My 3 Magical Chinese Must-Haves for Surviving Long Flights To/From Asia

As the summer travel season has begun, my friends are already talking about their forthcoming trips to and from Asia. For most of us, this invariably means one thing:

Surviving a very long flight.

Since I’m from the US, I’ve had to endure countless plane trips that lasted anywhere from 11 to 14 hours. And over the years, I’ve encountered a lot of secrets for surviving these trips:

  • I always fly with Gatorade or a similar sports drink like it to stay hydrated onboard and ward off the jetlag (thank you for that advice, Susan Blumberg-Kason!). You can even buy it powdered to pack ahead before your trip. For example, powdered Gatorade is available in the US. In China, I often buy powdered Aptonia sports drink from the Tmall store for Decathlon, which also works great.
  • Also in that vein, I travel with a few empty bottles, which I can fill with water after clearing security and then bring on the plane, to ensure that I drink plenty of fluids and lessen the effects of jetlag.
  • I usually have a pair of disposable slippers (often accumulated from hotel stays in China) to use during the flight for extra comfort when those feet swell during the journey. (Additional tip — last time my husband flew Air China, they passed these out to everyone in economy, so just booking with the right airline can save you the trouble of packing them.)
  • There’s always a stash of ginger candies in my purse to manage nausea or motion sickness. When I’m in the US, I like buying Ginger Candies from the Ginger People.
  • I never forget moisturizer and lip balm, absolutely essential for combatting the dryness in flight.

But I’ve also discovered some additional must-haves for long-haul flights after living in China (and also, in part, thanks to my Chinese husband) — things that, to me, can be magical and life-saving. Here are 3 of my personal favorites:

#1: Feng You Jing Essential Balm Oil (风油精)

Headaches. Nausea. Stuffed nose. Scratchy throat. Any of these could turn a long-haul flight into an extended nightmare. Everyone has their remedies for managing them, but for me, you can’t beat Feng You Jing essential balm oil, known in Chinese as fēngyóujīng (风油精).

Dab it on your forehead to ease headaches. Add a few drops on your temples and under your nose to relieve nausea. Apply a little on your nostrils to help clear your stuffy nose. And yes, if you’ve got a bit of a scratchy throat, rub directly on it and it’s almost as good as having a lozenge.

Plus, it’s also handy for masking unpleasant odors you might encounter in airports or planes (especially if, God forbid, you end up being the unlucky person seated right near the bathrooms).

Every pharmacy in China carries Feng You Jing essential balm oil (fēngyóujīng, 风油精) and you’ll find it on Taobao. But in the US, you can also buy it on Amazon as well.

#2: Chinese Hawthorn Fruit Snacks (山楂卷/糕/片/球)

Chinese hawthorn fruit, known here in China as shānzhā (山楂), is already known for being a magical and healthful fruit that has great cardiovascular and digestive benefits. In particular, it has become a must-have in my home just because of its ability to ease indigestion and nausea — two symptoms that could make anyone miserable en route.

Thankfully, it’s easy to bring Chinese hawthorn fruit on the plane because it’s made into lots of packable snacks here in China. Rollups are my favorite version, but I also like the cakes and even candies, which can all be purchased online (just search Taobao for 山楂) or in any major supermarket in China. In the US, Amazon has a number of possibilities, including these haw flakes.

Another added benefit of bringing Chinese hawthorn fruit candies with you? They’re perfect for easing hunger between meals or connecting flights.

#3: Golden Throat Lozenges (金嗓子喉片)

Any veteran flyer knows just how dry it can be when you’re cruising over 30,000 feet — and that dryness can make for uncomfortable throats. That’s why I always pack throat drops. But far and away, nothing beats the magic of the Chinese brand Golden Throat Lozenges (jīnsǎngzi hóupiàn, 金嗓子喉片). They’re incredibly soothing and effective, and I’ve sworn by them for years. They’re always available at pharmacies across China (ask for jīnsǎngzi hóupiàn, 金嗓子喉片) or on Taobao, but you can also pick them up on Amazon in the US.

What are your magical must-haves for long haul flights?

P.S.: This post contains some affiliate links, where your purchases help support this blog.

Things I’ve Learned from My Chinese Husband: Asia Is Not That United

(Photo by U.S. Army via Flickr.com)
(Photo by U.S. Army via Flickr.com)

Years ago, a fellow blogger with a Chinese husband wrote to me, “I follow some blogs by Western women married to Japanese men. You’d probably like them too.” It was the kind of friendly recommendation that you often get from other bloggers – except it came with a warning. “But shhh, don’t tell our husbands!”

