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.

Day 191 in Beijing: Five Things I’ve Gained By Being In Beijing.

I just posted about the five things I miss being in Beijing and I thought it would only be fair to look at the five things I’ve gained living here.

As my friend would cal it, “The dialectic.”

1. Seeing my brother, Robert and his family, whenever I want to see them:  My brother has lived in Beijing for 6 years now.  He has his own blog: A Man Called Su, which I suggest everyone check out and subscribe to as he has a different take on China than I do and he is also an amazing photographer.  He is married to a wonderful woman and they just had a baby about 2 months ago.  We actually live in the same apartment complex so we can visit whenever we want and go for walks together.  Since we’ve been living in different countries for the past 6 years, it is a big benefit and reason why I moved to Beijing in the first place.

2. Living on the wild side:  I had been living a pretty mundane life, in my humble opinion, for the last 5 years or so.  I had received my Master’s Degree in psychology and started working.  On a salary that averaged 43,000 USD a year, during that time, I paid off 65,000 USD in student loans by being extremely frugal.  All while living in San Francisco. Not an easy feat! I didn’t travel or buy a new car or spend money on myself other than what were the basic necessities.

I’m proud of what I did and how I accomplished this feat because it was hard work and I wanted to be debt free as quickly as possible.  I did it, exactly, 6 years to the day that I took the out the original loans.  However, I wanted to break out of my shell and see a different part of the world.  I was going to quit my job and travel down to South America first, then Cuba because I love the culture and salsa dancing, and then to Europe and over to China.  It seems I have gone the other way at this point and that is wonderful.  I have now seen the Great Wall, The Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven, The Forbidden City, not to mention Shanghai, Singapore and Malaysia.  Oh, and I was able to stand on top of an oil rig in the the Pacific Ocean.  Yeah, that was pretty cool.

I now get to live on the very wild side and experience a culture, people, place and life that I never would have thought was possible.

3. Jill: I met Jill eight days before I moved to China.  We were both at the SF Caranval parade and waiting for it to start.  I was also waiting for my dear friend, and ex-coworker, Jon-David.  Jill and I started talking as she was getting information for her website and business, San Francisco Tourism Tips, and needed pictures for her page on the SF Carnval for next year.  After an hour or so, Jon-David showed up and we all had a great time hanging out.  All three of us went to lunch, I asked Jill out for a date the next day, and we spent the next 8 days together and she saw me off at the airport.  We talked on the skype every and, within 2 weeks, she had booked a ticket to Beijing.  On July 31st, she arrived.  Things have been truly wonderful and being able to experience Asia with her has made it so much easier and enjoyable.  We just celebrated our 6 month anniversary and, as far as I’m concerned, If you can travel with someone, it says a lot about the strength of a relationship.

4. The understanding, once again, that what I believe is a fallacy.  My preconceived morals, values, ethics, are malleable and fluid.  There are some things that I “believe” are the truth but it is not universal and each culture has a different take on how things should be done, what should be believed and how creatures should be treated.  I come from my own ethical viewpoint but I love being challenged and having to figure out why, and how, I came to this belief and if it is actually fair.  I work as a Behavioral Therapist and that is one of my core beliefs: What is right for me, may not be right for anyone else.  We all make our own choices and have to suffer the consequences for those choices.  It is up to you to decide and choose your path.  If you don’t choose, you have still made a choice.

5. My new friends:  This includes the wonderful Chinese nationals I’ve met and the expatriates.  I feel as if I need to push myself more to hang out with more Chinese nationals and that is on the schedule since my work often has get-togethers and sporting events that I can go to and it is so easy to do that.  Everyone that I have interactions with, including the guards at my apartment who always say, “Ni hao!” or “Hi!” to me and smile widely when I walk by, to the cabbies who laugh at my horrible pronunciation and say a word or two of English to me, it has been wonderful.  I can not say enough about the kindness, elegance, and generosity of my coworkers, both expatriate and Chinese nationals. They are truly incredible and wonderful people who go out of their way.

As for the expatriates I’ve met in Asia, it is almost like an immediate second family.  We are usually the oldest of the crowd, with Jill and me being in our 40s, but it doesn’t matter. We are both very young at heart and so we end up with friends that are in their 20s and 30s.  We love to hang out, have fun, and try new things.  We have friends from all over the world and continue to build connections and share with each other.  If I had not come to China, this would not have happened and I wouldn’t feel like I was as much of a world citizen as I do now.  I love feeling like I’m growing, moving, changing and learning more about myself, other people and the world.  It is what I strive to do for the rest of my life.

The road not taken is the road I actually decided to take.


