Day 593 OUT OF Beijing: Hidden Gems of SF Tourism Tips.

 

A close up of the Giant Buddha on the second level of the Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple.

A close up of the Giant Buddha on the second level of the Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple.

 

Jill’s site, SF Tourism Tips, is in a never ending process of being updated and improved.  Jill wanted to update her “Hidden Gems” page and so we decided to head into San Francisco for the day.

I really admire Jill’s trait of never being happy with “enough” and always wanting to better her site and the experience for the people that visit it and want to learn more about San Francisco and how to improve their trip to our lovely city.

We went into San Francisco, by Golden Gate Transit from Petaluma, and then walked around the rest of the day.  We did have to catch one bus ($2.25 USD) to the Columbarium in the Richmond District, but otherwise all our travel was on foot and for free.  Since we are car-less, we didn’t have to pay a toll to get into SF ($6 USD on the GG Bridge), parking ($2-3 USD per hour) or deal with worries about car crashes, gas, or tickets.  The cost to get into SF on Golden Gate transit was $10.75 per person.  A very good exchange for comfort, relaxation and 1.75 hours to either talk or check emails as we rode in on a very comfortable and clean bus.

A longer shot of the bridge with the new movable divider on the left.

A longer shot of the bridge with the new movable divider on the left.

This is also part of our frugal living in that we want to see how realistic it is to live car-less and only use mass transit.  We actually really enjoy mass transit and we’ve met some wonderful people who are traveling around the world and living a upwardly mobile vagabond life like we are at the same time.  I also had a great conversation with a bus driver that will be retiring in one year and his hopes to do a ’round-the-world trip right after his job is over.  We talked about where to go, what to see, and I sent him some links on how to get great deals on flights and cruises.  I’m hoping we catch the same bus he drives, again, and we can see how he has progressed on his plans!

Our first stop was the Columbarium and it was magnificent.  It is one grave site in San Francisco that is taking interments and it is kept up beautifully.  Harvey Milk’s memorial is there as is Carlos Santana’s father’s ashes.  There are also many other people, and memorials, that are stunning and touching.  It sounds a bit strange to think of this as a place to visit and enjoy, but it is, and we actually were there during an interment and the family and friends were quite joyous and happy.  If you are interested in seeing it, make sure to call ahead and ask for Emmit to give you a tour.  He has been with the Columbarium for many, many years and knows stories and the history like no one else.  We will have a tour when we go back next time with him to learn more about this amazing structure and final resting place.

We walked over to Pizza Orgasmica and had their lunch special of salad, beer and a pizza for $10.50 each.  It was delicious and utterly filling.  I also was able to check in on one of my favorite apps, Untappd, and add the beers that Jill and I tried for lunch.  It is a fun social app and keeps track of how many beers you’ve had and gives badges for different categories.

Jill's pesto pizza.  Yummy!

Jill’s pesto pizza. Yummy!

 

We then headed down to Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple.  This is a Buddhist Temple in the middle of the Mission District.  That, alone, would make sure it is a hidden gem.  It was originally a Lutheran Church and later became a temple.  We were blown away by the two Buddhas, especially that massive one on the second level, and the friendliness of the monks that were at the temple that day.  Most of them didn’t speak a lot of English but they seemed so happy and content that words weren’t needed to express what they were feeling.  As we walked back outside into the Mission District, we saw this gorgeous mural of Carlos Santana.  The cultures are so different and yet they are side by side.

 

After the temple, we headed down to Southern Pacific Brewery in the SOMA district.  Again, this was all just walking around and seeing the sites so we could experience it as if we were tourists and make sure to give people a “true to life” impression of what they can expect as they cruise around the Streets of San Francisco.  By the way, where are Mike Douglas and Karl Malden when you need them?

Our refreshing beers at Southern Pacific Brewing.

Our refreshing beers at Southern Pacific Brewing.

 

This brewery is only about 3 years old and it is inside a very cool tin roof hangar type building.  The beer is good and the food seems to be fairly priced.  We didn’t eat any food while we were there but had a great time talking to the bartender and just digging the atmosphere.  It will be added to a new page Jill is writing about all the different brewpubs in San Francisco.  Did you know there are over 15 at this point with 10 more scheduled to open during 2015?

