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 555 In Beijing: SANTA CON!!!!

 

 

Me in front of one of my favorite sculptures.

Me in front of one of my favorite sculptures.

 

Jill and I did Santa Con last year in Beijing and had a blast.

We met a lot of people and made some amazing friends during it.

I also did Santa Con the year before I came to China, in San Francisco, and something like 5000-10000 people showed up.

Beijing rolls about 150-200 people deep but it is almost more fun because Santa Claus and Christmas is still a novelty here and people are really surprised and seem to enjoy a bunch of crazy laowai walking around and giving out candy and having fun on the streets.

Our friend, Federica, who is from a small town near Turin, Italy, wasn’t able to come out with us this year but posted a picture of herself wearing a santa costume on the Great Wall of China.  I can only imagine what the Chinese nationals out there thought about it.  They probably laughed and loved it.  I know I would have.  Federica is hilarious and one of our closest buddies.  She’s also in the first picture above this post.

We hung out with our friends Barbara and Patrick most of the time.  Barbara is from Brazil and Patrick is from Cape Verde.  They met here and have fallen in love and are a super cute couple.  We love hanging out with them because they have such positive attitudes and also want to travel the world and see what is out there.  Barbara is also an awesome salsa dancer and Patrick is great at dancing kizomba and merengue.

We also hung out with our friend Rachel, who is in the picture below with Jill, who flew up from Hong Kong just to hang out with us this weekend.  We call Rachel, “Our daughter” because she is 26 and we feel like she is our kid.  She’s actually third generation Beijing-ren (ren means person) and moved to Hong Kong for work about 3 months ago.  We met at a Jing A beer and food pairing at The Big Smoke a while back and became fast friends immediately.

We hit about 6 different bars and ended up at our favorites, The Local and Jing A Taproom.  On our way, we stopped by The Big Smoke and passed by Beijing Sideways, which is a tour company where you can rent motorcycles, with sidecars attached, and do tours of Beijing, China and who knows where else.  Someone hired them to ride all the way from Beijing to Paris, if memory serves correctly.  One of my friends, Moeava, used to work there and is setting up the same company in Tokyo.

That is the part of Beijing that Jill and I truly love: Meeting so many people, from all over, that have such different attitudes and ideas on how to live life.  We enjoy being excited by their new ideas, their willingness to take a chance and their desire to try something new.  The Jing A guys, Kris and Alex, are perfect examples of this:  Kris Li worked at Cisco and Alex Acker worked at Ogilvy and Apple.  About 3 years ago, they started home brewing out of one of their bathrooms.  Then they built up and became more popular.  The owner of The Big Smoke, Kris Ryan, asked if they wanted to build their brewery in his restaurant and they agreed.  Just about 4 months ago, Kris Li and Alex started their own restaurant, the Jing A Taproom, and it has been a huge success.  It has been wonderful to watch them learn, grow and strive to be their own people and not just stay stuck in an “easy” career or life.  Alex also got married to the amazing Ashley while we were here and we’ve been able to celebrate their new life together as we’ve seen it grow.

We’ve made so many friends, in just 1.5 years, it is hard to believe.  However, that is why we love traveling and being out there: There are always adventures to be had and places to see.  We’ve seen so many of our friends make these amazing choices and live lives of adventure.

I wonder what adventure is next for us?

 

Day 365 in Beijing: HAPPY CHINAVERSARY TO ME!

 

Celebrating my CHINAVERSARY with Jill, Nebraska State Senator Kate Sullivan and her wonderful husband Mike.  A very nice way to ring in the second year in China.

Celebrating my CHINAVERSARY with Jill, Nebraska State Senator Kate Sullivan and her wonderful husband Mike. A very nice way to ring in the second year in China.

This is actually a weird problem to have.

This is my Chinaversary.

I’ve lived here for one year.

Except, that isn’t quite right.

I lost a day in my flight over so I’m never sure if I’ve really been here for one year or not.

I’m going with this is my anniversary since I left the USA on this date and technically would have arrived on the same date if not for the time change.   And, it would also set my “Day …” count off by a day if I didn’t do this.

I can’t really believe I’ve been in China for one year.

And that I’ve written 365 blog posts.

I had no idea that I could find that much to write about, that much to think about that much to keep going, day after day.

