Life tip: Airplane Mode and Going Phoneless

Recreate the feeling of wandering around in a foreign country by leaving your phone on airplane mode throughout the day, or just leaving it in a drawer in the office.

I find it allows me the mental space to observe more of what's around me because my eyes aren't glued to my phone. I notice details and quirks which I otherwise would have missed.

Travel Notes: Yunnan

It's worth buying a SIM card and Express VPN so you can use Google Translate and Google Maps. I don't know how else we would've survived the language barrier. (Read: How to buy a SIM card in Kunming)

We budgeted $500 per person for a week and ended up spending $750. That's roughly $100 per person per day travelling with a mid-range budget, excluding shopping (we didn't do any). Roughly $30 per person per day for accommodation. Roughly $20 per person per day for food. The attractions can be quite expensive, e.g. Yulong Snow Mountain. 

Bring your passport everywhere. They're used to buy train and bus tickets, and tickets for attractions.

Don't expect clean toilets. They're often squatting toilets. Bring a small bottle of something scented if your nose is delicate. I brought a small bottle of White Flower Oil, it's nicely mentholated and useful for minor ailments like headaches. 

Toilets often don't have toilet paper or soap. Bring your own tissue/toilet paper and plenty of hand-sanitiser or wet wipes.

Haggle with taxis if they don't want to use the meter. They will definitely offer an outrageous price at first, so walk away! They always come back and say ok to your price, or reduce theirs by much more. Definitely find out in advance (guidebook or hotel concierge) roughly how much fares should cost from point to point. This requires some planning in advance to figure out where you want to go.

Taxis have a taxi satisfaction rating system on the back of the driver's headrest. Often, the wires aren't even connected!

Taxi satisfaction rating system... unplugged

Taxi satisfaction rating system... unplugged

Personally, I'd avoid taking public buses because they're crowded, stuffy, no sense of personal space, people coughing and sneezing. If you have to stand on the bus, be warned that bus drivers might take corners pretty hard, leaving you hanging on to the rails to avoid falling onto seated passengers. 

Don't expect to number 2 (💩) in cafe/restaurant toilets. You'll often see signs in cafes or restaurants that tell you "no pooping" or "pee only". The first time I saw such a sign I thought it was a one-off quirk. Now I've seen quite a few establishments with similar signs so I guess it's a real thing. In Salvador's, their toilet signs explained that the plumbing is old, so you can only pee. They'll direct you to a public toilet next door "for all your sanitary needs". 

Ordering food is always tricky if you don't understand Mandarin. Point and order, and hope for the best.

Coffee is around ¥25-35 for a latte, I checked in Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang. That's on par with Singapore (S$5-7). Stick to tea.

At popular tourist sites (e.g. 3 Pagodas), the guided tourists come in waves. If they're ahead of you, wait a few minutes to let them pass, then you won't have to fight to see the sights!

Kunming airport is shiny and new. Reminds me a little of Hong Kong airport. The immigration and customs officers are reasonably friendly. There's a "smoking room", which is the most pointless room I've seen. The doors are wide open and smokers stand outside the doors smoking anyway. 

Smoking "room"

Smoking "room"

Travel notes: How to find a SIM card in Kunming

Tl;dr 

  1. Bring your passport 
  2. Show them this piece of paper. 
Not sure what it says. Probably something like, "give them the power of mobile internet"

Not sure what it says. Probably something like, "give them the power of mobile internet"

Since we were foreigners travelling in China without any knowledge of any Chinese languages, we knew we needed internet access on our mobile phones to overcome the language barrier. 

We walked around for ages trying to find a SIM card in different telecom shops. Everyone kept telling us "no", even in the airport shops. We didn't know if it was "no – you can't have one" (because we thought maybe some rules apply to foreigners" or "no – out of stock". 

Eventually we walked into a China Mobile shop where one assistant spoke some English. Using Google Translate, he told us we had to go to a different China Mobile shop (map), and to show them the piece of paper pictured above.

So we went to the China Mobile shop and showed the paper to the staff, who pointed upstairs. There, a gruff lady took our paper, issued a queue number, and took us to a section where we picked a phone number. Then we waited for our number to be called.

At the counter, we struggled to communicate with the woman. She was clearly put out, probably by having to deal with these foreigners who couldn't communicate. We didn't yet have internet access to use Google Translate. An assistant who was leaving for the day kindly stopped by the counter to help us out.

Some details you need to figure out:

  • How long you need a SIM card for (e.g. 30 days)  
  • Which prepaid plan you want (there are different data/minutes packages, look at the price sheet)
  • Will you be travelling outside the province where you buy the SIM card (i.e. Yunnan)? I think they asked because the rates will be different  

We settled for a 2GB plan with 1000 call mins – we didn't need the minutes but it was part of the SIM prepaid plan we chose. 2GB was sufficient for 1-2 weeks, assuming you're not on social media much or streaming content. Later, we noticed that the SIM card didn't work for making international calls/SMS.

When you register for a SIM card, it's one SIM card for one person. There were some animated cartoons on the screen which, even without sound, we understood to mean: it's illegal to buy multiple SIM cards for someone, especially when that someone is a shady figure offering you money. As a foreigner, you also need to present your passport when registering for your SIM card.

So there you have it, that's how we found a SIM card in Kunming.

 

Favourite Rice Paddies in Bali

Those who know me are familiar with my love for rice paddies. The vivid greenery against a blue sky is so soothing to my edgy, city-dweller's soul. 

Looooove this view  

Looooove this view  

It turns out that you don't need to go all the way to Tegalalang or Jatiluwih to enjoy some truly spectacular rice paddies. I made a map of beautiful rice paddies in Bali which I've seen, either from a cafe or hotel, or by passing through on foot or scooter.

If you're visiting Bali, I hope you get to enjoy the rice paddies too.

What do you want to communicate?

Written communication with subject complexity or language barriers can complicate a reply. For example, have you ever received an email where the sender's discussion points were convoluted? You understand the questions/discussion points but the reply you're drafting is unstructured and all over the place.

Stop and ask yourself, what do you want to communicate? Consider what your reply says:

  1. Expressly
  2. Implicitly

This is a forcing mechanism to:

  1. Be aware of what you want to communicate
  2. Reduce ambiguity by looking at what you're implying, and clarifying accordingly

 

Guerilla Testing in Singapore

At ZALORA, we take an iterative, rapid prototyping approach to designing features. By minimising the time spent between designing a feature and getting it into the hands of real people for testing, we create better designs in less time.

Usability testing is a crucial part of this process because it validates our hypotheses about a design.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, guerilla testing is impromptu usability testing with strangers. User recruitment is literally walking up to strangers on the street and asking them to test your product. If we don’t have the luxury of time to recruit neatly segmented customers to test with, we go outside to conduct guerilla testing.

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