By the way, this was also the same day we say the Austin Healey and the Tiny Tesla I’ve just posted about.  There is so much to do in San Francisco when you just walk and observe so check out SF Tourism Tips and find out all the newest information for all your San Francisco tips!

Day 589 OUT OF Beijing: Upwardly Vagabonding.

 

A longer shot of the bridge with the new movable divider on the left.

A longer shot of the bridge with the new movable divider on the left.

 

As most of you know, Jill and I are traveling around and only staying with friends or family.

I’ve titled this new way of finding a place for us as “upwardly vagabonding.”

A vagabond is someone that is essentially homeless and is just trying to find a place to live and survive.

We are more Upwardly mobile about our vagabonding so I’ve joking called it just that.

We are staying in nice places, with good people, and don’t have to worry about shelter or really being homeless.

As Jill continues to build her site, SF Tourism Tips, and we are now building our new website together (to be released to the world in a month or so) we want to stay as frugal and with as little limitations on us as possible.

We also are traveling by plane, train or bus wherever we go unless friends are driving and we can hitch a ride.  We also use uber or taxis if needed to get around.  It saves us money and saves us mental strain as we don’t have to worry about driving and possibly being in a car crash, paying insurance or worrying if we are going to get lost.  We leave the work to the driver or pilot.   We also then have time to enjoy the scenery or work on projects while we travel.  Win-win.

We have gone through another round of minimizing our stuff and donated all our winter clothes and whatever we think we won’t need.

Our plan is to be down to one good sized backpack and one daypack each by the time we head off for Los Angeles on February 28th.

It is rather amazing we’ve been home for a month already because it seems like we just arrived and are still settling in.

Part of that is the reverse culture shock after being in China for 1.5 years but it is also that we have stayed in 4 different places in one month so we didn’t really “settle” down in any one place and feel at home.

We will be staying at our friends, Randy and Alethea’s house, for most of the the rest of our trip in the bay area so that will make life more comfortable and easy on us.  Hopefully it will on them also as they are being incredibly generous letting us stay and hang out with them.  Randy is like a second brother to me so it is wonderful to spend time with him and his family and just be “home.”

Here are a few pictures from the Golden Gate Bus as I was upwardly vagabonding home to Randy and Alethea’s recently.

 

Day 581 OUT OF Beijing: Being Carless.

 

The bus stop in Petaluma.

The bus stop in Petaluma.

 

Jill and I have made a conscious decision to be carless.

Jill became carless about 4 years ago and I became carless when I moved to China.

I had previously lived in Japan and was carless there and loved it.

I also was “primarily” carless when I lived in San Francisco because I used the bus and BART to see my clients instead of driving around and dealing with the parking and traffic woes.

My agency was nice enough to pay for my transit tickets each month in exchange for not having to reimburse me for my gas for my car.

We have also decided to remain carless and see how we can survive on our trips around the world.

It definitely slows things down, and makes us figure out plans more efficiently, which we like.

We also tend to walk more and spend more time doing what we really want to do and not just running around because it is easy.

It also allows us to save a load of money not having a car, repairs, insurance.

We also don’t have to worry about someone crashing into our car and dealing with traffic other than what we sit in when we ride a bus, train or subway.

Things are quite easy.

We do have to ask friends for help, once in a while, but they don’t seem to mind and we pitch in for gas.

I was just up in Tahoe and my friends drove me up and down as it was a group getaway.

I was dropped off in Petaluma, about 45 minutes north of San Francisco, and then waited for the 101 bus to San Francisco.

It costs $10.25 to get into town (the toll for the Golden Gate Bridge is $6.00 alone!) and so it seemed to be about the same price if I drove.  I think hopped on the MUNI service for $2.25 and got home.

It took about 30 minutes longer than if I had been driving but I was able to sit in a comfortable seat, look out on the world, and just relax.

It also didn’t have wi fi so I spent my time just watching and resting.

If possible, I’d suggest more people try it.

 

Day 577 OUT OF Beijing: New Year’s Eve.

 

Happy New Years!

Happy New Years!

 

Jill and I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Singapore last year with our friend Dipesh.

It was an 8 minute show of fireworks and then a very delayed walk home to our hotel because they aren’t used to crowds of that size in Singapore and they forced everyone to walk down the same route which led to massive people jams and nowhere to go for a long time.

The day before, we did the same walk home in about 30 minutes.  That night took 3 hours.

