Day 385 in Beijing: A beer so nice they had to name it twice!

 

The Chinese version of Pabst Blue Ribbon?

The Chinese version of Pabst Blue Ribbon?

A beer so nice they had to name it twice!

And so, for some reason, they did and the label specifically states this is “Specially Beer SPECIALLY BEER” just in case you missed it the first time.

As you can see from the red and yellow signs behind the beer, we went to Wal-Mart in China.

Yep, I’m a hypocrite.

I rip on Wal-Mart, and its destructive habits on the workers of the world, but I actually did shop there.

Crucify me as appropriate.

I ended up buying a bucket, since our air conditioner’s hose isn’t long enough to reach out the window, and leaks, to catch the leaking water.  It is a long story and worth another blog post.  One of the cute weird little details of our apartment and we find it endearing actually.

The best part of the trip was looking at the different beers here.

In the USA, Blue Diamond is a almond company in California and, I’m guessing, Diamond Blue is not associated with them in any way.

Things seem to happen that way here and it isn’t just because of Chinglish.

This SPECIALLY BEER, by the way, can’t be that special because it only costs about 40 US cents for a tall boy.  Then again, 2.50 for 6 tall boys, if you just want to party, is not a bad deal.

By the way, they had cases of Budweiser here also.  I haven’t seen any Coors or Miller in Beijing but Budwesier seems to have a good handle on the local economy and how to sell their beer here.

I guessing the taste isn’t that special either as Jill and I had tried some of the cheaper beers here in China and they are fairly similar to the cheap and terrible beers in the USA.  Luckily, craft brews are really taking off and some of our closest friends are brew-masters.

Of course you’ve seen my Jing A posts and pictures of me drinking their beers through the year.  Trust me, it is as good as anything you can get in the USA.

Day 351in Beijing: Our Fakeamix Has Arrived!

 

Cheers!

Cheers!

Jill and I decided we want to eat more healthily and really wanted a Vitamix.

We’ve been vegetarians for 5 months now and wanted to take the next step.

I have a Vitamix back home, sitting and waiting for me, at my friend Sue’s house.

However, it weighs a ton and it is too expensive to ship over to China.

Therefore, we asked our friends Martin and Kenn, at The Local, and they suggested we buy the same ones they just bought a few days ago.

So, they ordered it for us and we received our new Fakeamix blender a few days ago.

It is almost exactly like the Vitamix I had at home and it works wonderfully.

It also only cost about 100 USD, which is a nice savings, and is quite easy to use, clean, and store when we don’t need it out on the counters.

Honestly, it is the little things, like having good friends order a blender for us, that make being an expatriate so much more enjoyable and easy.

Our Fakeamix is made by Hyundai and is actually more quiet than my real Vitamix.

This may be because the engine isn’t as powerful but it seems to do just fine for what we need as we mostly make green smoothies with it and it blends them up perfectly.

 

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Day 330 in Beijing: Soiree for Sonya.

 

My dear friend, Sonya Haggett.  I love you!

My dear friend, Sonya Haggett. Jill and I love you!

To quote my dear friend, Sonya Hagett, “F#$k Cystic Fibrosis.”

Sonya knows of what she speaks because she has Cystic Fibrosis.

Sonya is also an amazing social worker, an amazing salsa dancer, and, most importantly, an amazing person.

She has been one of my salsa sisters for as long as I can remember dancing.  And I started dancing 14 years ago and I know Sonya was dancing well before I started.

She is, without question, part of mi familia de salsa.

I’ve written on this blog before asking for donations for people and I thank you for whatever you’ve given.

I’m asking again.

Here’s the story.

Sonya is in her 30s (I won’t say more because I don’t want her to hop on a plane, fly to Beijing, and kick my butt for saying her true age, lol) and a walking wonder.

She has lived beyond what used to be the “expected” age for people diagnosed with CF and she refuses to give up or have a negative attitude about life.

I can’t actually remember her ever being sad or depressed.

She’s a fighter and a winner.

Maybe it is because she knew that each moment was to be cherished and that life could easily be taken away from her.

I think I understand, a little, of what she is going through since I was involved in a car crash when I was four years old that resulted in two different brain surgeries for me to survive it.

When something like that happens, from what I’ve seen and experienced, the outcomes seem to be give up and just move along or stand up and decide to live each moment to the fullest.

Sonya does this every single day of her life.

