Day 254 in Beijing: Happy Valentine’s Day!

This is the first Valentine’s Day with my darling, Jill.

We will be spending it, somewhere, in Beijing.

It will a Friday night here, and a day before you experience it, so we will probably go out to dinner, hang out with some friends, and just see what the day brings us.

I work on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays so we will have the whole day to relax, lounge around, and just kick back.

I used to be a pretty reactive and emotional guy.

I dealt with my own depression and anxiety for many years.

I then learned about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and found that both depression and anxiety are primarily lies that I’m telling myself about me.

They are either cognitive distortions or just flat out mistaken beliefs that perpetuate the problems that I’m causing.

It really did come down to the fact that I’m making my own problems and causing them to occur each and every time I had a thought, had a feeling, or did an action.

The joy of this realization is that it also gives me the ability to change all of the beliefs, emotions and actions that I take and become a truly happy and content person.

I think back to the years of pain and anguish I felt and wonder what would have happened if I had learned about this therapy, and began practicing it with my clients, when I was 20 years old or younger.

I know it doesn’t really matter because one can’t change the past and yet I think that is one of the reasons that I practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy now: It can cure issues very quickly and is far better than any other therapy out there as shown by any evidence-based studies.

The pain you, or someone you know, is going through can be reduced immensely and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time or “soul searching.”

Freedom to live your life is in your hands at this very moment.

The question is, “Will you take it?”

I did and I am glad I choose never to go back to those patterns again.

My parents, my society, and my peer group no longer defines what I do.  It is up to me to live the life I want and no make excuses for my thoughts, emotions or behaviors.

This is where Valentine’s Day fits in.

I met Jill 8 days before I left for China.

We met at the San Francisco Carnaval parade.

We spent the next 8 days together and I invited her to come with me to China.

She had been living in Airbnb apartments for the last 2.5 years, and, when her agreement ran out, she came over.

That was 6.5 months ago.

We both take responsibility for our actions, thoughts and behaviors and try to treat each other as well as possible.  There is almost no drama or disagreements because we are open, fair and try to anticipate what the other wants and we make sure each person has their needs met to the best of our abilities.

The way I see it is if we can make it, living in Beijing, and building a brand new life here, everything else will be a breeze.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my darling Jill!

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Day 253 in Beijing: A Temple Excursion.

Juxtaposition of time and architecture.

Juxtaposition of time and architecture.

During the Spring Festival, there are loads of temple festivals going on all around Beijing.

We decided, on the last day of the festival, to venture out and see what they are like.

We decided on a smaller one because we didn’t want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowds and pushed along by everyone else.

We met our friend Federica and paid the 10RMB to enter and were surprised by how few people were around since this is a major holiday.

We looked at the signs and realized that it had actually ended the day before!

We had checked online and the webpage stated it would continue to today but I guess the websites were not correct.  This is actually a pretty common occurrence, from what we’ve seen, where many of the websites are horribly outdated or just have incorrect information and no one seems interested in fixing them.  This could be a big business opportunity if someone wanted to fix these issues but no one seems to care.  C’est la vie…or maybe it would be better stated at, “C’est la Chine.”

The temple’s name is “Dongyue miao” and it is quite beautiful.

It was originally built in 1319 and has 376 rooms.  There are also massive stone tablets that reach about 20 or 30 feet into the sky.  They are covered with old Chinese writing and explain the auspicious events that occurred in the past.  These stone tablets were made to give thanks to the Gods for allowing prosperity.

A full restoration was done in 1997 and, from the pictures that were posted, it needed it.

It looked like it was it utter disrepair and the massive stones had fallen down into dirt and refuse.

They did an excellent job and it is quite beautiful and stunning.

Since there weren’t a lot of people, we were able to take pictures of some of the statues and look into each of the little rooms that have depictions of each part of this Taoist belief system.

Each room had a “Department of…” and they ranged from “Department of signing forms” to very obscure and more spiritual departments which I didn’t understand.

It didn’t really matter though, as the statues were amazing and I could get an idea of what kind of location this department was in and if it was a hopeful department or a hellish one.


