Day 431 in Beijing: Goodbye Drinks!

 

Goodbye drinks at Schindlers!

Goodbye drinks at Schindlers!

As you , my faithful readers know, we have a ritual of good bye drinks when we go on a trip.

This actually started because our friend, Thorsten, from Schindler’s restaurant, suggested it.

If you haven’t read my earlier posts, Schindler’s is run by Mr. Schindler.

He has lived in Beijing for somewhere close to 30 years.

His life, like so many expats living in Beijing, is not what most restaurant owners lives usually seem.

He was actually the attaché for the East German Embassy during the Cold War.

He has run the restaurants for most of his time here but more importantly, he actually physically handed over the keys to the attaché for the combined German state when the wall fell and they became a single nation.

He is also a wonderfully jovial man and a heck of a person.  His wife made sure that Jill had a birthday cake for her 40th birthday party 5 days after Jill arrived and we celebrated her coming to Beijing.

Thorsten is the manager of Schindler’s and one of my first friends from my travels to Beijing.

Thorsten always makes sure that we come by and have our farewell drinks and we have a few pictures to commemorate the occasion.

It seems many people leave Beijing and it is a nice way to say goodbye and make sure to connect and show you care.

This was for our upcoming trip to Turkey and Greece and we were very excited and could not wait to get out of Beijing and to some place that had beautiful views and beaches, was less crowded and clean.

We’d had enough of pollution, masses of 25 million people, and cement and skyscrapers for as far as the eye could see.  It was definitely time for a change.

We’d been in Beijing for 7 months straight.

Every expatriate we know has said that they need to leave every 3 months or they start to get depressed, anxious and angry.

We had hit that point a few months ago but weren’t in the place to take off.

We won’t make that mistake again as it affected our emotional and physical health way too much and is advice that needs to be respected going forward.

It is the same thing I’d tell my clients so i might as well pay attention to my own prescription!

Day 416 in Beijing: Installing the Air Conditioning Unit, Part 5

 

Testing to see if the air conditioning actually works.

Testing to see if the air conditioning actually works.

After all that craziness, we supposedly had a working air conditioning unit.

Just like in the USA, when someone installs something, you always want to make sure it works right before they leave the apartment.

Well, this is doubly true in China because all of the controls are in Chinese script and we sure as heck can’t read those instructions.

So, we let our landlords check it and then explain it to us.

They seemed to have bought the most simple remote control because this one only has about 5 buttons and we’ve seen some that have over 20.

Yes, over 20 different buttons for a simple air conditioner.

Thankfully, when our landlord pushed the power button, the air conditioning turned on and it works perfectly.

We could not be more thankful and happy to be living where we are and to have the amazing landlords we have at this time.

Also, thanks to the wonderful installation guys and the quick work they did.

Overall, it probably took about 45 minutes to remove and install the air conditioning units.

By the way, it has been hovering around 95-100 degrees a day in the past week in Beijing.

Luckily, Jill and I have been sitting by the beaches in Turkey and will soon be headed to Greece instead of having to deal with the heat and pollution of Beijing.

 

Day 404 in Beijing: And We Are Out Of Here!

 

A beautiful view of the mosques in Istanbul.

A beautiful view of the mosques in Istanbul.

I hope you enjoy the next week or so of blog posts because I won’t be able to update them much since Jill and I will be in Turkey and Greece.

We leave today and return on August 15th so we will be gone for exactly one month.

We have been in China, non-stop, for 7 months and are extremely excited to get away and have some peace and quiet.

Istanbul will be busy but we will be hanging out with friends, and some family, and just enjoying it for the first week.

Trust me, compared to Beijing, nothing is busy and anywhere is quiet.

Jill has been to Turkey three times and I’ve been there once so we have some familiarity with it and the people.

We have always loved going there and meeting with people who are very open and friendly.

We will start, and end, our trip in Istanbul.

We are going to go to Cappadocia and do a balloon ride through the Fairy Chimneys.

Then to Pammakule to see the perfect blue waters and natural white thermal pools.

We are also going to other parts of Turkey but those are the highlights.

We will then go to four different islands in Greece including Naxos, Paros, Santorini and Mykonos.

We will spend about 3 days on each island and Jill will be able to celebrate her 41st birthday on Naxos.

Last year she celebrated in China and we think this is a very nice way to celebrate Jill.

Who knows where we will celebrate her birthday next year?  The world is our oyster!

We will head of Athens for two days and see the sites and then head back to Istanbul to finish off our trip and grab our flight back to Beijing on the 15th of August.