Why did a suggestion to read someone’s blog suddenly get slapped with a cautionary note, as if all blogs written by Western women with Japanese husbands might be hazardous to our health? Simple. Like most Chinese men, her husband didn’t care for Japan – and neither did mine:

“Japan? I never want to visit Japan,”[John] hissed. “I’m anti-Japanese.” He launched into a brief history of Japanese aggression in China, from the first territorial swipes at China during the Sino-Japanese War, to the Second Sino-Japanese War, with Holocaust-like atrocities that Japan had yet to acknowledge publicly.

Yes, my marriage to a Chinese man has taught me a valuable lesson — that Asia is not the great, united, happy family (as some Americans might believe). That “Asians” don’t necessarily like being lumped together.

I didn’t realize the extent to our cultural amnesia about the true state of affairs in Asia until I met and married a man from China. A self-proclaimed “military fan” whose interest went deeper than tanks, submarines and aircraft carriers. A husband who schooled me in the many disagreements, wars and massacres between China and its Asian neighbors.

I’ve learned that Japan has yet to fully acknowledge the “Asian holocaust” it perpetrated against China and others, from the gruesome horrors of Unit 731 to the “comfort women” forced into prostitution. I’ve learned of the skirmish between Vietnam and China that led to a short war. I’ve learned about the border disputes between China and India, serious enough to lead my Lonely Planet guidebooks to print “The external boundaries of India on this map have not been authenticated and may not be correct” on their maps. And now I’ve learned everything there is to know about the emerging military alliance between Japan and the Philippines, especially how it affects China.

In America, we speak of “Asian” cuisine like it’s all the same – as if you could substitute one country for another – never realizing the countries here wouldn’t agree. That the Thai restaurant down the street from my father’s home serving Chinese delicacies alongside a sushi menu would look totally blasphemous to people in China, who still haven’t forgotten what Japan did to them.

I’m reminded of what Alex Tizon wrote about in his memoir Big Little Man:

As a journalist in my twenties and thirties, I wrote extensively about these [Asian] communities. No surprise, I found each group exuberantly complex and instinct, and perceiving themselves as separate from — and often antipathetic to — other Asian ethnicities. The parents and grandparents clove to their countrymen, the Vietnamese with other Vietnamese, Koreans with Koreans, Cambodians with Cambodians.

It was the children and grandchildren, the ones growing up in America, who would find — or be coerced into — common ground. Years of checking “Asian” on countless forms, of being subjected to the same epithets and compliments, of living in the same neighborhoods and housing projects, and sharing similar challenges and aspirations — the most important to become Americanized — all of these would compel young Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Filipinos to accept their belonging to the category known as Asians.

Perhaps the most unifying force was the perception that everyday Americans saw them as the same, and what made them the same was their “racial uniform,” to use a term coined by sociologist Robert Park. The uniform was thought to consist of a certain eye and nose shape, hair and skin color, and body type, usually shorter and skinnier — identifiers of the Yellow or Mongoloid or Oriental and finally now the Asian race.

…We Asians were now in the same boat. Our uniform did not lie. Like Lisa said on the Grand Concourse: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino — same thing!

Yep, this is what happened in America – we just clustered everything from Asia together, and assumed that it was one great unified map. Never realizing that it was one great lie.

Asia isn’t that great, united land where countries always peacefully coexist. But that doesn’t mean friendships don’t happen to cross unlikely borders. After all, even if he still dislikes Japan’s government, my husband has actually changed his feelings towards the country as a whole. He has Japanese friends. Still, there is one thing though:

“So, does this mean I can buy you a Toshiba someday?” I prodded him, with a grin.

“Not really. I still have standards, you know,” he smiled.

Hmmm. Best not to tell his new Japanese friends.

Following Her Heart To Asia At 45+: Interview With Janet Brown

Tone Deaf in Bangkok by Janet BrownIt’s never too late to follow your heart to Asia. Just ask American writer Janet Brown, who went to Bangkok at age 45 to teach English and ended up falling in love with her newfound home (and, for a brief time, a Thai local). She captured this experience in her memoir Tone Deaf in Bangkok, which reads like a valentine to the city and Thailand itself, the country where she feels most at home.

Then Janet returns to Bangkok at 60 and wonders: could she still remain closely connected to her two sons in Seattle and live happily in Thailand at the same time? That’s the question at the heart of her second memoir titled Almost Home, a book where she also explores the possibility of putting down roots in three other Asian locales — Beijing, Hong Kong and Penang.

Not surprisingly, while Janet currently calls Seattle, Washington home, she has just returned to Asia this year for some traveling and hopes to continue her love affair with the continent.