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Day 252 in Beijing: Snow Day!

Jill and me by our apartment complex.

Jill and me by our apartment complex.

In contrast to my last post in Malaysia, we are back in Beijing and snow fell pretty much all day today.

It was wonderful.

So far it is has been, according to almost everyone we know, one of the mildest winters in Beijing in many, many, many years.

We have rarely had days where it is below freezing and much of the canals and lakes are only partially frozen.

As much as I love a mild winter, I’d like a bit of snow since I’ve lived most my life in places where snow is unlikely to fall.

This morning, I got my wish!

Beijing is supposed to end up with about 1 inch of snow today and then it will go back to sunny and clear for the rest of the week.

These are pictures from our apartment near downtown Sanlitun which is the most popular hangout area for expatriates living in Beijing and wanting to shop, eat and hang out with friends.

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Day 249 in Beijing: Matching Shirts.

We love our little motorcycle and sidecar shirt!

We love our little motorcycle and sidecar shirt!

Jill and I went out to dinner with our friend, Brian, a few months ago.

He introduced us to one of his friends, Laurie Burkitt, who writes for the Wall Street Journal.

She did a piece on couples that wear the same shirt to show love and affection since there isn’t a lot of public displays between people in China.

Well, Jill and I took it one step further.

Love on a bug!

Love on a bug!

As we were walking around Maleka, with our friend Dipesh, we actually found shirts that are a “combined” cartoon when we wear them side-by-side.

Yes, we really are that dorky.

We have worn them a few times in Beijing and our friends laugh and think they are pretty cool.

I’m glad we bought them so we can show affection to each other while not offending anyone.

Actually we do hold hands and kiss in public.

We are so scandalous!


Day 248 in Beijing: Cars and Motorcycles.

Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.

Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.  Yours for the low asking price of $275,000 USD.

I’ve posted a few times about the cute little cars in Beijing.

Well, there is a huge disparity in regards to money here that shows up, very quickly, when I venture down to the more upscale parts of Beijing.

I’ve seen more Lamborghini, Maserati, and top of the line Mercedes Benz here then I have anywhere else I’ve lived. Porsche, in Beijing, are not even worth noting because there are so many of them.

I have lived in San Francisco and some other very wealthy cities and nothing compares to Beijing.  I have heard the Hong Kong actually puts Beijing to shame but I have yet to visit there.

The disparity between the haves and the have-nots is amazing.

There are many people working in Beijing and trying to live on about $300 USD a month.

The cleaning lady that works for us and the security guards around our apartment complex are probably paid about that much.

I was walking around a few days ago and passed by this Mercedes parked on the sidewalk.

Two days later I saw the exact same model but in red.

The base price for this model is $275,000 USD.  I would guess that no one buys the “base model” and this is probably selling for closer to $350,000 USD.

It has “gull wing” doors which look amazing when they are opened as they swing up above the car instead of out to the side.

And it is just parked on the sidewalk in broad day light.

I then noticed the motorcycles near the Mercedes in a mall show room.

I think I’d like to try and ride one of those bad boys.

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Day 247 in Beijing: Skating on Houhai Lake.

Our friends and us at Houhai Lake.

Our friends and us at Houhai Lake.

Jill, our Italian friend Federica, our buddy Mike from Baaaahhhstaan, and a few others decided we wanted to check out Houhai Lake and watching the first annual ice hockey on Houhai Lake tournament.

We arrived around noon and went to lunch and then started walking around the lake as we searched for the tournament.

Houhai is actually three different lakes and so it is sometimes difficult to find what you are looking for since it is hard to tell which lake people are congregating at.

So, we started at one lake and walked around all three.

We eventually found the hockey tournament at the second lake, but it had just finished, so we went to a restaurant and just hung out and warmed up over some coffee.

That being said, the adventure of watching all these Chinese people enjoying themselves on the ice was more than worth it.

I really enjoyed watching people slide around on the chair-sleds and the smiles on the kids faces as they played around with each other.