In the very near future, Sonya will be getting a double lung transplant and insurance is covering a good amount of this procedure.

What insurance won’t cover is the hotel that she needs to stay at (within 10 miles of the hospital) for the 6 weeks of after care.

The insurance won’t cover her food.

The insurance won’t cover her transportation.

The insurance won’t cover her home health support.

The insurance won’t cover a lot of things she needs to survive after the actual surgery.

This is where I ask you to support Sonya and donate to COTA in honor of Sonya.

She deserves it and I know you have the ability to give a little bit of money, even 5 dollars, right now, to support her.

And, if you can, give a lot more.

Her life, in all honesty, depends on it.

Jill and I gave 100 USD.

I hope you decide to give what feels right to you.

Even if it is just 5 dollars because any amount helps and the more you give the more you help to save Sonya’s life.

I have a simple question for you: How much is a person’s life worth to you at this moment?

Click this link: Children’s Organ Transplant Association

There is also a party for Sonya on May 31st in Oakland.

If you decide you want to go and donate to COTA in honor of Sonya in person, please give her a HUGE hug for Jill and me, as we can not attend since we are here in Beijing.

Facebook link: Soiree for Sonya

Jill and I would be incredibly grateful if you did.

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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Day 316 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 4-8

 

The lovely Jill and me.  Cheers!

The lovely Jill and me. Cheers!

You may be wondering why we are going to Erlian, China and then across the border to Erenhot, Mongolia.

A simple answer is it is inexpensive.  We basically have to leave the country every 90 days for Jill’s tourist visa not to become illegal.

We have choices where we can go and what we can do.

We’ve been to Malaysia twice and love it.

However, we are planning a big trip this summer to Europe and wanted to save some cash so we decided to do the Erlian Visa Run (as it is known around here) instead of going to Hong Kong or some place else that would have been much more expensive.

Back to our journey:  We hung out in the cabin for a bit and relaxed.

Sadly, Jill’s Kindle decided to poop out on us and we didn’t want to distract our cabin mate, Zheng, with our idle conversations, so we decided to hit the dining car and see what was going on there.

It was a fairly spacious place and we were the first to show up.  It opened at 1030 so we were right on time as we walked in at 1030 on the dot.

As we hung out, and drank some water, the expatriates that we met in the Beijing Railway Station showed up and we welcomed each other.

Other expatriates and Chinese or Mongolian nationals showed up also.

We decided it was time for a beer and just watched the beautiful scenery fly by.

Now, beautiful may not be what you expect from a trip to Inner Mongolia but it was, especially just outside of Beijing.

There are a lot of mountains outside out Beijing and it is quite beautiful, and when the pollution cleared up as we exited the city, it became even more gorgeous.

As we meandered north, we actually saw some vineyards and wineries.  I have been told the the Chinese wine market is the largest in the world with the Chinese drinking 1.2 billion gallons of wine a year.  And they have really just learned about wine in the last 10 years so this will be the biggest market ever seen in a very short time.  Red China loves Red wine.  Especially if they can add Coca-Cola to it.  Yes, I’ve seen this happen before.

Anyway, two expatriates entered the dining car and they didn’t have anywhere to sit so we invited them to sit with us.

Jill and I were very glad we did.

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Day 278 in Beijing: Life Is What You Make It.

The papercut we bought from Zhang Yonghong.

The papercut we bought from Zhang Yonghong.

I’ve been expounding on my belief is that life is what we make it for the last week or so.

I’d like to give an example of that ideal right here in Beijing.

It has nothing to do with me other than I happened to meet this person.

He didn’t use behavioral therapy, at least not that I know of, and he didn’t seem to have a “coming into the light” realization moment.

He had to make this realization at a very young age.

An age that most people would think, “Someone so young can’t decide for themselves what to do.”

I disagree.

I have hope, and a belief, that many people can make decisions for themselves, at a much younger age, than we believe.

I’ve seen it many times when working with clients.

I’ve seen it with kids I know.

Give them a proper set up, and the options, and they will make a choice.

It might not be the choice we believe is the right one, but they will learn from the consequences and move forward.

You survived your childhood.

So will most other kids.

Jill and I were walking around Nanluoguxiang, a very cool and old part of Beijing, and happened to see some posters on the wall with an article and beautiful papercut designs next to it.

We read the article and then went inside.

Let me introduce you to Zhang Yonghong.