I’m actually quite proud of my accomplishment.

I also thank everyone that has been on this ride with me, either physically, like Jill, or mentally/emotionally like my family, friends and readers of this blog.

Some of the things I’ve learned in my first year:

Traffic in China is pretty bad.  I just moved to a new place about 1 block from my work.  It takes me 3 minutes to walk there and my stress load has gone down incredibly.  I used to commute, by taxi, for about 30-40 minutes each way.  The time I get to spend relaxing with Jill and going for walks is priceless.

Beijing is huge.  23,000,000 people, and by some estimates, 25,000,000, in a 200 km city.  It just seems to go on forever.  This has good and bad points.  We mainly have figured out the good points and that there is always something new opening and a new place to explore.  Or, better yet, a very old place to explore.

We love traveling.  We truly love to get out, try something new, meet new people, and see what life is like outside of our “little world” back home.  It gives us a new perspective every time we meet someone because we hear a life story that is so different and so contrary to what we both used to believe about what we could or should do with our own lives.

We miss our friends and family back home.  This goes without saying.  Two dear friends, and one who is basically “my second father” died while I was away.  I did what I could do, from here, but missed the memorials or being able to truly say goodbye.  This is a major downside to being an expatriate.

China is an amazingly dizzying place to live and understand.  It is like the industrial revolution on steroids.  I’ve never experienced anything like it and I’ve been to a lot of major cities around the world and lived in Japan, Australia and other countries.  Seriously, nothing compares to China.  That is good and bad.

Jill and I are an amazing couple.  We have put up with, I would say, was probably one of the hardest years of our lives and have come through with more love and respect for each other than we could have imagined.

Here is a simple list of what has happened since we met, some good, some bad.

I moved to China.

I started a new job.

I moved into a new apartment with very little support or idea of how to do anything in China.

Jill Moved to China.

Jill’s grandmother died.

Two of my friends/mentors died.

3 different visa trips to leave China so Jill wouldn’t overstay her visa.

Jill started Mandarin school.

Dealing with pollution.

Jill’s almost having to start over from scratch on her website because of problems.

The internet being limited beyond belief because of….I won’t state that here.  😉

Jill found out that people very close to her have cancer.

Jill had a breast cancer scare and a biopsy here (everything is fine, thankfully!).

Amazing boss and dear friend in the same person.

Seeing the Great Wall twice.

Having friends from the USA visit.

Salsa dancing in China.

Playing badminton with my coworkers.

Making new incredible friends that keep us continually laughing and feeling like we have a “family here.”

The ability to support and love each other through the hardships and know that we have each other’s love.

A move to a new apartment that is wonderful.

My therapy practice which is doing incredibly well.

Working in situations that I would have never imagined in the USA which includes doing therapy on a oil rig in the the middle of a bay in China among others.

Helping many people feel better and figure out what is right for them.

Not having to own a car.

Seeing the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Tienanmen Square, Summer Palace and so much more.

Seeing Chinese New Year in China!

Having Octoberfest in Beijing.

Becoming vegetarian, together, on New Year’s Day.

Visiting Mongolia.

Visiting Shanghai.

Visiting Malaysia, twice!

Visiting Singapore.

Spending NYE in Singapore with Dipesh.

The ability to take a month off in the summer and go to Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria.

Jill’s websites taking off and becoming a real force for tourism in San Francisco.

A new internet service that is screamingly fast which allows this blog, Jill’s sites, and all the connections we need to stay here and feel more at “home” when we miss people.

Overall, the positive definitely outweighs the negative and I’m sure there are lots more to list but I don’t want to overwhelm people.  Suffice to say that year one was incredibly tough, and taught us so much about ourselves, and each other, that we know year two will be a breeze. We are so much stronger, knowledgeable and resilient to what comes our way that we will succeed and master whatever needs to be done.

We both thank you for all your support, care and love.

 

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!

 

 

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 80 in Beijing: The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, Part 3.

As we walked the Great Wall, we kept being amazed and awed by the scale of it.

Then, to finish it all off, we decided to take the aforementioned tobaggan down the mountain.

It was an absolutely hilarious, exhilarating, and wonderful perfect way, to end a fantastic day.

 

Day 79 in Beijing: The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, Part 2.

