Day 560 OUT OF Beijing: Back in San Francisco!

 

The rainbow crosswalk in the Castro District.

The rainbow crosswalk in the Castro District.

 

Jill and I were supposed to fly into San Francisco on December 15th.

However, our flight was diverted to Oakland because of the storms and we weren’t able to land back in our “home” town.  We had some turbulence on the way down and yet the overall flight was fine.

This was actually a fitting end to our travels in, and out of, China as it has been an incredibly bumpy ride for the last 1.5 years.

Some of the high points:

Jill and I are engaged.   Hell, we met only 8 days before I moved to China so the fact that we even made it there is amazing enough.  But engaged?  Truly incredible.

I was able to help a lot of people in need of therapy and coaching.  I worked on some of the most high profile cases in Beijing.  If you look at the news of what happened, with expatriates living in China during the past 1.5 years, there is a decent chance I worked on the disaster and tragedies as a psychotherapist and a trauma specialist.

I worked with the most amazing co-workers and staff.  I was able, at any moment, to get support, knowledge, and whatever my clients, or I, needed to make sure the client had the best care possible.  The knowledge level at my company is amazing and the professionalism is beyond compare.  I’m honored to have spent 1.5 years with them and could not have wished for a better group of people to work for and with.

We made an amazing amount of friends and connections.  People inspired us to dream bigger and not settle for the norm.  It takes a special kind of person to survive, and thrive, in Beijing and our friends do that.

We were able to save a nice little nest egg for our future plans to travel around the USA and build our business at San Francisco Tourism Tips over the next year or so.  We are also going to be building a new website to help people live their dreams and take the road less traveled.

We were able to visit parts of China including Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Tianjin and see places out of history like The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, and The Terracotta Warriors.  These and many others will live on in our pictures, this blog, and our memories for the rest of our lives.

We also were able to visit Singapore, Malaysia, Mongolia, Turkey, and Greece.  Not a bad way to spend a year and a half.

Some of the bad points:

RAB (Richard Arden Bermudes) passed away while we were gone and we were not able to say goodbye in person. This will haunt me.

Jill’s grandmother passed away while we were gone and she wasn’t able to be there for the funeral and memorial.  She seems to be doing fine with it and was able to say her goodbyes before we left but I’m sure this still is upsetting to some degree.

As mentioned above, I worked on a lot of the major disasters that happened in Beijing during my stay.  This was incredibly positive because I could help a lot of people but it was also difficult because I saw so much grief and death in my 1.5 years.  From what I’ve been told, the 1.5 years I worked at my company saw as much emergency situations as anyone can remember.  And I always volunteered to help because I enjoyed doing it but it did wear me down.  However, I don’t regret one second of it.  I know I helped save peoples’ lives and helped them find a way out of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, psychosis and other very painful places.

Jill had a breast cancer scare and needed to get a biopsy.  This can be scary enough, living in the USA, but living in a foreign country makes it 10x worse. Everything turned out fine but it was still not an enjoyable experience.

Jill fell and hit her head and had a huge bruise for quite a while.  The amazing thing about Jill is that almost nothing gets her down.  She was able to laugh about what happened and let me write a few blogs and post pictures.  She is truly amazing.

This is just a short list of things that happened and I’m going to be writing a travelogue about them and others in the next year.

Jill and I sort of forgot all of these events as we drove into San Francisco with our dear friend, Alethea Bermudes and saw the Golden Gate Bridge rise out of the fog and clouds.

The Grateful Dead once sang, “What a long strange trip its been” and they were partially right because our long strange AND AMAZING trip has just begun.   It is past, present and future tense.

We both hope you continue along with us as we travel around the USA and then off to some foreign country to see what the future brings us next.

 

Day 553 In Beijing: Kocabag Winery in Cappadocia.

 

Jill and me enjoying the wine.

Jill and me enjoying the wine.

 

After seeing the Agzikarahan Caravanserai, Jill, our crew and I all went to do a little wine tasting.

Jill is a big time wine lover and so am I so we thought this would be fantastic.

We’d been quite impressed with the wines from Turkey, so far, and were looking forward to checking out Kocabag Winery.

They are rated as one of the Top 5 wineries in Turkey and we had tried a few bottles of their wine in the previous week or two.It was very beautiful and the wine was excellent.