He was born with brittle bone disease, less commonly known as osteogenesis imperfecta, and it seems horrific.

He is has had over 100 fractures in his life and his body seems to be quite small and he had a hard time moving around on his tiny bed.

He lives in this office, full of his art, and his bed, and without much room for much else.

His assisstant came out and we did our best to converse with both of them.

They both smiled a lot and were incredibly friendly.

We pointed out which piece of art we wanted and bought it.

It was 30RMB.

That comes out to about 5 USD.

We actually felt some shame that we weren’t paying more or buying a larger piece of art.

We had a party to go to and didn’t have the ability to carry it at that point.

However, we are planning on going back and buying more for gifts to give to our friends in the USA when we return.

Sadly, as you will read in the article posted below, was born with the same affliction and his wife left him.

She lives in his hometown and comes to Beijing twice a year for medical care.  It costs about 5000 USD per visit and he has stopped his medical care since he can’t afford to pay for both of them.

I have no idea if there is a way to do a crowdsourcing movement to help him with his medical bills, or to help him support his daughter, but I’d love to hear any ideas anyone has.

By the way, this is the same disease that “The Kid President” has if you’ve seen his videos.

Amazingly, both The Kid President and Zhang have the same amazing positive attitude.

Click here for the link to the article, “Life by a thousand cuts.

Ps. My friend, Katherine Rodriguez did the photography for the article linked above.  I think she did a wonderful job of catching his beauty, grace and charm.

I did not photograph him as I thought that would be offensive and rude.  He seemed to be such a kind person that he may not have minded.

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Day 273 in Beijing: Freedom Chosen.

Jill and me at the Sultanate's Water Wheel in Malaysia.

Jill and me at the Sultanate’s Water Wheel in Malaysia.

Something I’ve been pondering lately is the meaning of freedom.

For many it is having the freedom to buy what you want, go where you want, and do what you want.

For me it is more ambiguous.

It is more a way of life and a way of thinking that allows me to have freedom.

The way I ended up coming to China is a perfect example.

As is my relationship with Jill.

As is my desire to be a minimalist in almost everything I do.

As is my way of being a therapist.

I attempt to be as efficient as possible.

Life is too short, in my humble opinion, not to be efficient and not to enjoy it.

That is how I define freedom.

I left my job in California with only a plan to travel the world.

I wanted to start in Mexico, then go south.

I’d jump over to Cuba, since I love Cuban culture, dancing and music.

Then I’m go over to Europe to see my friend, Isabel Oller in Spain, and visit other places and people.

Lastly, I was going to head over to Asia.

Since my brother lives in China, he knew some people and he thought I should send over my resume.

Plans changed immediately.

Freedom Chosen.

I was hired to come to Beijing and be a therapist at the most amazing company I’ve ever worked for at this point.

I also was waiting for the San Francisco Carnaval Parade 8 days before I left to see friends, salsa dance, and say goodbye to “mi familia” there.

I ran into the woman that would become my girlfriend, Jill Loeffler, and we spent the next 8 days together and she saw me off at the airport.

1.5 months later she arrived and we haven’t been apart for a day yet.

Freedom Chosen.

She had the freedom to do this because she quit her high-paying, and incredibly stressful job, about 3 years ago and has traveled and started her own websites.

She lived in Airbnb apartments for the past 2.5 years because she didn’t want to be tied down to a rental agreement and stuck in one place.

Freedom Chosen.

She has traveled to Mexico, Spain, Morocco, France, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Some of these were with me and most were on her own.

Freedom Chosen.

She moved to China and we’ve since traveled to Malaysia and Singapore.

We plan to do a train ride across the Silk Road and into Turkey this summer.

Freedom Chosen.

A very important ideal in my way of doing Behavioral Therapy is that regrets really aren’t useful in most cases.

They can be if they allow you to be more productive and keep you moving forward but I’ve found that the same results can usually be achieved from a much more positive outlook where cognitive distortions and negative self talk are minimized and questioned.

We both think in the same manner, although Jill has never done therapy, while I needed Behavioral Therapy to figure out my self.  I have helped Jill with some negative thoughts using a daily mood log and she figured it out as quickly as anyone I’ve ever met.  She lives in the present and doesn’t rely on the past to make her decisions for her.

Freedom chosen.

Because of our choices in life we have both found jobs, or made them ourselves, that allow us to live this style of life.

We chose not to have kids.

