i spent the morning preparing the paperwork for my china visa. originally i had a gas meter replacement scheduled for this morning, but eversource called me yesterday to cancel and postpone the service until later this month. since i was free, i figured i'd go down to chinatown in the afternoon and get one of the chinese travel agencies to take care of the visa. filling out the 4 page form was relatively easy; the more challenging thing was getting a good visa photo. after replacing the battery on my camera remote, i set up a little studio in my house with a tripod and a white screen. i finally got a photo i like, wasn't the best but usable.
i then finally fixed myself some lunch around 1pm, finishing the last of my peppered ham and swiss cheese. i left the house around 1:30pm, taking the jpeg file of my visa photo with me on a thumb drive. i stopped by the UPS store on my way to porter square, hoping to get my photo printed. i must've forgotten why i never had it done here, because not only do the color prints cost money (about $1), but the time it takes to load up on the computer costs money as well (per minute rate). i was in a rush, but decided to go elsewhere on principle.
today was probably the coldest day of the season, but the temperature had crept up into the upper 20's, and walking in the sun didn't feel all bad. i had a wool hat underneath my hoodie and gloves, but took them off as i began to warm up to the point of overheating.
so i walked in the opposite direction to harvard square (took more than 20 minutes), where i knew there was a staples. not only would they print my file for free, but color prints only cost around 60¢ each. but just my luck, their PC wouldn't read my thumb drive, which is exFAT formatted. so i walked back home (15 minutes, a package was waiting for me on my doorstep), found a different drive, and copied the files. the staples person helping me print told me i could also e-mail them the file, so i did that as an insurance in case they couldn't read my 2nd thumb drive.
15 minutes later i was back at staples. a crowd of employees were gathered around the printing station, looking at my photo which they received via e-mail. they printed out that file but it looked too light, so i had them print a second darker file, which looked better. with photo finally in hand, i finally took the subway into chinatown. by then it was already 3pm.
i got to chinatown around 3:30pm. after buying some portuguese egg tarts ($1.20/each, i bought 8, enough to fit a box), i went to sunshine travels. inside was packed with busy travel agents. the woman who helped me said my application might have some problems because i didn't have a planned itinerary, and was trying to secure an opened visa (with no ticket purchase). she said it's possible but require SM to send a copy of her chinese identification card vouching she'd be my contact person in china. cost? the visa itself is only $140, but there's a $60 fee because they have to send it down to new york (it can only be done in person or by an authorized agent). i wrote out a check for $200 (cash or check no additional service fee, credit card adds 8%, luckily i brought along an empty check).
the final thing left to do in chinatown was to buy some chinese calendars for my mother. i went to that chinese bookstore on lincoln street but they were all sold out. i then wandered around, looking for a gift store that might carry calendars. along the way i saw the travel agency on kneeland street that my parents used to use (i should've gone to them, maybe the visa would've been cheaper). finally i just gave up and began walking back to downtown crossing to grab the red line. that's when i discovered essex corner, which specializes in asian gifts. they had chinese calendars, discounted ato 50% no less. i ended up getting 2 for $11.
the package that'd arrived earlier was my roku 3. i spent the early evening setting it up and playing with it. there are similarities between the roku 3 and the chromecast. the roku is convenient because it has a remote, but inputting data is tedious because you need to pick your letters one by one from the onscreen keyboard; inputting from the phone or a tablet for a chromecast is much faster (especially on android, with swipe typing). there are a few more channels i can live stream on the roku that i can't with chromecast (at least right now; maybe it might change with future updates; channels like the food network and the travel channel). in the end, the roku is different yet also the same. but i think the overall experience is pretty similar, with just more channel lineups on the roku (though most of the channels seem like junk). given the choice, i still prefer the chromecast, both for ease of input and the fact that it can control my tv to an extent. i think the roku i'll either give it to my mother to use or my sister if she ever decides to get an HDTV.
for dinner i finally ate my risotto leftovers. i contacted SM, who sent me a copy of her id, which i promptly e-mailed to my chinatown travel agent.
i turned up the heat around 7:30pm. if i left the heat at 60°, the master bedroom can still reach a temperature of 65° due to insulation and trapped hot air. if i'm looking to save in my gas bill, i could try spending most of my time in the bedroom, maybe think about upgrading my tv (which is currently an old tube tv, i'll keep an eye out for inexpensive HD sets).