I’ll do my best to post a few pictures of our travels and hope you enjoy them.

I’ll be doing more full blog posts when I get back to Beijing and have time to sort through everything and figure out what I want to write about regarding our trip.

Here are a few pictures from Jill’s past visits to give you an idea of what we will be seeing and doing when we arrive in Istanbul.

 

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Day 387 in Beijing: Police Registration.

 

The police station for my neighborhood.

The police station for my neighborhood.

One of the truly silly/goofy/strange things about living in China is that whenever expatriates leave China, we have to register at the police station when we return.

I lived in Japan back in 1997 as a JET program teacher and we had to register where we lived, once when we moved it, but that was it.

This tends to be a waste of time but it is just another one in a very long list of regulations that sort of make me feel like an expatriate and someone that is being kept tabs on.

I’ve never been arrested, been in jail or done anything close to committing a crime.

Okay, not true, when I was 12 I once stole some food from the Mulberry’s in Healdsburg and they put me in a police car and drove me to my friend’s house, who also got caught doing the same thing.

It was just a scare tactic but it sure worked as I didn’t steal anything again.

I think the disappointment in my mom and dad’s eyes was enough to fix that issue.

However, in my defense, I did only take some food that had fallen out of the “bulk food” canisters and had been told, by my wonderful Grandma Evie once that, “If you eat it when you are in the store, it isn’t stealing.”

Yes, she was dead honest and she used to take a handful of the bulk food candy, like chocolate, and eat it and tell me that.

Any questions as to why I’m a psychotherapist?  I think not.

So, I walk over to the police office and hand them my registration.

They are obviously in the middle of rebuilding their office and it is just a mess.

About 10 other people are waiting outside and we are all just doing nothing but using our phones or looking at the sky.

By the way, other Chinese, that aren’t from Beijing, have to register also.  And some of the people, like people from Xinjiang (a mostly Muslim province of China) aren’t allowed to register so they aren’t allowed to go to school or hospitals here in Beijing unless they get clearance.  So, imagine living in California, and then wanting to move to New York, and you not being allowed to do this.  That is what it amounts to.

So, obviously, there are a lot of people living  here that aren’t “documented” and just trying to survive under the radar.

Therefore, when you see that Beijing has 23,000,000 people, I’m not so sure that is true and I’d guess it is closer to 25-30,000,000.  In other words, this city has about 70-80% of the population of all of California.

By the way, I ended up getting registered without any problems, but it a bit anxiety producing to not know if there will be problems dealing with the police.  I’ve never had any problems, and they’ve always been friendly, but one never knows.  Just one more day in the life of an expatriate.

 

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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 358 in Beijing: Paying Rent One Year At A Time.

 

The receipt for my 54,000RMB/9,000USD one year rent payment.

The receipt for my 54,000RMB/9,000USD one year rent payment.

Rent is a whole different subject in China.

You may have a contract, like we had in the USA, but it doesn’t really matter that much.

We’ve heard horror stories of landlords walking into the person’s apartment, letting them know, “By the way, I’m raising the rent next month.  If you don’t like it, move out.”

We’ve had friends that had to argue and verbally fight with their landlord so this didn’t happen.

It seems the best resort is to threaten to move out and leave them with nothing.

The landlords usually back down after that but sometimes not.

It is a hassle and a drag.

The rents here are also not paid monthly.

At least, not the expatriate rents.

We often have to pay 3 months in advance.

The place I’m leaving, which I can not tell you how happy I am leaving it at this point, I had to pay 6 months in advance.

Realize that when I moved to China, I had no idea that rents were any different than in the USA.

I basically used up a large portion of my savings, in the USA, just to pay the rent here and had to deal with the Chinese banking system.  That, alone, is a whole different blog post that won’t be written until I am no longer living here.  Suffice to say, it is usually a horrible experience and when I tried to transfer money over, my worst nightmares came true for about a week or so.

The apartment we are in now, which is a 5 minute walk from my work instead of a 30 minute cab ride, is perfect for Jill and me.

It is small, it is easy to clean, and it is close to the people we care about in China and where we like to hang out.

It is the dream apartment for us.

It is also quite inexpensive and the landlords are amazing.

We know this because we are taking it over from our friend, Sienna, who we met through Gordon Kutil and Sarah Ting-Ting Hou, who are basically our closest friends here in Beijing.

Sienna was nice enough to bargain for us when we were negotiating the rent agreement and we were told that, if we are willing to pay ONE YEAR IN ADVANCE, they wouldn’t raise the rent.