We chose not to have property.

We chose not to be tied down.

We chose not to live in the past or with regrets.

We chose not to worry about events we can’t control.

We chose not to worry about what most other people do.

We chose to live our lives, while treading softly on the Earth, as best we can.

We chose to live as examples of how two people can live, love and bring happiness to others that want to come along for the ride.

We choose Freedom.

Freedom Chosen.

 

 

Day 261 in Beijing: FUYOU.

FuYou.  Pretty rude attitude for a container to have!

FuYou. Pretty rude attitude for a container to have!

Jill and I bought this container down at a local market.

We bargained for it.

And we bargained hard.

It is amazing how my personality changes when I’m “forced” to bargain.

I honestly don’t like bargaining but, if I don’t, I’ll pay about 3x what the real price is for the item.

I’d rather they just tell me what it should cost and we go on our merry way.

However, it is also a nice way to interact with people if you don’t try to underbid them or they don’t try to overbid you.

As neither Jill nor I speak Mandarin, you might be wondering how we bargain.

Everyone that works at the market has a calculator and pretty much has this English saying down perfectly, “Special just for you!”

The other is “Okay, best price!”

Other than that, you don’t really have to say much as you input a price on the calculator and they shake their head, “No!” and then put down their price.

I love a little gentleness in my plastics.

I love a little gentleness in my plastics.

As you get closer and closer to agreement, it becomes sort of silly and goofy because I have found myself arguing over a few cents.

It is almost as if the “real” amount of the money doesn’t matter because my ego, and endorphins, get going and it becomes a game.

Well, we bought this container.

I think it cost 20RMB (about 3 bucks) which is a fair price for quality containers here.

What cracked us up about it, though, was the name on the cover.

By the way, I have no idea how plastic can have “gentleness.”

If you do, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

 

 

Day 197 in Beijing: Hands Across China.

Jill and I were riding the bus a few days ago.

These hands know time, pain and the definition of work.

These hands know time, pain and the definition of work.

When we ride the bus, I try to keep my phone handy so I can take pictures of interesting sites or people as we come across them.

This man was an obvious day laborer, and was sleeping in his seat, just a few feet from us.

He woke up a few times, to let people move past him, and I’m guessing he had just finished a very long day doing very hard work.

I’m quite amazed at the work ethic of the people doing construction, and the tools they have to use, and wonder how they do it and still continue to be so happy most the time.

I’ve seen many people in America, with many more material items, better pay and better conditions, be as unhappy as possible and not feel fulfilled.

Maybe it is a cultural thing or maybe it is since they haven’t been accustomed to having those material things, they are happy without them.

It will be interesting, in the next few years, to watch as more people here start accumulating wealth and how that changes their outlook on happiness and contentment.

A close up of his hands.

A close up of his hands.

His hands made my eyes grow wide with surprise when I saw them.  His fingers had to be about one and half the length of mine, and I have pretty long fingers.  The width was at least twice as wide as mine and the nails were almost destroyed.  I could not fathom the kind of work, beating and pain that his hands must have gone through, and continue to go through, on a daily basis.

On top of that, he probably makes less in a month than I make in a week.  Or possibly a day.

I felt, and still feel, somewhat embarrassed since my life consists of so much ease, while so many in this nation work so hard, for so little, and have so much contentment.

Day 194 in Beijing: Need Versus Luxury.

Understanding need versus luxury.

Need: a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation.

Luxury: A pleasure out of the ordinary allowed to oneself.

I tend to be a fairly frugal person.

I allow myself to enjoy what I have earned but also try to figure out if I truly need something or am just buying it to satisfy some desire that is fleeting and more easily explained by greed, competitiveness of wanting to keep up with others, or some other emotion that tends to backfire and leave me feeling more lonely and empty after the purchase of the product.

Need, to me, is a requirement, a necessary duty or obligation, as the above definition states. I need to eat, to breathe, sleep and to live and, when I break it down to basics, not much more. Luxuries are pretty much everything else. This includes computers, smart phones, cars, and other things most people might consider needs. These luxuries, considered needs, might be the kinds of food one eats, where one eats, what utensils one uses to eat, and what condiments one adds to that food. Maslow states as much with his hierarchy of needs.