Day 89 In Beijing: Energy Efficient Clothes Drying.

Resourceful.  Use a tree as a clothes rack!

Resourceful. Use a tree as a clothes rack!

I grew up in the little wine town of Healdsburg and we would use a clothes line to dry our clothes when we needed it.  It would be hot enough during the summers that they often dried in one day.

The weather is very similar to Beijing’s weather during the summer season.

The main difference is Beijing gets amazing thunderstorms while Sonoma County usually did not.

Living in Australia in 1990, and Japan in 1996, I would only dry my clothes by hanging them out on the balcony or on a drying rack inside the house when it was too cold outside.

After living so long in America, I forgot that most the world doesn’t use drying machines.

Moving to China has reminded me how wasteful and unnecessary drying machines are if I just plan ahead a day or so for what clothes I need.

I truly enjoy hanging clothes, taking them down and folding them.

Strangely enough, I also like ironing.

Go figure.


Day 75 in Beijing: Shopping Logic.

The local Wu-Mart has about 50 to 75 people working the floor, selling stuff, folding stuff, talking to each other, talking to customers, allowing you to test things, and, in general, doing everything humanly possible to keep themselves, and you, the customer busy.  It truly is a consumer’s dream.

The lines stretch well into the distance.

The lines stretch well into the distance.

The check out line, on the other hand, is always understaffed.  When I arrived, the two cashiers had about 6 people waiting at each check out stand.  By the time I checked out, it was up to about 20 people in each line.  No one had called for another check out clerk and numerous employees had walked up, looked at the line, and then smiled and walked away.  There were four more check out stands waiting to be used.

I’m guessing that people are trained to do specific jobs and that they stick with them.  They are probably not allowed, or taught, how to do the check out and they only have a limited amount of people working the check out areas.

This leads to a lot of long lines and it can be fairly frustrating to most the people in line as they seem to be asking the employees to bring more people to work the cashier area but the employees don’t seem to have any idea what to do about the problem.

This is not a one off event or I wouldn’t bother posting about it.  It seems to be fairly common and yet there is little, if anything, being done about it.

It does, on a positive light, make one really decide if what they are buying is worth the time, money and effort.

And, maybe, just maybe, people won’t buy as much and be less consumer oriented.

Day 74 in Beijing: Packaging

I needed to buy some utensils from the Chinese

Since it is primarily in Chinese,

and I don’t read Chinese at all,

my co-worker helped me order what I needed.

She then paid with her account and I paid her back in cash.

I knew the delivery would come to my apartment so I waited for it a few days later.

I’m used to the classic brown Amazon box with the smile on it that is also an arrow.

It is a great advertising logo since it promotes the buyer to feel happy and get the expectation that the product is shipping directly to you in a very quick manner.

That is what happens in America.

Four different boxes.  Four different materials.

Four different boxes. Four different materials.

Woven and unbreakable.  It took me a decent amount of time to get it undone.

Woven and unbreakable. It took me a decent amount of time to get it undone.



As we say here: TIC.

This Is China.

Personally, I like these much more than the basic Amazon box.  Especially the one with the woven material that was incredibly strong and unbreakable.



Day 73 in Beijing: Beer or Soapy Water? You Decide!

You can buy a 500 ML can of beer from the 7-11 for about 75 U.S. cents.  Compare this to a U.S. 7-11 where it would be about $2.50.

You can buy a 300 ML can of beer from the local Wu-Mart for about 20 cents American. Compare this to a 300 ML can of beer from a local grocery store in America where it would be about a buck and you would have to buy them in a 6 pack.

Beer is incredibly cheap and readily available.

Notice I didn’t say inexpensive because it is not.  It is cheap.

Inexpensive means you get a great deal on something that is worth a lot more than you paid for it.

Cheap means that it isn’t really worth a lot of money.

And that is why beer here is cheap.

I decided to do a little taste test of these beers.

Snow beer.  Up close and personal.

Snow beer. Up close and personal.

Yanjing beer.  Up close and personal.

Yanjing beer. Up close and personal.

With a name like SNOW, I was hoping it would be clean,

clear and taste refreshing.

It was clean and clear, however, it tasted more like soapy water.

Mind you, that is the finest Beijing soapy water available.

Yanging was much better.

It was clean, clear and tasted like beer flavored water.

Then again, the bar was set pretty low.  Pun intended.

No carrying case like Yanjing.  Losing.

No carrying case like Yanjing. Losing.

Cool carrying case.  Winning.

Cool carrying case. Winning.

It tasted more like Coors or Bud.

Neither of which do I drink in America since I like more full bodied beers and try to stay with the local breweries.