Sadly, because of the government and the Muslim influence, alcohol is very highly taxed in Turkey so an average bottle of wine costs around $15 USD.  This isn’t really nice wine so the type of wine that Jill and I like to drink is up there in price.  Therefore, we did some tasting but didn’t buy any of the wine at the winery because we continue to be on a budget and need to stay frugal no matter how much we want to party and have fun.  FYI, winery tasting rooms usually charge more for wine so we usually buy them in the stores.  Again, it isn’t as romantic but it is frugal and we can afford to travel more often if we do that.

However, Andrea bought some and it came in a beautiful bag.

We took our time, walking around the tasting room, and talking to the attendants.

There are a lot of different varietals, most of which we had never heard of, and it was nice to try new grapes and new wines to help us learn more about the world and open our palates to new experiences.

That is what traveling is about for Jill and me.

 

Day 524 In Beijing: Blue Tour In Cappadocia, The Hall Of Rugs.

 

The Hall of Rugs.

The Hall of Rugs.

 

After seeing the women weaving the rugs, our guide took us down a long corridor best described as the “Hall of Rugs” sort of like the Hall of Fame.

They were incredible.

He told us more about the history of rug making in Turkey and the conditions the women used to work in and how they are better now.

He also told us that he loves his job and enjoys being able to show people this amazing art each and every day.

When he spoke, you could hear the pride in his words and see it in his eyes.

This is someone who had found a job that he loved and was very proud of doing when he woke up.

As we walked into the Hall of Rugs, Jill and I noticed a rather obvious sign stating that “No pictures and no videos.”

We looked at our guide and asked, “So we aren’t allowed to take pictures in this hall?” in hopes that he’d let it slide.

He looked at us, smiled, and said, “Oh, you can take all the pictures you want.  We just don’t allow Chinese people to take pictures.”

Jill and I guessed the reason why, as we’ve been living in China for just over a year, but wanted to hear what our guide’s reason was just in case we were wrong.

He added, “They come on the tour, take pictures, and then copy them with inferior quality and material.  It has happened so often that we can not allow them to take pictures anymore.  We have no problem with anyone else taking pictures.”

Jill and I laughed at the absurd reality of the situation and started taking a few pictures just to document our trip through the Hall without being obvious or rude.

It is about fitting in, for us, as we like to be tourists but also want to be the kind of tourists that aren’t that noticeable all the time.

There is no way I can show, through pictures, the incredible detail and exquisite workmanship of these rugs.

You have to visit Turkey yourself to see, and understand, them and how the culture informs their artwork.

 

 

Day 523 In Beijing: Blue Tour In Cappadocia, Rug Co-op Videos And Happier Than A Billionaire.

 

Working on a larger rug.

Working on a larger rug.

 

Jill and I were totally absorbed watching the women weave.

They were lightening fast and we couldn’t believe that they could do this, day after day, without suffering major pain or injury.

I’m guessing they did but the money they could make before they retired, around the age of 40, would hopefully be enough to support them and their family.

We didn’t ask them what their husbands do, and for all we know they work at the same co-op selling the rugs, but I’m guessing they don’t make a lot of money doing this and it is a tough life.

Even with the percent the co-op gives them, I’m sure they struggle.

It gives Jill and me even more reason to be thankful for what we have in our lives and how we are able to live them.

How many people get to move to China, on a whim, work 3 days a week, and then travel around the world living a rather wonderful life?

Not that many that I know although, as we travel more, we meet more and more people doing this and are inspired by them.

One of the people we’ve met is Nadine Hays.  I starting reading her book, “Happier Than A Billionaire” while we were on vacation and loved it beyond belief.

Well, we haven’t actually met her in person, but we met her through her book, and then on Facebook, where we’ve become fast friends already!

It is a travelogue about a couple, in their 30s, that decide to chuck the jobs they hate and move to Costa Rica.

Jill has visited Costa Rica before and thought it would be a fun read but didn’t have time to read it, so I borrowed it from her.

I now want to visit Costa Rica as soon as ppossible   Nadine’s book is hilarious, scary, and amazing.  It is everything that can happen living an expatriate life and both the good and the bad.  She leaves nothing out and she and her husband, Rob, do an amazing job of overcoming whatever is thrown in their path to make their dream life.

She’s now written two sequels and continues to live the dream.

I would suggest anyone, whether you want to actually live the expatriate life, or just read about it, buy her book and read it immediately.

Just click the Amazon link below and buy it.  It is a deal at $2.99 for a kindle version!

Happier Than A Billionaire.

