what I really mean is that I clicked the first link I found that looked cheap haha! Anyways, the site seemed legit and I inquired about a spot on a boat. A day later, I get a response indicating that a spot has been reserved for me but I would need to fully pay within one or two days in order to hold the reservation. Additionally, the email says that I've been offered an additional 20% off since the boat is close to full. Hmmm, +1 point to my deal hunting abilities! However now the bad news, they only accept wire transfers. Who in this day and age only accepts wires? What about paypal, or any other of the million established online payment systems. I don't know about you, but this sounds as legitimate as those Craigslist ads that require Western Union money transfers. Now I'm in a pickle because the deal seems really too good to be true, but there also seems to be a 36.2% (I always just make up arbitrary probabilities to sound more scientific) chance that this is all a scam.

Guess what I do?! (PS - this is so anticlimactic since I've told you in the very beginning that I had a fantastic trip...but just play along and keep reading and pretend it is suspenseful). I'm a bit worried, but I follow along and set up a wire transfer and send money to some unknown bank account in Croatia! I warn my co-workers before I leave that if I don't return to work, they should send help since I've most likely been kidnapped. If I do return, and I have ice bags on my lower back and I look like death, its most likely because I spent a weekend in an ice bath and am missing at least a kidney that has now traveled halfway around the world thanks to the black market.

A week before the trip, I'm freaking out a bit because I have not received any itinerary information except that the boat will leave from the town of Split. I email them and keep getting a general 'we are working on it and will send it to you shortly' response. -1 point for my deal hunting abilities now if I did in fact get ripped off. However, I reason out that if worst comes to worst, I still have a legitimate flight in and out of Croatia, and I can spend a weekend exploring Split and the surrounding area.

A day before the trip, and I finally receive my itinerary which states the name of the boat, where to find it, and final instructions before boarding. PHEW. +1 point back.

Fast forward to my arrival in Split: it is around 11pm at night, and as I get off the bus from the airport, I have to navigate myself to the hostel. Luckily, I have the instructions printed out and my blackberry with Google maps in my back pocket. PS - I DO not know how I was able to move around Europe for three months last time around without Google maps. The first step is to take a right turn and walk under a passage through Diocletian's Palace which I find without too much trouble. As I make the turn though, its quickly apparent that the route is blocked off and has been gated off. 'No worries', I say in my mind, I'll just fall back on the trusty blackberry. Needless to say, the winding streets and confusing street names make this quite a journey. Oh by the way, my blackberry does not have GPS but only the 'you are approximately here' icon which in a small town is WORTHLESS. At one point, I know I'm close to the hostel since I've somehow crossed a bookstore which is one of the last steps on the instructions page. However, I cannot figure out what to do next and realize I'm at the end of a very dimly lit alley, and two very drunk guys have just spotted me and start to approach. Fast forward: one black eye, one missing wallet, and a loose tooth later, I shriek like a little school girl and someone from the hostel comes running down. JUST KIDDING, I had two black eyes. JUST KIDDING!! None of that happened. I was in a dimly lit alley trying to navigate the last two instruction steps, and two very drunk guys did spot me and started to approach. I will admit that for one brief moment I thought something bad was going to happen. However, the two guys turned out to be very friendly and knew I was lost and just wanted to make sure I was okay! Lesson learned, Croatian people are very friendly.

Fast forward again: I walk to the marina and everyone is already on board. A quick round of introductions later, and I realize I'm the ONLY non-Croatian person. For whatever reason, in my mind, I had just assumed that the trip would be Americans, Canadians, Brits, etc since the website was completely designed in English. However, now I found myself on a boat with all Croatians. Also in my mind, I worry that it's going to be a 'long' weekend since everyone will become friends and I will be the outsider who can't understand anything they are saying. However, once again, I learn a lesson. NOT only are Croatian people extremely nice, but they also learn English all through school and probably speak better than half of my friends back in North Carolina (*Sorry to any friends reading this from North Carolina). A weekend later, I've made 5 new Croatian friends who all extend there homes if I ever visit again. We talked about beer, politics, local foods to try, New York, traveling, and everything else that you'd converse about with friends. Through the trip, I also remember what I love about traveling. Yes it's always great to see the sights and take pictures to post up on facebook, but the real joy of traveling is when you get exposed to a different culture through the people you meet. Sadly, most of my travels don't live up to this, but when it does, it just makes me smile gratefully.

