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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Intercontinental travelling tips

I love reading different kind of "lifehacks" and productivity tips, and as I was actually looking for some travelling tips myself, I thought I have a few to share myself. I am not what you would call a frequent flyer, I do not have any airlines' cards (though I think I should get one from Cathay Pacific), but I have been living half-a-world away from my home country for last 8 years, and traveled between Asia and Europe at least once a year.

It might not be very frequent, but it sure has been intense. To get from Taiwan to Poland, I need to transfer twice (or if you're rich, you can just do it once), so the trip usually takes around 24 hours altogether. I buy my tickets based on price, and I fly Economy, but I do have my personal "black list" (at the end of this post) of airlines I do not use, even if they are cheaper. Finally, my tips might not be "the best", but maybe you'll find them useful. Here it goes:

  1. Ordering tickets: I first search on-line on at least 3-5 platforms, though usually seems to have best offers, and then I go to a local travel agent and only suggest to check the flights I found myself, and see if they can find  something better with their own internal system. Sometimes agents have really great deals, and since my flight is more complicated (remember the 2 transfers?), I feel better if I can buy through them.
  2. Booking management:
    1. I always check if I can reserve my seat early through the on-line booking management system. Sometimes I can, sometimes it's only possible 24hrs before  the flight (still can get you better seat than if you check-in on the airport), sometimes it's not possible at all. At least I try. Now, choosing the seat! I don't know about safety, but as for convenience, I choose aisle seat for the long flights (quick bathroom access without need of waking up your neighbors, plus extra leg space), and windows seats for short flights (like HK to Taipei). Emergency row is good, because it gives you more leg space, even though you'll have to listen to 5 minutes lecture about what to do in case of emergency. The most front row also tends to have more space, but I don' t like it due to inconvenient TV screen location (it's take out of your armlet).
    2. Another thing I always do with my booking, is setting all meals to vegetarian. I eat meat normally, but I found that my stomach feels better ("lighter") when I skip the inflight "chicken". Plus, specially ordered meals are always served first :-).
  1. Packing: I love making lists, and I start composing the gift list at least 2 months early, so that I won't forget about anyone, have all gifts on time, and I know how much space they will take in my suitcase. Then around 2 weeks before the flight I am compiling the luggage packing lists, both carry-on and main suitcase. I travel with plastic suitcase, to keep all the gifts safe, but actually plastic cases tend to be heavy and the small plastic elements break easily while handling by airport staff (clasps, wheels, etc.). The carry-on of my choice is a backpack, because outside of airports it's hard to roll two suitcases, and also because I often carry extra laptop bag, already hanging on my side. Furthermore, I have tiny travel bag that is ALWAYS on me. It can be worn over shoulder or on the waist, and usually I choose the first one while in the airport, and the second while on board. This is where I have my passport, my ear plugs, tissues, lip balm, cash, and medicine. While packing, weight is often an issue. Most airlines accept only 20 kg main luggage (in practice up to 23 KG will usually be fine *wink wink*), and 10 kg carry-on. From my experience, carry-on is almost never weighted, so if I have no other choice, I put some of heavier stuff in it. I also choose to wear the heaviest shoes, since I will take them off once in the airplane (and wear socks instead). If you can pick airlines with 30 kg limit, then go for it. My plastic suitcase, full of gifts and clothes usually weights 26 kg :-|
  1. What I take with me in my carry-on: other than passport an some cash in USD (I have no credit card), I always have a copy of my travel plan (all transfers info, all flight times and numbers, etc.), small bag with cosmetics plus extra ziploc bag in case the airport will require it to be in transparent bag (otherwise my bag is not transparent but let's me organize everything nicely, which is not possible with a ziploc bag). Wet and dry tissues are a must. I also have lip balm because it's dry up there in the air. I also have fully charged Kindle with me, so I can read while waiting on my transfers (usually can't focus to read in the plane), and my own headphones (sometimes they match the plane's inlets, sometimes they don't). I also have small towel (microfiber?) that is really small when folded and dries fast. Another thing, is paper nail file as the metal type is not acceptable, and will be taken from you on the first security check. For some magical reason I always happen to nick at least one nail while travelling, so it is a must have for me. I also make sure to have socks, light scarf and jacket with me, as it gets very cold on the long flights, and the airlines blanket is not enough, even in summer.
    1. Cosmetics - most airports will approve cosmetics as long as their each container is not bigger than 100 ml, and in total of 1000 ml. I don't usually buy special travel kits, but rather choose cosmetics that are originally small (most face creams will not be bigger than 100 ml). I take: face cream, face wash, tiny tooth paste (I used to have sample sized ones from my dentist), tooth brush, eye cream, stick deodorant. Otherwise I have my make-up kit: mascara, eye shadow, concealer, powder, but I will only apply them just before landing in the final destination, because 24 hour make up is a no-no, and I don't really want to add on the make-up removing kit to the pack. Oh, and let's not forget a small comb not to look like a lunatic after landing. My cosmetic bag will also hold small pharmacy: headache pills, something for stomach problems, and possibly allergy pills.
    2. Sleeping Kit - I have trouble sleeping on the planes, buses, trains, and such, which is quite a torture when you travel for 20+ hours. That is why the plane HAS TO have personal entertainment system (your personal TV screen with on demand movies, music, etc.), without that it's really hard to sit 12 hours and look into the back of the front seat. Yes, I have my Kindle, but usually I get small headaches in the plane and I can't really read. However, over the years I have become better in helping my body to at least nap for a few hours, and so my sleeping kit consists of: travel pillow (you have to find the kind that you like, though even with it my neck hurts afterwards), ear plugs (they help for the constant plane murmur, neighbors'  snoring, and ear pressure block), eye cover, and mentioned scarf + socks + jackets + blanket  (or best two if the flight attendant agrees to give me one more) set to keep warm. Oh, and very important - travel medicine, which generally will make you feel sleepy.
  2. On the airports: I usually try to eat something while I can, because honestly, the plane food is not enough (quantity-wise), and I end up quite hungry. I get to the airport usually around 3 hours early, so that I can check-in smoothly and then find a restaurant to eat. I do enjoy window shopping, or sometimes I shop for last-minute souvenirs in Taipei airport, the prices are quite alright there. Then I wait, yes, because 3 hours is plenty of time, but I want to have a buffer in case something goes wrong.
  3. On my long flight: That is the one that takes 8-13 hours. At the beginning I'm usually still quite fresh and energetic, so I enjoy going through the duty-free catalog, then I watch some "light" movie (usually the meal is served as I begin). When I start to feel tired, I take my travel medicine, put on my sleeping gear and usually am successful in getting a nap. I will wake up early though, when it's dark, and flight attendants are nowhere to be seen. I'll call them or go find them, and ask for hot tea, maybe a snack. After that it's back to the entertainment system, trying to find even "lighter" movies or TV series, waiting for the breakfast. Breakfast is good news, because it usually means you're getting close to your destination. That's how the flight time flies ;-)
  4. Clothing: Generally, I believe in the onion layers rule. In summer that would be leggings and comfy stretchy dress, plus usually the heaviest shoes on my luggage (so they don't add to the weight of main luggage, and I change them to socks once in the plane anyway). I want to be comfortable, but don't look too weird. I've once seen a documentary, in which airlines employees were giving tips, and they said that if you dress smart you have bigger chance of being promoted to First or Business Class. They said, airlines like to give the feeling that they fly rich and fancy people, so they want these classes to be full, and will for free upgrade people who look rich and fancy. Well, so far never happened to me :-|