This sounds like a massive amount of money, and it sort of is, but the long term benefits well outweigh the short term money crunch.

We decided we’d do it, since Sienna had lived at her place for over 4 years and told us they were the best landlords she had ever met.  The landlord’s son, Zhang, also spoke perfect English and told us he’d help us out if we need anything.

So, a few days ago, I went down to the local Bank of China branch and took a number to wait in line to transfer over 54,000RMB (about 9,000 USD) for the year’s rent.

Usually the wait at the banks here range from 1 to 3 hours and are full of wasted time, annoyance, and “You have the wrong form.  Come back later” comments that drive everyone insane.

I waited about 15 minutes and walked up to the teller when “A1050” was called.

The teller started speaking to me in Mandarin and I called Zhang and handed her the phone.

She spoke to him for a minute and handed me back the phone and said, “So you want to transfer money to Zhang?  Is he someone you can trust?” in perfect English.

I was blown away.  This is the first time this branch has a teller that even speaks English let alone fluently.

I told her, “Yes please, he is my landlord” and she set to work on the paperwork and whatnot.

She took my passport, as expatriates can’t transfer more than 50,000RMB in one day unless they bring their passports, and handed me two forms to sign, which I did, and then it was done.

Zhang sent me a text telling me he had received the money and that he wanted us to keep the receipts and that they will clean the apartment, top to bottom, and it “will be spotless when you move in” on Sunday.

I honestly could not believe how well everything went, how nice everyone was, and that I had just transferred almost 9,000 USD.

This is the kind of crazy experience that makes China a wonderful, and crazy, place every single day.

Day 347 in Beijing: Health Check, Part 1.

 

People upon people upon people.

People upon people upon people.

Jill has decided to study Mandarin and, because of this, she will need to get a different visa.

She is on an “L” visa, which needs to switch it to a student visa in next few weeks.

In accordance with this change in status, she is required to get a health check.

Now, I work at a medical facility that is amazing.

It is, without a doubt, the most professional company I have ever worked for and I’m honored to be an employee there.

It is an expatriate company and that gives me a lot of security and feelings of safety since I see how they conduct their business.

Jill, on the other hand, has to go to a Chinese company to get this done and that had us a little worried.

We weren’t sure if they would speak any English, what the level of cleanliness would be, and how things would be handled.

We talked to a few friends that had been through it before, and we reassured, and decided we’d go together so I can give Jill support and call my office in case anything goes wrong.

We woke up, got ready and headed out for Jill’s health check.

We had to bring her passport, visa, 357RMB (about 60 USD), a passport photo and police registration (we have to register where we live every time we leave China with the police).

We hopped on the subway line 5 heading north and took that for about 30 minutes.

After that, we transferred to line 13, at one of the busiest stations in Beijing, and headed to Wudaokuo.

This gives you an idea of how insane this station can be.  This isn’t even the rush hour.

Wudaokuo is the student/expatriate/collegiate area and the health check area is about 20 minutes away from it by bus.

If we could find the bus.

Which, at first, we couldn’t.

The exit from the Wudaokuo station to the bus station was pretty darn confusing.

We ended up, after walking around for about 10 minutes, finding the right bus and got on.

It took us out through the tech area in the north of Beijing and we saw all kinds of crazily designed buildings that we made for major technology companies from around the world.

That was interesting but the traffic was horrendous.  It took us about 45 minutes to go about 3 miles.

The city is growing so fast that it is really becoming a problem and this was a good example of it right here.  And just another reason we are moving 1 block from where I work so that we don’t have to commute as much in a few weeks.  It just becomes tiring and stressful after too long.

The worst part was the bus ride, after 45 minutes, seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

We showed a fellow bus rider our map and he told us to get off and go the other way.

We then got off, decided enough of this wasted time, and hailed a cab.

It seems we were headed in the right direction and would have been there if we had just taken the bus for 3 more stops.

 

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Day 324 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 32.1 to 36

 

My one picture of the Hainan Airlines flight while in the air.

My one picture of the Hainan Airlines flight while in the air.

After we passed the dinosaur sculptures, our driver dropped us off at the airport.

It had 4 gates total.

2 domestic.

2 international.

That’s it.

We hung out for a few hours, as we were quite early, and ate some ice cream and watched the only other plane take off for the capital of Mongolia.

The loudspeaker called out our flight number, about 45 minutes before we were supposed to depart, and we headed towards the ticket counter.

There was only one person in line so we checked in quite quickly.

We then headed to security.