As we bought our tickets for the cable car, our friend Kean did his best to order what we wanted.  Our thoughts were to do the cable car going up, walk the Great Wall, and then take the tobaggan down the mountain.

Yep, they have a tobaggan that takes you down the mountain after you finish walking this majestic piece of Chinese history.

Imagine if they had a tobaggan ride from Macchu Picchu.

The absurdity of it all just fits so perfectly in China.

As we rode up the cable car, we had gorgeous views of the valley and started to see bits and pieces of the Great Wall.

After about 10 minutes, we reached the end of our ride and hopped off.  We headed towards the Wall and started taking massive amounts of pictures and just taking in the sights.

I have to admit being rather stunned and amazed by the size and grandiosity of the Wall.

It is much more amazing than I would have ever imagined and even a few days after just keep thinking how incredible that I was able to be at the Great Wall and have this memory for the rest of my life.

Day 78 in Beijing: The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, Part 1.

After visiting Huanghuacheng, we decided to head over to a more touristy, and well known, part of the Great Wall.

It took us about an hour to get from Huanghuacheng to Mutianyu and it was a gorgeous ride.  We were in seriously mountain country for quite a while and it felt I was back in Sonoma County.   All the trees, greenery and valleys were a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Beijing.

As we arrived in Mutianyu, we decided to eat and relax a bit before we start the hike around the Great Wall.

We went to Mr. Yang’s.  We had a number of different dishes, including rabbit, and it was quite good.  Sadly, I forgot to take pictures because I was so hungry.

After a delicious lunch, we started to hike up the to the trail.

We walked by the sign explaining the importance of Mutianyu and took our time as we trekked up to the cable car.

We knew we’d be doing a lot of hiking when we reached the top of the Wall so we decided a cable car would be a fun way to see the valley and also not die trying to reach the top.

 

 

Day 77 in Beijing: The Great Wall of China at Huanghuacheng, Part 2.

Our adventure at Huanghuacheng continued with a speed boat ride over to the other side of the lake.

As we arrived on the other side, our friend, Kean, talked to some people and found out that we couldn’t actually walk on very much of the Great Wall at this location and we decided to take the speed boat back, drive to the more famous part of the Great Wall, and climb in the Mutianyu area of The Great Wall.

It was a great, and very idyllic, start to the day as this area was empty of people trying to sell souvenirs and exceptionally quiet and relaxing.

It always surprises me how close the country is outside of Beijing.  It takes about 1 hour to be in places that are incredibly ancient.  Some of the people in these areas may not even speak Mandarin, and, instead would speak their own language or dialect.

 

Day 76 in Beijing: The Great Wall of China at Huanghuacheng, Part 1.

Jill, a few other friends, and I went out to see the Great Wall of China yesterday.

The drive out to the Great Wall was gorgeous and invigorating.

The weather was perfect.

I couldn’t have imagined a better day for it.

It was also on a Monday so most of the tourists were at work or somewhere else.

It was truly magnificent.

Even the drive to Huanghuacheng was an adventure.

Our GPS system, one of which was in Chinese and pre-installed in the car, and the second one, which was in English and bought from a store, seemed to have differing views on how to get to our destinations.  It was cultural learning experience and we were waiting to see if they would actually start arguing with each other as we were driving.  We eventually decided to stick with the English one as the Chinese one kept sending us to places that had nothing to do with where we wanted to go.

We also had to dodge piles of sand, stone and dirt that was laid out in the two lane streets as the locals were working on their houses and walls.  We didn’t see anyone out doing anything with them, or any signs warning of this impending danger and suggesting people slow down.  So, it was a bit of a surprise to see these 6 foot tall piles of material taking up a whole lane of our two lane road but we got used to it.

There is a saying that most expatriates seem to say here that fit well, “TIC” or “This Is China.”  Both our Chinese GPS system, and the piles of building materials in the middle of the roads, were great examples of TIC.

The first part of  wall that we stopped at was at Huanghuacheng.

This is a lesser known attraction because there isn’t as much of the wall to walk on and has been opened more recently.

There is a little village in the valley and they sell roasted chestnuts, traditional Chinese food, and lots of water for the unprepared traveler.

We marched up the first set of stairs and enjoyed the scenery.

The dam that had been built allowed us to take a speed boat ride to the other side where we thought we’d start climbing up to the Wall.