I think that's all. At least for now.  I have mentioned the black list of airlines that I have in my mind, so below I write shortly about my airline choices, but I can only talk about European/Asian companies.
  • As my personal rule I don't fly with: Russian airlines (heard LOTS of stories about bad food, lost baggage, and did you know that even in 2000s there was a woman leaving in Moscow's airport, just like the guy in the Terminal movie?) and Chinese Airlines (Mainland Chinese, I have no problem with Taiwanese EVA or China Airlines, other than the second one surely has a confusing name). I've never flown with any of these, but the stories of my friends and experience of both Russian and Chinese customer service in general keeps me away. Long flights are exhausting, and I'd rather spend some more money that suffer for 24 hours.
  • Special "You Suck" award though goes to KLM, which I did used once. Flight from Taipei to Amsterdam, with extra sub-landing in Bangkok. Oh my, where to start my rant. Firstly, I got really bad seat (next to the toilet… smelly and noisy place), AC was leaking on passengers during take offs and landings (made me a little nervous), flight attendants didn't speak Chinese, even though this route obviously had a lot of Taiwanese tourists going to Thailand, and I had to help translate "chicken or noodles" to a very rude flight attendant who was rising her voice at older Taiwanese man who did not understand English. Later, at night, I failed to call any of the flight attendant ladies (I badly needed something to drink), as they were busy chatting together. Yet, the worst offence was the lack of personal entertainment system (that was in 2009)! There was only one TV hanged in my part of the plane, and it didn't even show any movies at night. That night I swore to never ever again fly with KLM. Now you know.
Good experiences:
  • Singapore Airlines - my very first time coming to Asia, and I was lucky enough to go with them. Famous for their great service, and it was really good. Had great deal on a stopover 1-day trip in Singapore too. But pricey.
  • Cathay Pacific - I often fly with them, at least on the first flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong. So far very reliable, nice service and food quality. Once my personal TV screen was broken on a 9 hours flight, and I've got apology and a 50 USD coupon to spend in their duty-free, which kept me a happy customer.
  • British Airways - so far the best European lines I've used. Very nice service, actually maybe better than in Singapore Airlines (though SA's uniforms are just beautiful). Surprisingly good food (enjoyed my blueberry English muffin breakfast).
  • Eva Airlines - I went to Japan with them, and everything was up to standards, plus on the way back we've got the Hello Kitty plane, which was great! Even food was shaped as Hello Kitty :-)