Final lesson learned: check the weather forecast and pack appropriately. I did not check the weather and just assumed it was going to be extremely warm the whole time. I even bought some suntan lotion because I was SURE it would be hot and I would get a golden brown tan in one weekend. I won't say I FROZE, but there were times when I definitely wished I brought some warmer clothes. Just in case you are wondering, all I packed were a few t-shirts, one long sleeve shirt, and one light sweater. Again, I was saved by my new friend Alen who lent me a jacket on the second day when it was really windy out!

Okay so I know I didn't actually talk too much about the actual sailing part of the trip, but sometimes, you just never know what is going to be the most exciting part! I expected it to be the actual sailing but instead it quickly became the people I met along the way.

I say this all the time, but I really mean it. Life is good. I am blessed to be able to do all these wonderful things. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A long weekend to remember (part 1)

It is such a paradigm shift to realize that taking a short one hour flight from London can put you in a new country, new culture, and line up so many new adventures. Back in New York, a one hour flight can get me close to North Carolina...and while some may point out that it is very different between the two places, they also still have to acknowledge it is within the United States!

Last weekend, we had four days off for Easter. First of all, HOW awesome! Second of all, you know I had to take full advantage of it! Luckily, I had something planned this time around and hopped down to the French Riviera and met up with Stephanie as well as her group of Cambridge MBA friends as we skipped along the coast starting out from Marseilles, then to St. Tropez, Cannes, and Nice.

For whatever reason, the group decided to rent a van and drive the route instead of taking the train. This seemed like a very logical choice until we realized that a 'van' in Europe is not the same in size as a van back home. This thing was no bigger than a small SUV and we had to pile seven people as well as all their luggage in. I'll be honest, I did NOT have faith that it could be done but I guess that is why we had the group of smart MBA students to come up with a creative luggage stacking solution.

On top of that, I did not realize that there were only a few quasi-qualified drivers in the group. One guy could only drive automatic so he was out of the running; another guy didn't have a license at all; one girl couldn't drive manual at all; one couple could drive but they haven't driven in a long time; Stephanie could SORT of drive stick but hadn't in eight years; I hadn't driven a manual car since I moved to New York; NONE of us felt very comfortable driving in a new country where we couldn't even read the road signs. Can you see where this story is headed?!

I drew the first straw to drive in Marseilles...let me set up the scene for you so you can better appreciate it: it was very overcast, raining off-and-on, not great visibility, and the radio in our clown car is set to a random French talk show. I'm trying to pull the car out of the rental garage and onto a main street laden with traffic. I can already feel my left leg tremble slightly due to fear that I won't remember how to work the clutch as well as everyone in the car watching my every move. Cars are lined up behind me as I start to roll out and then WAAAH WAHHH WAHHH I stall. 'Oh no', I think, as I quickly restart, only to have it happen again, then again. By now, the cars behind me are honking and for anyone who still remembers learning to drive stick, this adds to the tension! After what seemed like a minute of stalling (but really was probably only ten seconds), one of the people ask, are you sure you are in first gear? I check...and whoops, I was trying to start the thing in third! Despite this, I still drove the first leg...

Just so you know, I was fine driving stick after this small boo boo.

Fast forward to Cannes on Sunday night, and we arrive at the hotel a little bit late since we were hanging out in St.Tropez and Ramatuelle earlier in the day. We're looking for a place to eat and then go out and given a recommendation to go to a lounge / restaurant called Baoli by the front desk. Upon arrival, it looks much more like a club with neon pink lights everywhere! However, this isn't the important part of the story. What I remember the MOST and still cringe about is this couple who sat near us for dinner. I didn't notice it at first but someone pointed out that the two did not all. I thought surely that couldn't be the case and then started to pay attention. I'll be damned, but they REALLY did not talk at all. The man sat with his head on a swivel and looked left periodically, then right, then left, then right...passing over what we'll call his 'date'. The woman stared blankly ahead, and for a little while even interjected herself into a conversation at the adjacent table. However, the entire time, they didn't talk! I've never seen anything like it and almost wanted to walk near them and pretend to trip and fall JUST so it would help jump start their conversation. I'm not trying to pat my own back on this, but I've never been on a date where it was THAT awkward. Yes, sometimes there are brief moments when you don't have anything to say, or the conversation is a bit dry and both people start eating faster just so they can end the date sooner, but this was a whole new level. It made me wonder, what if I become that man in x number of years, sitting across someone that I absolutely have nothing to say to. Sad, eh? Anyways, to top it off, this couple was seated when we arrived, and remained sitting there when we were finished dinner and left! This confuses me because if it were such a bad date, you'd think they would want to just get it over with and leave? Maybe I am wrong and they were having a great time?! Who knows.