We prefer smaller, and more intimate, parties with just our friends.

Luckily, our friends Alvaro and Kelly have their New Year’s Eve party most years and had it again this one.

We were in San Francisco and the party was in San Leandro, over the bay, so we had to figure out a way to get there on mass transit since we are going carless from now on.

We hopped on the Muni train, then moved over to BART and then Alvaro picked us up at the BART station near his house.  We were going to grab a bus to his place but he was nice enough to offer and we accepted.  Muni was free from 8 pm that night until 5 am the next morning so our trip only cost us about $6 bucks each way which was a steal as far as we were concerned.  Jill hasn’t had a car for over 5 years, and I haven’t had a car since I left for China, and the savings are amazing.  I mostly rode the bus the last two years I was in the states and took carpool whenever I could.  It is also a nice way to meet with people I may not have met in any other circumstance.  It is also part of our drive (pun intended) towards minimization and being more frugal.  We find we don’t make as many frivolous trips when we don’t have a car and plan out our days to be more efficient in regards to what we do and when we do it.

We arrived at the party and said hello to Kelly, her parents, Alvaro’s parents and their twin daughters.  They are incredibly cute and love to dance around.  Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures of them.  Simply stated, they were wearing princess gowns with tiaras and are about 3 years old.  We were having a great time just watching them run, dance and play with each other for a bunch of the night.

People started arriving, many who didn’t know I had returned from China, so we were able to catch up with many of them and update them on our adventures.  It was wonderful to see so many happy faces at our return and to realize that we are part of this small salsa community that seems to grow and add people but still stay close and like a family.

We danced a bit and mostly talked and ate delicious food while talking and catching up.  As 12 pm arrived, we all gathered by the tv and started to countdown the seconds at 10…9…8…7….6…5…4…3…2…1…HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!!

We had a great one.  I hope you did to and wish you the best 2015.

 

 

 

Day 486 In Beijing: Trip To Tianjin, Part 3.

 

Traffic, and the traffic lights cameras, at the intersection.

Traffic, and the traffic lights cameras, at the intersection.

Jill, Nuria and I decided to go out to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner.

There are a lot of them around, not just because we are in China, but because we are in a Chinese district of Tianjin.

Tianjin, if you remember, has about 15,000,000 people living in it and yet isn’t really very well known.

It is a second tier city, because of many reasons, and pretty much no one knows about it, outside of China, because it is mostly a factory town.

Expats don’t tend to live here because they aren’t factory workers or middle management.  They are higher up, and therefore, live in Beijing or Shanghai where the business of business happens.

We took a taxi to the restaurant and I noticed that there were loads of flashing lights at the stop light.

I have never seen anything like this so I wanted to get a video of it to show everyone how often these cameras are taking pictures.

We talked to the cabbie, on the taxi ride home, and he said it is to see how busy the traffic is at that moment.

However, in Beijing, since there are too many cars, they have certain days, each week, that you can’t drive.

They use your license plate and if you are caught driving on that day twice in one year, you lose your license.

Pretty harsh.

We asked if that same law applies here in Tianjin and the drive said yes.

So, that means they are also tracking the amount of cars, and the people driving when they shouldn’t be, constantly.

That being said, it was a pretty cool light show.

 

 

Day 392 in Beijing: Workers And Their Rides.

 

Sittin' and waitin'.

Sittin’ and waitin’.

There is a new hotel or apartment complex being built a few blocks from our apartment.

We walk by it when we go for our daily walks by the Liangma canal.

It is going to be huge and will have a great view of the canal.

The most interesting thing to us, though, is not the building that is being built but the people building it.

They work long days and then wait by the side of the road for their buses to pick them up.

We are guessing they are all living together, crammed into small apartments, and saving money to go back to their hometowns after finishing this project.

It seems like many of the Chinese we meet here are working for a few years in Beijing, living simply and saving money, and then going back to where they are from and where their families still reside.

Beijing seems to be a pretty tough place for many people to afford and they like the quiet and calmness of their smaller towns back home.

The workers on the bus go 'round and 'round.  'round and 'round.

The workers on the bus go ’round and ’round. ’round and ’round.

There are usually about 200-300 men sitting here.  There are also 4-5 women sitting most days.

They all seem in very good moods and quiet happy.

They smile a lot and they laugh a lot.