Oh, random reminder - make sure to turn off alarm clock alerts on your phone! I've almost had a heart attack when while somewhere above Himalayas my phone started ringing. It was obviously powered off, but apparently it will turn itself on for the alarm clock (plus due to the time difference, the morning alarm clock was middle of the night on the plane). Luckily no one awake was around to hear it, even though it happened twice (first time I hit snooze apparently, in the end I had to turn the phone on and switch off the alarm, then power it off again). Luckily, it didn't cause a plane crash either. But you can imagine how it startled me.

I will be flying back to Europe for vacations soon, so do you have any other tips? I'm going to take Qatar Airlines this time, any reviews (so far I've read only positive comments about them).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

30 and still counting

I have started this blog three years ago, when I have had at last felt as an "adult". Well, now I feel so even more. There's no more calling me a "girl", from now on, please refer to me now as a "young woman", you can skip the "young" in another ten years I guess.

This year I have been reading and thinking a lot about life in general and what's important, what's not, what's necessary and what's not. I have even started meditating just to get a better grasp on what I want to do in my life. Because no matter how many LinkedIn's articles I will read not one of them can give me specific ways to know this, and surprisingly, even at my age (roll your eyes with me please) I really have trouble to figure it out.

Sure, I have lots of hobbies, even passions, but who knows, maybe I will hate them if I HAVE to do them, and do them every day from 8 AM to 6 PM, Monday to Friday. Though I must say, I have lost my faith in this kind of "fixed place and time" working system, and I really want to try remote working (from home or any place with free wifi and AC). So the "where" part is quite clear actually, the "what" and the "will I survive with it" questions still stay strong.

Here's my very wanted BD gift! Now I have the power :)
(P.S. Instagram is truly amazing)
The "what" part is tricky because it has to be something that I both enjoy and am good at. I can list quite a few things I enjoy, but as a person who is continuously working on self-esteem on top of having high standards, it's hard to list the "good at" things. I hate selling people what I don't madly believe in (that's why I can talk you to death about how cool meditation or Body Combat is).

Yes, my homework for this year is definitely working this out. I have some good and even maybe great ideas, but as any change they are risky and the life of an unmarried expat is always restrained by visa issues, so shaking the career situation might be costly. That is why, if you want to wish me something, please wish me courage and luck, as it's time to stop putting things for later, and start acting NOW

Thursday, April 17, 2014

5 Reasons Why I Pay for Digital

I don't live in the US, nor am I a US citizen. I'm from Poland, and I live in Taiwan, that means the Internet content, free or paid, is very different for me, compared the "average" Internet user we seen often described on social media. Among my circles, paying for digital services and content is still considered stupid. It's ridiculous, but when I talk to my friends, I'm actually a little ashamed to admit I buy apps, or pay to download music, because my friends think that's waste of money (and they voice it out loud). Yet, I'm willing to pay, more and more.

In the past, I was on the "Internet should be free" side of the story. Generally, no private person (or even not many businesses) was paying for software in Poland in 2000s. I haven't been living in Europe for a while, and I do think some things are slowly changing, but generally, there is this strong thinking, we should be able to download things for free. Of course, there's plenty cool free stuff, but I must say… less and less as the companies are realizing how to monetize the "e-".

So here are my reasons, why I'm moving from free to paid:
  1. Because I can.
I've started using the Internet when I was 16, and that was considered early for Eastern Europe standards. I know what modem is, I had one. Social media? The first I've used was mIRC. At that time, as long as you had the PC and the modem, things were free mostly. No one even considered if it was legal or not, because it was considered a nature of the Internet that its content was free. With time, the pirating issue grew, especially for downloading movies and music, with some spectacular cases of arresting the pirates. At that time, I could not buy anything on-line, even if I wanted, simply because I was still a student, I had no money really, and surely I had no credit card.  
Now I'm an adult, I have a debit card (credit is not necessary anymore to pay on-line), and spending 10 USD is not such a big deal anymore. I easily spend $10 for a coffee (very overpriced coffee) or for lunch, so why not spend $2.99 on an app that I will enjoy using much longer? Yet, I see around me, many of my peers did not make the leap, and stubbornly cling to the idea of "everything should be free". 
  1. Convenience.
Obviously, as most of the apps is really just selling you convenience as a product. Obviously, I can still download almost any album or e-book, but sometimes I want them right now, without the hassle of going to shady websites, converting files, without waiting. Even though I have a pack of 1000+ e-books somewhere there on some DVD disc (LOL! I mean, disc! My new netbook doesn't even have optical reader), I prefer to purchase through Amazon, so that I can read the same book on my netbook, phone, and Kindle (I love how it syncs to the last page read).
  1. Because there's no other option anymore.
In the past downloading "free" Windows or MS Office was not complicated, or there was always someone who could give a copy to you. Not anymore. Companies have learned how to protect their software, and it is not easy to pirate, unless you have some decent hacking skills.
  1. Cloud subscriptions.
You can't pirate that. It's somehow interlaced with the convenience, but even deeper. Having your files, photos, books, music, contacts on the cloud changed the way we do and plan things. As I mentioned, I'm an expat, and cloud helps me so much with handling my matters between my home country and the place where I live, especially when I travel.
  1. Quality.
Seriously, the quality of free stuff is getting worse. "You pay for what you get" is very true with digital.