Now, fast forward to Nice on Tuesday. The group is taking off to Monaco but I stay in Nice because I have a flight back to London later that same night. I've got about four hours to kill before I need to head towards the airport and for 30 minutes or so I shop around. This quickly gets boring since I can't buy anything due tiny bag I brought for the weekend (ie. just a messenger bag stuffed to the brim with dirty clothes now). From there, I slowly wander down to the rocky beach to just sit and relax for a few before deciding what to do next. A few minutes turns into a few hours, and I find myself lodged firmly on the rocks, just looking out at the sea, listening as the water crashes against the shore, and thoroughly enjoying the moment. Like I said before, it was a moment to just stop and smell the roses! Oh, and see old topless women who don't have a care in the world. I hope you get a visual of that so you have to suffer just like I did.

Overall, what a great trip though! I met some new friends, ate some fantastic food (and in excess quantities), and laughed quite a few laughs.

I'll give the part 2 update on my long weekend travels after I get back from sailing in Croatia this weekend. Life is good.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Inspiration comes in so many different shapes and sizes

What inspires you to _____? Fill in the blank. Why do you put in the hard work that no one will ever see, punish your mind and / or body, cope with all the mental and physical pain that comes along the way?

Today, I had the fortunes to volunteer at the finish line of the 2011 London Marathon. Many of you know that I had run my first marathon last October in Athens, Greece, and many of you hear me talking about future races I want to take part in. However, I've never actually watched a marathon before as a spectator. Needless to say, if you've ever had an itch to run marathon but are on the edge whether you can run that far, do yourself a favor and go watch one in person. You will be brought to tears, and if you don't get inspired, you are a cold cold emotionless robot! I was so blown away today by the thirty six thousand plus nameless athletes, only identifiable by a bib number, coming across the finish line. You can easily read about or hear the stories of the elite runners, and don't get me wrong, they are super heroes running at sub five minute mile paces (for comparison, I ran the 5th Ave Mile challenge last year and completed it in 5:26 and almost died at the finish line while the elite men and women all maintain a faster pace for 26.2 miles), however, I was truly inspired by the regular folks who tossed and turned sleeplessly in bed last night counting down the hours remaining and counting up all the training runs, those who got up and rode the tube to the start line at the break of dawn, and those who nervously waited in their corrals while everyone inched forward waiting for their chance to start the run.

I cannot tell you the number of times I saw runners collapse within 200m of the finish line...their bodies physically giving out under all the duress, but whose minds, will power, and determination begged their bodies to cooperate, if only just for a few more steps before collapsing again. The crowds honed in as well and would erupt in cheers as they encouraged these nameless runners (who they would never meet) to push forward. Often times, the staff would be forced to make their way onto the course and provide a shoulder for the runner to lean on through the last few hundred steps before the finish. These runners were amazing. I did not see anyone give a matter of fact, as I watched these people, I noticed the singular focus in their eyes as they locked onto the finish line and shakingly put their left foot in front of their right, then their right in front of their left. Today, they were not going to be refused the title of 'champion'.

As I watched runner after runner coming through the last turn, seeing the '200 meters to go' sign, I wondered what inspired each and every one of them? Why were they out there today pounding concrete, giving it their all?

I will never know the answers exactly, but by watching them, I have come away with a new found inspiration why it is that I plead with my legs and lungs to just let me run to the next light pole ahead, and then to the following one, and then just a bit further after that.

Whatever goals you set, find what it is that inspires you to want to do it in the first place. When the going gets tough, let this inspiration carry you. It won't fail. Best of luck to you!

PS - as I wrote this, I ate an ice cream sandwich and half a bag of chips...YUM. Gulp.