I’m delighted to introduce you to Janet Brown and her writing through this interview. Besides Tone Deaf in Bangkok and Almost Home, Janet is also the author of the forthcoming book Light and Silence: Growing Up in My Mother’s Alaska, which will be out September 1, 2014. You can follow her writer’s notebook at Tone Deaf in Thailand.

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You’re currently in Hong Kong and have plans to return to Thailand. It must be exciting to return to two places that feel like second homes to you and reunite with close friends there. What does it feel like to be back?

Coming back to this part of Asia is always like leaving one life to step into another. It’s exhilarating and joyful and a tiny bit exhausting at first, because to enter one life you have to be prepared to completely leave the other, if only for a little while. I think we call this jetlag, but it’s really the effects of time travel.

As you chronicled in Tone Deaf in Bangkok, you fell in love with your Thai language tutor, who was much younger than you. Did your attraction to him surprise you and if so, how?

When I first met the man I fell in love with in Bangkok, I didn’t even think we’d be friends. He was so conservative and quiet, but that turned out to be a professional mask that covered the face of a rebel. I fought the attraction as it grew, telling myself it was one-sided and absurd, concentrating on the work of learning Thai and getting to know the person who was teaching me to speak it. Because of the age difference between us, I was hesitant right up until the moment that he first kissed me.

Almost Home by Janet BrownWhat did you learn from this brief romance? And what did it feel like to see him years later, as you recalled in your book Almost Home?

I learned that love takes many forms and can be expressed in ways that don’t depend upon a sexual relationship. After our physical intimacy ended, we continued a close and loving friendship up until his death. We met each time I came to Thailand on vacation and stayed in touch through email and photographs. I urged him to marry the woman who became his wife and celebrated the birth of their daughter. Even so, when he first brought his family to see me after I moved back to Bangkok and they came on vacation from Italy, it was much more difficult than I had expected. Although we had become friends, the underpinning of that relationship was still the memory of bodies in a dark room, laughing.

Perhaps the greatest gift he gave me was coming to see me without his family the very last time I saw him, ten months before he died. The bond between us was very strong and very tangible; I feel a deep and inerasable loneliness now that he is no longer in the world.

Where will you spend Chinese New Year? What are your plans?

I’ll be in Bangkok this Chinese New Year, as I was three years ago, on Yaowarat Road in Chinatown as the Lunar New Year celebrations began. It was wildly crowded and I left after an hour of walking and staring. I’d left my phone at home and when I entered my apartment, it rang. “I saw you in Chinatown a couple of hours ago. Why didn’t you answer your phone?” The voice at the other end of the line didn’t surprise me. We always found each other in unlikely circumstances, from the moment we first met. Now I find him in unexpected places, with memories that are so strong that they blot out the world for a minute and once again I’m in another life.

As someone who found a new life, love and adventure in Asia over the age of 45, you’re truly an inspiration. What advice do you have for women over 45 who want to follow in your footsteps, including dating men in Asia?

Janet Brown
Janet Brown

I think women in their forties now are much more open to adventure than their counterparts were twenty years ago. But to those who think they have to settle into a lackluster middle age, I urge them to take a risk and explore different ways of living—and loving. Skydive, damn it.

Author of Tone Deaf in Bangkok and Almost Home, Janet has a third book, Light and Silence, coming out in 2014. She keeps a writer’s notebook at tonedeafinthailand.blogspot.com.

Why “white loser laowai & Chinese women” is a thorny topic

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(photo by Daniel R. Blume via Flickr.com)

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a friend who urged me to read an essay by Virginia Proud of Tales of Expatria. She dubbed the essay “controversial” but then again, as she put it “blogs thrive on controversy” and encouraged me to introduce the topic. Well, she said the magic word — “controversy” — so of course, I immediately clicked on the link and dove into the first paragraph.

But when I finished the essay, a feeling of dread settled over me…which had nothing to do with Virginia’s essay per se.

First off, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed the essay. The writing was exceptional — humorous, thoughtful and self-reflective — and you could clearly tell that Virginia has, as you might say, “been around the global block” in her own experiences as an expat.

No, my dread stemmed from the subject itself, which I’ll let Virginia describe for you:

If you spend enough time in Expatria you’ll meet this chap, we affectionately call him the LBH. The Loser Back Home. Best described as someone you wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole, but transplanted to foreign soil, is suddenly hot property, especially with attractive, young local women….