Saying all that, there are still some barriers that are too high for me to cross, and often really annoy me and influence the way I feel about brands. This is what still needs to be done:
  1. Geographical barriers!
Taiwan is beautiful, but not everything is available here
(Photo by 28andstillcounting)
I.HATE.IT.SO.MUCH! Yes, that much. Around five years ago I wanted to buy a movie soundtrack in mp3 form. I was in Taiwan, with Polish credit card, and Polish iTunes account. I literally have spent a day looking for a website that would sell this album to me. I found none! It's getting better in 2010s, I can buy on iTunes and Amazon now (not everything though), but still I feel discriminated. Even when things are restricted to Poland only, based on my IP address, I am blocked out anyway! I wrote more about payment problems in my previous post, but I am continuously frustrated every now and then. Brands are marketing things so well, creating needs in me, and then won't let me buy because of my location or nationality, or both.  I know there are legal issues here, but please, we need to solve this ASAP so companies can make more money and users can get the products they want. I would love to have Netflix, I really want to buy Kindle Fire, but I'm not allowed.
  1. Prices.
I say I can pay, but you need to be reasonable. I know you've invested a lot of money and time in your service, but unless the price goes down I will not consider it. I mentioned MS Office above. Last year I've bought new netbook, and it came with Windows 8 built in, however no MS Office. I was thinking of buying it (I think Microsoft's cloud is actually really well-done and would work great with the Office), but for my private light use, the price is not adequate. Instead I'm paying for more space on my Google Drive and use Google Docs. Also, I was delighted to get e-mail from Google, about a month ago, informing me that monthly fees will be cheaper now. If your app costs below $10, I will not think that long before hitting "buy", but if it costs more, you will need to really use some convincing.
  1. Free Trial.
That convincing is a free way to try your services. Fortunatelly, most companies already offer this option, but not all of them. Headspace is not cheap at all (really, I'm still shocked that I've actually subscribed, and I'm scared that my friends will find out about it!), but the 10 days free program got me so hooked, that 3 weeks after ending it, trying other similar apps, I just knew I couldn't live without it. I don't really regret, because I love it and use it daily. However, it was not an easy decision for me, and the free trial was the best hook.

So these are the reasons to buy or not, from my perspective. I think it's different than, for example, perspective of people from the US or the UK. When I talk to them, they tend to see less of a problem with the price levels than me ($100 a year? no problem for them). But I hope my parts of the world won't be overlooked by tech companies anymore. Otherwise, don't be surprised that "we" find other ways to access your products. One of the biggest reasons why I like Amazon and continue to buy from there is because they are quite open to international clients (I think they were one of the firsts to accept foreign debit cards as payment), even though their newest products are US-only. I hope they will continue pushing on the geographical barriers and truly make the Internet a global platform.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm Getting #Headspace

Last time I made a list of my favorite apps, some already were deleted from my phone though (step-counting app, because after 2 weeks it has started killing my battery with light speed, and also because I've got Fitbit Flex at last, and I don't need it, woot woot).

With the New Year, I made new resolutions this year, and the key resolution was to keep my resolutions this time :-). I am glad to report that so far, it's going well. I keep track of them with my spreadsheet on Google Drive, and update it at the end of each week with comments why the results as they are, and I added monthly evaluations too. This approach seems to work... I mean, it's March and I'm still remembering the resolutions at all!

One of things I have started in 2014 is meditation, though I prefer to call it "practicing mindfulness", because meditation has so many weird stereotypes, and often is connected to some religious views. I am not doing it with spiritual mindset, but rather with self-improvement one. I have started my mindfulness journey with googling "best meditation apps for iPhone" (duh!), and downloaded Headspace, because the "Emma Watson is using it" is a really good marketing trick to get nerdy people like me. I must say Headpsace is doing it so well in so many aspects... I fell in love with it, and I'm at the stage, when I want to scream to everyone and force them to use it, because it's so awesome. So yes, their marketing, and content marketing especially, are brilliant! As a marketing enthusiast, I can appreciate a job well done. I don't mind it too, because they do not over-promise, and the communication is so honest and straightforward, it was exactly what I wanted from my meditation. No religious talking, no spiritual talking, but rather facts, techniques, and encouragement. With Headspace I'm getting it. The only thing that I'm not happy with is the price, because for a person that is not in the UK or US, it's quite a price.