We didn’t go skating because we weren’t really dressed for it and we also were a bit worried about how close the ice was to the open water and if the ice would break and someone might fall in.  The weather in Beijing has been incredibly warm and we’ve yet to receive the usual freezing temperatures that make water freeze up enough to skate.

We are hoping that in February we might get some colder temperatures so we can try skating out on the ice ourselves!

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Day 246 in Beijing: Cute Car!

Cute car for two...or three!

Cute car for two…or three!

Jill, our roommate, Gulzar, and I were walking home a few nights ago.

We happened to walk by this absurdly cute little car.

I didn’t get a picture of the side, but amazingly, this is a 4 door car.

The car is shorter than any other 4 door car I’ve ever seen, and is shorter than almost any other 2 door car I’ve seen also.

If you notice, the front seat is just that:  A single front seat that only accommodates the driver of the car.

There are two back seats and they are basically like a bench seat as they are connected and if you lay one down, they both have to be laid down.

The steering mechanism looked like something from a motorcycle and then adjusted for 2 wheels in the front.  I’m guessing that this automobile company took the guts of a motorcycle, strengthened it, and then put a very lightweight body on the frame.

This is about all Jill and I would need to be more mobile in Beijing and I’m guessing it probably costs about 1000 USD at most.

Not a bad deal!

Day 240 in Beijing: Chinese New Year

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Jill and I have been told about the awesomeness of Chinese New Year fireworks for a few months.

We weren’t sure if we’d stay in Beijing, or China, for it as it is a massive festival and most businesses shut down.  Also, if one wants to travel around China, there are about 200,000,000 people traveling back to their homes and the trains are jammed packed and quite chaotic.

Speaking of travel in China during Chinese New Year, Jill and I watched a brilliant documentary on this migration titled, “Last Train Home.”  I would recommend it to anyone that wants to have a better understanding of what an average Chinese worker goes through to survive in today’s world.  It is very powerful and moving.

We were told of a rooftop party at a restaurant near Houhai Lake.  This is a beautiful area and I have a blog coming out, in a few days, when we went to watch people ice skate on the lake.

Luckily it is a quick subway and then bus ride to get there and we planned on grabbing a taxi home since all the buses shut down around 11 pm.  One of the joys of Chinese New Year in Beijing is that almost everyone else has gone home so the subways and buses are almost empty.  It has never been so easy to get a seat as it has been in the past day or two.

Amazingly, it wasn’t that cold and we were able to walk around in just our jackets and didn’t even need our hats or gloves for most of the night.

We arrived at The Orchid and sat down for a few drinks.   It was an all you can eat and drink menu for 300RMB (about 50 USD).

Not a bad way to say goodbye to the Year of the Snake and welcome in the Year of the Horse.

We waited for our friends, Nick, Deven, Nic and Jason and when they showed up we moved upstairs so we could look out the windows and watch as the festivities started.

Another couple arrived and we invited them to sit down with us since they looked like they didn’t have anyone else to celebrate with at this point.

As we talked with our new friends, we found out that he originally Eric was from Half Moon Bay and Kimberly was born in Santa Rosa, California.

For those that don’t know, I’m from Healdsburg, California.  It is a beautiful little town in the middle of the wine country.  Santa Rosa is about 10 miles away and was one of our main rivals in sports and pretty much everything else.

As Jill’s and my world gets bigger, it continues to get smaller.

As midnight approached, we went on the rooftop but it was so packed we had to stand on the stairs.  I was worried about Jill and her knees being in pain and tried to figure out somewhere else to stand and still be able to see the fireworks clearly.

Jill noticed our friends on the top of another roof and we asked if we could come join them and they agreed.  We hung out with them and enjoyed the fireworks for about 30-45 minutes.

We then went back to the party and hung out until around 2 am and were lucky enough to grab a cab almost the second we walked out the door with another friend we met tonight and shared the cab ride home, turned on our air filter to the highest power (it makes a grey noise that blocks out the sounds from the constant fireworks and firecracker explosions) and happily fell asleep after welcoming in the Year of the Horse.