Back to the women weaving, making their lives their dreams, and Turkey.

 

This is a short video showing the women moving as fast as humanely possible.

 

This video is longer but the guide explains exactly what is happening as it goes along.

Day 522 In Beijing: Blue Tour In Cappadocia, Rug Co-op.

 

So intricate and so perfect.

So intricate and so perfect.

 

Jill, the tour group, and I head off to our next destination, a rug making co-op.

I grew up, as I’m part Armenian, with a lot of Armenian rugs around my house.

It was the one bit of that culture, other than dolma and pilaf, that my family brought with it from Armenia when they moved to the USA many years ago.

I love looking at them, and the intricacies of how they are woven, and was extremely excited to see people at work and making these beautiful pieces of art.

Each of us received our own tour guide, with the Colombians getting someone that spoke some Spanish and English, as that is what they spoke also, and the Dutch getting someone who spoke German.

Let me say this, the Turkish have the tourist industry down to an art.  They have so many guides, that speak so many languages, it is rather amazing.  They really know what they are doing and how to make people feel comfortable.

As an Armenian that is a lot to say when you consider the history between these two countries and the massacre that happened against the Armenian people back in the early 1900s.  I’m glad to say that when people asked where I’m from, and I told them Armenia, they were excited and stated that “We are brothers!”  It was great to hear that these old hatreds are disappearing and people are becoming more inclusive and caring.  I’m not sure about Eastern Turkey, where it is much more religious and provincial but Western Turkey is fairly open-minded at this point.

Our guide told us about the work these women do, and how difficult it is, and how it is a dying art.

The women are only allowed to work for 20 minutes at a time, and then take a 10 minute break, so that their hands, and eyes, won’t be injured.

They are also only allowed to work for 4 hours a day.  Many work from home since they have kids and other duties to do so they only come into the co-op to deliver their rugs or work in front of tourists.

According to our guide, many of these women retire at around 40 years old because of the stress and strain to their bodies from doing such repetitive and tedious work.

That is just another reason why this art is dying out and younger people aren’t interested in doing it anymore.

One of the bigger rugs (5 feet by 9 feet) could take about 9 months to make one if it is cotton.

If it is silk, however, it can take double that or almost 1.5 years.

The women get about 70% of the sale while the co-op gets 30% so it seemed like a pretty fair deal for them.

 

Day 506 In Beijing: Arrival at Village Cave House Hotel.

 

The view from our room.

The view from our room.

 

Jill was in the back seat, talking to the other expatriates, and I was hanging out in the front seat enjoying the scenery.

We drove in to Goreme, a very small town in Cappadocia, and I was instantly blown away by the fairy chimneys that were all over this tiny little town.

Fairy Chimneys are naturally occurring rock towers in this area of Turkey.

They don’t seem to be anywhere else and they have a long history of being used, by the locals, as places to live in.

Since the rock is mostly made of lava, from a number of different volcanic eruptions, it is very soft and easy to carve out.

So, the locals carve out rooms and stay in them.

Not stayed, but stay.  Currently.

We drove by a few hotels, like the one we have made reservations in, and drove up to one that was up on the hill side and actually built into the mountain.

I turned to Jill and said, “I wish we had spent a bit more money and booked one of these!”

As the van slowed down, and the driver put the transmission into park, Jill smiled and said, “Surprise!  I did book this for us!”

I was completely blown away and, once again, amazed at Jill’s thoughtfulness and ability to make our lives together that much better.

We got our bags, walked into the Village Cave House Hotel and met Onur at the reception.

His father had started this hotel and he, his brother, and his mother still run it.

He took us to our hotel room and it was about half way up the mountain side and had a fantastic view of the valley.

We couldn’t believe how perfect everything was and how amazing our trip was going.

 

Day 504 In Beijing: Shave And A Haircut, 2 Bits, Part 2.

 

Putting the wax in my other ear.

Putting the wax in my other ear.

 

Jill and I wanted to give you an idea of what the haircut, shave, and ear waxing felt like.

Well, here you go.

The pictures, I think, were a lot of fun but there is nothing quite like video to show the excitement, and nervousness, that I was feeling as a guy took a razor to my throat.

It was definitely a good exposure therapy experience for me to give up control, trust in someone, and just see how my anxiety rose and fell during the hour I spent in his chair.

I can definitely state that my anxiety rose quite a bit when he first pulled the skin on my face back, in order to get a taunt piece of skin, and put the razor against it.