The founder - Andy Puddicombe
Back to beginning though, I downloaded it and went through the free Take10, 10 days 10 minutes meditations program. Andy's (the founder and the person of the Headspace) voice is soothing and doesn't distract me like voice of people in some other meditations. He doesn't talk too much, or too little for beginners who are not yet ready to be left in silence. He has great talent to explain it all in such simple ways. After a month+ of using I now have bought his book, because I am so hungry to hear more about what he has to say. To my surprise, the 10 minutes was actually passing pleasantly and I wasn't bored. What's more, I have now developed a hunger for more than just 10 min! When I have finished my 10 days free program, and found out how much the year of Headspace cost I was quite depressed. I refused to spend that much, and instead downloaded 3 more apps, that were paid, but much cheaper. These apps are Buddhify, Calm, and Mindfulness. Actually, all of them are quite good. Buddhify has cool design, and I love the sessions for so many situations, and also how I can track my stats with it. Calm add the white noise music, which helps me to quiet down, and I love the gong sound in Mindfulness. But after 2 weeks of using the other apps, I couldn't forget Headspace, I missed it so bad... that at last I gave up. That's what I usually do with things I want to buy, but that are on the expensive side. I wait and see, if after 3 days I will still be thinking of them. If yes, then well, we were meant to be. So I did purchase the year of Headspace, and I am still loving it, being on my Take20 now (20 min for 20 days).

I am not maybe a septical person, but I only give as much of my effort to this kind of natural/healthy/hippy trends, to see if they really work. After almost 2 months, I am still hungry for my meditations, and I am growing daily meditation time... I can see how I feel more under control over negative thoughts. I still get them, but now I can realize that much quicker and that helps me let them go. So far I feel happier, and I really think everyone should give it a try. I do think Headspace Take10 would give you great basics, and maybe you will be stronger than me and able to move to other cheaper/free app to continue. But please, give it a try. It's like exercise for the mind.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Must Have Apps (According to Me)

Among my friends I'm considered as a tech savvy person, and so I find myself often recommending them what apps to use. I'm an iPhone 5 user, as I found iOS easier to handle than Android (ok, I've got very frustrated with my old HTC, but it was old, and I believe that Android is much more "comfortable" now), so no all of the apps reviewed below can be accessible for Android, however most popular apps is supported by both.

My usage of course changes over time, I tend to install lots of cool "sounding" apps that I end up not using, but I won't write about these (unless it will be a warning such as "total waste of time and space"). So here it goes:

1. Facebook - I'm a FB user, and this is where I get most of my communication now. So for me the FB app is a must. It's not bad, though I wish they at last managed two things: allow flipping the screen to horizontal view and built-in the messenger into it (not a separate app). 

2. Sleep Time (Paid) - I rarely buy apps, but if it's promising I just might. Sleep time so far seems to work well, I don't feel more refreshed when it wakes me up, but I do enjoy tracking my sleep, and that seems very accurate with this up, and offer many graphs and comparisons. If it only gave some advice (example how to change my sleeping habits for better).

3. Line - that messenger might be only popular in Asia, but now everyone here uses it. It's cute (I love the Bear and Bunny stickers), and offers free calls and file sharing. But I think the winner aspect is just... cute. 

4. Google Maps - if I need to find my way when outside (as long as there's 3G connection access) I use Google Maps. They will show me where I am, and the "dot" will move with you, so it works as GPS system when driving too. 

5. P Tracker Lite - for the girls, cute and easy to use free period tracker. Not much to add really, but it worked well for me over 3 years now (used to use it on ipod touch, data is in cloud, so when started using iPhone, it was still there).

6. IFTTT - this magic apps claims to do a lot for you. I am still trying to figure it out, but mostly I use it to automatize photo transfer to my google drive, where I pay for storage. But it's very interesting, and I do recommend trying it. The idea is, you create tiny "programs" that automatize tasks between various apps on your device. Example: you can set your e-mail app to send an e-mail to you if there's a rain forecast in your area for the next day (never forget the umbrella again).

7. Instagram and Line Camera - other than the built-in iOS app, I use these two. Line Camera for the cute stickers, and Instagram for best and easiest to apply filters. I've tried other apps, but I must say that Instagram still gives better results. The only problem with it is that it is THE hipster app.
8. Skype - one of the basics apps to have... I've never tried FaceTime because not many of my friends/family has iPhones, but most importantly - my parents can only use Skype. 

9. Plant Nanny - one of newer additions, but I have been using it daily for 3 weeks now, and plan to keep using it forever. It's a cute game that generally makes sure you will drink enough per day. It's simple as that. Some people argue that coffee or alcohol are liquids but shouldn't count, as they can actually dehydrate, but compared to my life before Plant Nanny, I drink much more water. Did I mention it's cute?