I wishing you all “春节快乐“, which is pronounced “Chunjie Kuile” and means Happy New Year in Mandarin.

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Day 239 in Beijing: Pondering the Past, Present and Future.

Jill and me at the Forbidden City.

Jill and me at the Forbidden City.

Chinese New Year is tonight.

I sit and ponder what culture, family, and happiness is today.

I look to the past and see how different we are compared to when extended families were the norm and most people lived with 3 or possibly 4 generations under the same roof.  In the West, this is pretty rare but, in China, this still occurs.

Then again, in China, there are kids living with their grandparents, and parents having to live hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles away, to make ends meet.

As I sit in Beijing, with Jill, and we are getting ready to go out to a hotel and watch hours of fireworks and firecrackers (Beijing’s Chinese New Year’s fireworks are the world’s largest unorganized fireworks display every year) I realize how lucky I am.  In fact, at 8 am the day of Chinese New Year’s, as I’m writing this, firecrackers are already going off.

This will last for 10 days straight.  I has been recommended by friends that live in Beijing that we would be smart to buy earplugs so we can sleep.

My life, in almost every way, is exactly the life I want to live.  The only problematic issue is being apart from my family and friends back home.  This becomes quite obvious when someone passes away or a wonderful occurrence happens like a wedding that I will miss because of the distance.

Jill’s grandmother died this week, at the age of 97.  She wasn’t able to go home because of the long flights, then long drives, and the timing of everything.  So we celebrated Grandma Helen with a few of other dear friends and talked about her life.

I believe that this way of  of “family” that expatriates learn to accept and master if they want to stay stable and content living far from people they love.

Some people don’t like being this far from their “family” and yet others love it.

Living in Beijing, I’ve found a new definition to what is “My family.”

That is all there is, in a way, yet there is so much more.  My family includes my father, Michael, my mother, Judy, my sister Stacy, and my brothers, Robert and David.

If you extend it a little farther it also includes my step-father, Phillip and his son, Kody.

If you then extend it farther it includes my aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, brother in laws, sister in laws and other people that continue outward into the human race.

Do I include my friends?

Do I include my enemies?

Do I include people I have never met?

Do I include people that I will never meet?

I think of the Buddhist belief that we are all tied together and there is no self in regards to caring about, and connecting with, others.

There is a classic saying “. . .that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different.”

Strangely enough this is often mistaken for Buddhist lore but it was stated by an MIT meteorologist named Edward Lorenz in 1906.

I love how science and Buddhism are like cousins, far removed from each other, but actually closely intertwined.

Most of us, at least in the Western World, think of ourselves as more individual and fairly limited to a family connection.  I would suggest otherwise.  I believe that we are all connected.  If you trace my DNA and your DNA back to a certain point, we most likely all merge at some place.

According to the story of Adam and Eve, all humanity descends from two people.  Other religions have similar ideas.

As we progress scientifically, I am interested to see what science finds out about our genetics and our connections to each other.

I think that is why I’m so fascinated by Buddhist belief and the style of thinking that the Dalai Lama uses.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If Buddhism has a belief that science is not able to prove incorrect, then we should believe it.  However, if Buddhism has a belief, and science does prove it incorrect, we must discard it and take on a new belief.”

As noted before, I work as a behavioral therapist.  This belief is one of the reasons that behavioral therapy is so useful to my clients.

I also use behavioral therapy on myself for the same reason.  One of the tenets I learned from David Burns, MD, and my supervisor Brac Selph, PhD, was that I had to go through all of the interventions that I would ask my clients to go through.

I would learn more empathy for them and understanding of what they are trying to achieve and how hard it is.  I have done, and continue to do this, and I find more evidence, each time, for the method I use and the responses my clients get to heal themselves with an amazing amount joy.

I look at my past and wonder how much easier life would be if I could just learn, adapt and discard illogical, useless and harmful information and feelings instead of holding onto them and causing damage to myself, others and the universe.

I am doing that more and more each day and can quantify exactly how much better my life is now.

I welcome you to do the same on this, the first day of the Chinese New Year and Year of the Horse.