These beers definitely don’t compare to my favorite local Beijing brewery, Jing A Brewing Company.

The Jing A Keg Egg.  Beijing beer and fun!

The Jing A Keg Egg. Excellent Beijing beer!


The Jing A beers are tasty, full flavored and hand made at the brew pub.

The owners and brewmasters, Alex and Kris, are wonderful dudes.  Their beer is about 35 RMB, or 5 bucks American, and worth every penny.

They also are served in one of my favorite restaurants, The Big Smoke, which I’ve posted about in Day 57 in Beijing: Jill Arrived Today.


By the way, they have a Jing A Keg Egg that will hit the streets of Beijing on August 17th.

I will definitely follow it around and do a blog post about it!






Day 21 in Beijing: 48 Bucks For A Haircut? Are You Kidding Me? Nope. They Are Dead Serious.

I walk away from Wu Mart (hmm, sound anything like a really cheap mass supermarket we have in America? Nah, total coincidence!) with the things i bought for furnish my new apartment.
I’m looking for a place to get my haircut.

I see the spinning barber sign (like we have in America) except it is blue and white.

I peek in the window and it is a very classy place.

No way I could afford to get my haircut in this kind of place in America.

What the heck, I decide just to go in and ask how much.

As detailed as you can get.  Or not. I can't read it.

As detailed as you can get. Or not. I can’t read it.



They basically show me a novel about 20 pages long regarding the business.  Little of which I can understand.

From what I can tell, it is a detailed story about the place and when it started and other stuff in Chinese script.

They notice I’m confused and turn the page for me.






This is something we all understand.  Cold hard cash.

This is something we all understand. Cold hard cash.

Ah, the price list.  A common language!


Three different prices for a haircut:



and 128.

I don’t want to spend more than 48 bucks for a haircut so I go with that.  I’m in a foreign country, somethings are much cheaper others are much more expensive.  Live and learn.




They lead me towards a chair and take my backpack, and the 12 pack roll of toilet paper I just purchased, a lock it up in a locker.  They then hand me the key for safe keeping.  If someone wants to steal my toilet paper, I’m thinking, they need it more than I do and I’d gladly give it to them.  However, the service level impresses me greatly.


I sit me down and they begin to wash my hair. I already showered today but why not? Enjoy the experience.

Finished with the washing, they move me to the hair cutting area and my stylist starts to go to work. There are about 15 people working today and about 3 clients. Lots of people seem to just welcome people and make them feel at home.



Quite a collection of tools.  Very professional.

Quite a collection of tools. Very professional.




One of the 15 people pull out a leather case and lay it on the desk in front of me.  

He opens it, very slowly and with precision, and all the utensils my stylist will need are immediately visible in front of me.






My personal stylist starts to cut my hair.  By the way, check out his hair, dude is definitely a stylist!


And so it goes.

And so it goes.



He works on me for about 30 minutes. Very smooth and friendly.  He smiles often as I take pictures while studying my hair intently as he keeps working on my hair.










My hair?  Steel wool? Both maybe.

My hair? Steel wool? Both maybe.


At one point, I look down at the sheet covering me and notice my hair…and that it looks a bit like steel wool. Oh well, that is life and this is my hair. I don’t color or dye it because I love it short and I think it fits my skin color and eyes rather well. I’ve been going grey since I was about 15 and why bother stopping it now?







My stylist keeps going and is getting closer to the finished product. He continues to smile and seems to enjoy my silliness with pictures. He actually threw an “I’m cool” sign at one point!

We were both having fun and laughing a lot.

We were both having fun and laughing a lot.


Okay, all finished…










or so i thought!



Once again, they tell me to stand up and I follow their directions. I still have the purple towel around my neck and so i look around awkwardly. they lead me back over to the hair washing area and have me sit back down.



The Second Washing.  I'm feeling like a VIP.

The Second Washing. I’m feeling like a VIP.





They wash my hair a second time.










The Blow Dry.  The Final Touch.

The Blow Dry. The Final Touch.






After that they take me over to the stylist area and my stylist blow dries my hair.
My hair is pretty short so it doesn’t take much but I love the effort and the time that he takes.

It seems very respectful and kind.






As my stylist finishes, I pull out a 100RMB note. The total is 48RMB. They don’t have change for it so they run around asking other people for change. They finally find someone and give me 52RMB in change.

Yep. 48 bucks for a haircut..oh, by the way, 48RMB, is about $7.50 American dollars.

And no tipping allowed.

So, yes, 48 bucks for a hair cut? Are you kidding me?  Nope. They are dead serious.