10. Endomondo - I've used to use Nike+, but then I lost it a few times, and obviously I've changed shoes, and so on. Endomondo also allows to track all kind of sports, not only running, and it gives you so much insight (distance, speed, elevation, kcal burned, etc.), so recently I always use it on my long bike rides. Quite a few of my friends uses it too, so it has some social media nature to it too. It's pretty reliable, and I hope to get a heart rate monitor one day to go with it for even more accurate data. What is important, my iPhone battery can live through 4 hours of GPS tracking with it, which is quite amazing.

11. Yogify (Paid) - as you can see through my app choices, I've decided that my phone will be my gym (as I left gym a year ago). So I invest in good apps for workout. Yogify is good - the directions are clear, it offers many programs, own calming music. I just roll out my mat in bedroom and turn it on. I just wish they had more slow paced classes to choose, instead they offer more energetic yoga type. Still, I use it 1-2 times a week.

12. NTC (Nike Training Club) - best workout app, seriously. It's clear, the coaching is amazing, and it's FREE! Many trainings to choose from. But it's quite intensive, you will sweat like a little pig, so I am not always in a mood to do it, but it is good, and I highly recommend it.

13. Lolo 7 Minutes (Paid) - I've bought it recently, because NTC usually has 30-45 min workouts, and I already know myself, I am not that motivated. So I'm trying Lolo 7 min app, I doubt it will make me slim and all, but at least it makes me move everyday. Somehow 7 min a day it's easier that 45 min once a week. Other than that I like it for clarity, coaching, the fact that I can change 1 exercise from the pack. I have actually purchased another lolo exercise app (Boot camp) but haven't had time/motivation to try it yet. 

14. Drop 7 - for a change a game app. I hardly play on my phone now, but drop 7 by Zynga is really a simple puzzle game, but one that I could play for hours. Good time killer for train rides.

15. Spirit Stones - me and my boyfriend were quite addicted to this one, and have already finished all levels. We wait for a big update from the developer now to keep playing. It's fantasy-like card game connected to puzzle game. Hard to describe, but you just want to get more and more card (of sexy ladies in skimpy fantasy costumes) while killing monsters by quite simple puzzle game. 

16. Pocket - this is a cross-device app, I use it on Google Chrome at work and at home, and can access it on my phone too. Generally, it's like having your browser "favorites" on the cloud. Instead of saving pages to favorites, I save them to pocket, so I can read them later. 

17. Evernote - I am writing this note in my desktop Evernote software, I could do it in the browser or on the phone, and they will be all synced in. I often put shopping/to-do list or recipes in it, so I can access it while doing grocery shopping or when cooking in my kitchen. Evernote can give you as much as you put in first, but overall - worth to try.

18. Jango - from many on-line radios, I like this one (recommended to me by my boyfriend first). It's simple, free, and let's you choose different types of music, plus suggest some small bands as well. 

19. Taptalk - it's a forum client. I use it for Forumosa, and it's quite convenient to read through the post or even reply straight from your phone. I am not sure what other forums it supports though.

20. Currents - news app, you can choose different news "channel" and view them in there. Very intuitional and "smooth". Works best for internations/US news though (for example not many Polish channels, for Polish news I use Onet's app). 

21. Kindle - I'm a Kindle fan, on all devices. And I do read my books (beautifully synced) on all of them, including my phone. It's very simple, so there's not really much to say. Compared to other reading apps I've tried in the past, it's most convenient and easy on my eyes.

22. Triptomatic - I don't use it often, however I've used it the last time I've traveled, and it was great! Exactly what I needed to plan my trip and to keep this plan in my pocket. I could create a schedule on a map, with locations I wanted to visit (chosen from their database or added by me), and once on the trip, I could use this map to find way to these places just as if it was Google Maps.

23. Allrecipes Pro (Paid) - as I am more and more interested in cooking, I've decided to pay for a good cooking app. Allrecipes is one of biggest recipe databases in the world, and the app is very conevnient (finding recipes through ingredients, creating shopping list). I often use it while planning a meal, while shopping for groceries and while cooking (in my kitchen).

24. Vine - it lets you record and share 10 s video. It's like gifs with voice. I don't really record them myself, but when bored I like to browse the comedy and the cat categories. It can be quite funny. It's like a video Twitter.

25. Argus - started using recently, and this is now my daily health app. Basically it's a pedometer - it tracks your step count. It also allows you to track other things too - water intake (here water, tea, coffee, alcohol are all different categories), food, sleep (connects to Sleep Time), exercise and so on. You can set your goals and the app will motivate you. However, once I get my Fitbit Flex band, I will switch to fitbit app for this kind of tracking. Big plus of argus - it's free, however I feel my battery is dying faster since I've started using it.

I do like gadgets, and I do like to try new apps. I believe a smartphone, that is actually quite powerful computer, can make so many greater things in our lives, if we can just stop playing angry birds on it (personally, I'm not a big fan of the birds). I am especially excited about the wearable devices (such as mentioned fitbit or its competitor Jawbone UP) and apps that will work with them. Technology is just a tool, and it's up to us how we use it.