It is nice to walk by, say hi, and continue on our way as they get ready to continue on theirs.

Our two very different paths meeting and then diverging.

Day 374 in Beijing: Cute Girls On The Bus.

 

Twinsies!

Twinsies!

Jill and I were cruising out to her school a few weeks ago and riding the bus.

It takes about 45-50 minutes to get out to her school and it was quite hot.

We were lucky to get a sea and made sure that the elderly people all had seats before we sat down.

We noticed that most people don’t get up for the elderly when they get on the bus.

Sadly, like what I’ve seen in the SF Bay Area, this same thing happens there.

People seem to ignore what is going on around them and stare into their phones.

It is fairly bad in the back home but the people in Beijing seem to spend most their lives plugged into their phones and ignoring what is happening in the outside world.

I can not count how many times Jill and I have been run into by people staring at their phones and not looking where they are going.

Stumbletexting takes on a whole new level here in China.

I’m glad that Jill and I learned to give up our seats and make sure people can sit down.

We get lots and lots of smiles and “Xie xie” from the people when we do and wonder why more here don’t.

I guess it is cultural and it is also that there are 25 million people in Beijing, most of which are not native to the city, and this hasn’t been pushed by the government as something that should be automatic.

I hope that more people start paying attention to the signs, and the elderly, as there is a lot of them here and they have worked incredibly hard during their lives.

These girls, on the other hand, were the cutest things we’ve seen.

They were playing with each other, and then teasing us with the handkerchief, and enjoying the ride.

I think their outfits are super cute and they obviously had a lot of fun.

Their mom was, as you can see, on the phone most of the ride, but was still interacting with them and definitely paying attention.

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Day 353 in Beijing: Baidu Boy, Part 1.

 

So cool.

So cool.

Jill and I went back up the health center one more time because we wanted a copy of her report and they couldn’t do it that day.

We really enjoyed the amazing architecture and strange buildings that some of the companies had build in the area so we made sure to bring our camera and walked around before heading towards the health center.

Our favorite is the “Independence Day” type spaceship kind of structure that looms in between two major buildings in the center of the tech park.

It is utterly strange, magical and goofy.

Sort of like so much of what China is doing, and building, each and every day all over this country.

Our other favorites was the Baidu Building.

Baidu is basically the “Google” of China.

It is hugely popular and Google is also quite difficult to use in China, off VPN, because the servers aren’t based here and the government slows down the internet enough that it makes more sense to use Baidu.

That is, if you read Chinese.

Neither Jill nor I do so we are stuck using a very slow Google.

And, a slow Google maps is quite possibly the worst part of it because it is the best way to get around in China and figure out where you want to go, in English, because most the other mapping sites are in Chinese.

Trust me on this, I read and spoke Japanese and it makes Chinese look easy.

There is simply no way I’m going to have the time to spend to learn how to read Chinese let alone speak Mandarin.

I just have too much other things to focus on.

Including this blog, my job and Jill.

 

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Day 347 in Beijing: Health Check, Part 1.

 

People upon people upon people.

People upon people upon people.

Jill has decided to study Mandarin and, because of this, she will need to get a different visa.

She is on an “L” visa, which needs to switch it to a student visa in next few weeks.

In accordance with this change in status, she is required to get a health check.

Now, I work at a medical facility that is amazing.

It is, without a doubt, the most professional company I have ever worked for and I’m honored to be an employee there.

It is an expatriate company and that gives me a lot of security and feelings of safety since I see how they conduct their business.

Jill, on the other hand, has to go to a Chinese company to get this done and that had us a little worried.

We weren’t sure if they would speak any English, what the level of cleanliness would be, and how things would be handled.

We talked to a few friends that had been through it before, and we reassured, and decided we’d go together so I can give Jill support and call my office in case anything goes wrong.

We woke up, got ready and headed out for Jill’s health check.

We had to bring her passport, visa, 357RMB (about 60 USD), a passport photo and police registration (we have to register where we live every time we leave China with the police).

We hopped on the subway line 5 heading north and took that for about 30 minutes.

After that, we transferred to line 13, at one of the busiest stations in Beijing, and headed to Wudaokuo.

This gives you an idea of how insane this station can be.  This isn’t even the rush hour.

Wudaokuo is the student/expatriate/collegiate area and the health check area is about 20 minutes away from it by bus.

If we could find the bus.