It then fell, almost immediately, when I realized I was safe and secure.

It did raise again, briefly, when he went over my Adam’s apple as that is part I sometimes cut a bit but he did a fantastic job and not a scratch.

The ear waxing really was a hilarious event and I was in a bit of pain but it was all worth it and I’d do it over again if I had the chance.

Which, being that we came back to Istanbul on the last day of our trip, I did have that chance and I took it.

I’ll be posting that adventure in a month or so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 503 In Beijing: Shave And A Haircut, 2 Bits.

 

I was a bit nervous.

I was a bit nervous.

 

Jill and I returned home and I decided to get a haircut.

My hair wasn’t that long but I wanted to try and get a shave also as I’ve never had anyone shave my face before, and since this was a vacation, I thought I’d try something new.

The barber’s shop was right across the street from Andac’s apartment so we showed up and sat down.

He had been drinking coffee, at the little cafe near Andac’s apartment, and came right over.

His son was with him and they both came over.

Strangely enough, he sent his son away with some very serious instructions, just as we were about to begin.

Little did I realize that he was having his son get some more coffee as the barber served us either Turkish coffee, or tea, with my shave and a haircut.

Okay, I have to admit I know about 20 words in Turkish and none of them really have anything to do with shaves or haircuts.

I basically pantomimed the length of how short I wanted my hair cut and that I wanted a shave.

The barber, as you can see in many of the pictures, had a mischevious grin when he was working on me and only later, in the middle of the haircut, did I understand why.

He was going to give me an ear waxing.

Yes, an ear waxing.

Now, I’ve had waxing on my eyebrows and a few other places, but near IN MY EARS!

I was a bit reticent, to say the least.

However, as I was here to try new things, I decided I’d give it a go.

It took a few minutes for him to apply the wax to my ears, and also under my eyes, and he was smiling and laughing the whole time.

We were also as I was thinking, “This will make a great blog post.”

Jill kept taking pictures as she seemed to enjoy the torture I was about to undergo and I wasn’t that worried about what might happen.

As the wax dried, he continued to work on me and then, without much notice, he pulled the right ear wax out.

It was pretty darn surprising and a bit painful.

It wasn’t horrible but it was noticeable.

The barber kept laughing and seemed to be enjoying this silliness.

We kept drinking of coffee, enjoying the haircut, shave, wax, face massage and whatever else, until it was over.

It took about 1 hour, in total, and cost about $18 USD.

A heck of a deal for a heck of a good time.

 

Day 477 In Beijing: The 3rd Western China Multi-national Sourcing Fair.

 

Jill, the Kaiwai Winery owner/winemaker and me.

Jill, the Kaiwai Winery owner/winemaker and me.

The whole reason for this trip, paid for by EACHAM, was for Jill and me to go to a sourcing fair.

Now, we weren’t even sure what a sourcing fair was, but we were told the trips were fun and, so far, that had been proven true.

Basically, we got a trip, by train, and got to stay in a 5 star hotel, for free.  The tickets and transport to the Terracotta Army cost us about 75 USD, total, and that was a deal considering this trip would have cost us about 400 USD if we paid for it ourselves.

Therefore, we were obliged to go to the sourcing fair and meet the vendors.

Our vendors were chosen, in advance, by what we were interested in doing and learning about, so we were set up with some interesting machine companies (no idea what we were able to build and I’m pretty sure semi truck axles are not on my holiday shopping list.  It was still interesting to see how they were assembled).

They actually did a very good job of putting us in contact with a few wineries and a brewery.

Along with Jill’s main website and business, SF Tourism Tips, Jill has a second website, All About Red Wine, it was quite useful for her to talk to the winery owners, and winemakers, and discuss how the wine is made here and what they are doing with it.

Our favorite winery, Kaiwai, and winemaker, asked us to hang out with him and told us all about what he did and how special it is to him.  Everything is organic and handmade.  They even has some other their own grape varietals, one named “Weibei” that is delicious.

The owner asked us to come and visit his winery next time we are in Xian and, if we ever make it back up this way, we definitely will!

As mentioned before, we were also given two translators, Miranda and Lizzy, who were fun, smart and very cute.

We made sure they were able to taste the beer, and wine, and they seemed to enjoy spending time with us.

Miranda is wearing the glasses in the picture and Lizzy is not.

We hope they come and visit us in the USA when we return home so we can return the favor and tour them around San Francisco!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.