What are the apps you use daily? What would you recommend?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Shopping On-Line Globally – My Christmas Shopping Nightmare

"Despite the reluctance of governments to liberalize immigration policy, however, the number of people living outside their countries of origin has risen from 120 million in 1990 to an estimated 215 million in 2012 (The World Bank, 2012), which is approximately 3.05 percent of the world population." (1) And it will most likely continue to grow. As Polish citizen, I am one of the 3.05% too, as I have been living, working and paying taxes in Taiwan for over 6 years now (well, working and paying taxes for 3 years). Also, it is now estimated that 1.5 million Polish people lived abroad in 2012 (2). I just want you now to remember this numbers, while reading my "rant" below.

In recent years I have observed big growth of on-line shopping/stores in Poland (and obviously globally, but in Poland the process was somehow slower that, ie., in the US). It is also now possible to use debit cards (Visa, MasterCard) to make payments on the Internet. It is possible and more widely used, yet this Christmas I am still frustrated that the use is still not wide enough.

When you live abroad, however you might love the country you stay in, you will start missing familiar things from your homeland and culture. Many things is not available locally, so it is only natural that migrants like myself need to search for products on the Internet, and that means on-line stores from different countries or even different continents. Not only I shop on-line for myself (women's shoes in size 41 are almost impossible to get in Taiwan) but also I use it to shop for gifts for my family. It was like an enlightenment when I have first ordered flowers from a local florist in my hometown as Mother's Day's gift for my beloved mom. This year I bought a TV that was shipped straight to my parents house, as it was easier to support them this way than sending a money transfer (which would require me to physically go to a bank -which in Taiwan means I have to take off from work, since banks' working hours are 8:00AM-3:00 PM, and no weekends - fill tons of documents, and pay almost 17 USD just as transaction fee).Going with the new way of shopping, I thought I will do all my Christmas shopping on-line this year. In Poland, we have now a few companies that service on-line payments for stores, with range of options to choose from for payment methods, but most importantly they do allow credit/debit card payments. These companies (at least that I found on my search of stores who will be willing to take my money) are PayU, DotPay, and Przelewy24. I have had successful experiences with the first two, so I have been especially looking out for stores that uses these.

I am an organized person, so I have prepared a list of people I want to buy gifts for, then thought of what would be the best stores that I could find most of these items at. I came with Leroy Merlin, which is a huge DIY retailer in Poland. In their on-line store,  I could find presents for my parents, sisters with their husbands and even for my niece and nephew. It took me around four hours to browse the store and decide on the right things for the right people.
Leroy Merlin on-line store claims PayU is one of available payment methods, so I placed an order and was redirected to the payment site...but not to PayU, but Przelewy24. Ok, I have never used this one, but it seemed they also accept card payments. I have tried to make my payment, input all the information, clicked enter... and sorry, but it's not accepted. Bummer! I have then mailed both the LM store and the payments company for help (I was out of Skype credits so couldn't call them). After few hours Przelewy24 answered me (till this day I did not receive LM store's answer), and explained it was the settings of the store itself that block payments from accounts with different  country and the card location settings. But the problem was, it was not possible to change the country setting while creating LM account (Poland was a fixed preset), which generally means you cannot make payment from abroad. Two days spent on this website wasted, leaving me with rather negative feelings about this company, especially that such restriction was not clear to me (a customer) throughout the initial steps of the process. However, I must say, I felt that Przelewy24 handled my case very well, and the service person was truly caring and tried to help, and I would  not mind giving a try to their services again. Such basics as Customer Service, but even huge company like Leroy Merlin overlooked it.

Already upset, I have started looking for same items in different on-line stores in Poland. Sadly, it meant I had to buy each thing in different store (which obviously wasn't good for my shipping fees). Took me another two days to find such stores that allowed credit/debit card payments. Again, I have placed five orders in five stores, from which two were successful (payment) and I was clearly informed of that. To the other three did not offer clear information about success, so I wrote my e-mails again, and also e-mailed PayU that was a service provider in these three payments.

What is interesting, only one store had automatically informed me about unsuccessful payment, while two other stores, neither PayU itself, did not. Surprisingly, one of the successful payments that day was also made through PayU, which proved they are not consistent in giving their authorizations (because all payments were authorized by my bank, it was PayU's employees choice to cancel them as potentially risky).

Furthermore, only one store replied to my e-mail within a day, another one after two days with suggestion to try again, and also saying they have contacted PayU as well, but I need to call them myself. So in the end I had to call PayU, because their support team did not react to e-mails, and did not provide any other communication channels.