Which, at first, we couldn’t.

The exit from the Wudaokuo station to the bus station was pretty darn confusing.

We ended up, after walking around for about 10 minutes, finding the right bus and got on.

It took us out through the tech area in the north of Beijing and we saw all kinds of crazily designed buildings that we made for major technology companies from around the world.

That was interesting but the traffic was horrendous.  It took us about 45 minutes to go about 3 miles.

The city is growing so fast that it is really becoming a problem and this was a good example of it right here.  And just another reason we are moving 1 block from where I work so that we don’t have to commute as much in a few weeks.  It just becomes tiring and stressful after too long.

The worst part was the bus ride, after 45 minutes, seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

We showed a fellow bus rider our map and he told us to get off and go the other way.

We then got off, decided enough of this wasted time, and hailed a cab.

It seems we were headed in the right direction and would have been there if we had just taken the bus for 3 more stops.

 

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Day 320 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 24-28

 

My ticket and passport stamp to leave China.

My ticket and passport stamp to leave China.

Now the fun starts.

We headed towards the border and arrived at it.

Everyone jumped out of the SUV and started walking.  No one said anything to us, so Jill and I weren’t sure what to do, but we jumped out and followed them.  We figured that they are the pros and we will just pay attention and try not to upset any border guards.

Jill’s Visa, by the way, is a one year tourist visa.  Her visa rules force her to leave China every 90 days or she becomes illegal.  The fine for having overstayed your visa in China is 1000RMB a day.  This comes out to 160 USD.  In other words, we don’t want to have to pay this absurd amount of money and we don’t want to upset any border guards.

Did I mention that this is the 90th of Jill’s 90 days?  Yep, due to circumstances of my job, Chinese holidays, and whatnot, we ended up taking this risk and were a bit concerned if anything went wrong.

So far, so good.

As we walked up, the others took out 5RMB and paid for border crossing tickets.  We pulled out 10RMB and did the same.

We continued our journey by walking near the rainbow bridge of freedom, since we are leaving China, and into their customs and immigration building.  The guards there seemed very bored, annoyed, and not happy at all.  However, after a few minutes, they let us through.

We walked out of the building and across the road was a white guy in a red track suit.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I expected to see, walking outside of the China customs and immigration building is a white guy in a red track suit.

I noticed, quite quickly, that his name was printed on his jacket.  I looked and read, “Adam” and turned to Jill and said, “How weird is that, our names are almost the same!”

There were about 15 Chinese or Mongolians hanging around outside and Adam quickly came up to us and introduced himself.

He and his buddy, Jimmy, were doing the visa run also but their ride had gotten stuck in customs so they were in “no man’s land” between China and Mongolia and had to catch a ride over to Mongolia because it is illegal to walk across the zone in between.

We said we had no idea if Diana would take someone else but they could ask her when she showed up as she seems to do this a lot and she might have room.

We found out that Adam is a tennis coach, here in Beijing, and hails from Poland.

Jimmy teaches in Beijing and is from Philadelphia.

They took the 12 hour bus ride up, the night before, and were hoping to catch the bus back down immediately after doing the run.

However, they possibly could have been stuck here for a long time if no one agreed to let them hop in.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal but we saw jeeps with 10-15 people smashed in them and with luggage on the roof and the front hood.  We even saw jeeps with people hanging out the doors.  It is sort of insane.

Diana showed up and I told Jimmy and Adam to talk to her and she agreed and they climbed into the back of the SUV and crushed themselves into the area.

Adam must be about 6 feet tall and Jimmy was probably 6’4″.  These guys were not small and it did not look comfortable.

We then went through a few checkpoints and drove over no man’s land.

We stopped at the Mongolian Customs and Immigration building and piled out.

The Mongolian immigration agent had to be the most unfriendly and rude person I’ve ever met.

She sneered at me, ignored anything I said, and when I said, “Xie xie” to thank her for giving me back my passport, she was very sarcastic and snotty.

Welcome to Mongolia!

Jill went through and decided she wouldn’t say “Xie xie” since she didn’t deserve it.

Revenge is sweet!

At that point we piled back into the SUV and headed for the main shopping area in Erenhot, Mongolia.

We sat around as the Mongolian women did some shopping and then jumped back in the SUV to do errands with Diana as we wanted to see what the city looked like other than a shopping mall.

 

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