The line was empty and we had a metal wine bottle opener in my backpack that we wanted to see if we could get through and keep.

It wasn’t expensive so we didn’t really care if we got it through, we were just wondering about the security and how well it was done here.

Well, they stopped my backpack and asked, in English, “Do you have a knife in here?”

I responded with a very intelligent, “Huh?  A knife?” and tried to play dumb.

They were having none of it.

They opened up my backpack and took out the wine opener.  I thought, “Oh well, 4 bucks down the drain.”

They then asked, “Where is the knife?”

I actually did feel a bit confused and said, “There is no knife, just the bottle opener.”

The main security inspector played with it, making it do the “jumping jack” thing that these types of wine openers can do if they are handled correctly and studied it intently.

Then, they handed it back to me and said, “Okay, you can go.”

Jill and I were a little amazed because the corkscrew on it could definitely be used as a weapon and this was probably what they thought was the knife, but since they said it passed muster, I wasn’t going to argue.

We found our seats on the plane and a man sat in our same row beside us.

Now, Chinese are well known for spitting just about everywhere.

This includes in the gym we go.

This includes in the incredibly clean US embassy.

This includes in movie theaters.

There is pretty much no place in China where Chinese people think it is wrong to spit in and this is quite disgusting to Jill and me.

Well, the guy beside us reaches forward, grabs the barf bag, and proceeds to open it up, hock up a loogie, and then spit into the barf bag.

This was digusting enough but then he actualy put the barf bag back into the seat pocket.

We couldn’t deal with it so we asked to move.

The flight attendant spoke perfect English and moved us to the emergency exit and we thanked him a lot.

The flight had about 25 minutes before departure and yet they told us to buckle up and we started taxing out to the runway.

We were sort of surprised, since we’ve never flown on a plane that DEPARTS early, but we just did.

By the way, taxing out to the runway took about 1 minute.  This really is the smallest airport I’ve ever seen.

We took off and went straight up into the sky.

We leveled off quite quickly and they served us some yummy vegetarian snacks and I took a picture out the window.

As I was taking the picture, the attendant asked me to turn off my phone and notified us that no cameras or phones were allowed to be turned on when the plane is in flight.  It doesn’t matter if they are in airplane mode or not.  I had forgotten about this but this seems to be the law in China so I shut it off.

We then started to descend and landed quite easily.

I took a picture of the other passengers getting off the plane as we boarded the bus to the main terminal and we were almost home.

After we went through the gate, we proceeded to the bus terminal in the airport, and waited for the public bus back to our apartment.

It took about 45 minutes, because the traffic was horrible, and we talked to a very nice Chinese lady during the ride home who happened to live near us.

We said our goodbyes as the bus pulled into our stop and walked home with our luggage.

We opened our door, put our clothes and luggage away, and sat down to relax.

We were home and done with our visa run.

36 hours.

Almost to the second.

Not a bad way to see a part of the world and experience something that neither Jill nor I would have even imagined 10 months ago, when we met, and even a few months ago as we never expected to do a visa run like this.

All in all, it was a great experience and I’m glad we went.

And I’m glad you have all joined us on the trip and hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

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Day 323 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 32-32.1

 

Jill and I truly loved the dinosaur displays and wanted to take some videos.

These three are rather short but I find them utterly hilarious and absurd.

It is insane discoveries, like these, that make all the hardships of travel, very worthwhile.

How else would we have ever even though that something like this would be in the middle of the Gobi Desert and be real?

We wouldn’t have.

But we do now.

And so do you.

 

Day 322 in Beijing: Erlian, Mongolia Visa Run: Hours 32-34

 

The famous "Kissing Apatosauri" of Erlian.  Seriously, why the heck are they making out?

The famous “Kissing Apatosauri” of Erlian. Seriously, why the heck are they making out?

We are getting close to the end now.

Our cabbie picked us up and we headed towards the Erlian Airport since we decided to spend a few more bucks and fly back home.

We had heard about this massive dinosaur sculpture area but knew we weren’t taking the bus back and would not be able to see them.

Jimmy and Adam actually were able to catch a car back for about the same price as they would have paid for the bus and so they were well on their way and were safe and sound.

We realized that we were actually heading right for it and that we had a great chance to get some hilarious pictures and videos.

Thanks to Sienna for making sure the dinosaurs were correctly identified and not called a brontosaurus when they are not.

We had no idea there would be so many crazy dinosaur sculptures and displays.  It seriously blew our minds.

Simply said, our exit from Erlian could note have ended on a better note!

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