That meant I had to add Skype credits, and it was not easy. Not only Polish E-commerce treats me as a "worse kind of buyer", but it's the same with Taiwanese side, as here I am a foreigner that is not to be trusted. I had to e-mail scans of two ID documents to Skype, wait for their authorization, after which I still could not use on-line payment to buy credits! Even I wrote to them in English, they kept answering me in Chinese. Thanks for nothing Skype! They advised I buy credit voucher from local 7-11 convenience store (according to Google Translate), so I did. There the clerk told me it will be automatically added to my account - but it was not. My Taiwanese boyfriend had to spent ten minutes to figure out how to activate it. At least he succeeded. In summary, it took me half a day and a lot of frustration to recharge my Skype account. I remember in the past that was actually easier. 

Finally, I called PayU, and they asked me variety of questions, and made note to my account that I'm abroad buying gifts for family. Then they told me it improved my reliability to 90% now. If still PayU decides that my payment is suspicious they can still block it and I can do nothing more (because a Taiwanese hacker who would stole my card would surely be ordering a Snuggie with a delivery to a Polish address!). That day, I have at last received e-mail response from PayU, about inqury I made 3 days earlier, saying that sorry, but they have right to cancel suspicious payments, and with no solution being offered. Fortunatelly, their staff on the telephone support was more practical.
I replaced the three orders, and at last... after a week of fighting and testing my determination, all my gifts were successfully purchased (not yet shipped as I write it).

I have decided to write this experience down and share as widely as possible because I love all "E-" things, I like how globalized the world is becoming. I have expected on-line shopping to be easier. I have believed on-line shopping was made especially for people like me - global people, whose lives are spread out around the globe, and so they need globally accessible services. And yet, I feel that as a person living abroad, I am discriminated by service providers globally and locally (3 years ago I have tried to buy mp3 album on-line, but I had to give up, since no store could sell it to a Polish citizen living in Asia due to localization restrictions. Now I can use Taiwanese iTunes at last). That is probably the price I need to pay for the choice I made in my life to be where I want to be, but still... we have technology, it is possible, and it should not be so difficult. I put the statistics at the beginning to show that there is market, and I believe that most of emigrants, like me, is much more willing to shop on-line, that consumers that actually have a choice to purchase same product physically. I feel that marketers loose by not addressing our needs, and I hope that by chance such marketer will see this article, and try to make a change at least in their own stores, so next year, my Christmas shopping will be a little easier.

(PS. I know that a lot of barriers I met, is caused by security policies, but I think they're overall "overprotective".)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas Coming Into Town

I am the kind of person who enjoys holidays. All kinds almost... birthdays, Christmas, Valentines, Children Days, Fat Thursdays, and what not. I can hear people calling these being commercial... and yeah, companies earn money on this, but I'm gladly buying this feeling I get when participating actively in some holiday.

Christmas is sure one of my favorite. I already have my little Christmas tree and the light up in my living room. I have already written 16 Christmas cards that will be mailed soon. I'm already planning gifts for family and my boyfriend, and the Christmas dinner that I hope to have even here.
I think I'm more of a Christmas lover here in Taiwan, than I've ever been in Poland, but I need to overcompensate and try to get as much as possible here, because it still will be much much less than I would get without effort in my country. It has been 6 years since I've had real Christmas at home. 6 years of working on Christmas Day, of no-snow, of plastic pink/white/black Christmas trees in Taiwanese stores with crappy plastic ornaments. I need to do all I can to stay away from depression during that time, because it always seem terribly close. 

I like Valentines too. I've said it. It's very unpopular opinion nowadays. Because we should love our special ones everyday - it's true, and I do tell my boyfriend "I love" at least once a day. I mean it too, not like a silly "love ya" thing, but really... I say it so that he never have to doubt it, and also in case that would be the last chance I had to say it... because we never know. And I think that's not a bad idea to take a day, when you can sit down and celebrate it. But hear me right... CELEBRATE. That doesn't mean buy gift, that doesn't mean go to expensive dinner. That for me means, taking time, to be considerate of what the other person likes, to make a special effort to make them happy, to sit down and look into each others eyes, to take time and talk (not chat) to each other, to acknowledge the feeling and embrace it. Sure we should do that all year round, but the real life proves we're too busy for that, so I won't believe anyone who tells me they do it everyday so no need for Valentines. I wish! My boyfriend hates Valentines, and is rather unromantic person. But I must say I feel he's missing the point... it's not that I want him to buy me a gift... I just want him to slow down, look at me, and make me feel that he loves me, because that feeling sometimes gets lost in daily routines. 

It's similar with every other holiday. It's because we don't pay enough attention to important things daily, that's why I like holidays to help me make this stop and celebrate, feel warm inside, and feel that life is beautiful, even with all those awful routine days in it. Different holidays make me keep going, give me something nice to look forward to, and I feel help me pause, think, and be the better person I want to be. 

Therefore, let yourself celebrate, let yourself feel the warmth. Merry Christmas! (living in Asia also proved to me you don't have to be a Christian to enjoy it).