The LBH has always been with us and probably always will be. I remember my first LBH encounters as a teenager, when my family lived in Hong Kong. I couldn’t understand these corpulent old buggers with their gorgeous Chinese wives, until my mother pointed out their diamonds. It was the glory days of British rule and massive salaries and no one cared if the men were boring, ugly, stupid, or even mean. But then again, money and power has always been enough to make men wildly attractive, even back home….

Yes, the LBH — or, as people call him here in China, the Loser Laowai. Or for the purposes of this blog, the white Loser Laowai who only dates local Chinese women.

To me, this topic feels like the “skeleton in the closet” in the realm of cross-cultural and interracial dating in China — a topic so icky I’ve wanted to stay far, far away from it. And in the few times I’ve gathered the gumption to attempt a blog post on it in the past, invariably I abandoned my drafts and turned my attention to other topics.

Yet Virginia was able to produce a splendid essay that, to an extent, dealt with this topic, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s a matter of perspective. After all, Virginia, who is originally from Australia, currently calls Budapest, Hungary home and referred to this LBH in a more universal sense. She doesn’t have to address the proverbial “panda in the room” that immediately comes to mind once you move the topic to China — yellow fever. And for the purposes of this blog post, I’m referring to those white Laowai men who prefer Asians and potentially have highly racialized notions about Asian women.

See what I mean? Loaded stuff.

In my opinion the majority of white men with Chinese women do NOT fall into this “Loser Laowai” category. But still, we all know there are white loser laowai out there hooking up with Chinese women. And like the yellow fever phenomenon, their existence does have ramifications for couples of white men and Chinese women around the world. As Christine Tan of Shanghai Shiok wrote:

The problem, to me, is that shallow, superficial relationships between white men and Asian women vastly outnumber the same sort of suspicious pairings between Asian men and white women. And sadly, these types of WM/AF pairings are the most visible ones, because they often create spectacles of themselves….They are the Douchebags, the Jerks, and the Ambitious who think dating a white man or Asian woman betters them, financially or socially….those are the types of WM/AF pairings we remember, because they were too in-your-face to forget.

Which unfortunately could lead to the wrong assumptions when you see a white man and an Chinese woman walking down the street. Again, as Christine wrote:

I know that the white male/Asian female pairing has numerous negative associations attached to it. Words that immediately come to mind: Opportunistic. Gold-digger. Fetish. Sexualization. White-worship. Money. Exploitation. Lust. Pinkerton Syndrome. ‘Sarong Party Girl’ behavior was something I was warned against growing up.

I think a lot about why those associations exist. There are poorer women in China and the rest of Asia who view a foreign man as a meal ticket. There are Asian women who only date white men because most of the men they meet are white, and/or they find them more culturally/sexually appealing. There are white men who only date Asian women because of the society they live in — where the women are mostly Asian — or yes, they do find Asian women more culturally/sexually appealing. There are white men who come to Asia to hook up with local women in certain seedier places. There are local women who go to these places to hook up with the white men who come to Asia.

But then there are cases like mine — a mutual friend introduces a man and a woman and they get along, they like each other, they both like eating, and books, and the Barbie store. And oh, by the way, they happen to be white and Asian, respectively.

Enough said.

There’s another side to this topic of white Loser Laowai who only date Chinese women — when the men justify their dating choices by insulting the women back home, which Virginia alludes to in her essay. I’ve addressed this before and find it abhorrent that anyone would defend their relationship in such a hateful way. But it happens, most often in anonymous online forums. And because the expat gender balance is so skewed — far more expat men, who are overwhelming white, than women — well, let’s say if you’re a woman like me, you need a lot of courage to speak up about it in public.

Additionally, let’s not forget what Virginia mentioned near the end of the post: “And the fall out of all this, of course, lands on the head of the single expat women, who need to keep adjusting their ideas of ‘attractive’ as their dating pool starts to feel more like a puddle.” Or in other words, it’s the China Daily article published a few years back titled Foreign women label [China] a dating wasteland. This is also thorny territory…because then the question comes, why aren’t they interested in dating Chinese men? Some women have understandable reservations (for example, they’re not interested in marriage or getting too serious in a relationship) but others exclude locals for completely superficial reasons, often based on stereotypes.

Ugh.

In the end, I’ll never be able to write something like Virginia, not with all the baggage that accompanies this idea of white Laowai Losers with Chinese women. Still, I believe the subject deserves a conclusion. So, as someone who writes about relationships, perhaps it’s fitting that I sum this up with a phrase used on dating sites around the world: it’s complicated.

P.S.: For further reading on this “thorny topic”, I recommend They’re So Beautiful, the companion website to the compelling documentary Seeking Asian Female.