I bring up food and why I believe it is a luxury because many people take for granted that the way they eat, and what they, eat is automatic and as a need. People may choose to eat at expensive restaurants they ignore that the majority of the world subsists on around a dollar a day. Living in China, and watching how people eat, reminds me that most Americans eat far more than they need and that type of food is a luxury that beyond the financial capabilities of many people here. This is changing with the import of McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and other Western restaurants. Sadly, as these Western restaurants, and foods become more prevalent, obesity has skyrocketed here.

As a therapist, I make more money than 6,500,000,000 people in this world. In spite of that, I often feel as if I lead a fairly simple life, choosing not to have many of the luxuries that many of my friends and family can afford. I have developed this value over years, making these choices my morals. Or maybe my morals made these choices? Chicken or the egg? I believe in defining the difference between a want and a need, not buying luxuries just because others have them. I try to remember what is actually a need. If it is a luxury, then I judge its cost and whether I choose to spend money on that luxury.

An example of this is my new Computer. I had never bought my own computer. I’ve always used hand-me-downs from my older brothers or my sister because I didn’t need the newest piece of machinery and didn’t want to spend the money on something that was overkill for my wants. After many years of using these computers, I decided, since I was moving to China and wanted to have something that was reliable, up to date, and small, I’d buy my own laptop. I took over two months researching them and then made trips to the local stores to wait and see if the laptop that I wanted would be put on special or someone possibly returned it and I could buy it on discount. After a few months, I found it. It is exactly the model I wanted and I bought it. It was 33% off because it was a return and seemed absolutely perfect. I’ve owned it for 8 months now and it works perfectly.

A laptop, and any computer, is definitely a want and not a need. However, I balanced the want of this computer with what I’ve decided I don’t need in the past 10 years: I have not traveled much (after living in Japan, Great Britain, Australia and a few others places previously). I went to graduate schools, funding my studies almost entirely with student loans that I had $65,000 of debt after receiving my Master’s degree in psychology. I felt the moral obligation to pay them back as I made the choice to take out these loans.

My choice to pay back loans as soon as possible since I see them as a gift from other taxpayers to me. It was not fair for me to abuse that generosity. With this attitude, and that intention, I paid back all of the $65,000 in student loans in 6 years. I did this while living in the Bay Area making less than 50,000 dollars a year. For at least two of those years, I survived on about $25,000 a year as I worked towards my 3,000 hours to earn my Marriage and Family Therapist license. To many that may sound like a tough life. It isn’t. It is a choice. Again, even when I made $25,000 a year, I lived a more plentiful life than about 2/3s of the world. Most of them don’t have the options I have and the luxuries I can afford to buy.

To be clear, I’m not chastising those that choose a different path or have a different moral belief about their financial situation. I have made choices so that I can afford to live a life less burdened by material possessions:

I am not married.

I do not have kids.

Other than my student loans, I did not carry debt.

I have 3-4 credit cards, which I paid off every month. They helped me achieve and keep an almost perfect credit rating without ever paying a late fee or interest. They are a means to an end and I own them, they do not own me.

Living in China, I pay cash for everything. I could use my credit cards, in some locations, but I’d rather not. I’d rather know exactly how much I spend and how much I save. I budget a certain amount every week and then see how well I can keep within my means.

Compared to the guards at my apartment complex, who live on approximately $200 USD a month, I’m a billionaire here. I never let forget this is a luxury many don’t have around the world. I also remember that the guards seems to be as happy as anyone I know. Although the Western belief system continues to force us to believe otherwise, money does not buy happiness.

Be willing to ask for what you want and seeing what is given is a huge part of my being frugal. I’m also generous with my time, support and knowledge, which people seem to feel is a fair return for the material gifts I sometimes receive.

In reality, I do not need a computer. It is a luxury. I’m glad that I see the difference and can still enjoy it for what it is. A gift to myself.

Some thoughts to ponder:

What do you consider a need?

What do you consider a luxury?

Is there just one luxury that you could redefine as a need?

How would this redefinition save you money?

How would it help you feel more in control of your spending habits?

Ten years ago, what was a luxury and what was a need?

Ten years from now, what will you consider a need versus a luxury?

How does the way you use money satisfy your desires?

Also, one of my favorite websites about frugality and how to spend money wisely is The Simple Dollar.  I love Trent’s story and how he decided to change his thoughts on money, his behaviors and how he used money and how his life changed because of this.  He tends to use a behavioral therapy mindset to figure out how to spend money.  I also really enjoy his suggestions and honesty.